Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri


The Middleham Jewel, AD 1450-1500.  Photo Anthony  Chappel Ross, Courtesy York Museums Trust.

Two metal detectorists have recently had a sumptous litte find.  A tiny gold bible beautifully engraved.  Which is great.  But what makes their find super great is that it is yet another discovery made near the remains of castles that were once Neville strongholds.  For this new find was found close to  a footpath on farmland near Sheriff Hutton and the previous two finds, the jewel now known as the Middleham Jewel and a ring were both found near, of course,  Middleham Castle.  This has led to speculation they were both owned by one, or more ladies,  of the Neville family.


The tiny gold bible.  The Yorkshire Museum had said that the figures depict St Leonard and St Margaret, both patron saints of childbirth.

Now – before I proceed any further I must give thanks to John Cherry, of the British Museum and his book The Middleham Jewel and Ring from which I have gleaned much of my information.   I recommend this book for anyone wanting to know all there is to know about the Jewel and the ring, especially the ring which sometimes gets overshadowed by the grandeur of the jewel.  



The Middleham Jewel.  Photo

This jewel which is nothing short of spectacular  was found in September 1985 next to a path which led from  Jervaulx Abbey to  Middleham Castle and then to Coverham Abbey  by a Mr Ted Seaton and initially was sold at auction by Mr Seaton and the owners of the land for £1.3 million.  However when it was deemed by The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to be ‘outstanding’ the Yorkshire Museum mounted a fund raising campaign and managed to raise £2.5 million.  The jewel was thus saved for the nation. There is, pleasingly, at the back of the book a list of the donors who enabled the jewel to be saved for the nation.  Thank you very much, each and everyone of you!

The jewel consists of a gold lozenge shaped pendant 64 mm high and 48 mm wide weighing 62.65 grammes engraved with religious scenes and figures.  To the front is a beautiful sapphire,  a latin inscription and an engraving of the Trinity.  The back has figures of 15 saints, the Lamb of God and an engraving of the Nativity. Experts have dated it to the third quarter of the 15th century and it would have been worn as a pendant on a very rich lady’s necklace or collar.  There are several examples of similar pendants to be found on various effigies and  brasses as well as the drawings of the Rous Roll which features ladies of the Neville family.

Where would such a jewel, very likely a ‘specific commission’, have been made? John Cherry suggests London where large congregations of goldsmith were located in Cheapside.  There was, of course also goldsmiths on London Bridge aplenty which was a kind of medieval Bond Street.  Hmmm – perhaps – however there would surely have been goldsmiths in York?   There are small holes around the edges which indicate that when it left the goldsmith’s shop,  all sparkly and new,  it had a metalwork frame to which were attached pearls.  It must have been amazingly beautiful and it’s easy to imagine the joy of the lady who received it.  Was it a gift from an indulgent husband to his wife or had the lady commissioned the piece herself?


One of the illustrations from the book.  Detail from a border of a Flemish manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford,  illustrating a similar jewel with its pearls intact.

The jewel was artfully designed so that by pressing against four of the saints the back slid open.

To continue reading please click here.



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