Sunday, October 30, 2011

Masterpiece of the Week: The “Be hold the ende” Ring

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The bezel of this ring is enameled in white with a death's head surrounded by the inscription “BE HOLD THE ENDE.” Another inscription, “RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH,” runs round the edge. On the reverse of the bezel, the initials “ML” are connected by a true lover's knot.

Here, we see another example of a memento mori. This time, a ring, which reminds the wearer that she or he must die. But, what’s most curious about this one is that it was also a marriage ring. The second inscription on the ring (“RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH”) and the symbol of the true lover's knot which unites the two initials tells us that this ring was used as a wedding ring by “M.” and “L.”--whoever they were. Though it may seem rather peculiar to have a death's head on a wedding ring, it is meant to remind the wearer, “until death do us part.”

This ring is long-rumored to have been a gift from Charles I (ruled 1625-1649) to Archbishop William Juxon (1582-1663) on the day of the King's execution, 30 January 1649. However, that’s apocryphal as no evidence whatsoever supports this theory.

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