Finger rings were widely worn by
women who could afford them during the entire medieval period,
as well as before and afterwards.
and the stones set in them were a more socially acceptable way
to wear stones with protective properties like the amulets of
pagan times. Many contemporary artworks in the high middle ages
show women wearing many rings at once, often more than one on
a finger and at each joint. The ring shown at right is made from
gold with a wolf's tooth set into the heart-shaped setting. The
ring itself is ornate on the outside and inscribed on the inside.
The ring is dated at 1250 and is from England although the inscription
was not added until the 14th century.
Rings have long been associated with
marriage although many rings were purely ornamental. Ring bands
could be thin or wider as the wearer desired. The plain wedding
ring can be seen as early as the 11th century, where it was usually
worn on the third finger of the left hand. During the 16th century,
this changed to the opposite hand.
There seems to be no set protocol
during the middle ages as to the width of a ring or whether it
was for a man or a woman specifically. In 1370, the Goldsmith's
Company specified that only natural stones were to be set in gold
and that fake stones were not. Real stones were also not to be
set into base metals, and real stones must not be set with a tine
backing to improve their colour. There were no limitations at
that time as to how many rings could worn at one time.
ring shown at left is of typical medieval style and dates from
England in the 14th century. It has a gold ring with garnet. More
elaborate claw settings were known and worn by the wealthy, but
the bulk of rings from medieval finds reflect this style.
wider rings were more likely to have inscriptions on the outside
or alternatively on the inside of the band. Rings were often inscribed
with amorous mottos of love, hearts, or images of saints and animals.
They might be worn singly or as a part of a set. The ring at right
is a French finger ring from the 1400's currently in the Museum
of London. It is engraved on the outside and has a gemstone set
in a claw setting.
The stones set into rings often had
special significance or were worn for their properties of protection.
Hildegard Von Bingham wrote in the 12th century on the powers
and benefits of gemstones and recommends sapphire worn in a ring
to remove wrath from the heart of the wearer. She cautions, though:
If this stone is placed in a
ring of the purest gold, without tin, and there is nothing but
gold under the stone, then a person may place the stone in his
mouth as medicine, and it will not harm him. If anything but
pure gold is in it, then it is of no use, and one should not
place it in his mouth because the ring is harmful.
is interesting to note that the stone must be set entirely in
gold and have gold under it so that it does not rest permanently
against the skin. At right, is a delicate sapphire set in gold
dating from the late 13th century from England. It
is inscribed around the outside and due to it's small size, would
have been worn by a young woman. The setting is solid at the back.
The ring at left is also probably one for a woman, being more
delicate in style. It also is gold set with a sapphire and dates
to the 14th century.
Medieval rings can often be dated
by the inscriptions which they have, although some rings are older
then the inscription on them, being added at a later date. The
style of lettering used is of great value when determining the
age of a ring. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the text used
was Lombardy. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Black Letter was
predominant and the writing itself was in Norman French. Occasionally,
English was used, but was difficult to read, and became popular
in the 16th century when Roman Capital was the preferred font.