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Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

items » Brooches


More than fifty gold brooches are listed in a special section of the inventory and many other gold brooches, clasps and badges are scattered in the long miscellaneous section headed 'small jewels'. These precious objects were worn by both men and women and were favourite New Year's gifts. They could be astonishingly valuable. One of Richard II's brooches was estimated to be worth as much as £800. Almost all were set with gems: often in the favourite red, white and blue palette of balas rubiesbalas ruby - rose-red variety of spinel ruby , sapphires and small pointed diamonds at the centre of clusters of pearls. They sometimes had emeralds or true oriental rubies and one had an unusual yellow sapphire. Two other brooches, probably connected with the Order of the Garter, were shaped like shields. The shields enclosed red and white crosses of St George entirely made of balas rubies and pearls and were surrounded on the outside by other gems.

Many of Richard's brooches represented flowers, or humans, or animals, mythical or real. A white rose with a balas ruby no doubt exploited the favourite contrast between opaque white enamel reflecting light and a translucent gem transmitting light. This effect can be seen on the jewel from All Souls College, Oxford, which is on loan to the British Museum. The gem at the centre is in this instance an exotic pink tourmaline.

A photograph of the All Souls brooch

The All Souls jewel (Oxford, All Souls College. On loan: London, British Museum)

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Among the human subjects was a courtly scene of a man and woman in a pavilion. Another was a woman seized by a griffon. More frequent were animals: a lion, several eagles, parrots, a white horse, a swan, a falcon, a griffon. Many were in white enamel on gold and probably resembled the little brooches which have survived in the Treasury of Essen Münster (Germany).

A photograph of the Essen brooch

Brooch (Essen, Münster Treasury)

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Brooches of this type, although rarely as valuable as Richard II's, were exported in large numbers from Paris by the late fourteenth century. The wardrobe books of Henry, earl of Derby (the future Henry IV), suggest that by the 1390s they could be obtained from goldsmiths in London. Some of the courtiers who presented brooches as gifts to Richard or Isabelle are named in the inventory.

Brooches are listed in membranes 5–6 of the treasure roll.

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