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Pair of royal finger rings

  • The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms

    The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms

 

Diameter: 2.800 cm (Æthelwulf ring)
Diameter: 2.800 cm (Æthelwulf ring)

Æthelwulf ring: Gift of the Earl of Radnor
Æthelswith ring: Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks

M&ME 1829,11-14,1;M&ME AF 458

    Pair of royal finger rings

    Æthelwulf ring: Laverstock, Wiltshire, AD 828-58
    Æthelswith ring: Aberford, West Yorkshire

    Each engraved with the name of an Anglo-Saxon ruler

    The two rings have similar inscriptions which identify them with the royal house of Wessex. As a result, they are often considered as a pair. However, they in fact come from different places, are of different date and are likely to have been made by different goldsmiths.

    The oldest and largest of the rings was found in 1780 in a cart-rut which probably accounts for its squashed appearance. It has an almost triangular bezel, which depicts a stylized plant motif between two birds. Below this main decoration is a rectangular panel carrying an inscription which can be read as 'Æthelwulf Rex' (King Æthelwulf). The hoop of the ring is wide and flat and is decorated with a quatrefoil and interlaced knot design.

    The second ring, ploughed up in 1870, has a circular bezel with a beaded frame and contains a cruciform (cross-shaped) design filled with leaf motifs. Within a central circle is a charming four-legged animal with a halo and the letters A and D which stand for 'Agnus Dei' (Lamb of God).

    This ring has the name of King Æthelwulf's daughter, 'Æthelswith Regina' (Queen Æthelswith), scratched into the back of the bezel. The hoop is plain and terminates in flattened shoulders decorated with further animals.

    The ornament on both rings is inlaid with niello to make it stand out. Although both show signs of wear, it is unlikely that they were worn by the King and Queen, but were probably royal gifts or symbols of office.

    D.M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon art (London, Thames and Hudson, 1984)

    L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The making of England: Anglo-S, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

    J. Backhouse, D.H. Turner and L. Webster (eds.), The golden age of Anglo-Saxon, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

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