The Langdale Rosary
- Place of origin:
ca. 1600 (adjusted)
- Materials and Techniques:
Gold, engraved; enamel
- Credit Line:
Purchased with the bequest of Captain H. B. Murray
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 5
Rosaries were in use from the 13th century. They came in many different forms, with various ways of saying the 'Hail Mary' ( Ave Maria) and 'Our Father' (Paternoster) prayers. Their form, and the order in which the prayers were said, became standardised during the 15th century. The Langdale rosary dates from around 1500 and is the only medieval English rosary to have survived the Reformation. It is also one of the few medieval rosaries in Europe to be made of gold. The gold is enamelled. The rosary consists of 50 oval 'Ave' beads, 6 lozenge-shaped 'Paternoster' beads and a large rounded knop (knob). Each bead is engraved with two saints or scenes, with the titles written around the edges in black letter.
During the Reformation, rosaries, as part of the cult of the Virgin Mary, were frowned upon. Opposition to the Reformation in England was fiercest in remote places like Cornwall and the north of England, but it is rare for tangible evidence such as this rosary to survive.
It is exceptional to be able to link such evidence to individuals.This rosary was owned from the 17th century until 1934 by an old Roman Catholic family, the Langdales of Houghton Hall in Yorkshire. It is thought that it may once have belonged to Lord William Howard (1564-1640), third son of Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk (1536-1572). The Duke, a devout Roman Catholic and an ancestor of the Langdales, was attainted for treason and beheaded in 1572. The rosary has two extra beads, added around 1600. They depict three St Williams - of Norwich, of Rochester and of Maleval - and St Endellion, a little known Cornish saint. This choice of saints points to a link with Howard's friend, Nicholas Roscarrock (about 1584-1634), a Cornish Catholic and author of Lives of the Saints. Roscarrock's book includes a life of St Endellion. It seems likely that the rosary was owned by Lord William Howard and modified under his patronage, because it depicts several of his name saints as well as the saint dear to Roscarrock. Modifying the rosary would have been quite simple since medieval rosaries varied greatly and could have any number of beads.
The Langdale Rosary, gold, enamelled, comprising 50 oval-shaped 'Ave' beads ('Ave Maria': 'Hail Mary'); 6 lozenge-shaped 'Paternoster' beads ('Pater Noster': 'Our Father'); one pendant oblong knop. Each bead is engraved and enamelled on each side, with depictions of a saint or episode from the life of the Virgin or Christ, with the titles inscribed around the edges in black lettering. The pendant knop is four sided, and on each side are scenes from the Virgin and Child and Three Magi.
Place of Origin
ca. 1600 (adjusted)
Materials and Techniques
Gold, engraved; enamel
Length: 39.5 cm length of rosary, including pendant oblong knop, when suspended vertically, Width: 2.7 cm Across lozenge-shaped beads when rosary suspended, Weight: 137.9 g
Object history note
Probably belonged to William Howard (born at Audley End, Essex, 1563, died in Greystock, 1640), third son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (born in 1536, executed in London, 1572).
V&A Exhibition RF.2003/51
The Langdale Rosary, gold with enamel, England, ca. 1500.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Maclagan, E. and C. Oman, 'An English gold rosary of about 1500' Archaeologia, series 2, vol. LXXXV, 1935. pp. 1- 22
Cherry, John, The Middleham jewel and ring, Yorkshire Museum, 1994, pp. 19-20
Lightbown, Ronald, Mediaeval European Jewellery , London, 1992, cat. no. 81, pp. 526-8
Campbell, Marian, Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500, London, V&A Publishing, 2009, p.84, fig.89
Oman,Charles, 'Belted Will Howard', Country Life, 28th May 1948
Brilliant, Virginia. 'The Langdale Rosary'. Catalogue entry in A Feast for the Senses: Art and Experience in Medieval Europe, ed. Martina Bagnoli. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, October 16, 2016 - January 8, 2017 and at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, February 4 - April 30, 2017. Baltimore: The Walters Art Museum / New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. ISBN 9780300222951
Labels and date
Rosaries were used by Roman Catholics to recite a cycle of prayers of five 'decades', each consisting of ten 'Hail Mary's, separated by one 'Our Father'. These aids to personal devotion were forbidden by legislation of 1547. This very rare survival had two extra beads added in about 1600, which shows they were used by someone who continued to practise as a Catholic. [27/03/2003]
People used a rosary when reciting prayers to the Virgin Mary, or saying the Lord's Prayer. Ten beads were used for the former and one for the latter. Wooden rosaries were commonplace, but gold ones less so. This gold rosary is a unique survival from medieval England. Each bead is enamelled with a saint or a scene from the life of Christ and engraved with the appropriate title.
Beads of turned wood
Found in London
Lent by the Museum of London
About 1500, two additional beads added probably about 1600
Gold with enamel
Cat. 222 
Two additional beads added probably about 1600
Jewellery; Accessories; Metalwork; Religion