Jewel of the day: Medieval Duchess of Lancaster Sapphire and Gold Poesy Ring

I did a bit of a double take when I read that this rather contemporary looking ring is actually from the 1400s. It belonged to the Duchess of Lancaster and she has an interesting history. Being sold on 1st Dibs by London-based Berganza, they give a lot of detail about her history, and the likely provenance of the ring: Set centrally with a cabochon sapphire in a closed back cutdown setting with an approximate weight of 2.00 carats, to a ridged band with trumpeting shoulders decoratively enhanced with finely carved flowers and foliage, and with ornate blackletter ‘alas for fayte’ inscription to the interior of the bezel.

Tested yellow gold, circa 1360-1400 AD, accompanied by an X-ray fluorescence analysis report stating the composition of the metal and further documentation relating to the provenance of the ring. Reputedly gifted by John of Gaunt (1340-1399) to his mistress and subsequent wife, Katherine Swynford (1350-1403). John of Gaunt was the third son of King Edward III. A member of the Order of the Garter and titled Earl of Lancaster, generous land grants meant that he was one of the richest men of his day. Originally appointed as governess to the children of John of Gaunt and his first wife, Blanche, Katherine subsequently entered in to a love affair with John.

The affair lasted for many years and produced four children. The couple eventually married in Lincoln Cathedral following the death of John’s second wife in 1394, thus legitimising their offspring. The remains of Katherine and her daughter Joan were later interred there, although their tombs were damaged during the English Civil War. Illustrious descendants of the couple include George Washington, James Monroe, Alfred Lord Tenyson and HRH Elizabeth II.

ohh The inscription ‘alas for fayte’ is otherwise unrecorded in rings of this period, and is likely to have been intended as an ironic comment on John and Katherine’s illicit love affair. The inscription forms an amusing juxtaposition with the sapphire – a stone that was associated with the preservation of chastity. The finely engraved foliate sprays, formerly enhanced with enamel, are indicative of early 15th century rings of this type. The unusually formed claw and cutdown setting is reminiscent of a turquoise-set ring from a similar period in the British Museum.

This sells for USD$81,757.84.

Duchess of Lancaster ring


4 thoughts on “Jewel of the day: Medieval Duchess of Lancaster Sapphire and Gold Poesy Ring

    1. This ring is really something, both as to history and how modern the design looks. Wonder why a museum isn’t buying it.

  1. Hello, I am curious as to what you know about the chain of provenance of this ring. Is it hearsay or… ? I research the life of Katherine Swynford. Kindest thanks for any insights you can offer!

    1. I don’t know more than what was in the seller’s description – sorry! It may be worth contacting them directly?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.