Collection online

Dunstable Swan Jewel

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Dunstable Swan Jewel
  • Description

    Dunstable Swan Jewel: gold, white and black enamel; in the form of a standing swan with a crown around its neck from which is attached a chain.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1400 (circa)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 34 millimetres
    • Length: 84 millimetres (chain)
    • Width: 31 millimetres (side on view)
    • Depth: 21 millimetres (face on view)
  • Curator's comments

    Text from Hinton 2005, see bibliography:
    'It was worn as a brooch: the end of its pin can be seen projecitng below the tail. The coronet round its neck helps to identify it as a Lancastrian emblem; the gold chain was partly for security, in case the pin came loose, but could also have allowed it to be worn dangling from a necklace. It may have been lost at a tournament, as Dunstable was a centre for such occasions at least until the early fourteenth century, or during a royal visit, of which several are recorded in the fifteenth, but its findspot, a friary, may mean that it had been entrusted to the treasury there for safekeeping and it was overlooked when the house was dissolved in 1539.'

    Text from Marks & Williamson 2003, see bibliography:
    'This is one of a group of gold enamelled objects covered with opaque white enamel, a technique known as émail en ronde bosse. The finest products of this Parisian technique of white enamel over gold, such as the Holy Thorn Reliquary in the Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum, are closely connected with the French court at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The gold and enamel are modelled to give a lively impression of a mute swan.
    Given the find place and the associations of the swan with the house of Lancaster, the jewel may have been produced in London. The swan was the badge of the Bohun family and was adopted by Henry of Lancaster, son of John of Gaunt, who married Mary de Bohun in 1380. The jewel provides an excellent example of the richest form of livery badge, which may be seen in the White Hart Jewel worn by Richard and the angels surrounding the Virgin on the Wilton Diptych in the National Gallery, London, painted after 1395.
    After the accession of Henry IV to the throne, the badge was adopted as the livery of the Prince of Wales, Henry of Monmouth. It appears on the tomb of Henry V as king in Westminster Abbey. The swan was also used as the badge of Henry, Prinec o f Wales, the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, and it is recorded that in 1459 Margaret made him give out the livery of swans to all the gentlemen of Cheshire in order to quash rumours that he was not her child. We do not know whether this livery was of gold, silver or lead; they may not have been made of metal at all, but of silk or cloth.

    See also:
    Cherry, 'The Dunstable Swan Jewel', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 1969, vol. xxxii, pp38-53.


  • Bibliography

    • Baumstark 1995 no18 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1976 no268 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986a no310 bibliographic details
    • Marks & Payne 1978 no53 bibliographic details
    • Alexander & Binski 1987 no659 bibliographic details
    • Marks & Williamson 2003 no70 (fig116) bibliographic details
    • Robinson 2008 p. 172 bibliographic details
    • Bate & Thornton 2012 p. 95, fig. 4; p. 289 bibliographic details
    • Hinton 2005 p221;fig7.8 bibliographic details
    • Hinton 1982 pl31 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G40/dc10/sD

  • Exhibition history

    2016-2017 Sep- Jan, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery
    2012 19 Jul-25 Nov, London, BM Shakespeare: Staging the World
    2003-2004 9 Oct-18 Jan, London, V&A, Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547
    1995 3 Mar-23 Apr, Germany, Munich, Bavarian National Museum, Goldenes Rössl
    1993 15 Sep-12 Dec, London, The National Gallery, Making and Meaning: The Wilton Diptych
    1987-1988 6 Nov-6 Mar, London, Royal Academy of Arts, Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400
    1978 4 May-27 Aug, London, BM, Heraldry: British Heraldry from its origins to circa 1800

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Dunstable Swan Jewel; gold with white and black enamel; crown and chain with ring around swan's neck.

Dunstable Swan Jewel; gold with white and black enamel; crown and chain with ring around swan's neck.

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: MCM8023

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help