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fede ring / gimmel-ring

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1959,0209.40

  • Description

    A gold fede and gimmel ring consisting of two interlocking and twisted hoops with clasped hands forming the bezel. Within the lower hand is a heart and, when the two hoops are joined, the top hand clasps this heart. The hands extend to the shoulders, becoming cuffs and these are decorated and partly enamelled. On the inside of each hoop is an inscription that remains concealed when the two hoops are shut.

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  • Date

    • 16thC-17thC
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 22.77 millimetres
    • Height: 5.33 millimetres (of bezel)
    • Height: 2.22 millimetres (of hoop)
    • Weight: 4.9 grammes
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

        inscription
      • Inscription Position

        inside of each hoop
      • Inscription Content

        AS HANDS BE SHVT SO SEWERLY KNYT
      • Inscription Comment

        'Sewerly' means 'surely' and is an adjectival form of 'suer', which stands for 'sure'. The Oxford English Dictionary records a number of instances of the spelling 'suer', dating from the late-fifteenth to the late-seventeenth centuries. However, the adjectival form seems to appear as early as the late-twelfth century in a manuscript, 'The Revelation to the Monk of Evesham' (1196), by Edward Arber: "...he hylde me by the right hand so sewerly as softly..." (cited in Samuel Dyer, 'Dialect of the West Riding of Yorkshire: A Short History of Leeds and Other Towns", 1891).
  • Curator's comments

    The fede motif (two clasped hands joined at the bezel) represents the joining of hands of the couple at a marriage ceremony, a practice that dates back to ancient Rome and was known as 'dextrarum iunctio'. Until Lord Hardwicke's 1753 Act of Marriage there was no clearly defined process for a marriage ceremony and entering the state of matrimony was governed by local customs and rituals. With the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 by Edward VI (r.1547-53), there was a clear attempt to encourage people to marry within a church. Nevertheless, canon law prevailed and for this all that was required was the mutual consent of both parties. In addition to uttering words expressing this consent, there were certain signs and symbols that could indicate consent; the holding of hands and the giving of a ring were two of these visible (though not necessary) signs.

    A gimmel ring takes its names from the Latin 'gemellus', meaning 'twin', since such a ring is formed of two interlocking hoops. Traditionally, the betrothed couple would each receive one of these hoops, which would then be reunited at the wedding ceremony to confirm that each party gave their consent to proceed with the marriage. The nature of the inscription echoes this sentiment. There are examples of rings formed of more than two hoops and these are often referred to as puzzle rings.

    Both the presence of the fede motif and the fact that this is a gimmel ring strongly suggest that this ring was used to contract a marriage during a wedding ceremony.

    A ring with a comparable inscription is referred to by the vice-president, F.G Hilton-Price, in the report of the sixth annual meeting of the London Topographical Society, held in December 1904 at the Society of Antiquaries, London:
    "Now and then a gold ring has been discovered. I possessed one called a gimmal or betrothal ring, formed of two rings with a hand upon each, which fit into each other when closed. Inside it is the following posy: So sewerly knit, as hands do shut. It is gold enamelled, and was found in Old Street, Clerkenwell (sixteenth century)."

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  • Location

    On display: G46/dc6

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1959

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number

    1959,0209.40

Fede-ring; gold; gimmel ring; consisting of two hoops, twisted to join together, with top hand clasping the heart on the lower hand; the cuffs decorated; shoulders partly enamelled; inscription on the inside of each hoop, not visible when shut.

Fede-ring; gold; gimmel ring; consisting of two hoops, twisted to join together, with top hand clasping the heart on the lower hand; the cuffs decorated; shoulders partly enamelled; inscription on the inside of each hoop, not visible when shut.

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Object reference number: MCT5697

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