The Lyte Jewel

A portrait of King James I of England (VI of Scotland) by Nicholas Hilliard

London, England, AD 1610-11

This object is now on display in a new gallery on the ground floor, Room 2a: The Waddesdon Bequest.

The 'Lyte Jewel' is in fact an enamelled gold locket. The openwork cover, set with diamonds, bears the royal monogram 'IR' (Latin, Iacobus Rex) for King James, the first Stuart king of England (reigned 1603-25), and contains within his portrait, by the great miniature painter Nicholas Hillard (?1547-1619).

The 'jewel' was given by King James to Thomas Lyte (1568-1638) in appreciation of his gift of an illuminated pedigree which traced the King's ancestry back to the mythical founder of Britain. Lyte presented the pedigree to the King at the Palace of Whitehall in 1610 in the presence of the Prince of Wales and the court. A portrait of him, shown proudly wearing the jewel, was painted in 1611.

King James, the son of a Catholic, Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, had succeeded to the throne of England in 1603. As a Protestant and the first Stuart monarch of England, he saw the political necessity to emphasize his ancient lineage not only through the Tudor line, but also through his Welsh ancestry back to the first king of the Britons. It is possible that Lyte, a relatively unknown member of the gentry, was encouraged by James' advisors to produce the genealogical table, and to present it with full publicity at court, as if spontaneously from a loyal subject.

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More information


H. Tait, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Beq (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

H. Tait (ed.), Seven thousand years of jewell (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)


Height: 6.500 cm
Width: 4.800 cm
Weight: 50.300 g

Museum number

M&ME Waddesdon Bequest 167


Bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild


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