Two ruby rings linked by the mysterious inscriptions
Semper Sorores and Luncta Sanguine
One silver locket set with a single perfect diamond
dedicated to an unknown English kingSeparately, they mean nothing – but brought together they hold the key to a secret that could change history forever
The three pieces of jewellery at the heart of The Marquess House Trilogy have always been an important part of the mystery. More than simply decorative baubles, the jewels all have a purpose in the story. In The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, we see all three pieces: the two ruby rings commissioned by Anne of Cleves and the silver locket given as a present to Catherine from her half-sister Lady Isabel Baynton and her husband, Sir Edward Baynton. Beyond this, I’m not going to say any more about the jewellery because I don’t want to put in any spoilers, however, I would like to share the origin of the idea and a bit more about the history and symbolism of jewellery. The specialism of my main character, Dr Perdita Woodville-Rivers.
When I finished my first ever complete manuscript (still languishing in a drawer as it needs a major edit and rewrite), I celebrated this achievement by buying myself a silver and jade ring. It was from a craft shop in Mevagissey in Cornwall and was something I wore for years. Sadly, the jade cracked and began to crumble so it now resides in a small velvet-lined box shaped like a treasure chest. Many people asked me if it was hinged and could open, enabling me to hide things inside. When I’d first seen it, these had been my thoughts, too, but the ring was just a ring and there was no secret cavity within. However, a seed had been planted in my imagination.
A few years later and because of my interest in the history and symbolism of jewellery, I was commissioned to write a feature about key jewels in history and their meanings. It’s a subject I’ve touched upon in both The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy describing Isabel’s diamond earrings; the phoenix jewel belonging to Elizabeth I;
Anne Boleyn’s ship pendant which was a present to Henry VIII and the incredible locket ring that was also a favourite of Queen Elizabeth’s.
There is also the stunning Lennox Jewel (mentioned in Book Three!) which was said to have been commissioned by Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox for her husband, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and Regent of Scotland who fell in battle in 1571.
Below are a few highlights from my jewellery feature which I hope you enjoy and which might make you view your own collections with different eyes as you realise the unexpected secrets and promises you might be displaying unawares!
The Hidden Symbolism of Jewellery
“These gems have life in them: their colours speak, say what words fail of.”
George Eliot, from The Spanish Gypsy
In 1527 an event happened which changed the course of English history. Anne Boleyn gave in to Henry VIII’s persistent courting and sent him a gift confirming that her love for him was reciprocated. It was a symbolic jewel, a small pendant with a picture of a maiden in a boat, tossed upon the waves. While this may seem a small, almost childish gift today, in Tudor England the message of was clear and it was anything but juvenile. The symbolism of the boat meant Anne was asking Henry to protect her from the storms of life. The best way for a man to do this was to marry her. Anne’s carefully chosen jewel gave Henry the spur he needed, and over the next seven years, he turned the religions and laws of England upside down in order make the woman he loved his wife. Quite something for a small golden boat.
With this exchange of jewels the Tudors were following in an ancient tradition, not only were they exchanging coded messages, but connecting with their ancestors in their need to adorn themselves. Jewellery is made from a combination of natural elements and by wearing these precious metals, stones and minerals that formed millions of years ago the wearer is taking part in a magical, almost alchemical experience to become part of their surrounding world. Amazingly, this is something the human race has been doing for over 100,000 years.
In 2006, a study in a US science journal revealed the origins of the oldest jewellery in the world. There were two findings of beads made from seashells which had been deliberately drilled in order to string them together to make a necklace or bracelet. Two of the pea-sized shells had been found in a cave in Oued Djebbana in Algeria and were believed to be 90,000 years old. While the other tiny bead had been found in Skhul Cave on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel and was believed to be 100,000 years old. Whether these beads were used for religious, protective, ritual or decorative purposes is not clear.
Fast forward a few millennia and in the 19thcentury archaeologists made an unusual discovery in Glebe Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland. It was the grave of a high-status woman from 2150BC and one of the grave goods found with her was an intricate bead necklace made of jet from Whitby in Yorkshire. Although this necklace showed the woman’s great wealth and importance, it was also an indication of so much more.
“It wasn’t just a beautiful and rare precious rock, it probably was a kind of supernatural power dressing,” explains archaeologist, Alison Sheridan, from the National Museum of Scotland. “Jet has been used as an amulet throughout history and prehistory as people believed it had magical powers. To bury a very important and wealthy woman in one of these necklaces was to send her to the next world wearing something that would protect her as well as emphasise her power.”
The use of jewellery continued to evolve. When in 1922 Howard Carter uncovered the breath-taking tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen in Egypt the significance of displaying wealth and power after death became clear, status and power was as important in the afterlife as during life. This was shown to be a universal belief when 17 years later the magnificent tomb of an Anglo-Saxon warrior was discovered at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Here was proof, not only of how important chieftains were sent to the afterlife with boats and weapons, but also with vast amounts of intricate jewellery, to both display wealth and offer protection.
Bold curves and spirals were used to decorate the jewellery. There were depictions of animals, trees, insects and animals, all stylised and representing status or protection. The snake, a Celtic symbol of eternity and eternal life, was prevalent, as was a stylised dragon.
The famous helmet from Sutton Hoo depicts a dragon coming down over the warriors face, not only to protect the wearer but to intimidate the enemy, too. This reputation of superior craftsmanship and artistic skill was enhanced further when, in 2009, amateur metal detector Terry Herbert found the largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver jewellery in a field in Staffordshire. It was made up of 1500 pieces many featuring the intricate, woven patterns echoing the curling snake of life.
So, by the time the Romans arrived in 55BC it was hardly surprising that jewellery was in every day use as hairpins, belt buckles and brooches to hold clothing together. Although as time went by, a more controversial use for jewellery emerged: slave beads. These were decorative glass beads that were used across Europe and Africa from the 16thcentury which could be traded for goods, services and, rather chillingly, slaves.
The Secret Language of Jewellery
It was a few more centuries before the sophistication of passing messages within jewellery developed to the level used by Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Although it is interesting that the jewel Henry gave Jane Seymour, his third wife, on their wedding day was an emerald and pearl pendant. The emeralds were to indicate love and fertility, while the pearls were patience, purity and peace. As this marriage took place a mere ten days after Anne Boleyn’s execution Jane would have understood the significance of this gift and perhaps realised that after the storm-tossed furore of Henry’s marriage to Anne, she should take the hint and remain calm, quiet, pliant and, hopefully, fertile. Thankfully, she was able to fulfil this role and just over a year later gave Henry his longed for son and heir.
While jewellery still has it’s very obvious symbols indicating wealth, status and religion, the more subtle language remains something of a mystery today. How many people if given a ring shaped like a snake for an engagement ring would think it was a beautiful gesture? Most women now would be appalled but when Prince Albert proposed to Queen Victoria in 1839, this was the style of ring he gave her. She was delighted, as a snake symbolises eternity, so the secret message within the ring was that he was becoming engaged to her and would love her for all eternity, theirs was a marriage of souls that would last forever.
In fact, it was the Victorians who took the secret language of jewellery to an extremely sophisticated new level. It was a period of great change and prosperity. Suddenly, people had money to spare and with all the foreign imports, as well as the new machine-powered production lines, jewellery was available to the majority of the population. Not only that, the Victorians had a queen who was deeply in love with her prince and romance was thriving. Yet, as there was still the necessity for young men and women to be chaperoned, they embraced the language of symbolism within their jewellery to develop a secret language to express their feelings. Something they could not do vocally as lovers were rarely alone.
Entire courtships could be carried out through secret messages in the tokens they exchanged: if a man was to present a woman with a heart-shaped pendant studded with amethysts she would understand it to mean he loved her with true devotion. While if she reciprocated with a tie-pin featuring a small robin with glittering rubies emblazoned on the its red chest, it would mean: trust in the passion of my love. Forget-me-nots made from tiny sapphires were another popular jewelled memento, again usually in a brooch. If lovers had to be parted they could wear the brooch indicating to other potential suitors they were pining for another who was absent. The Victorians were also very fond of wearing jewellery, mainly lockets but sometimes rings too, with a lock of a beloved’s hair inside. This was the ultimate expression of loyalty and often preceded an engagement.
However, when Prince Albert died in 1841 the devastated Queen Victoria went into deep mourning and wore mourning jewellery made from Whitby jet. It was said this was because of its intense black colour and she wanted nothing to alleviate the sombre mood. Jet is also considered to be a stone of sympathy which aids with the healing grief. It absorbs negative energy and, as our Scottish lady of 2150BC knew, offered protection.
Not Just for Decoration
Even today, jewellery is still symbolic. Every day many people use it to identify themselves as part of a group or faith: a Christian cross, a Star of David, a kara (the bracelet worn by Sikhs to encourage a calm spirit), a Muslim “Allah” necklace, the Egyptian ankh or key of life, a Hamsa pendant to ward off the evil eye or a Thors hammer to represent the Pagan religion of Odinism, the meaning is instant and speaks clearly without words.
We still have rituals surrounding jewellery: the wedding ring is the culmination of the marriage service and is also a very public display of your relationship status. The reason the wedding ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand is largely due to the Ancient Egyptians. They understood that the vein from this finger leads directly to the heart, so to wear a ring on this finger, given to you by the person you love, indicates your heart belongs to them.
The symbolism and significance of jewellery link us through the centuries to our deepest roots and yet, today many people have lost the vital understanding of this connection to their past. Perhaps by listening to our instincts when choosing a piece of jewellery and thinking more carefully about the form, the pattern, the shape and the stones we too can learn that jewellery is far more than something pretty or something to show off wealth, it can be a link to the past and an expression of our deepest, most personal feelings.
Supposedly found over 5000 years ago in India the Koh-i-Noor diamond is reputed to carry a curse. A Hindu text relating to the first authenticated appearance of the diamond in 1306 said: “He who owns this diamond will own the world but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
All the men who owned it have either lost their throne or had other misfortunes befall them. Queen Victoria was the only reigning monarch to have worn the gem when the stone was mounted in a brooch.
Wallis Simpson’s Panther Bracelet
Made of onyx and diamond this was designed in 1952 by jewellers Toussaint and Lemarchand. Although this was given to Wallis Simpson after the abdication of her lover Edward VII, it has still been said the piece was designed to reflect her image as a sexual predator, a triumphant one, by the look of the panther’s expression.
Audrey Hepburn’s Tiffany Diamond
The Tiffany Yellow Diamondis one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered and was worn by Audrey Hepburn in 1961 publicity photographs for Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
Birds in jewellery mean soul mates while the diamond is a symbol of constancy and in yellow suggest sunshine, so the promise is the wearer is the giver’s soul mate and she will be cherished forever in the sunlight of their love.
3000-year-old jet bead
Discovered at Cairnholy, Scotland, the jet bead would have been believed to have magical properties. People wore talismans to ward off evil and as jet can generate static electricity, the spark it gave out would have made it appear even more mysterious.
The Curse of the Hope Diamond
Many believe jewels can be good luck talismans or, in rare cases, cursed stones. As the private jeweller and Cartier expert Harry Fane, who owns the Obsidian gallery in London, puts it, “they have to be more than just rocks”. The Hope diamond is the most legendary example of a stone deemed deeply unlucky, and unless you are entirely immune to superstition, the chain of ill fortune which has followed it seems convincingly dramatic.
Believed to originate from the Kollur mine near Golconda in India, legend has it that the deep blue, 112 carat, golf ball-sized stone was taken from the brow of a temple idol by the French merchant traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in the 1660s. From then until 1958 – when it was donated to the Smithsonian museum in Washington by jeweller Harry Winston, who sent it in a plain brown package by registered mail – it was associated with the premature death, madness, suicide and murder of many who possessed it.
Jewellery in the 1600s
No matter where she was, in the seventeenth century, a woman would always don her earrings: whether dressed or undressed. By day, fake pearl or paste earrings to coordinate with clothing were acceptable. While for the evening, fine diamond and precious stones were expected.
These were the most fashionable stone a courtier could own. Men wore them on hats, as brooches and on cloak pins. Women wore them in abundance as heavy ropes, earrings and dotted through elaborate hairstyles.
Pearls were rare and expensive, however, in the seventeenth century Jaquin of Paris patented a method of making fake pearls. By coating blown glass hollow balls with a varnish that had been mixed with iridescent ground fish scales, then filling these with wax to strengthen them he created fake pearls. This method of simulating pearls was used for over 200 years.
The Secret Jewellery Code
Bee: wisdom and faithfulness
Bird: soul mates
Boat: Protection through life’s stormy seas
Feather: my soul is yours
Heart: love or devotion
Starfish: Love is stronger than the tides
Twinned bird: two souls flying together for eternity
Agate: world success and happiness
Coral: protection against evil
Emerald: Hope and fertility
Lapis Lazuli: unselfish love and compassion
Opal: faithful love. If a lover is unfaithful the stone will shrink and fall from its setting revealing the betrayal.
Pearls: tears, also patience, purity and peace
Ruby: passion. Sanskrit for “king of precious stones” – ratnaraj.
Sapphire: truth, contemplation and chastity
Turquoise: loyal and long-lasting love
Gold: wealth, good health and success.
Silver: unconditional love, sensitivity, balance and patience
Platinum: endurance, dreams coming true, courage.