A ring that is believed to have been gifted by Elizabeth I to one of her senior naval officers following the defeat of the Spanish Armada, is to go on sale in a few weeks.
The ring features a portrait of the Tudor Queen on one side, and a carving of a war ship on the other. It has been dated back to c.1590, linking the item to the English naval victory of 1588.
It is a large piece – certainly for a male – weighing almost 22.5 grams, and is a British ring size ‘T’, and is of high quality, with stone inlaid bezel of ruby, garnet, lapis lazuli and turquoise around the portrait of Elizabeth. The engraving was probably originally enamelled (traces have been found) and covered with rock crystal to protect the image.
The ring is being put up for auction between 5th – 9th September, when Timeline auctions takes a huge selection of historical items to London for the sale. It has been valued at £50,000-70,000, but already has an offer of £45,000 thanks to the early opening of bids.
The ship, carved into ivory or bone, has a high sterncastle, three masts and gunports, fitting the characteristics of Elizabethan warships. It joins the front of the ring with images of Neptune and his trident, as well as Britannia or Aphrodite, both of whom are ‘supported’ by fish; these were also once enamelled in blue.
Such an expensive gift would have only been affordable to a tiny percent of the population, and the date of the ring, in combination with the design, seems to point to it being a gift from Elizabeth I herself – perhaps to one of her naval captains.
While there is no record of this ring’s creation, potential recipients include vice-admiral Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins (rear admiral) or Lord Howard of Effingham (commander of the English forces) or Sir Walter Raleigh, her naval advisor, who all helped fend off the Spanish Armada. Drake I is known to have been given a locket for his role in the victory.
Other names might include Sir Martin Frobisher, Lord Sheffield, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Robert Southwell, Lord Henry Seymour, Sir William Winter, John Davis or Edward Fenton. The ship might, therefore, represent one of their vessels.
David Miller has said: “I feel that it is a royal gift from the Queen and by the portrait would judge that the ring dates from about 1585 to 1595. I am sure that the portrait is by the artist Nicholas Hilliard as he designed a number of medals including the 1588 naval reward medal which is the first British war medal.”
The Spanish Armada set sail from Spain in July 1588 to overthrow Elizabeth I, a Protestant, and restore Catholic rule over England. The Spanish were supported by the Pope, but it did not guarantee their success: storms saw more than 50 ships wrecked during the voyage, and the delay in their arrival allowed the English navy to prepare.
Images: Timeline auctions