A fine and rare Elizabethan gold and foiled crystal armorial signet ring, dated 1568
The rising popularity of the signet ring in Europe from the 14th century was perhaps concurrent with the development of heraldry. Those entitled to bear arms, affirmed their status with rings engraved or emblazoned with their coat of arms. The 16th century saw a superior genre of heraldic signet whereby the armorial bearings were engraved on transparent rock crystal and coloured in foil or enamel on the reverse to display the correct tinctures. The whole was then set into a heavy gold mount, which was easy to wear and practical too as the engraving could be impressed as a seal but the colours were protected.
Tudor portraits show public figures such as Archbishop Cranmer, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and Sir Thomas Fleming, the judge who tried Guy Fawkes, wearing coloured crystal signets on their index fingers. Mary Queen of Scots and Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria owned other examples and the financier, Sir Thomas Gresham, (1479-1571), commissioned several to distribute amongst his friends. Of the Gresham rings, collectively known as the Grasshopper Rings because of the enamelled insect badge each carry on the reverse, known examples bear the arms of the Lee, Goodman, Fleetwood, Wingfield, Taylor, Tremayne and Woodhouse families. The first four are discussed in an article by W.T.Hemp, FSA in 1925. The Wingfield and Taylor rings were sold at Christies in the late 1970s.
This particular ring, although without a grasshopper insignia, is a remarkable and rare surviving example of the genre, especially as the colours, which over time are vulnerable to moisture, are still bright and true. Charles Oman states that the crystal signet ring arrived in Britain circa 1520 and was fashionable for roughly a century. Perhaps they went out of fashion because the foiling fades over time, perhaps due to the rising popularity of the fob.
This particular ring belonged to Thomas Tyringham, Sheriff of Buckingham during the reign of Elizabeth 1. The family are recorded as being in Tyringham in Buckinghamshire from the 12th century. Thomas, the second son of another Thomas, succeeded his father in 1526. Upon his death, he is recorded as leaving his heir, Sir Anthony Tyringham, aged 40, seised of Tyringham, Filgrave and Emberton Manors, held of the Crown in soccage, as of the Manor of Newport Pagnell, and of the Advowson of Tyringham Church; and of a message in North Crawley and View of Frankpledge there, and 150 acres in Wavendon, held of the Earl of Oxford, as of his Manor of Whitchurch.
In St. Peters Church, Tyringham, on the north side of the south chancel and on an ancient paving stone, there was once a brass effigy of a man and a woman with seven children at their feet. The inscription began here lye buried Thomas Tyringham Esq & Parnell his Wife, Daughter of John Goodwin, of Over Winchingdon, Esq., & sister to Sir John Goodwin, Knt., who lived together married three-score years. The said Parnell departed out of this Life the 29th December 1594, and the said Thomas the 29th March next following; he being of the age of 80 years, and she of the age of 72 years; and leaving behind them 2 sons Anthonie and Thomas; & 5 daughters, Eliz. Catherine, Mary, Anne, & Frances.
Literature: Hemp, W.J., The Goodman and other Grasshopper Rings, Society of Antiquaries Journal, v. V, London, 1925 Chadour, A., The Alice and Louis Koch Collection of Rings, Leeds, 1994, plates 657-660 Lipscomb, G., The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham, London, 1847, pp372-383 Oman, C. British Rings, 800-1914, 1974, plates 46 & 47 Oman, C. Catalogue of finger rings in the V&A, London, 1930, nos 486, 491, 527 Princely Magnificence, 1500-1600, V&A Exhibition catalogue, October 1980-February 1981, no 30 Scarisbrick, D., Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery, London, 1995, fig 22 c & d Scarisbrick, D. Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837, Norwich, pp149-50 Ward, A et al, The Ring from Antiquity to the 20th Century, London 1981, plate 210