The Cheapside Horde
In 1912, a group of workers in Cheapside, London, made a surprising discovery. In the cellar of an old shop they were demolishing was a wooden box containing an abundance of jewelry and other valuables. The workmen sold much of their find to an antiquarian called Stoney Jack, who worked as an official for several museums.
Through Stoney Jack, the jewels went to the London, British, Guildhall and Victorian and Albert Museums, preserving hundreds of examples of 16th and 17th century craftsmanship. Among the pieces found were a salamander brooch made of gold, diamonds and emeralds, gold cage pendants with pearls and enamel, necklaces that fell to the waist and an onyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth I. In October 2013, the hoard was displayed in its entirety for the first time, in the British Museum.
Queen Elizabeth I’s Pelican Brooch
Queen Elizabeth I was particular about her appearance. Her clothing and jewels were a way to convey her power and wealth to her subjects and the international community. To emphasize her status, she had many portraits painted over her lifetime, rich with symbols conveying the kind of monarch she was.
One portrait shows her wearing a queen’s ransom worth of pearls around her neck, draped over her chest and stitched onto her gown. The centerpiece of her ensemble was a brooch featuring an enameled pelican perched on top of a red table cut stone framed in gold. The pelican’s neck is curved down, its head next to a red smear on its breast.
In the popular lore of the time, pelicans were so devoted to its offspring that the bird would feed its children blood from its body. Not only was the queen in control of a massive treasury, she would do whatever she needed to care for her people.
The Catherine Parr Brooch
Catherine Parr is most famous for being Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. She wrote and published books under her own name and served as guardian for Princess Elizabeth after the king’s death. Like many elite women, she had her portrait painted several times, though one wasn’t “discovered” until fairly recently, when scholars noticed the woman in one painting was wearing a brooch owned by Catherine Parr.
The brooch has an unusual crown shape at the top, which sits upon a sideways oval. From the very bottom hang three large drop pearls. The second largest stone is a red cabochon mounted on the lower part of the oval. Surrounding the cabochon are three dark square stones, possibly diamonds, which weren’t cut to showcase brilliance in this era. From the lowermost pearl to the tallest point on the crown portion, the brooch seems tall enough to fill her palm. The portraits where this jewel is displayed include the Master John and Melton Constable paintings.
The Phoenix Jewel
This pendant gets its name from the image that appears on its reverse side. While its front shows a bust of Queen Elizabeth I made of gold, its reverse depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes, a possibly allusion to a painting where she wears a phoenix brooch. The medallion is framed by a circle made of enameled flower garlands that include the Tudor rose. In addition to the phoenix, the back also features a crown and the Queen’s monogram.
The jewel was made between the years 1570 and 1580. Elizabeth was a style icon of her time, the clothing she’s depicted in helps to date the artwork. Her fondness for portraiture is also helpful, for curators can compare how she appears in the pendant to contemporary images. She also enjoyed posing for pictures with symbols alluding her abilities as a monarch, with a phoenix, one of her personal badges, stating how she helped her country to renew itself from unpleasant circumstances.
The Pasfield Jewel
Though this multi-use pendant was first mentioned in the 1660 will of George Pasfield, it was likely made around 1595. The jewel is made of gold, with enamel embellishments and table cut emeralds. It’s shaped as a 1590s wheel lock pistol, with a hinge near the base of the barrel that allows pieces to be folded out or tucked away. Implements include an ear scoop, toothpick and tongue scraper, giving the pendant a practical edge.
The pendant’s enamel is currently a very dark hue. Due to a house fire in 1817, the glass coating was damaged, altering the color. The gold base and fold out portions, with their higher melting points, survived the heat with fewer issues. The pendant remained with the Pasfield family until it was sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum at an unstated time.
The Armada Locket
The gold Armada Locket is enameled inside and out. The outer front boasts a gold relief portrait of Queen Elizabeth I on a blue background, edged with table cut rubies and diamonds. The outer back is here the jewel gets its nickname, showing a calm ship in a stormy sea surrounded by the words “Saevas. Tranquilla. Per. Vndas” or “peaceful through the fierce waves.” Inside the locket is another portrait and the Tudor rose framed with the words “Hei mihi quod tanto virtus perfusa decore non habet eternos inviolata dies,” meaning “Alas, that so much virtue suffused with beauty should not last for ever inviolate.”
Unlike many jewels made centuries ago, this locket has a known date of creation and artisan. The Armada Locket was made around 1595 by Nicholas Hilliard at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I. Once completed, the jewel was gifted to one of her Privy Counsellors, Sir Thomas Heneage. It stayed with his family until 1902, later moving to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Jewel Book of the Duchess Anna of Bavaria
Commissioned in 1552, this manuscript contains 110 illustrations by Hans Mielich, the court painter of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria. Inside is a painting of the Duke and his wife Anna playing chess before an audience, followed by many pages of the Duchess’ jewel collection. The book’s artistic merit kept it in royal hands for centuries, until in 1842, King Ludwig I donated it to the Bavarian State Library.
Many of the Duchess’ pieces are made of gold be they brooches, pendants, chains, bracelets or jeweled belts. Enameled decoration is common, as are scrolls and geometric motifs. She seems to have been fond of diamonds, using them to outline crosses, form flowers, and form initials. Her book is available to view online through the World Digital Library.