The 'Darnley' Ring thumbnail 1
The 'Darnley' Ring thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

The 'Darnley' Ring

Ring
1500-1600 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

The inscription on the back of the bezel of this ring refers to Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley. Mary was the heir of James V of Scotland and the cousin and putative heir of Elizabeth I of England. She was also the widow of the French King François II. She married Henry Stewart in 1565, for a brief unhappy period which culminated with his murder in 1566. As a result of conflict with the Scottish nobles, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James and fled to England to seek the protection of her cousin. However, she became the focus of Catholic plots against Elizabeth I and as a result was imprisoned for nineteen years and finally executed at Fotheringhay Castle.

This gold signet ring was said to have been found amongst the ruins of Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1820. It was exhibited to the Archaeological Institute, Salisbury in 1849, and had been acquired by the ring collector and aesthete Edmund Waterton by 1857. Waterton formed one of the most important ring collections of the 19th century but fell into financial difficulties in the 1870s and his collection was purchased by the Museum in 1871. When the ring was first published and became widely known, it was said to have been the wedding ring of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry, Lord Darnley. The bezel of the ring is engraved with the initials H and M with a true lover's knot whilst the back of the bezel shows a coat of arms engraved with lion rampant and a crown and the inscription Henry L. Darnley, 1565.

The authenticity of the ring's associations was widely accepted until the publication of the Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (V&A, 1982) in which Shirley Bury suggested that the crude nature of the inscription and style of lettering might indicate that it was added at a later date. Mary had long been celebrated as a tragic heroine in Scotland, but interest became more widespread in the early 19th century with the publication of Sir Walter Scott's 'Waverley' novels and the state visit by George IV in 1822.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Engraved gold
Brief description
Engraved gold ring. Once thought to celebrate the betrothal of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry, Lord Darnley but the inscription possibly added later, England, 1500-1600.
Physical description
Gold signet ring with oval bezel engraved with the initials MH and true lovers' knots, the inside engraved with the royal arms of Scotland and inscribed 'Henri L. Darnley, 1565'. The inscription later, possibly 19th century
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 2.5cm
  • Depth: 1.5cm
Marks and inscriptions
  • engraved with the initials 'MH' and true lovers' knots
  • engraved with the royal arms of Scotland (the inside)
  • inscribed 'Henri L. Darnley, 1565' (the inside)
Object history
ex Waterton Collection. The ring was reputed to have been found near Fotheringay Castle. Its authenticity is now unclear as it is thought to have been tampered with. The initials seem to have been altered and the inscription added, probably in the 19th century.

A very similar copper alloy ring bearing the same initials was found in Staffordshire and recorded on the Portable Antiquities Database as WMID-BF965D, March 2016.



Historical Significance: Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland (1512-1542) and Mary of Guise (1515-1560). Her father died when she was just six days old and the crown therefore passed to her. She was crowned nine months later. From 1542 to 1567 she ruled Scotland, known as Mary I of Scotland. She went to France in 1548. In 1558 she married the Dauphin Francis (1544-1560, future Francis II of France).



In 1559, when Henry II of France died, the Dauphin was crowned Francis II, making Mary Queen Consort of France. Francis II died in 1560 and the following year his young widow returned to Scotland. In 1565 she married Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley (1545-1567), her half-cousin and, like Mary, a direct descendent from Margaret Tudor (1489-1541). In 1566 she gave birth to a son, the future James I of England (1566-1625). The following year her husband was murdered. Later in 1566, Mary married with the protestant James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell, believed to be the murderer of her previous husband. This union created a new conflict between Mary and a group of Scottish nobles as it brought suspicions that she had conspired with James Hepburn in the death of her previous husband, Lord Darnley. As a result Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven and forced to abdicate in favour of her son, who became James VI of Scotland, later James I of England (1566-1625). Subsequently the power passed into the hands of the regent Moray, as Mary’s son was only a year old.



On the 2nd May 1568 Mary escaped from Lochleven. She tried unsuccessfully to reclaim power in Scotland. Finally Mary travelled to England in an attempt to obtain the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603). However she was imprisoned for nearly nineteen years and eventually tried for treason and condemned to death in 1587.
Subject depicted
Summary
The inscription on the back of the bezel of this ring refers to Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley. Mary was the heir of James V of Scotland and the cousin and putative heir of Elizabeth I of England. She was also the widow of the French King François II. She married Henry Stewart in 1565, for a brief unhappy period which culminated with his murder in 1566. As a result of conflict with the Scottish nobles, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James and fled to England to seek the protection of her cousin. However, she became the focus of Catholic plots against Elizabeth I and as a result was imprisoned for nineteen years and finally executed at Fotheringhay Castle.



This gold signet ring was said to have been found amongst the ruins of Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1820. It was exhibited to the Archaeological Institute, Salisbury in 1849, and had been acquired by the ring collector and aesthete Edmund Waterton by 1857. Waterton formed one of the most important ring collections of the 19th century but fell into financial difficulties in the 1870s and his collection was purchased by the Museum in 1871. When the ring was first published and became widely known, it was said to have been the wedding ring of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry, Lord Darnley. The bezel of the ring is engraved with the initials H and M with a true lover's knot whilst the back of the bezel shows a coat of arms engraved with lion rampant and a crown and the inscription Henry L. Darnley, 1565.



The authenticity of the ring's associations was widely accepted until the publication of the Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (V&A, 1982) in which Shirley Bury suggested that the crude nature of the inscription and style of lettering might indicate that it was added at a later date. Mary had long been celebrated as a tragic heroine in Scotland, but interest became more widespread in the early 19th century with the publication of Sir Walter Scott's 'Waverley' novels and the state visit by George IV in 1822.
Associated object
M.32-2005 (Copy)
Bibliographic references
  • Albert Way, 'Notice of the Darnley Ring', Archaeological Journal, Vol 14, December 1857, pp. 297-300
  • Shirley Bury, 'Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue', V&A 1982, p.198
  • William Tudor Jones 'Finger ring lore: historical, legendary, anecdotal', p.460
  • Northamptonshire Notes and Queries,1888, Vol. 2, p. 147
  • CC.Oman 'Victoria and Albert Collection of Rings, 1930', Ipswich, 1993 cat. 559, p.94
  • Illustrated in 'Every Woman's Encyclopaedia', various authors, 1910-12
Collection
Accession number
841-1871

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Record createdSeptember 12, 2001
Record URL
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