Sunday, July 06, 2008

Question from KB - Origin of the Anne and Elizabeth portrait ring

I know this has been discussed before but ...

Does anyone know if Elizabeth's famous ring with the portrait of her mother inside was originally a Boleyn ring? Or a royal Tudor ring? Any jewelry sources for the origin of this particular trinket would be most useful.

Again apologies for bringing up the subject yet again.


  1. I think it was specially made for Elizabeth.

  2. Diana Scarisbrick has written several books on rings. One of them, "Rings: Symbols of Wealth, Power and Affection" has a brief mention on page 45 of a piece that sounds like this ring:

    " is associated with Queen Elizabeth, whose enamelled portrait is enclosed inside with that of another woman, perhaps Anne Boleyn. The Seymour phoenix at the back of the bezel suggests that the ring may have been a gift from a member of that family."

    That might suggest kindly Uncle Tom Seymour with his ulterior motives. Or ... I've read that in some cases Anne Boleyn's falcon badge was tactfully altered to a phoenix when her successor was installed; perhaps the same thing happened with this ring and it was originally a Boleyn piece?

    But the rest of the ring is set with "table-cut stones forming the letter E accompanied by a blue R" so maybe it was given to Elizabeth by a member of Seymour family after her accession. Alternatively, she took the existing ring and had her regal initials appended to it.

  3. The phoenix on the back of the ring might be unrelated to the Seymours ... for Queen Elizabeth, it could have symbolically represented the relationship between herself and her mother, as well as the Resurrection.

  4. I would highly doubt the Seymours would have given Elizabeth such a ring. The Seymours worked actively to conspire against Anne Boleyn and install their sister Jane as King Henry's next queen. For all Jane's meek demeanor, she played the game as well as anybody, and had no compunction about replacing a woman she helped destroy in the King's bed. It does not make sense that any member of the Seymour family would have given Elizabeth, her daughter, a memento of this type. Even in Elizabeth's teenage years, when she was staying in Thomas Seymour's house, there were sniggers about her mother. The phoenix may have been the symbol of the Seymours, but they hardly had a monopoly on it. It makes more sense to think it represented the elevation of Elizabeth, the bastardized daughter of a convicted and executed traitor rising from enormous odds to sit upon the throne of England.

  5. It might depend on whether the miniature of Anne preceded the ring (and the ring was built specially to hold it) or if the ring was specially commissioned with the Anne portrait.

    In his endnotes to "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn," Eric Ives notes about the ring: "A.G. Somers Cocks has suggested that the appearance of an enamel phoenix arising from a flaming crown beneath the bezel of the ring indicates a connection with Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, who campaigned ceaselessly to get Elizabeth I to recognize his marriage with Jane Grey's sister, Katherine. The device, however, would serve a double reference for Elizabeth, who both used the phoenix symbol and had risen miraclously from the flames of the destruction of her mother ... The ring is not mentioned in the inventories of Elizabeth's jewels, but must have been made for her, or as an elaborate gesture of loyalty to her ..."

    Ives cites as sources P. Somerset Fry's "Chequers, the Country Home of Britain's Prime Ministers"; Catalogue of the Principal Works of Art at Chequers; and "Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance"(published by the Victoria and Albert Museum). I don't know where the A.G. Somers Cocks reference comes from; this person is not listed in the secondary sources, but a quick Google indicates that he or she is associated with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    He says the image of Elizabeth in the ring is "circa 1575." I wonder: 1576 would have been the 40-year anniversary of Anne's execution, and the number 40 has great significance in Christian symbolism, indicating a period of fasting, prayer, repentance and purification -- possibly suggesting the ultimate vindication of Anne's reputation through her daughter, to emerge as a phoenix...

  6. Thank you for all the ideas.

    I am not ready to discount the Seymours completely. However...

    I think the answer though is as foose suggests - when the portrait and ring met each other. The regal initials could have been added at any time. I'll see if I can track down the Scarisbrick an other references for more clues.

  7. There's a catalog book that David Starkey wrote with Susan Doran for the "Elizabeth" exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in 2003. (It's just called "Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum," published by Chatto & Windus.) There's a very nice big color photo of the ring on page 13, both open to show the miniature portraits, and closed. They look (but of course I'm not an expert) like they were painted at the same time -- the colors and gilding are complementary.

    Starkey's description reads: "Elizabeth's ownership of this ring provides evidence that she publicly acknowledged her mother, despite Anne's disgrace and execution in 1536.

    "The queen may have received this ring from Edward Seymour ... since the phoenix was his device as well as hers."

    Still, I'd like to know the circumstances in which Elizabeth received the ring. I would think Hertford, having secretly married the most popular Protestant choice for Elizabeth's heir and coming from a family that basically helped get Elizabeth's mother and uncle whacked, would be extremely wary of presenting such a sensitive gift without knowing beforehand it would be welcome.


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