- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Gold, chased and enamelled
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Miss Charlotte Frances Gerard
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58, case 3
The bezel (head) of this ring is enamelled in white with a death's head surrounded by the inscription 'BE HOLD THE ENDE'. The second inscription, 'RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH', runs round the edge. On the reverse of the bezel are the initials 'ML' connected by a true lover's knot.
Ownership & Use
This ring appears to be both a memento mori ring, which reminds the wearer that she or he must die, and a marriage ring. The second inscription on the ring ('RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH' ) and the true lover's knot that unites the two initials suggest that it was used as a betrothal or marriage ring by 'M' and 'L', although we do not know who they were. The solemn vows of marriage are associated with death: 'till death us do part'.
The juxtaposition of memento mori and marriage imagery would not have seemed strange to the ring’s first owner. In the painting of the ‘Judd Marriage’, 1560, now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, marriage and death are both seen as rites of passage. The earthly, transitory nature of marriage is contrasted with the eternity of death and judgment. The couple exchange their vows over a skull whilst the motto above reads:
‘The word of God
Hath knit us twain
And Death shall us
In the past it was thought that the ring was a gift from Charles I (ruled 1625-1649) to Archbishop William Juxon (1582-1663) on the day of the King's execution, 30 January 1649. We do not have any evidence to support this story.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Gold, chased and enamelled
Marks and inscriptions
inscribed 'BE HOLD THE ENDE' and 'RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH'
Height: 2 cm estimated, including scrolls, Width: 1 cm estimated, Diameter: 2.3 cm estimated
Object history note
Made in England;
Aspects of Age Exhibition RF.2005/727
Gold and enamel memento mori ring inscribed 'BE HOLD THE ENDE' and 'RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH'. England, about 1550-1600.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Oman, C.C., Catalogue of Rings (London, 1930), p.112, no.740
Oman, Charles, British Rings: 800-1914 (London, 1974), cat.85 C
Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (London, 1982), p.217 (34 F 2)
Church, Rachel, Rings (London, 2011), p.44, pl.50
Somers-Cock, Anna, Princely Magnificence: court jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630, V&A, 1980, p.53, cat.20
Labels and date
It was not uncommon to associate the vows of marriage with the remembrance of death. The true lovers' knot and inscription on this ring suggest it marked a betrothal or marriage. Rings were also given to family and friends at a funeral, in commemoration of the dead. [27/03/2003]
Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text:
Memento mori ring
Jewels decorated with skulls, coffins and crossbones reminded the wearer of the need to live a moral life because death and judgement were inevitable. The
inscription ‘Rather death than fals fayth’ and the intertwined initials suggest that this ring was a lover’s gift.
Engraved gold and enamel
Inscribed ‘Be hold the ende’ and ‘Rather death than fals fayth’,
and initialled ‘ML’
Bequeathed by Charlotte Frances Gerard
V&A 13-1888 
Jewellery; Death; Marriage; Europeana Fashion Project