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Seal ring

Seal ring

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)
    London (engraved)

  • Date:

    ca. 1545 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved chalcedony, mounted in gold

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Frank Ward

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58, case 5

In the intaglio (the design is incised into the stone) Henry VIII (ruled 1509-1547) is shown full face with a fur-trimmed coat and a flat hat on his head. The letters 'H' and 'R' are engraved on either side of him. The intaglio must predate 1576 when an impression of it appears on a seal attached to a deed dated 31 October in the 18th year of Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603), that is, 1576. The seal is that of Dorothy, wife of John Abingdon of Hindlip, Worcestershire, who was cofferer to the Queen.

In his Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey George Cavendish, who was a member of the Cardinal's household, relates that at Christmas 1529 Henry sent Wolsey a ring. Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530) had been the King's chief minister, but he had recently fallen from favour. According to Cavendish, the ring 'was engraved with the King's visage within a ruby, as lively counterfeit as possible to be devised. This ring he knoweth well; for he gave me the same.' The ruby ring showing Henry VIII is not known to have survived. While the portrait of Henry engraved on the V&A's ring uses a similar technique, it must be later than the ring Cavendish describes, because the King is shown in late middle age, as in the 1540s, towards the end of his reign. It is not of high quality.

Elizabeth I probably gave this ring, set with a chalcedony portrait of Henry VIII, to a member of the Abingdon family. An impression of the intaglio can be found on a document of 1576 as the seal of Dorothy Abingdon (formerly Broadbelt), who served as one of the Queen's gentlewomen of the bedchamber from 1558 to 1557 and was included in the Queen's coronation procession. She was also keeper of the Queen's parrot and monkey. Her husband John Abingdon worked in the Counting House and became the Queen’s cofferer a year before his death in 1581. The Queen was godmother to their son Thomas. Dorothy's role as one of Elizabeth's closest servants gave her privileged access to the Queen. In 1562, the state papers reveal that she used this access to promote the possible marriage of the Queen to the Swedish King Eric, writing to Nicholas Guildenstern, the Swedish Chancellor to suggest that if the King were to renew his suit, it would be well received. The letter was intercepted by William Cecil and Dorothy and her fellow bedwoman Katherine Ashley were interrogated and confined to their chambers.

The warm relations between the Abingdons and the Tudor court did not persist. John Abingdon’s sons Edward and Thomas retained their allegiance to the Catholic faith. They became involved in the Babington Plot of 1586, to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Edward was executed for his part in the conspiracy but Thomas was spared, possibly because of his youth and his relationship with the Queen. His home, Hindlip Hall, became a shelter for recusant priests. After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, the Hall was searched. A contemporary account describes the discovery of “two cunning and very artificial conveyances in the main brick wall, so ingeniously framed and with such art, as it cost much labour ere they could be found. […] Eleven secret corners and conveyances were found in the said house, all of them having books, Massing stuff and Popish trumpery in them.” Although the Jesuits arrested at Hindlip were put to death, Thomas Abingdon was spared and spent the rest of his life as an antiquary.

Place of Origin

London (made)
London (engraved)


ca. 1545 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved chalcedony, mounted in gold


Height: 1.2 cm estimated, cameo, Width: 1.1 cm estimated, cameo

Object history note

Probably engraved and made in London.
Provenance: Sold at Sotheby’s, 18 December 1930, lot 28 of the C.J. Fellons collection; P. Webster collection; Holbrooke Collection; Frank Ward Bequest to the V&A

Broadbelt, Dorothy (died 1577):
In Elizabeth’s household by 1543.
1559 January: Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber.
Received a fee, £20, till summer 1577; from 1567 as Mrs Abington.
1562 July 22: letter to Sweden, message for the King.
Aug 4: in custody of Sir William Cecil; Sept 13: restored to her place;
sometimes the Queen’s bedfellow; Oct 3: comment on motive for restoration.
1563 May 4: has cage for Queen’s parrot; pewter pot for monkey.
1566 March 29: Earl of Leicester’s best friend at court, but is absent.
1567 Sept 30: Queen’s gift of gown and kirtle for her marriage to
John Abington, Clerk of the Kitchen.
[Another John Abington later became Cofferer of the Household}.
1574 May 19: Croydon lodging.
1575 Sept 4: at Woodstock: verse ‘posy’.

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

Oman, Charles, British Rings (London, 1974), pp.31, 106, pl.46 B
Somers Cocks, Anna (ed.), Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630 (London, 1980), p.52, no.17
Starkey, David, ed., Henry VIII: a European court in Britain (London, 1991), cat.VII.21
Kagan, Julia, Gem engraving in Britain from antiquity to the present (Oxford, 2010), pp.51-2
Church, Rachel Rings (London, 2011), p.50, pl.58
Church, Rachel (2014) Writing Equipment and Women in Europe 1500–1900, Women's Writing, 21:3, 385-404, fig. 11

Labels and date

British Galleries:
An intaglio is an incised carving on glass or hardstone. Rings set with intaglios are recorded in the inventory of Henry VIII's possessions. This later example may have been given by Elizabeth I in memory of her father to John Abington, the man who made chests and other cases for the Queen. His wife, Dorothy, used an impression of it in the wax seal of a document in 1576. [27/03/2003]
Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text:

Ring with intaglio of Henry VIII
About 1545

This ring was probably given by Elizabeth I to Dorothy Broadbelt, a lady of the queen’s household and at one time keeper of the queen’s parrot. Dorothy used
the intaglio to seal a document in 1576. After her marriage to John Abingdon, her step-sons were implicated in Catholic plots against Elizabeth.

Gold, engraved chalcedony intaglio
Frank Ward Bequest
V&A M.5-1960 []


Jewellery; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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