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The Lyte Jewel

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Lyte Jewel
  • Description

    Pendant jewel; gold; oval; set with twenty-five square table diamonds and four rose diamonds; contains miniature portrait of James I as a young man; cover in open-work with diamonds on outside and enamel within; frame of square diamonds connected by slender enamelled band; back is white enamel plate with fine gold lines and ruby enamel; edge enamelled alternately ruby and sapphire blue; inscribed.


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1610-1611
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 7.9 centimetres (closed with pearl)
    • Length: 6.4 centimetres (closed without pearl)
    • Depth: 1 centimetres (closed)
    • Length: 10.5 centimetres (open with pearl)
    • Length: 8.9 centimetres (open without pearl)
    • Depth: 2.3 centimetres (open)
    • Width: 4.8 centimetres
    • Length: 3.9 centimetres (miniature)
    • Width: 3.3 centimetres (miniature)
    • Weight: 50.3 grammes (without pearl)
    • Weight: 50.74 grammes (with pearl)
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

  • Curator's comments

    See H. Tait, Catalogue of the Waddeston Bequest in the British Museum, Vol I: The Jewels (London, BMP, 1986), pp.174-88, no.33, figs.158-61; and H. Tait (ed.), Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery (London, BMP, 1986), pp.182-4, no.298, pl.25.Text from Tait 1986:-

    Origin: English, 1610. A gold diamond-set locket containing the portrait of King James VI of Scotland and I of England (b. 1566 - d. 1625) by Nicholas Hilliard.

    Provenance: In 1610 it was presented by King James I of England to Thomas Lyte, of Lytescary in Somerset (d. 1638); by descent in the family to a great grandson, Thomas Lyte, of New Inn, who was a younger son of the Lytes of Lytescary. His will (1747) stipulated that the Jewel should pass to his daughter, Silvestra (Blackwell), and to her daughters and their issue (Wills at Somerset House, Strahan, f. 332):
    “I also give unto my said daughter, Silvestra Blackwell, during her life, the possession and use of my great grandfather's picture, and of the jewell which is set round with diamonds, and hath also some other diamonds on the top thereof, and in the inside hath the picture of King James the First - the same being given by him to my said great grandfather - and of which jewell there is also a picture under my said great grandfather's picture. And my will and desire is that the said jewell and my great grandfather's picture may after my said daughter's death go and remain for the use of her daughters successively and their respective issue, the elder and her issue first to enjoy the same: and if both my said grandchildren shall die without issue, I then give the said jewell and picture unto my nephew John Lyte, only son of my nephew Thomas Lyte of Lytescary in the said county of Somerset and his heirs for ever.”
    It passed to Silvestra Monypenny (nee Blackwell) who married James Monypenny, of Maytham Hall, Kent, thence to Thomas Gybbon Monypenny, of Hole Park (d. 1854), whose children included one unmarried daughter, Laura Dunn Monypenny (1832-94). She is, apparently, the 'Miss Monypenny' who owned both the 1611 portrait of Thomas Lyte and the Lyte Jewel until she sold the latter 'to a stranger' and, 'through a London
    dealer', it passed into the Duke of Hamilton's Collection. In 1882 it was sold at the Hamilton Palace Sale (lot 1615) for £2,835 to E. Joseph and subsequently acquired by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild.

    Hilliard's miniature: The miniature is an unsigned but authentic work of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), who was appointed painter, limner and engraver to Queen Elizabeth I and, later, King James I of England. This attribution to Hilliard first appears in print in 1882 but was subsequently questioned by some authorities who thought the miniature might have been painted by his most important pupil, Isaac Oliver, a Frenchman who came to England in 1568 and after becoming official limner to James's Queen, Anne of Denmark, in 1604 and a British subject in 1606, died fifteen months before his master, Nicholas Hilliard, in 1617. In Read 1902 it was described as “Painted by Isaac Oliver or Nicholas Hilliard”, and in Dalton 1927 as “probably painted by Nicholas Hilliard”. Opinion before the Second World War remained divided among the specialists with, for example, Richard Goulding favouring Hilliard and Carl Winter attributing it to the “School of Isaac Oliver” (both private communications). Fully aware of this uncertainty and even acknowledging that the miniature “is generally attributed to Oliver”, Dr Erna Auerbach (1961) claimed it as “certainly from the hand” of Nicholas Hilliard. This attribution has most recently been confirmed by Sir Roy Strong, who (in a private communication) has mentioned that he has now listed about fourteen versions of this particular face-mask, some of which are attributable to John Lockey whilst others are mere studio products of little merit. In Dr Strong's opinion this miniature is undoubtedly by Hilliard himself, albeit not as accomplished as some of his earlier works. As the artist would have been sixty-three years old when he painted this miniature, it is perhaps not so surprising that it lacks great freshness and originality, especially as he would have been expected to produce every year a number of these royal miniatures for court presentation purposes.
    This portrait type of the King has been categorised by Graham Reynolds in: Portraits by Nicholas Hilliard and his Assistants of King James I and his family, ‘The Walpole Society’ (XXXIV, 1958, pp. 14-26) as Type II, and the earliest dated example of it known to Dr Strong is in the Heckett Collection (Pennsylvania, USA) inscribed “Ano Dni 1609 Regni 43” (published in Auerbach 1961, no. 160). One other dated example of this portrait type is recorded and was formerly in the famous Earl of Carlisle Collection; it is inscribed “Ano Dni 1610 Ætatis Suae 45” (published in Auerbach 1961). The Lyte Jewel miniature can also be dated to 1610 (see below, where the detailed evidence is set forth and analysed).
    Nicholas Hilliard might also have been responsible for the design and execution of the elaborate gold locket that was intended to house the portrait miniature of King James, since he had been trained in London as a goldsmith and on 29 July 1569 had become a Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company. Only one document has been discovered that throws any light on his work as a member of the Goldsmiths' Company and its existence is fortuitously due to a dispute between Edmund Cradock, goldsmith, and the brothers Nicholas and John Hilliard. It is preserved in the Court Minutes of the Goldsmiths' Company under 6 April 1571 and has been interpreted as evidence that both Nicholas and his brother, John, who became a Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company less than three months after Nicholas, were engaged in their young days in the production of gem-set and enamelled gold jewellery.
    “And also the same tyme the said Cradock delyuered into the handes of Mr Wardens a Jewell of gold, and 4 litle rynges of gold wch he receaued of Ni'chas and John Hellyard brethern in earnest of a bargayne betweene him and them, to the ende the same jewell and ringes shall remayne in the handes of Mr Wardens tyll the controuersie betweene him and the said brethern touchynge the said bargayne be fully determined by the award of 2 indifferent persones by both parties to be indifferently chosen, And they to be bound in 20I. a peece to stand to the order of the same arbitrators. And if they can make no ende, then Mr Wardens to be Umpiers. Wherevnto the said Cradock agreed, if the said brethern wyll agree to the same. The jewell and rynges aforesaid are thies. Viz . A rose of gold enamelled wt a diamond in it, and a pearle hangynge at it: A litle rynge of gold with a parrett vpon it. 2 litle rynges of gold with ragged staves in them. And a litle rynge of gold wt an emerald peane in it.”
    The view (published in Auerbach 1961, p. 7) that this passage shows that Nicholas Hilliard 'actively' worked as a goldsmith is not strictly accurate. Although the evidence is meagre and inconclusive, there is perhaps enough to suggest that he had received some training in small-scale work, especially in enamelled gold jewellery set with gem-stones, and certainly Nicholas Hilliard in his ‘Treatise,' The Arte of Limning’’ (written between about 1597 and 1603) reveals an unambiguous knowledge of gemstones and a belief that the limner's colours should aspire to the peculiar properties of the five precious gemstones. Undoubtedly, Hilliard would have regarded the locket and the limned likeness inside it as a single unit and, consequently, would have concerned himself with both the design of the goldsmiths' work and the colouring of the enamels, if the terms of this particular commission had permitted. However, information about Hilliard's workshop practice at this date (c. 1610) has yet to be discovered and there is little evidence to support the attractive theory that this enamelled gold and diamond-set locket was produced by Nicholas Hilliard's own hand - or even by one of his assistants. It seems that most of the payments from the
    King to Nicholas Hilliard refer to individual works created to order, and most of them are simply portraits of the royal family, though never the Queen's 'picture'. However, there are a few entries which include a mention of the precious gold setting for his miniatures (see Noel Blakiston, Nicholas Hilliard: Some Unpublished Documents, ‘The Burlington Magazine’, LXXXIX, July 1947, pp. 187-9): for example, by warrant of 5 June 1611 Hilliard received £24 12s “for making two pictures and two tabletts of gold for his Mats service’ and again on 3 November 1613 he received a warrant for the payment of £12 “for one tablet of gold graven and enamelled blue conteyning the picture of the Princes highness with a crystal thereon by his Mats command . . .”, and, again, there is a record of the large sum of £35 being paid according to a warrant of 18 October 1615 “for work done by him aboute a table of his Mats picture garnished with diamonds given by his Matie to John Barkelay”. These payments are recorded in the Exchequer Declared Accounts (Public Record Office A.O. 1/389/48; 389/51; 390/53).
    To what extent Nicholas Hilliard may have subcontracted the work to minor goldsmiths or jewellers cannot be assessed, but it seems irrefutably established from the evidence of these payments that Nicholas Hilliard was responsible not only for the limned portraits but also for the precious settings; consequently, he was paid for both the miniatures and the cases. His responsibility for the design and quality of the finished lockets containing his miniatures is therefore established in these three instances, even though he may have had assistance from other craftsmen in the execution of the goldsmiths' work. In contrast, a late entry in the Exchequer Declared Accounts refers to “Nicholas Hilliard picture drawer” receiving from the King the sum of £4 at Michaelmas 1618 “for a small picture of his Matie delivered to Mr. Herryott his Mats jewellor”. It would seem, therefore, that at the age of seventy-one Nicholas Hilliard no longer provided the precious settings for his miniatures and that this task was henceforth performed by the King's jeweller, George Heriot (1563-1624). There seems, however, little justification for Dr Auerbach's conjecture that “the case of the Lyte jewel was made by Heriot, but the design speaks for Hilliard” (p. 195, n. 1), since no documented specimen of Heriot's work has survived, no document exists to testify that Heriot worked from designs supplied by Nicholas Hilliard, nor have any Hilliard designs for a jewel of this type been discovered.
    If, as seems to have been the case, Hilliard tended to receive from the King about £4 for a miniature, then the larger sums he received whenever mention was made of the precious setting must have been to recompense him for those gold lockets or 'tablets' (as they are so often called). It should, perhaps, be pointed out that the word 'tablet' is frequently used in the English records of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but that its meaning is
    far from clear. Indeed, it seems to have changed its meaning, because in the period c. 1530-50 'tablets' occur in inventories along with miniature books, especially those designed to hang down from the girdle, whereas in the second half of the sixteenth century they sometimes contained whistles and were designed to hang round the neck. Certainly by James I’s reign the term is used for those cases or lockets that opened to reveal a miniature portrait and which had become so fashionable, especially among the men at court. It is highly probable, therefore, that the Lyte Jewel when listed in the Accounts would have been described as a tablet of gold enamelled and garnished with diamonds containing the picture of. . ., but unfortunately no such entry with a sufficiently precise and detailed description has yet been traced or recognised.
    Thomas Lyte's royal genealogy: The date when the Lyte Jewel was made can be pin-pointed with complete certainty to the ten months between 12 July 1610 and 14 April 1611. The evidence, which is given here in full for the first time, is conclusive and renders the dating of the Lyte Jewel to “c. 1620” in Evans 1970 (p. 29, pl. 117) completely untenable.
    On 12 July 1610 King James I, in the presence of his court at the Palace of Whitehall, received from Thomas Lyte an illuminated and monumental genealogy tracing the King's ancestry back without a break to Brute, the mythical founder of the British nation. Not only did the King accept this genealogy with gracious thanks but he also rewarded the author, Thomas Lyte, of Lytescary in Somerset, with 'his picture in gold' - the Lyte Jewel; the proud recipient had his portrait painted with the Jewel hung around his neck and an inscription (in the upper right-hand corner): AETATIS SVAE 43: 14° DIE APRILIS, 1611. This portrait dated 14 April 1611 provides a terminus ante quern for the production of the Lyte Jewel, although there seems no reason to suppose that it would not have been ready for the King to give to Thomas Lyte on 12 July 1610 when the formal presentation of the Genealogical Table took place before the assembled court.
    The portrait, which is now preserved in the Somerset County Museum, was sold by a descendant of the Lyte family at Sotheby's on 3 February 1960 (lot 70) and described as follows: “Portrait of Thomas Lyte, half-length in fur-lined robes and white lawn collar, inscribed with the age of the subject and dated 1611, on panel (23in x 17¾ in). English School, 17th century.” It was purchased by Leggatt. It is, indeed, painted on panel and depicts Thomas Lyte, half-length, three-quarters face, wearing a white lawn collar and a wide red ribbon around his neck from which hangs on his chest the Lyte Jewel, closed but complete with its original pendant in the form of a trilobed drop set with diamonds suspended from the tiny loops at the base of the oval locket.
    In the upper left-hand corner of the picture is the shield of arms of the Lyte family - gules, a chevron between three swans argent. Thomas Lyte, of Lytescary, was the son of Henry Lyte, who died on 15 October 1607 and was the author of ‘The Light of Britayne’ (1588) - the work he presented to “our late soveraigne queene and matchless mistresse, on the day she came, in royall manner, to Paule's Church”. Thomas Lyte was born in 1568 and was sent to school at Sherborne in 1578. He went on to Oxford and although he “did spend several years in academicals”, according to Anthony à Wood, he appears not to have taken a degree. He did, however, become a member of Clifford's Inn and later removed to the Middle Temple. It seems that his interest in history and genealogies was fostered by his father, whose book was printed when Thomas was twenty years old. Whereas copies of Henry Lyte's book have survived, neither the richly illuminated pedigree of 1610 nor the versions which it is said were very soon after engraved on copper and printed have yet been found. Consequently, our knowledge of its appearance and its contents is dependent on contemporary accounts and one pen-and-ink version on vellum - perhaps made as a draft for the guidance of the illuminator of the final coloured version.
    Firstly, there is the account published one year later in 1611 by Anthony Munday (or Mundy) in ‘A Briefe Chronicle of the Successe of Times’ (pp. 478-9):
    “Master Thomas Lyte, of Lytescarie, Esquire, hath (not long since) presented the Majestie of King James with an excellent mappe, or genealogicall table (contayning the bredth and circumference of twenty large sheets of paper) which he entitleth ‘Brittaine's Monarchy’, approving Brute's History and the whole succession of this our Nation from the very Original, with the just observation of al times, changes and occasions therein happening. This worthy worke having cost about seaven yeares labour, beside great charges and expense, his highness hath made very gracious acceptance of, and to witnesse the same, in Court it hangeth in an especiall place of eminence. Pitty it is that this phoenix - as yet - affordeth not a fellowe, or that from privacie it might not bee made more generall; but, as his Majestie hath granted him priviledge, so that the world might be woorthie to enjoy it, whereto, if friendship may prevaile, as he hath been already, so shall he be still as earnestly sollicited.”
    This account published within a year of the presentation at court gives, without supplying precise measurements, a clear impression that the Genealogical Table was executed on a very large scale indeed, and that the King, having accepted it, arranged for it to be hung in one of the great rooms of the Palace for all to see and study. Furthermore, the last sentence is probably a reference to the King's assent to Lyte's proposal to have it engraved and printed.
    Secondly, there is a more detailed account given by that excellent and usually reliable source, Anthony à Wood (1632-95). He states in his biographical dictionary of Oxford writers, ‘Athenae Oxonienses’ (1691-2), that Lyte “. . . did draw up, with very great curiosity, the genealogy of James I from Brute, written by him on vellum with his own hand fairer than any print: it was also illuminated with admirable flourishes and painting, and had the pictures of the kings and queens mentioned therein most neatly performed by the hands of an exact limner. This genealogy the author did dedicate to his Majesty, who, after a long and serious perusal of it, gave the said author his picture in gold, set with diamonds, with gracious thanks. Charles, Prince of Wales - afterwards King Charles I - was so exceedingly taken with it, that he gave the author his picture in gold also. Camden before-mentioned had the perusal of it and underneath wrote with own hand about 6 verses in commendation of it and the author: about which time, it being hanged up in public in one of the rooms at Whitehall, became by the carelessness of pages and idle people, a little soiled; wherefore, upon the author's desire made to his Majesty, it was engraved on copper and printed, with this title 'The most royally ennobled Genealogy of the high and mighty Prince and renowned Monarch, James, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, etc, extracted from Brute, the most noble founder of the Britains, as also from the first Original of the Scots, from them ascending to the Imperial Romans, the warlike Picts, the Saxons, Danes, and conquering Normans, with his lineal descent from Charlemagne, and other the modern Kings of France, their several regimens, titles, honours, matches, sirnames and descents, when they began their reign, how long each each Prince ruled and and governed the estate royal, the manner of their death and place of burial. Whereunto is added their regal ensigns, arms, atchievements of honour, emblems and memorable epitaphs, etc. reduced into a Genealogical Table, etc. Printed at London, "in forma patenti".”
    Wood's account can, to a large extent, be confirmed from other contemporary sources, even though the Prince of Wales's gift, the illuminated Genealogical Table and the copper-engraved and printed versions can no longer be found.
    In the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Rawlinson MSS D. 8IO and D. 859), there is an unpublished and most valuable first-hand account of the Lyte Jewel and the royal pedigree preserved at Lytescary, Somerset, written in 1683 by Thomas Baskerville (d. 1694), who was descended from Thomas Lyte's second wife by her first marriage:
    “This Thos. Lyte, her last husband, was a worthy man and well read in Heraldry, for he undertook a tedious task in that kinde of Learning - to draw down the Genealogy of King James from Brute, which work comprehends the Lineage and names of most of the Kings and great princes of England, Scotland and Wales and Ireland with an account of the most memorable and remarkable things which happened in that large space of time, this work being a curious pen-man he drew on Vellam or parchment, illustrating it with the figures of men, women and other things agreeable to that History. He drew with his pen on parchment 2 of these Geneologyes, one he presented to King James, who gave him a fair Jewell of Gold in which was set a cross of rich diamonds and as I remember, for I was a Child when I saw itt, with the King's picture on the other side of it. The other Genealogy set in a frame about 3 yards each square is now to be seen in the great parlor at Lytes Cary house in Sommersetshier, where now, 1683, lives Henry Lyte, the Grand-Son of that Tho. . . .”
    The uncoloured Genealogical Table that used to hang in Lytescary was acquired in 1954 by the Department of MSS, British Library (Add. MS. 48343) and was recently published in the ‘Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts 1951-1955’, London, 1982. Although it originally formed a rectangle of nine membranes, the four corner membranes are now missing. Nevertheless, this vellum roll is the work of Thomas Lyte and probably conveys an accurate impression of the contents and general appearance of the pedigree presented to the King in 1610. However, the King's version was richly coloured, whereas this roll is executed in pen and ink without colour. Nor is it certain that all the texts were the same - indeed, it would seem that the title itself was more elaborately worded on the King's version. Equally, the exact size of the King's version is not known, although it seems likely that it was somewhat larger than the measurements 1.89 x 2.12 m of the uncoloured version (Add. MS. 48343).
    The following extract from the 1982 description provides some indication of the complexity and wealth of information contained in the lost royal version and will serve to explain why the Lyte Jewel was, perhaps, not such a disproportionately grand and lavish gift in return:
    “At the head of the present pedigree is a portrait of James I enthroned beneath a canopy, with orb and sceptre, and wearing crown and garter, followed by a long dedication. The chief genealogical lines descend at the sides and left centre (from Brutus, Woden, Scottish kings, etc.) and ascend in right centre ('the Imperial line' from the Normans, joined by the North Wales and Tudor lines) ending with medallion portraits of James I and his consort. Accompanying the descents are imaginary portraits of most of the kings, drawings of badges, emblems, heraldic shields, etc., and a variety of other illustrative matter, e.g. the engraved lead cross from the grave of King Arthur and a drawing of King Bladud on the Temple of Apollo. The textual matter comprises, apart from the dedication, two long explanatory passages, that on the left relating to the four conquering nations, that on the right to the Picts, and many shorter passages consisting of historical summaries, copies of epitaphs, etc. Despite the statement in the right-hand explanatory passage that “before the entrie of the Romans the saide British History avoideth not the suspition of some fabulous errors” the text relating to earlier periods of British history repeats traditional stories, some possibly derived from ‘The Light of Britayne’, 1588, by Lyte's father, Henry Lyte; sources for later history are the standard chroniclers, those mentioned by name including John Harding, John Major, David Powel and John Stow.”
    A little more light is shed on the now lost royal version by a passage in Thomas Lyte's commonplace book (now on deposit in Somerset Record Office); it has a list in his own handwriting of various related manuscripts at Lytescary, including:
    “Crinkyn's covenants for drawing and lymninge the Kinge's petegree.
    The first draught of divers tables fixed in the kinge's petegree.
    The booke of directions to understand the course of the kinge's petegree, written by R. Smythe, and 2 other books abridged out of same by Thomas Lyte.
    Camden's verses and other of my good frendes written in commendation of the sayd petegree.”
    The first item, now lost, seems to link up with Wood's reference to the portraits of kings and queens on the genealogical table being “most neatly performed by the hands of an exact limner”. As yet, nothing further is known about this artist, Crinkyn, but if he had failed to attract the patronage of the court and his work had been chiefly concerned with the more mundane aspects of drawing and lymning genealogies and, perhaps, heraldic devices on charters and legal documents, then Crinkyn's name would almost certainly have been lost to posterity.
    The last item on that list, also as yet untraced, refers to Camden's verses and, once again, Wood's remarks about Camden adding six verses underneath seem to be correct. Indeed, one of Camden's lost verses is apparently preserved in Thomas Lyte's own hand in a small quarto volume of twenty-three leaves of paper, which had been lost until purchased in about 1890 from Cornish of Manchester by Sir Henry Maxwell Lyte KCB, Deputy Keeper of the Records. It reappeared on the market twenty-five years ago and was acquired by the Department of MSS of the British Library (Add. MS. 59741). On the verso of the second page Thomas Lyte has transcribed the following verse (which may be the last of the six verses added by Camden to the pedigree as it hung in the Palace of Whitehall):
    “Artificemne manum mirer, celebremve labores,
    Lite, tuos? hi namque docent, delectat ut ilia,
    Dum calamo docto quoscunque Britannia reges
    Vidit, depingis graphice, describis et apte
    Regum progeniem, res gestas, symbola et annos,
    Hac una tabula dum mille volumina versas.
    Such high praise from William Camden (1551-1623), the great antiquary and historian of the day, would have set the seal of scholarly approval on Thomas Lyte's great work. Camden had not only founded a chair of history at Oxford University, he had published in 1607 a very much enlarged edition of his ‘Britannia’, replete with historical information, and was generally regarded as the learned authority in these matters.
    The wording of the 'title' as written out in Lyte's own hand (in Add. MS. 59741) corresponds exactly with that given by Anthony à Wood and the accuracy of Wood's account is confirmed. Furthermore, at the beginning of Add. MS. 59741 there is added on the flyleaf in Thomas Lyte's handwriting a note that reads:
    “The King's Genealogie being fairlye written in parchment, and set fourth in ritch coulers in a verie large Table, was presented to King James at his royall Pallace of Whitehall the 12 of Julye anno regni 9°, 1610, in the presence of Henry, Prince of Wales; Richard Bankcroft, Archbishop of Canterbury; Robert Cecill, Earle of Salisbury, Lord Treasurer; Henry Howard, Earle of Northampton, Lord Privie Seal; Charles Howard, Earle of Nottingham, Lord Admirall; Thomas Howard, Earle of Arundle; Henrie Wriothsley, Earle of Southampton; Philipp Herbert, Earle of Montgomery.”
    This statement provides several additional facts but once again testifies that this work was monumental in scale, written on vellum or parchment and finished in rich colours. In addition, it gives the exact date for the presentation of the completed Genealogical Table to James I, surrounded by his court and the holders of the great offices of State.
    If this tremendously complex Genealogical Table took about seven years to produce, as Anthony Munday recorded in 1611, then Thomas Lyte had probably started work on it shortly before the coronation of James I in March 1604 - an event of unprecedented splendour - and, consequently, it is not surprising to find on the second leaf of the small quarto volume (Add. MS. 59741) a draft of an earlier 'title', which ends with a dedication to “his most excellent Majestie and published by his royall assent and priveledge, 1605”. Significantly, the wording of this earlier 'title', which does not resemble the wording used in the final version (reproduced in Add. MS. 59741, page 4, and again in Anthony à Wood), makes no mention of the King being “extracted from Brute, the most noble founder of the Britains, as also from the first Original of the Scots . . .” It is shorter and simply reads:
    “Britaines Monarchie, containinge the most Royall descent of our gracious Soveraigne collected out of the Cronicle Histories, and reduced to a Genealogical Table, with the most remarkable, and principall matters, described in picture, for the better understanding of the industrious Reader. Dedicated to his most . . .”
    Significantly, Thomas Lyte used the phrase 'Britaines Monarchie' in the 'title' when he was preparing the pen-and-ink version that he kept at Lytescary; in a cartouche in the centre below the enthroned figure of King James he wrote:
    “Your Highnes most loyall subject THOMAS LYTE in all humility consecreathth his BRITTANS MONARCHIE”.
    The wording in this cartouche seems to have been left unfinished and, indeed, there are several other cartouches that have been left blank. It may be, therefore, that the pen-and-ink version of the pedigree was a preliminary attempt begun about 1604-5 and that it was superseded by the grander and more richly illuminated version that was ready for presentation to the King in July 1610.
    The strongest evidence in support of the view that engraved versions were printed after 1610 is contained in Thomas Moule's ‘Bibliotheca Heraldica’ (London, 1822 pp. 64-5), where it is clear that he has copied the 'title', not from Anthony à Wood or from Lyte's pen-and-ink version but from the engraved version. It is hoped that by illustrating several details of the pen-and-ink version an engraved copy will be recognised and its whereabouts made known.
    The details also reveal the high quality of the penmanship and this in turn raises the question of their authorship - Thomas Lyte or the limner, Crinkyn? It seems unlikely that the limner would have been expensively employed on the preliminary and unfinished version kept at Lytescary, but it could have been abandoned because of errors or a change of plan in the layout of the pedigree. If the missing manuscript notes of Thomas Lyte are found, the answer may be discovered.
    The Jewel's significance: Although the Lyte Jewel may be viewed as no more than another typical extravagant court gesture - the whim of an absolute monarch choosing to lavish costly diamonds and gold on a humble subject who had pleased him - there seems to have been a far more astute and fundamentally political reason for its creation and presentation.
    King James I was far from confident that his position on the throne of England was wholly safe and secure. His mother was a Stuart, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, daughter of James V of Scotland and his Queen, Mary of Guise (of France), and she had been beheaded by the Queen of England in 1587. The same Queen of England while she lay on her deathbed in 1603 had acknowledged him as her heir, but this decision was not in accord with the testament of her father, Henry VIII, who had been empowered by Parliament to bestow the succession as he deemed best for England. King James himself was a Stuart; he was starting a new line of Stuart kings in England, and it was vital for his policy to show that he was not 'Davy's son', as many a rumour suggested at the time of his birth (19 June 1566). The opinion that Mary's child was the result of a clandestine love affair with her Italian secretary, David Riccio, who had arrived in Scotland in 1561 in the train of the ambassador from Savoy and had been appointed in 1564 at the age of thirty-eight as her secretary, was held by influential people at court. Elizabeth's envoy, Randolph, had written in January 1566 to Lord Leicester “Woe is me for you, when Davy's son shall be King of England”. Later that year on 9 March 1566 Riccio was assassinated in the Queen's private rooms in Holyrood Palace, but the doubts about James's parentage lived on, and in later years King Henry IV of France observed that James could indeed claim to be the modern Solomon, since he was the son of David.
    Even if there had been no doubts about the identity of his father, James's position was not particularly strong since Mary had made the mistake of marrying one of her subjects, a step regarded by her French royal relations to have been far beneath her and politically very unwise. In fact, King James I’s father, Lord Darnley, had been another Stuart and had been murdered in 1567 two years after marrying Mary, Queen of Scots. His short life of twenty years had been pathetically un-heroic and contained little to recommend its memory to James's new English subjects. Within a few months of the crime his mother, the Queen, had abdicated her throne and, while James was little more than a year old, she had fled her country. Since that time, James had been dominated and constrained by the Scottish bellicose nobility and clergy, and those thirty-five years before he left Scotland in 1603 to be crowned in Westminster had made him very cautious and anxious about his position and his right to the throne of England, even though he might whole-heartedly subscribe to the idea of the divine right of kings - a doctrine that God alone can make and break kings, a doctrine that had been dealt a severe blow by Queen Elizabeth I when she had his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed. That fatal event had happened in living memory, and James was too intelligent not to know that kingly claims to absolute power on the basis of divine right could not be advanced too far.
    The early years of James's reign saw several attempts to strengthen his position by convincing his subjects that he was no foreigner but a genuine Protestant descended through the Tudors from the most ancient British line of rulers. Apart from Thomas Lyte's monumental Genealogical Table and its printed version, there were books being
    published that echoed these claims. Thus Michael Drayton (1563-1631), the prolific writer and poet, introduced these notions into his principal work, ‘The PolyOlbion’ (1612). It consists of thirty 'Songs', in which the beauties and glories of this country are revealed, with annotations by John Selden (1584-1654), the eminent lawyer and Keeper of the Records. The emblematic title-page (see Margery Corbett and R. W. Lightbown, ‘The Comely Frontispiece’, London, 1979, pp. 152-61) includes four armed figures representing the four successful conquerors of Britain, beginning with Brutus, the ruler who gave his name to the British, a people who were said to be the direct ancestors of the Welsh and the Cambro-Britains. Brutus (or Brute) was held to be a Trojan because, as Selden remarks, of “that universall desire bewitching our Europe to derive their bloud from Trojans”. Thus, when in 1485 Henry Tudor became the first Tudor on the throne of England (as Henry VII), his defective title to the throne through the House of Lancaster both hampered his rule and caused him to face a series of rebellions. His half-Welsh royal blood assumed a new and greater political significance; indeed, his position was greatly strengthened by the fact that he could also claim descent from the ancient British line from Brute through his grandfather, Sir Owen Tudor, the Welshman whom Henry V's widowed queen, Catherine of France, had married. Selden quotes two prophetic legends in support of the claim, the first of which stated “an eagle foretold of a reverting of the Crowne, after the Britons, Saxons, and Normans to the first again”. The other prophetic prediction was supposedly made to the last king of the Britons, Cadwallader, who reigned in the seventh century and defended Wales against the Saxons: “An Angelicall voyce . . . given to Cadwallader . . . that restitution of the Crowne to the Britons is promised . . .”.
    Subsequently, the other Tudor sovereigns stressed their British title but James I stressed not only his main claim through Margaret Tudor, his great-grandmother who was the daughter of Henry VII and had married James IV of Scotland, but he also stressed his Welsh royal blood, which was supposedly due to Fleance, son of Banquo, escaping to the court of Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, and marrying the Prince's daughter. As Selden points out, it was their son who was made Lord High Stewart of Scotland and so became the founder of the ruling dynasty in Scotland, the House of Stuart. Little wonder, therefore, that Shakespeare, who undoubtedly wrote ‘Macbeth’ (finished 1606) as a tribute to King James I, contrived to introduce into the story Banquo and Fleance and portray them as noble characters cruelly wronged.
    Similarly, the choice of subject for the court masque to celebrate Prince Henry's investiture as Prince of Wales in 1610 is equally significant, for once again the characters were taken from the legends of ancient Britain, and Prince Henry was cast as the new Arthurian-British hero, the epitome of the knightly virtues, Meliadus, Lord of the Isles. Meliadus and his knights are, in Ben Jonson's play ‘Barriers’, summoned by Merlin and King Arthur to revive British knighthood and, fortunately, Inigo Jones's settings for this production have survived in the famous set of drawings at Chatsworth. The masque was staged on Twelfth Night in 1610 before the assembled court, and whilst Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones each received £40, the total cost was probably about £2,500 (see ‘The King's Arcadia: Inigo Jones and the Stuart Court’, catalogue by John Harris, Stephen Orgel, Roy Strong, London, 1973, pp. 47-8).
    Such spectacles were essential and by making a grand, official occasion at court of the presentation of Thomas Lyte's Genealogical Table, the King would seem to be conducting a well-planned public relations exercise, designed to draw maximum attention to its reassuring message. There was good reason for the King to want to mark the event in such a manner that it would give rise to universal talk. No doubt the foreign ambassadors were there to report back to their masters, and perhaps even the painting of Thomas Lyte's portrait showing the King's present proudly worn on his chest was not so private and personal a commission as has been hitherto supposed. Closely related is the problem of how an almost unknown member of the gentry, who seems not to have had any particular entree at court, should be entrusted with the highly sensitive and important task of vindicating King James's pedigree. One can only speculate on the possibility that the exercise may have had royal backing from the beginning but had deliberately been made to appear as a spontaneous demonstration of loyal support from among His Majesty's devoted British subjects, especially from that particular class which had so much power in Parliament and so frequently used it to frustrate the King's plans to increase his revenue through higher taxes and levies.
    Although the payments to Nicholas Hilliard give a reliable indication of how much he received for the miniatures and occasionally the lockets, it seems unlikely that the value of the twenty-nine diamonds of the Lyte Jewel can be deduced from contemporary records. It seems likely that the practice at court was for the diamonds to be issued by the king to the goldsmith who was responsible for making the locket or 'tablet'. Consequently, the choice of the diamonds - both their quality and the elaboration of their cutting - would be the concern of neither the limner nor the King's jeweller. In the case of the Lyte Jewel the two complex rose-cut diamonds and the two hexagonal multi-faceted diamonds must have been expensive both because of their quality and their rarity at this early date, c. 1600-10. The skill to cut diamonds in this way was only just being acquired, and it seems highly exceptional that stones of this complexity should be incorporated in a presentation jewel of this kind, unless the King was deliberately encouraging the maximum interest in the event and the message of the pedigree. Furthermore, the jeweller appreciated the merits of these four diamonds and provided them with the most beautifully fashioned collets in the manner of flower petals.
    Finally, the goldsmith introduced into the back of the jewel a design that must have been extremely avant-garde. Few surviving sets of dated engraved designs of this type have been recorded (see Evans 1970, pp. 126ff., figs 19-21). Four designs are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum (E. 22781/1-4); they formed part of a set, the first page of which is inscribed “Guilhelmus de la Quewellerie fecit. Ac Dni 1611. Wilh. Ianss: ex. Amster”. This set originated in Amsterdam but little is known about the artist who designed them, although he is said to have been working until at least 1635. Since the set was dated 1611, it is highly probable that this type of Mannerist arabesque ornament had been disseminated by the end of the first decade of the seventeenth century and that its origin was either in the Low Countries or in France.
    This impression is confirmed by the existence of a set of eight designs dated 1615 (also preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum). The first page of this set is inscribed “Stephanus Carteron Castellionensis Burgundus . . .inventor . . . has tabulas . . . sculpsit 1615”. This artist seems to have been active from about 1580 in the Low Countries, and his versions of the new form of Mannerist arabesque patterns are probably a faithful indication of the range and quality of this eccentric type of decoration. The extremely fine lines and attenuated elements of these patterns give a sophisticated elegance to the enamelled surfaces of jewellery, especially the backs of lockets and mirror-cases or the handles of knives and forks. The design of Michel Le Blon (1587-1656) demonstrates how skilfully these Mannerist curvilinear patterns can be adapted to the graceful shapes of contemporary gold handles of knives and forks. (Four examples are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.)
    From the evidence of dated engraved designs, it is reasonable to infer that the back of the Lyte Jewel is in the very latest fashion and in no way a provincial work from an artistic backwater. The Lyte Jewel is in every way symptomatic of the high standards prevailing at the court of James I in London and offers irrefutable proof of the English court's awareness of the latest developments in fashionable design at the great centres on the Continent.
    Indeed, the asymmetrically arranged, naturalistic trailing floral and foliate ornament on the openwork cover is strikingly similar to the openwork ornament which provides an attachment loop on either side and frames the bust of the famous Cleopatra jewel in the Schatzkammer der Residenz, Munich (no. 585). This great Renaissance jewel - one of the most accomplished examples of the marriage of the sculptural art of the cameo-engraver and the imaginative use of colour and design by the goldsmith and enameller - has been variously attributed by specialists in the past to Munich, Prague or just Germany, and the dates suggested have varied from the 'middle of 16th century' to '1580-1590' or just '16th century'. Most writers seem to have held the view that the hyacinth cameo head and hand of Cleopatra are the product of Italian craftsmanship and, most recently, they are said to have been executed in “Milan, c.1560” (Hackenbroch 1979, p. 196).
    As the origin and precise dating of this important jewel are not documented in any way, its relationship to the firmly dated and documented Lyte Jewel of 1610 is highly significant. A detailed examination of the openwork naturalistic frame of the Cleopatra jewel reveals that the various floral and foliate elements are precisely the same as on the Lyte Jewel and, furthermore, the enamelling is identical: the same palette and the same application of translucent coloured and of opaque coloured enamels, even the distinctive use of tiny blobs of yellow on top of the opaque light blue enamel. (For a large and faithful colour reproduction of this Cleopatra pendant see Hugh Tait in ‘The Great Book of Jewels’, 1974, pl. 168). It would seem, therefore, that the date of the Cleopatra jewel is probably no earlier than the beginning of the seventeenth century, at which date the very recognisable type of enamelling on Cleopatra's armour was also becoming fashionable in Germany.
    The nationality of the goldsmith-enameller of the openwork frame of the Cleopatra jewel can no more be determined than that of the Lyte Jewel. The great mobility of the leading craftsmen in the Late Renaissance era frustrates most attempts to establish the true nationality of a Renaissance jewel. However, in the case of the Lyte Jewel its English origin in 1610 has been confirmed, although the possibility that it was enamelled by one of the foreign craftsmen known to have been employed in London during the reign of King James I cannot be ruled out. The goldsmith's work in the Lyte Jewel has an avant-garde quality and general excellence that make its former attribution to Nicholas Hilliard's own hand now seem unlikely; it serves to emphasise the strong influence of Continental fashion and foreign craftsmen at the Jacobean court in its most extravagant phase c. 1610.

    Bibliography: Manuscript account by Thomas Baskerville, written in 1683 (in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Rawlinson MSS D. 810 and D. 859); [Anthony à Wood], ‘Athenae Oxonienses. An Exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the most ancient and famous University of Oxford’, London, 1691, vol. I; Anthony à Wood, ‘Athenae Oxonienses’, ed. P. Bliss, vol. II, London, 1815, p. 649; William George, ‘Lytes Cary Manor House, Somerset and its Literary Associations’, Bristol, 1879; ‘The Hamilton Palace Collection’, an illustrated priced catalogue of the sale, London, 1882, p. 188, lot 1615; Sir Henry Maxwell Lyte, KCB, The Lytes of Lytescary, ‘Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society’, vol. XXXVIII, 1892, pp. 60 ff.; ‘idem, The Lytes of Lytescary’, Taunton, 1895, pp. 62-3; Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 167, pl. XXXIX; H. Clifford Smith, ‘Jewellery’, London, 1908, pp. 303-4, pl. XLI; Joan Evans, ‘English Jewellery from the Fifth Century AD to 1800’, London, 1921, p. 120, pl. XXIII; ‘A Guide to the Medieval Antiquities and Objects of Later Date’, British Museum, 1924, p. 147; O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 167, pl. XVI; Joan Evans, ‘A History of Jewellery, 110-1870’, London, 1953 (rev. edn 1970), p. 134, fig. 117; Erna Auerbach, ‘Nicholas Hilliard’, London, 1961, pp. 167-8, p. 195, pl. 165; Hugh Tait (contrib.), ‘The Great Book of Jewels’, eds. E.A. and J. Heiniger, Lausanne, 1974, p. 171; Roy Strong, ‘Nicholas Hilliard’, London, 1975, pp. 17-18; 1976, pp. 182-3, col. pl. 25; Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Renaissance Jewellery’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, New York and Munich, 1979, pp. 297-8, fig. 794, col. pl. XXXVI; Hugh Tait, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: The Legacy of Baron Ferdinand Rothschild to the British Museum’, London, 1981, pp. 12, 55, figs 32-5, col. pl. XIa; Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no.33, pl. XXIV, XXVA & B, figs. 158-159; Hugh Tait, 'Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery', British Museum, London, 1986, no.362; Diana Scarisbrick, 'Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery', Tate, London, 1995, pp.62-63, fig. 51; John Mack, 'The Art of Small Things', British Museum, London, 2007, p.26 & illus.; Diana Scarisbrick, 'Portrait jewels : opulence and intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs', Thames & Hudson, London, 2011, pp.64-70 & illus.; Daniel Packer, "Jewels of Blacknesse at the Jacobean Court", in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 75, 2012, pp.201-222, p.206; Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton, 'Shakespeare: staging the world', British Museum, London, 2012, p.208, fig.26, p.293; Dora Thornton, 'A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest', British Museum, London, 2015, pp.234-241; Arnold Hunt, Dora Thornton and George Dalgleish, “ A Jacobean Antiquary reassessed: Thomas Lyte, the Lyte Genealogy and the Lyte Jewel”, The Antiquaries Journal, 2016, pp.1-37; Available online 2016; D.Thornton, "Research, interpretation and display of jewels" in The Waddesdon Bequest, a new look,eds. P.Shirley and D.Thornton, London 2017, pp. 193-4.


  • Bibliography

    • Read 1902 167 bibliographic details
    • Dalton 1927 167 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986 33 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986a 362 bibliographic details
    • Thornton 2015 pp.234-241 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G2a/dc8

  • Exhibition history

    2012 19 Jul-25 Nov, London, BM Shakespeare: Staging the World

  • Condition

    For conservation reasons the miniature is not displayed with the Jewel. Apart from the loss of the original diamond-set pendant drop, the Jewel has survived in almost perfect condition. In the nineteenth century a replacement pendant pearl drop was added, but this misleading feature has now been removed. The portrait is totally free from any retouching and is in perfect condition apart from a slight fading on the face and a minute area of flaking on the curtain

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    This collection is known as the Waddesdon Bequest under the terms of Baron Ferdinand Rothschild’s will.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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