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Home > Auctions > 24th May 2016 > Medieval Gold Duchess of Lancaster Posy Ring with Sapphire

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LOT 1716

Sold for (Inc. bp): £18,600

1360-1400 AD
3/4" (5.11 grams, 21mm overall,16.30x14.86mm internal diameters (approximate size British L, USA 5 3/4, Europe 11.24, Japan 10)).

A gold hoop, ovally shaped to the finger, with raised lateral edge bead; a four-claw collet cell holding a large polished irregular sapphire cabochon to the bezel, with reserved floral and foliage engraving to the shoulders; ornate blackletter 'alas for fayte' inscription to the inner face of the bezel.

Property of a Cambridgeshire, UK gentleman; offered at Sotheby's sale 8 July 2011, lot 34; formerly with Trevor Scott; by descent from Elisabeth Feather, wife of Henry Spinx, in late 19th century via Grace Messeter, Ernest Messeter, Grace Messeter, Ernest Messeter and Edwin Messeter (from around 1865); by family descent, reputedly the property of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, nee de Roet, circa 1400, the gift of John of Gaunt, circa 1400 AD. Supplied with a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate.

See Sotheby's sale catalogue L11231, lot 34 (this ring; catalogue accompanies this lot, with an email printout from Sotheby's to vendor discussing the ring); featured on the BBC TV programme Antiques Roadshow, broadcast 14th September 2008 (with documents relating to the broadcast); for a very similar sapphire-set and inscribed ring, but showing considerable wear, see, and the The Warrington Guardian, 26 April 2008, sold in an Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art auction, London, 9 July 2009, realised £70,850.00. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate.

See Oman, C., British Rings, 800-1914, London, 1974, pl.20A and 20F for similar forms; the inscription 'alas for fayte' (spelled 'faute') is unique among posy rings of this period, see Evans, J. English Posies and Posy Rings, Oxford, 1931. It may be an ironic comment on the long-running illicit love affair of Katherine and John; the sapphire with which the ring is set was popularly associated with the preservation of chastity.

John of Gaunt (6 March 1340 - 3 February 1399) was the third son of King Edward III, named 'of Gaunt' due to his birthplace of Ghent, Belgium. He was made a Knight of the Garter and 1st Duke of Lancaster. He married Blanche of Lancaster, who died in 1369, and Infanta Constance of Castile, who died in 1394. His third wife, previously his mistress, was Katherine Swynford; she was the daughter of Paon de Roet, a herald and minor official who was later knighted and made Guyon King of Armes. She had two sisters, Philippa (the wife of Geoffrey Chaucer) and Isabel (also called Elizabeth) de Roet, who became Canoness of the convent of St. Waudru's, Mons, Belgium in 1366. They also had a brother named Walter; Katherine and Philippa may have been born to Paon's second wife.

Katherine was born in Hainaut, Belgium, in 1349-50 probably on 25th November, the feast day of her patron, St. Catherine of Alexandria. The family returned to England in 1351 and, aged about seventeen, she married Sir Ottes Swynford of Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire, and had three children by him: Blanche, Thomas and Margaret. Katherine was appointed governess to the children of John of Gaunt and his wife, Blanche, by then in failing health; with a pedigree of the descendants of Katherine Swynford produced for the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral, including the relationship to United States Presidents George Washington, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.

John and Katherine began a love affair which resulted in four more children: John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373-1410), who had a distinguished military career in crusades in North Africa and eastern Europe. Henry Beaufort (died 11 April 1447), bishop of Winchester, later a Cardinal and an attending churchman at the trial and execution of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years' War. Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter (died 31 December 1426) was a military commander and for a short period, Chancellor of England; Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland (died 13 November 1440), wife of Robert Ferrers. All these children were born out of wedlock, but subsequently legitimised by their parents' marriage in Lincoln Cathedral in 1396. Katherine and her daughter, Joan, are interred in that same building, although their tombs were damaged during the English Civil War.

The sapphire appears to have originated in Kashmir, and is likely to have travelled to Europe across the Silk Road.