Length: 25.000 cm (overall)
Height: 2.500 cm (bead)
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
The Desborough Necklace
From Desborough, Northamptonshire,
Anglo-Saxon, about AD 650–700
Gold beads and cabochon garnet pendants
This necklace is the finest of its kind surviving from Anglo-Saxon England. Workmen found it while digging for ironstone in 1876. The necklace may or may not be complete: the workmen divided the gold items among themselves before being persuaded to hand them over for a small reward. The beads were found near the head of a female skeleton and were said to be the only finds in the grave. The burial was one of the richest of more than sixty graves disturbed at the site.
The necklace comprises biconical beads made of coiled gold wire which alternate with domed gold sheet pendants (bullae) and large cabochon garnet pendants in different shapes. In the centre is a gold equal-armed cross with a glass cabochon setting. Small differences in the garnet stones and the loops of the pendants suggest that elements of the necklace came from at least two different sources.
The inclusion of a cross as the centrepiece of the necklace may reveal that the wearer of this necklace was Christian. By the late seventh century Christianity was well established in Anglo-Saxon England and most women of high social status were likely to have been Christian.
This style of necklace developed from Byzantine fashions popular among the Lombards in about AD 550–600. The fashions spread north from Italy through Francia to Frisia (an area now covered by France, Germany and the Low Countries) and Anglo-Saxon England.
S. Marzinzik, Masterpieces: Early medieval a (London, British Museum Press, 2013)
L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The making of England: Anglo-S, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)