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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    Second quarter of the 16th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold with engraved inscription

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dame Joan Evans

  • Museum number:

    M.51-1960

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, case 8

From at least the fifteenth century, candidates called to be admitted to the ranks of Serjeants-at-Law (from whom judges were appointed) were required to present rings bearing a suitable motto to the monarch and various dignitaries. They frequently also gave further rings as souvenirs to their friends. The practice came to an end when the office was abolished by the Judicature Act of 1875. New mottoes were chosen at each call; the rings differing in value according to the rank of their recipients. The rings were generally gold with a suitable motto inscribed around the outer hoop. The surface of this ring appears to have been roughened to allow it to take enamel.

Physical description

Gold outer hoop engraved with the inscription VIVAT REX ET LEX in mixed capitals separated by three rosettes and framed by a striated border. The inner hoop bears the letter C. The surface of the outer hoop has been prepared for enamelling.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

Second quarter of the 16th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold with engraved inscription

Marks and inscriptions

VIVAT.LEX.ET.REX.
Long live the King and the Law

C
On inside of hoop

Dimensions

Height: 20 mm, Width: 20 mm, Depth: 6 mm, Diameter: 19 mm (internal)

Object history note

Most of the V&A's collection of serjeants' rings were presented by Dame Joan Evans, the majority of these were from the collection of her father, Sir John Evans.

Historical significance: From at least the fifteenth century , candidates called to be admitted to the ranks of Serjeants-at-Law (from whom judges were appointed) were required to present rings bearing a suitable motto to the monarch and various dignitaries. They frequently also gave further rings as souvenirs to their friends. The practice came to an end when the office was abolished by the Judicature Act of 1875. New mottoes were chosen at each call; the rings differing in value according to the rank of their recipients. The rings were generally made of gold with an appropriate legal or patriotic motto inscribed around the hoop although some early examples appear to have been enamelled.

The custom of giving rings is described by Sir John Fortescue around 1470 in 'De Laudibus Legum Angliae' as follows: all serjeants at their appointment "shall give rings of gold to the value of forty pounds at the least, and your Chancellor well remembreth that at the time he received this state and degree, the rings which he then gave stood him in fifty pounds" (De Laudibus Legum Angliae c.59). A full description of the investiture ceremonies and a list of mottoes up to 1765 was given by Mr Serjeant Wynne in Observations touching the Antiquity and Dignity of Serjeants at Law, 1765.

Two similar rings bearing the same motto can be found in the collection of the British Museum (Dalton, p 239). The letter C found on the inner hoop may be an ownership mark to indicate either the recipient or the identity of the giver. Another ring with the same motto and of very similar design is in the Ashmolean Museum collection in Oxford (WA1976.81).

A similar ring inscribed 'REGIS PREP* LEG + EX' found as part of the excavation of Chester Amphitheatre in 2005 and now in the Chester Museum retains red and white enamel on the two engraved flowers and traces of black enamel in the letters. This suggests that the V&A ring would have been similarly enamelled. (Treasure Act Annual Report, 2005-6, cat. 715.

Descriptive line

Gold serjeant's ring inscribed 'Vivat rex et lex', English, second quarter of the sixteenth century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), p.224, Case 34, Board I, no.22
Kunz, G. F. Rings for the Finger. From the earliest known times to the present, with full descriptions of the origin, early making, materials, the Archaeology, history, for affection, for love, for engagement, for wedding, commemorative, mourning, etc. Philadelphia & London: Lippincott, 1917.
Walcott, Mackenzie, Notes and Queries, Vol.v.,pp 110-11, January 31, 1852
Dalton, O.M. Catalogue of the Finger Rings: Early Christian, Byzantine, Teutonic, Medieval and Later bequeathed by Sir Augustus Woollastons Franks, K.C.B.), British Museum, London, 1912
Emanuel, Mark, The surviving rings of the Serjeants at Law, privately printed, London, 2008
Baker, John Collected Papers on English Legal History, Cambridge, 2013

Labels and date

ENGLISH SERJEANT'S RING
Inscribed: +VIVAT.REX.ET.LEX (Long live the King and the Law). Second quarter of the 16th century.
M.51-1960

This is the full text from Bury, 1982, Case 34, Board I, no.22 []

Materials

Gold

Techniques

Engraving

Categories

Metalwork; Jewellery

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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