Gold and enamelled mourning ring

England, after AD 1679

Jewellery, chiefly rings and lockets, is sometimes worn in memory of a deceased person during set periods of mourning. The practice of bequeathing a ring for remembrance was known from the Middle Ages, and by the seventeenth century it had become customary to engrave rings with the name and the dates of the deceased, with the decorative design on a ground of black enamel. People would leave instructions in their wills for specific sums of money to be used by the executors to buy rings, and the recipients would be named. As a consequence of the Great Plague in London in the 1660s, mourning rings had to be made in enormous quantities.

The designs were generally based on the title page of Bills of Mortality published by the Company of Parish Clerks of London, or on funeral tickets. These are usually enclosed in an arched frame, the borders of which commonly show a skeleton with an hour-glass, a symbol of the brevity of life, a pick and shovel, used to dig the grave, and a winding sheet, in which the body was wrapped. Above, a skull and cross-bones appear with the legend 'MEMENTO MORI' ('In remembrance of death').

On the inside of this ring is the engraved inscription 'In mem.I.W.Arch.Roch.obt 11 June 79' ('In memory of I.W. Archdeacon of Rochester, died on 11 June 1679'). John Lee Warner was Archdeacon of Rochester from 1660 to 1679.

The British Museum has a large collection of mourning jewellery from different periods, and some funerary material in the Sarah Banks Collection, Department of Prints and Drawings.

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More information


J. Litten, The art of death (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1998)

J. Litten, The English way of death (London, 1989)

C. Oman, British rings 800-1914 (London, Batsford, 1974)

S. O'Connell, The popular print in England (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the finger rings, (London, British Museum, 1912)


Diameter: 2.300 cm
Weight: 122.000 g

Museum number

M&ME Dalton ring cat. 1529


Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks


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