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Medieval Duchess of Lancaster sapphireposy ring. Set centrally with a cabochon sapphire in a closed backcutdown setting with an approximate weight of 2.00 carats, to a ridged band decoratively enhanced with finely carved flowers and foliage, with ornate blackletter 'alas for fayte' inscription to the interior of the bezel, the integrated trumpeting shoulders flowing to a solid ridged shank. Tested yellow gold, circa 1360-1400 AD, accompanied by an X-ray fluorescence analysis report stating the composition of the metal, an Art Loss Register certificate and further documentation relating to the provenance of the ring.
Reputedly gifted by John of Gaunt (1340-1399) to his mistress and subsequent wife, Katherine Swynford (1350-1403).
John of Gaunt was the third son of King Edward III. A member of the Order of the Garter and titled Earl of Lancaster, generous land grants meant that he was one of the richest men of his day. Originally appointed as governess to the children of John of Gaunt and his first wife, Blanche, Katherine subsequently entered in to a love affair with John. The affair lasted for many years and produced four children. The couple eventually married in Lincoln Cathedral following the death of John's second wife, thus legitimising their offspring. The remains of Katherine and her daughter Joan were later interred there, although their tombs were damaged during the English Civil War. Illustrious descendants of the couple include George Washington, James Monroe, Alfred Lord Tenyson and HRH Elizabeth II.
The inscription 'alas for fayte' is otherwise unrecorded in rings of this period, and is likely to have been intended as an ironic comment on John and Katherine's illicit love affair. The inscription forms an amusing juxtaposition with the sapphire - a stone that was associated with the preservation of chastity. The finely engraved foliate sprays, formerly enhanced with enamel, are indicative of early 15th century rings of this type. The unusually formed claw and cutdown setting is reminiscent of a turquoise-set ring from a similar period in the British Museum.
For rings with comparable stylistic features, see C. Oman, British Rings 800-1914, London, 1974, pl.20A and 21F
Examples of early betrothal rings or ‘love’ rings encompass rings displaying the fede motif (featuring clasped hands) which is symbolic of the marriage ceremony; this was first thought up in the ancient world and saw a renewed interest in the medieval period. Tudor early diamond set betrothal rings are rarely seen, exquisite in design and would have been reserved solely for the highest members of society. The cut of diamond set in these early ‘solitaire’ designs is very different to later fashions- the table cut is the earliest of cuts, and was achieved by grinding off the uppermost point of the octahedral diamond crystal.
Posy rings- a ring with a short inscription, were the popular ring of the 16th-18th centuries in England and France, and a few rare examples can be seen as early as the 14th century. These rings derived their name from the French word for poem, describing the motto on the inside or exterior of the ring. Rings such as these were often used as lover’s tokens, betrothal or wedding rings and are the forerunners of modern wedding bands. The rarest posy rings have ornate engraved exteriors, often with floral decoration, and sometimes also are inlaid with enamel.
Berganza has amassed one of the largest collections of these unusual rings in the world. Today these special and rare rings are highly sought after and very collectible.