The More Jewels

England, 16th-17th century AD

Statesman, martyr and visionary

The objects here are all associated with Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), humanist and statesman, and Lord Chancellor of England (1529-32).

His role as royal servant and scholar of international renown was vital to the expansionist claims of the Tudors under Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47). More entered the King's Council in 1517. In 1521 he was made Sub-Treasurer and was knighted. He became Speaker of the House of Commons, and then Lord Chancellor in 1529. When the Pope refused Henry a divorce with Catherine of Aragon, the king rejected papal authority and claimed in 1534 to be Supreme Head of the Church in England, dividing England from the Catholic community of Europe. More refused to accept this, describing himself as 'The King's Good Servant, but God's first'. He was executed for treason in 1535. His provocative book Utopia (1518), which sets up an ideal society as a critique of the Christian Europe of his time, is still read today. More was canonised in 1935.

While only one of the objects, the seal-die, with his arms and crest, definitely belonged to More, it seems likely that the jewels were gathered together quite quickly after his death. All but the cameo descended in the family until they were came to the English Jesuit College in St Omers in 1755 through More's last male descendant in the male line, a Jesuit, also Thomas More. Since 1794 the jewels have been at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, until their arrival on loan in The British Museum in 1999.

1) The 'George' Jewel, continental European, second half of the 16th century AD: Repoussé gold and enamel, with St George and the Dragon on the front, Christ as Man of Sorrows on the back, with Peter and the serving girl to whom he denied Christ, Judas who betrayed Christ and Pontius Pilate who condemned him. The Latin inscription, which translates 'O you who have suffered worse things, He [God] will give an end to these also' is adapted from Virgil's Aeneid (I:199). The jewel contains an obliterated miniature of More, after the portrait by Hans Holbein. All these elements suggest that the jewel was made to commemorate More as a martyr.
2) Garnet [?] cameo with bust of the Virgin Mary; the enamelled gold frame probably 17th century.
3) Cornelian seal-die with double crucifix handle in gold: with the arms of More impaling Cresacre, for More's grandson, Thomas (1531-1606).
4) Silver seal-die with the arms and crest of Sir Thomas More: commemorates More's office as Sub-Treasurer of England (1521-25).
5) Gold reliquary cross with niello decoration, inscribed in Greek: 'This is a relic of Thomas the Apostle' (the relic is now missing). Northern European, about 1520-30.

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The More Jewels

The 'George' Jewel

  • The 'George Jewel' (back)

    The 'George Jewel' (back)

  • The 'George' Jewel (side)

    The 'George' Jewel (side)

  • Garnet cameo

    Garnet cameo


More information


P. Ackroyd, The life of Thomas More (, 1998)

D. Thornton, 'Thomas More's jewels', British Museum Magazine: the-1, 36 (Spring 2000), p. 13

J.B.Trapp and H. Schulte Herbruggen, The Kings good servant, Sir Th (National Portrait Gallery, London, 1977)

D.F. Rowe, '"A George in gold" and enamels from Chicago collections', Apollo (June 1972), pp. 516-17


Diameter: 7.000 cm (The 'George' Jewel)
Diameter: 7.000 cm (The 'George' Jewel)

Museum number

On loan from the Society of Jesus .


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