Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tudor Bling: The Cheapside Hoard

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Susan reports:

Raindrops on roses are all very nice, but to really make the hearts of the TNHG go pitter-pat, just show them old jewelry.

Now everyone knows about the famous jewels like those royal baubles kept in the Tower of London or the legendary pearl "B" necklace of Anne Boleyn (left), but non-royal people in the 16th century loved fine jewelry, too. Renaissance London was famous for its goldwork, with one astonished visitor counting fifty-two goldsmiths' shops along the merchant's street of Cheapside.

This would be only one more dry history factoid except for something inelegantly called the Cheapside Hoard. In 1912, workmen demolishing a 17th century building discovered a decaying wooden box beneath a brick floor, stashed there by some long-forgotten goldsmith. Inside the box were over 500 pieces of 16th-17th century jewelry: gold and silver, enamel-work and precious stones, rings, pendants, chains, earrings, and watches. No wonder it's regarded as the greatest cache of Elizabethan jewelry in the world, and that there's already a major exhibition in the works to celebrate the centennial of the discovery in 2012.

These aren't huge Marie-Antoinette style diamonds for court wear, but things a NHG could imagine easily wearing for everyday. While the Hoard is now scattered among three museums, including the Victoria & Albert and the British Museum, the majority of the pieces are in the London Museum, which also has the best pictures on line.

Go ahead, browse a bit. Does the emerald pendant carved into a parrot catch your eye? Or is the diamond-studded hat ornament in the shape of a salamander more to your taste? We have our favs, and you probably will, too.


Ingrid said...

I want one of the chains, any of those delicate chains with enamelling. Gemstones, though always nice, are optional, but I covet the enameled ones. They are so delicate and pretty and wearable.

nightsmusic said...

The first bloodstone showing the head of Christ is beautiful! Bloodstone is my birthstone, though the common one now is Aquamarine. It's very rare anymore to find one veined so well though.

Fascinating. Don't you wonder what happened to the owner of the shop that it would just be left there? There's a story in there somewhere, I think...


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ingrid, I love the chains, too. Old gemstones often aren't cut well enough to bring out the best in the stones, but the enamelwork on the chains is unbelievable. They'd be like a garland of flowers around your neck.

Theo, I wonder about the story behind it, too. There are some suggestions that the goldsmith might have hidden the box during the Civil War (not much market for jewelry among Puritans!), but no one seems to know for sure. Clearly, though, he (or she) hid it without telling anyone else, and without ever returning to retrieve it. Truly a treasure chest...

Loretta Chase said...

Oh, the enameled chains are exquisite! I lust, I lust. But I like a nice cabochon, too.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love old jewelry. I can't wait for the exhibition because it means another excuse to take a trip to London.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I like the fact that men wore these beautiful chains as well as women. Almost every portrait of the time has them. Check out the famous portrait of Henry VIII:


And later, of James I, who's also sporting one of those hat ornaments:


Neither's much to look at, but they sure have nice jewelry. *g*

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, nightmusic, now I'll be dreaming about that instead of meeting deadline! btw, Susan, may I just say that I SO wish I'd have thought of this title before you. I am embittered. Those men loved their chains like 80s rap stars. And Loretta, I adore a cabochon as well.

portia said...

The colored flowers in the chains are roses, the symbols of the Tudor families. Wearing them would be a sign of loyalty as well as ornament. I agree, they are lovely!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Love, love those beautiful chains, and the purple drop earrings in the British Museum Collection. I saw them last year when I had the chance to visit the museum.

Some of the cross pendants are quite fab, too.

Ingrid said...

Susan, do you think those chains in the portraits are the same kind?
I know jewellery got enlarged in portraits (I once saw Charles I's pearl drop earring in an exhibition -it's tiny in comparison to Van Dijck's triple portrait), but Henry and James's chains are broad and heavy, while the Cheapside chains are narrow and light. On the other hand, James's hat ornament is huge, so that probably is exaggerated.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michelle, you can be embittered, so long as you're not emboldened. *g* But these guys are wearing their chains for the same reason as the hip-hop moguls did: status and power.

Portia, you're right, Tudor roses ARE everywhere! I suspect that there's lots of other symbolism in the choice of the flowers, too -- anyone else "read" them better than I can?

Vanessa, I had my eye on those amethysts, too. They look like very modern shoulder-dusters.

Ingrid, I didn't mean that the kings were wearing the identical pieces -- sorry if I didn't make that clear. Rather, that, as always, royalty set the fashion for wearing long necklaces draped over the shoulders. The kings are wearing versions with a LOT of gold and the color seems to come more from gemstones than enamel (though there may be enamel in there too -- hard to tell from a jpg painting). But when the style works its way down to regular folk, the chains are going to be smaller and less costly, without all the giant jewels. That's what I meant to say. :)

Interesting that you've seen Charles I's baroque pearl earring. Do you know who owns it now? I've got Charles and his earring lined up for a future blog -- can you imagine a world leader today wearing such a "signature" piece of jewelry?

Ingrid said...

I have had another look at the kings' portraits, and I think they might well be wearing Garter collars. I'm most sure about James, as he is wearing the George suspended from it. But Henry has those big, red, round things in his collar which might well be roses, which I gather was a feature of the Garter collar instituted by his father.
I've always wondered how they made those collars sit so wide over the shoulders. They must have had tapes sewn on their clothes to keep them in place. It would of course be possible to wear those narrow chains like that as well. I have just been looking at portraits of Elizabeth I and she seems to have worn chains of all kinds in all sorts of ways and places, including wrapped around her neck several times, usually all at the same time.

I saw the earring at an exhibition in the Rubens house in Antwerp.

I did not buy the catalogue, so I can't look it up. I'm beginning to wonder now whether it wasn't this jewellery exhibition in Brussels, which unfortunately did not have a catalogue.


Royalty aren't world leaders anymore of course, but they do still glam up for special occasions. Our queen (Beatrix) seems to have quite a selection to choose from, enough to lend tiaras and necklaces to her sisters and daughters-in-law.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks for the info and the links, Ingrid. I'd always suspected that the earring might have exagerated in the Van Dyck portraits -- it would have been one very large pearl! -- but I've yet to see a modern photograph of it to put it in perspective. Charles I was definitely a gentleman of style, though not much of a king.

In America, we're still a little queasy about our President and First Lady wearing too much bling. (The real stuff seems to all go to Hollywood stars.) Certainly there are no crowns or tiaras, and all jewelry is their own. It's a fine line between dressing for the part as a world leader, and trying not to put too much distance between the White House and the people doing the electing.

For example, recent First Ladies have famously worn faux pearls rather than real, with the designer (Kenneth Jay Lane) selling the very same pearls on the tv shopping networks. Probably much of the reason Americans find royal (and real) jewels so fascinating. *g*

Ingrid said...

It took a lot of googling, Susan, but I've found Charles I's pearl earring. It's at Wellbeck Abbey, which is not open to the public, but the earring is displayed in the Harley Gallery.


Wellbeck Abbey was the principal seat of the Dukes of Newcastle (the first duke was William Cavendish, he who spent part of his exile in Antwerp). In the 18th century Wellbeck passed into the Bentinck family through a heiress, and it is still lived in by the that family.

knitlit kate said...

that pearl B necklace...i DIE

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

thanks (again!) for the link, Ingrid! There are so many awful untrue stories about that earring, such as the spectators engaging in a free-for-all at the execution, fighting over the head like a ruby ball to be able to yank the earring free--that it's good to learn it went to poor Charles's daughter, and has stayed in good hands since then.

Definitely a blog in this.....

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Kate (and anyone else with an Anne Boleyn fetish) -- one can purchase a replica of that necklace online here:


I know this thanks to TNHG friend Carlyn Beccia of the most excellent & entertaining blog The Raucous Royals. Carlyn is a Tudor-fanatic, plus shares the same last initial as the ill-fated Anne, so of course she has one. Alas, when she wears it in her home-state of MA, most people seem to think it's a fancy Red Sox-fan pin. The whole story:


Anonymous said...

Hope it's okay to comment on such an old post! Ingrid, I don't know how the Tudors got their jeweled collars to side so wide on their shoulders, but I do know that at Renaissance Faires, the actors use pearl-headed pins to secure them in place. It's quite possible the nobles of the period did as well. There's plenty of evidence that they used pins to secure clothing in place, so it would make sense. --Janey

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket