Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1531 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gold

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dame Joan Evans

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Serjeants at Law were the highest rank of English lawyers, from which judges were drawn. They were recognisable by their multi-coloured robes and white coif or cap, from which their common name, Order of the Coif is taken.

The serjeants were an exclusive group who held a monopoly on the Court of Common Pleas but also worked at the King's Bench. A small group of new serjeants would be created every few years. Each group of serjeants called was required to give gold rings, engraved with suitable loyal or legal mottoes to the sovereign, Lord Privy Seal and other dignitaries. In 1552, the diarist Henry Machyn described how ‘was made vii serjants of the coyffe, who gayf to the judges and the old serjants and men of the law, rynges of gold’. The new sergeants would also have to fund a celebratory feast. Although the rings and feast constituted a sizeable expense, the new serjeants could expect such a lucrative career after their advancement that the expense was justifiable.

The order of serjeants gradually declined in the 19th century and was eventually abolished by the Judicature Act of 1873 which allowed judges to be recruited from outside the ranks of serjeants.

Physical description

Serjeant-at-Law's gold ring inscribed on the outside '+ REX EST A[N]I[M]A LEGIS', the General call of 1531, Found at Hethersett, Norfolk, 1843

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1531 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved gold

Marks and inscriptions

'The King is the soul of the law'
Inscribed; General call of 1531


Diameter: 2.1 cm, Depth: 0.5 cm

Object history note

Provenance: Found at Hethersett in Norfolk in 1845, subsequently in the collections of Joseph Warren of Ixworth, who exhibited it at Ironmongers’ Hall in 1861 and then of Sir John Evans. Given to the Victoria & Albert Museum by Dame Joan Evans.

Descriptive line

Serjeant-at-Law's gold ring, inscribed around the edge with the General call of 1531, found at Hethersett, Norfolk, 1843, made in England, about 1531

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

A catalogue of the antiquities and works of art exhibited at Ironmongers Hall, Volume 2, 1869, p.486

Baker, John Hamilton 'The order of serjeants at law: a chronicle of creations, with related texts and a historical introduction', 1984, p.480

Emanuel, Mark, The surviving rings of the Serjeants at Law, privately printed, London, 2008, p.19
Oman, Charles, British Rings: 800-1914 (London, 1974), Appendix II

Labels and date

Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text:

Serjeant-at-Law’s ring
About 1531

Serjeants-at-Law were the highest rank of Englishm barristers from whom judges were appointed. New serjeants were required to give gold rings to the
monarch and dignitaries. These were engraved with suitably loyal or legal mottoes. This one, from the time of Henry VIII, is inscribed: ‘The King is the soul
of the Law’.

Engraved gold
Inscribed in Latin ‘Rex est anima legis’
Found at Hethersett, Norfolk in 1843
Given by Dame Joan Evans
V&A M.52-1960 []






Ceremonial objects; Jewellery; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.