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Fede ring

Fede ring

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    15th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved silver-gilt

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Rings with a bezel of clasped hands, such as this one, are often known as 'fede' rings. The expression fede or mani in fede is taken from the Italian, meaning 'hands clasped in trust'. The term was popular among nineteenth-century collectors, though it is found as early as the seventeenth century. Among the definitions of 'fede' in John Florio's 1611 Dictionarie of the Italian and English Tongues is 'a ring made with hand in hand'. The term ‘hand in hand’ was common in 16th and 17th century England, for example in the ring left by Johan Broucker to her sister in 1577, described as a 'ringe of golde with an hande in hande'.

The device of clasped hands can be seen much earlier on Roman rings where it signified an alliance, whether political, in marriage or in friendship. By the medieval period, the gesture probably refers to the handclasp which was an integral part of the marriage service. Although a legal marriage in the medieval world could be formed simply by a couple exchanging vows and sealing the agreement with a handclasp, the exchange of a ring solemnised the occasion and could act as a visual proof if the marriage was later disputed. Although the 'fede' device is often found on romantic rings, it may also have been used as a sign of friendship or loyalty.

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

Waterton recorded in his manuscript catalogue that he was given this ring by the architect and designer William Burges.

Physical description

Silver-gilt ring, with two applied bezels, one a fede the other a crowned lombardic 'T' enclosing a heart inscribed 'I'. The hoop is engraved with 'x's

Place of Origin

England (made)


15th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved silver-gilt

Marks and inscriptions

a crowned lombardic 'T' enclosing a heart inscribed 'I'

engraved with 'x's
The hoop


Height: 2.5 cm, Width: 2.1 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

Found at Canterbury in 1854 and given by William Burges, the architect, to Edmund Waterton

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt ring, with two applied bezels, one a fede the other a crowned lombardic 'T' enclosing a heart inscribed 'I'. The hoop is engraved with 'x's, England, 15th century


Engraving (incising)

Subjects depicted

Hearts (motifs); Crowns (headdresses)


Jewellery; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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