Friday, 4 November 2022

A Ring “for a remembrance”: memento mori and mourning rings in wills.


The giving of rings “for a remembrance” was common in early modern wills, and many survive. Memento mori rings, reminding the owner that death comes to everyone, had been around since the Middle Ages, and often featured a skull or death’s head. These could sometimes be incredibly ornate, as in the mid 16th century example from the British Museum in Figure 1. 

Figure 1: Memento Mori ring. 16th century. British Museum

The idea of rings to remember a specific person is separate from the memento mori rings, though there is some overlap. The will of Sir Thomas Hesketh (1548-1605) of Lancashire (he is buried in Westminster Abbey) left, “To everye one of my brothers and sisters [12 people] a ringe of golde of the valewe of 40s with a death's head and this inscription “sequere me,”” (1 p. 165) Sequere me means follow me. It might have looked like this example (Figure 2)  from around 1600 in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1648 Jasper Despotin, a doctor of physick left “ten rings of gold...with a death's head.. to the value of twenty shillings a be disposed of amongst my friends.” (2 p. 200)  Shakespeare in his 1616 will requested that rings for his wife and daughter be inscribed with the words “Love my memory”      

Figure 2: Death's head ring. c.1600. Victoria & Albert Museum


Sometimes people might be given the option of a ring or money, the money presumably to have a ring made. These gifts could be very hierarchical. In 1608 Dorothy Scaresbreeke, a single woman, left to her uncles, “to eyther of them a rynge of 20s pryce or so muche in moneye.” Her three sisters, aunt and two female cousins got rings or money equivalent to 13s 4d, and her four brothers in law, her brother, his wife, and a friend all got rings or money to the value of 10 shillings. (3)

Sometimes the rings would be inscribed with the name or initials of the giver, and perhaps their date of death. In 1619, Jane Johnson, widow of an esquire, left in her will “every one of them [8 people] 20s a piece to make them hoope rings with my name therein written for a remembrance.” (4 p. 132) This example in the Museum of London (Figure 3) carries the inscription around the inside of the ring, “Oh my sister, my sister, R.H. Jan 22. 1670” Another ring from 1670, which was discovered by a metal detector in 2008, has on it the inscription 'Prepare to follow FV. Ob: 16 May 70'. This has enabled the Elmbridge Museum, where the ring is now held, to be certain that this ring was made in remembrance of Sir Francis Vincent who, according to the local parish register, “dyed May 16, 1670, between 7 & eight of ye clocke in ye morning, and was buried on Friday night following, being ye 20th day of ye same month.” In his will Sir Francis specified “To my loving sister Mrs Katherine Vane the sum of Ten Pounds wherewith to buy her a Ring. To my said cousin Matthew Carleton three pounds & to his wife forty shillings to buy them rings. To my loving brother and friends Sir Walter Vane, Sir William Harward & Arthur Onslow the sum of Ten pounds a peece to buy them rings.” (5)

Figure 3: Mourning ring. 1670. Museum of London


So far most of the people mentioned have been gentry, but this was not always the case. In 1632 a blacksmith, Edward Filbrigg left to four people “10s each to them each a ring of gold to wear in remembrance of me.” (6 p. 201)          In 1634 Richard Copping, a yeoman, left “my loving friend Mr Doctor Rames 40s to buy him a ring to wear for my sake.” (6 p. 287) Those who acted as executors of wills were often left rings, Philip Addams, a currier, wrote in 1637, “I have made Henry Wilson, innholder, Henry Lawrence, butcher and Thomas Cresnar, apothecary, all of Bury, my exors and give them 20s a piece for their pains to buy a gold ring and to wear it for my sake.” (7 p. 135)

The cheapest ring I have among my records is 5 shillings which Randle Astley, a yeoman, left to Millisaint Bannester in 1641 “to buy a ring with.” (1 p. 62) The most expensive was £10 left by Sir Francis Vincent in 1670, as already mentioned, and Dorothy, Lady Shirley in 1634 “to my loveinge kinsman George Purify esquire.” (8 p. 34) Where a metal is specified it is usually gold however, when looking at rings, not necessarily mourning rings, which have been found and entered into the Portable Antiquities Database, a different perspective appears. A search for finger rings and medieval gives 1142 copper alloy, 861 silver and 675 gold, while a search for post medieval finger rings results in 1296 copper alloy, 1138 gold and 431 silver. These copper alloy rings are not valuable enough to appear in wills, but some of the survivals are certainly mourning rings, as in a sixteenth century example inscribed memento mori. The rings were usually decorated in black enamel as in this gold and enamel example (Figure 4) found at Pennard in Wales and now in the National Museums Wales, it is inscribed inside with the motto “Prepared bee to follow me.”   

Figure 4: Pennard mourning ring. National Museums Wales


The giving of rings continued into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1710 the widow Jane Edmonds left, “unto my sonne in law...and his wife twenty shillings a peice to buy each of them a ring to wear at my funeral” (9 p. 195) The example below is in the Museum of London and bears the inscription “Sam Forth obt 9 Aug 1724 æta 36”, he was a Southwark brewer whose will included bequests for mourning.

Figure 5: Mourning ring for Samuel Forth. Museum of London




1. Earwaker, J.P. Lancashire and Cheshire wills and inventories 1572-1696. Manchester : Chetham Society, 1893.

2. Tymms, S. ed. Wills and inventories from the registers of the Commissary of Bury St Edmunds and the Archdeacon of Sudbury. London : Camden Society, 1850.

3. Presland, M. ed. Angells to Yarnwindles: the wills and inventories of twenty six Elizabethan and Jacobean women living in the area now called St. Helens. St Helens : St. Helens Association for Research into Local History, 1999.

4. Wood, H. W. ed. Wills and inventories from the registry at Durham, part 4, [1603-1649]. Publications of the Surtees Society. 1929, Vol. 142.

5. Elmbridge Museum. Cobham mourning ring (17th century). [Online] [Cited: 4 November 2022.]

6. Evans, Nesta, ed. Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1630-1635. Suffolk Records Society. 1987, Vol. 29.

7. Evans, Nesta, ed. (1993) Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1636-1638. Suffolk Records Society. 1993, Vol. 35.

8. Nicholas, J. G. ed. The Unton inventories: relating to Wadley and Faringdon, co. Berks. Reading : Berkshire Ashmolean Society, 1841.

9. Bricket Wood Society. All my worldly goods: an insight into family life from will and inventories 1477-1742. 2nd ed. Bricket Wood : Bricket Wood Society, 2004.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Some thoughts on hoods in 1640s England


I’ve written about hoods before. Most female re-enactors, certainly in England, when presenting the 1640s wear a coif, but hoods were also being worn. To be fair hoods were around for all of the first half of the century, but they start becoming more fashionable, more mainstream, in the late 1630s. William Dobson painted his wife Judith, probably around 1637-40, wearing a hood. t

Judith Dobson by William Dobson. Tate Gallery. CC-BY-NC-ND

 The Howard of Naworth household is obtaining coifs for my Lady in the 1610s and 1620s, and are also buying hoods in the 1620s and 1630s. The Seymour family (Marquess of Hertford) in 1641,and 1642, do not buy any coifs, but they do buy seven hoods, and Rachel, Countess of Bath, in her 1639-54 accounts, has no coifs but many, many hoods. These are all upper class; the question is when did hoods reach down the social scale. The account book of Giles Moore, rector of a Sussex parish, shows purchases for his niece, who came to live in the household when she was about 12 years old in 1667. After an initial purchase of coifs, all the headwear bought for her were hoods, indicating that by that date hoods had become normal provincial middle class wear.

In Hollar’s Ornatus of 1640 there are plates of 26 English women, mostly from the gentry and nobility, and some merchant’s wives. Thirteen of the women are bare headed, one wears a veil, five wear various styles of coifs, a further three wear coifs under hats, two a hat without a coif under, and finally two wear hoods.

The Douce Portfolio set of Cries of London from about 1655 has eleven women, ten of whom wear hats with some form of coif underneath, the detail is difficult to discern, however at least one woman, hot codlings, is wearing a hood.

By the 1680s and Laroon’s Cries and Hawkers of London we have 17 women wearing a hood with a hat over it, and five wearing just a hood on its own, some are worn untied. Only three of the women are wearing coifs, all of the turn back front style and all with a hat over, and one woman wears a very out of date head wrap.

A hood, of very fine fabric and dated to around 1640, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum New York. It is perhaps a half way between the early hoods that survive and the later hoods that appear in paintings, but for which we do not seem to have survivals. As can be seen from the back view, it looks as though the gather that was at the top of the head in coifs, has moved to the back of the head.

Hood. c.1640. Metropolitan Museum, New York. Public Domain


Lots of coifs survive from the first half of the 17th century, because they were heavily embroidered, and were retained for their embroidery. Hoods were rarely embroidered, certain in their later form, though the V&A has three from between 1600-1630. These three, unlike later examples, were not designed to be tied under the chin.

1600-1625 Linen, embroidered with black silk in a design of scrolls and flowers, with linen bobbin lace trimming

1600-1630 Linen, embroidered with black silk in a design of scrolls and flowers, with linen bobbin lace trimming.

1610-1620 Linen with a linen bobbin lace edging and insertions.

A fourth example in the V&A they describe as a coif, because the structure of the top is that of a coif, however the sides extend down like a hood. It is considered to be earlier, 1550-1600, and is of linen with needle lace insertions and edging.

There is a rare English portrait of a woman wearing what might be one of these earlier hoods, though since we can’t see the back it may just be a veil.  It is of Mary Hawtrey, Lady Wolley (1587-1638) by someone in the circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (1561-1636)

A back view of a hood in a 1640 Hollar engraving of an Englishwoman in winter clothes shows the gathers at the back looking horizontal rather than drawn into a circle. It is impossible to tell if this is on a drawstring, or if the gathers have been placed on a band

Detail from Hollar's Noble woman in winter clothing. 1640


One of Hollar’s women’s heads in circles, again from the 1640s, shows a front view, and like many she seems to have created a roll of fabric at the front of the hood.


Hollar. Woman's head in a circle

Hoods seem to come in white or black. Black appears to be mainly for outdoor wear, while white appears to be more for indoor wear, though this is not necessarily always the case. In Ter Borch’s  The Letter of c. 1660 a woman is wearing a black hood over a white hood indoors.

At the top end of the market these hoods were made of gauze, ducape, love, alamode, lutestring, sarsenet, tiffany and taffeta, all types of silks. In the 1650s they seem to have cost around 5 shillings. Hoods were also made of cloth, serge, camlet and calico, the earliest mention of a calico hood I have found is 1657. By 1680 cheap calico hoods were selling for 2d each.


Friday, 17 June 2022

Garters and Gartering in the Stuart Period


“Like as a Silk-Stocking, which when 'tis not gartered, falls upon the Foot.” (1717) Garters have been used for centuries to stop stockings from falling down (think back to the founding of the Order of the Garter in 1344) but what were garters like in the seventeenth century?

Materials and decoration

For the common person garters could be made from almost any type of wool fabric, there are specific references to worsted, so the Frewen accounts in 1631 have “for a payer of worsted garteres 10d” (1). In 1637 a grocer in Kent, James Kennard, has “worsted garters” in his stock. (2) A term often used is list, as in “Garters of Lystes, but now of silke”. (3) List in this context can have two different meanings: some have interpreted it as meaning the selvedge edge from a fabric because statutes for cloth at the time speak of the distance they must be “between the lists”, however it can mean simply a strip of cloth. Petruchio in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew comes, “gartred with a red and blew list”.

Narrow wares, that is braids, ribbons etc., could be used to make garters. In 1644 Rachel, Countess of Bath, spends “for gartering ribbons 7s” (4 p. 250) Gartering could be purchased by the roll, in 1632 the mercer Thomas Harris has in stock, “9 doz. of gartring in the roule at 15d. doz. 11s 3d” and “9 doz. of narrow gartring in the roule at 9d. the doz. 6s 9d” (5 p. 114) In 1623 the tailor Ambrose Pontin has “girdles, laces, gartering and pinnes” in his stock. (6 p. 47)  The miniature garters that accompany the two dolls from the 1690s, Lord and Lady Clapham, are narrow wares, he has small garters of plain tape, while she has pink silk ribbons. [Figure 1]

Image 1: Garter & stocking of the Lady Clapham doll, V&A Museum


Further up the social scale garters could be of silk. For the middling sort this might make them important enough to be mentioned in wills. In 1626 George Piner, a tailor, leaves a friend his “best cloak, best suit, [and] silk garters” (7 p. 48), and in 1620 a yeoman, Hugh Butcher [of interest to none but me, my eight greats uncle] leaves, “to kinsman John Writhock” his best silk garters. (8 p. 46)

In the first half of the century, at the top of the social scale amongst the nobility and royalty, garters could be highly embellished with embroidery and lace. The 1617 wardrobe inventory of Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset, shows that his garters were made to match his suits, for example a suit with a doublet of green cloth of gold, and breeches of green velvet, has “one paire of greene taffetie garters embroadered all over and edged about with a small edging lace of gold”, to match them. (9 p. 48) [Figure 2] The garters could also be made with matching shoe roses and points to hold the doublet to the breeches, one example in King Charles I’s wardrobe accounts is “one paire of rich needleworke garters cinnamond cullor with roses and points suitable to them”. These were not the richest of Charles’s garters, though even the King might have things repaired or remade, “for new makeing twoe rich diamond garters with gould cheines and studs upon watched velvet”. (10 pp. 85, 84)

Image 2: Detail from Larkin's portrait of Edward Sackville. English Heritage


Narrower garters could be woven with phrases in them. One specific type is the so called “Jerusalem” garter, these were made in the middle east of tablet woven silks for visiting westerners. An example in the Colonial Williamsburg collection is woven with the date 1649. [Figure 3] The Victoria andAlbert Museum, has three examples two of which are dated. One in green, pink and cream silk has in silver, “Edward Guile, Jerusalem, 1677  Another says “Mary Horwood, Jerusalem, 1678”. There is a written reference to Jerusalem garters in the diary of Judge Samuel Sewell(1652-1730) of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1688 he writes about a pair of garters given to him as thanks for money sent to aid colonial American prisoners held by pirates in Algerian jails, “Gee presents me with a pair of Jerusalem Garters which cost above 2 pieces 8 (Spanish mille dollars) in Algier; were made by a Jew”. 

Image 3: 1649 garter in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection


Garters with mottos could have political comments on them. One survival dated 1714 states “George Lewis by the Grace of God King of Great Britain France and Ireland”. [Figure 4] They could also have more personal mottos: a pair in the Manchester Museum collection, dated 1717, has one garter stating “My is fixt I cannot range” and the other “I like my choice to well to change”, They may have been bridal garters, by the end of the seventeenth century Henri Misson was describing how, after a wedding, “the bride men pull off the bride’s garters “which she will have already undone, and they then wear them in their hats”. (11 p. 64)

Image 4: Garter for the accession of George I. Victoria and Albert Museum


Leather garters were certainly around, in 1671 James Master paid 6s for “a pa of leathern garters”. (12 p. 142)

Size and fastening

The fashionable garters at the beginning of the century could be very large, one 1611 will gives, “To my mother and sister a pair of skye coloured garters to make each of them a girdle”, implying that each was long enough to fit around a waist. (13 p. 63) In the Oxinden letters two men, who in 1667 were accompanying a bride to church for her wedding, were to have “white garters a quarter of a yard deep with siller lace at ends”. (11 p. 65)

Narrow garters made of ribbon or tape were much narrower, and were worn by the common sort through out the century, and by the elite once the fashion for large garters had passed. The surviving Jerusalem garters may be indicative of size, they are between 110 and 175 cm long (43 to 68 inches) and around 2 to 2.5cm wide (three quarters of an inch to an inch) The Jerusalem garters have a loop at one end and the threads at the other end are braided, and then form a tassel. Other surviving garters do not have this, the ends are either fringed or hemmed.

By the end of the seventeenth century, it was common for men to “roll” their stockings. This meant that the garter became invisible as the stocking was rolled over the garter.


The colour of garters is not often mentioned in wills and inventories. In 1621 Henry Fletcher, a merchant tailor left “a per of French grene silke garters”, and in 1667 John Leadbeater, a gentleman, left one son tawny garters, and another son his black silk garters. (14 p. 103 &190) The Earl of Dorset’s 1617 wardrobe list has garters in lemon, watchet, tawny, purple, sea green, green, crimson, and black, four have gold lace trim and two gold and silver lace. (9) The garters provided to King Charles I also come in a wide range of colours including; pinck, deer, cinnamon, watchet, black, and white. (10) The account book of Rachel, Countess of Bath in 1650 has “3 yards of blue gartering for my Lady 5s.” (4 p. 154)


Like most clothing, garters were used by everyone from the very poor to the very rich. For the common sort garters purchased ready-made varied in price. In 1634 Thomas Nelmes, a Bristol grocer, had 42 pairs in stock, the cheapest could be purchased for 2d a pair, while his Manchester garters were over 6d a pair. (15 p. 84) In 1642 the Newcastle chapman William Mackerrell had garters from between 2½d and 5d. (16 pp. 186-90) In 1679 the Lincoln haberdasher Henry Mitchell’s garters were considerably more expensive at 1s 3d a pair, with gold garters at 5s a pair. (17 p. 60) The nobility pay more for their silk garters. In the 1640s the Earl and Countess of Bath pay between 4s and 6s for garters, with 18s being “paid for my Lord's garters and roses 18s,” indicating that matching shoe roses were bought at the same time. (4) Prince Henry in 1608 purchases specifically “Naples silk garters at 8s the pair” another pair of silk garters that he buys are 12s. (18) Even more expensive were the gold and silver garters in the stock of Stephen Frewen in 1640, they cost £2 a pair. (1) When Nicholas Le Strange married in 1630 he spent on his wedding outfits the vast sum of £161 12s 1d, four pounds of this was spent on a pair of garters, and 22s on shoe roses. (19 p. 131)



Garters were worn by everyone and could run from a cheap piece of fabric, to something covered in gold embroidery with metallic lace and even jewels. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, for men they were a fashion statement to be made to match shoe roses, points and even hatbands and sword hangers. By the end of the century, they had disappeared from sight with the fashion for stockings rolled over the garters. For women they were always invisible, except perhaps when they wanted them to be visible, as Wycherley has one of his characters say in his Dancing Master, “I have taken occasion to garter my stockings before him, as if unawares of him; for a good leg and foot, with good shoes and stockings, are very provoking, as they say.”



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