MATERIALS - MARRIAGE BROOCHES - RING BROOCHES
- CLOAK CLASPS - PILGRIM BADGES - SECULAR BADGES
of the most constantly depicted pieces of jewellery over the entire
of the middle ages is the brooch. Brooches were used as wedding
gifts, to close cloaks, at the shoulders of mantles, to pin paternosters
to clothing and as markers of visits to holy places in the form
of pilgrim badges.
Artifacts have also been found over
a wide expanse of time periods and countries- from the viking
and dark ages to the late renaissance. Many
were simple in their design, although many of immense beauty and
excellent workmanship have been found.
The brooch from The
Gilbert Collection shown at right is from 14th century
France and is made of silver gilt. It has a quatrefoil design
with fleur-de-lys at the terminals and would have been worn by
an Abbess or rich noble woman. At 4cm across, it is quite large
for the average medieval brooch.
The ring brooch shown at left is
dated to the 14th century from England and has three remaining
glass-paste blue stones. It is the size of a man's thumbnail,
and still has traces of gold gilding remaining. It is also from
my own personal collection.
Materializing Resistant Identities
among the Medieval Peasantry is an article from 2009 which
looks at archaeological finds from rural villages throughout England,
such as Wharram Percy and Bolton. The author, Sally V. Smith,
looks at the dress accessories found at these sites and burial
places. It includes brooches, buckles and pins.
Her research finds that few of these
items were made of poor quality metal. Surprisingly, most were
copper or iron, with one made from gold. She concludes that peasants
were not choosing items made using the cheapest metals available.
Over half were decorated or purely decorative providing an interesting
contrast to the common perception of peasants in ragged clothing
laboring in the fields.
It is possible that these items were
not worn daily and saved for best or special occasions the same
way that special jewellery is reserved for special occasions today.
One would hardly wear a diamond tiara to work or shopping these
days and it is possible that the same attitude was prelevant then
What is interesting to note is that
they possessed these items at all. It is possible that these items
were acquired for a life milestone such as a marriage, but without
documented evidence, it is difficult to say for certain. Pictured
at right is a beautiful ring brooch with gemstones set into it
from the middle Rhine region of Germany which dates between 1340
Brooches could be copper-alloy, gold or silver or silver gilt
or pewter for the lower classes. The gems set into them reflected
the status and wealth of the wearer, although it was not uncommon
for brooches and other jewellery to use fake gemstones made of
glass-paste instead of real ones.
The ornate brooch at the left is
from the mid-15th century collection, the Fishpool Hoarde. It
is enameled with blue and white enamel with tiny gold flowers.
It has three circles near the bottom of the base of the heart
which may have been for pendants.
Along with wedding rings, wedding brooches were a traditional
gift from a man to his bride-to-be. It was not only a token of
his love but a marriage brooch provided her with an icon befitting
her new status as a wife. It also idealised her 'cleanliness of
heart' as a married woman.
brooch shown at left is made in Burgundy or Germany and is dated
at 1430. It is constructed from gold and is enameled and set with
precious stones- pearls, a diamond above and a ruby below. It
shows a man and a woman together both wearing blue robes, the
colour associated with consistency, and a woven fence around them.
The clear white of the diamond represented the durability of love
while the ruby represented love's fiery force.
Johannes de Hauville wrote of a marriage
brooch when he wrote:
My bride shall wear a brooch,
a witness to her modesty and proof that hers will be a chaste
bed. It will shut up her breast and thrust back and intruder,
preventing its closed approach from gaping open and the entrance
to her bosom being cheapened by becoming a beaten path for
any traveler and an adulterous eye from tasting what delights
the honorable caresses of a husband.
Brooches worn as cloak clasps were of two distinctly differing
The first style was a largish ornate
single brooch which held the cloak closed at the centre of the
throat. An example of the single-clasp style can be seen in the
detail of the image at right Virgin and Child from Prague
in 1345-1350. It shows an exceptionally large and elaborate gold
brooch with gemstones set in a pattern radiating from the centre.
Most brooches were substantially smaller than this, but the Virgin
Mary is often shown in clothing and dress accessories which were
royal, and not a good indication of daily wear.
The second style of cloak clasps,
which were also usually very ornate, were a jewelled pair of brooches
and were used by the wealthy to fasten their mantles. These were
worn roughly at collarbone height and fastened with a cord which
was often shown in artworks and sculptures as being tasseled.
sculpture from the Namburg Cathedral in Germany at left is from
the pair Count Eckkhard II and Uta is dated from 1250 and
shows a large, jewel set brooch which is joined to a band which
runs across the wearer's chest and to another identical brooch
on the other side.
Plain circular ring brooches were used for their simple design
and practical use throughout many stages of history by both men
and women. They could be plain, have inscriptions or be set with
precious and semi-precious jewels. Many were given as gifts and
were designed to be worn at the breast.
The ring brooch shown at right is
from the Museum of London's collection and is dated at the 13th
Century. It is defined as a Lovers Brooch and is made from
gold and set with alternating rubies and sapphires. It is believed
to be either English or French manufacture.
The message on the back translates
to I am here in place of the friend I love.
The double ring brooch shown above
is made from gold as has green stones and a large sapphire set
into it. It is from England from approximately 1300 and it would
have been worn across the front of a cloak- each ring brooch fastening
one side of the mantle and the rigid setting across the chest
would be instead of the usual cord fastening.
badges were one of the most popular types of souvenir in the medieval
period. Badges were produced for two main reasons- to raise extra
revenue for the shrine or church and to avert pilfering from holy
It seems that pilgrims who were keen
to take a souvenir back home were less likely to steal from relics
if they were able to buy a badge instead, especially as it was
thought that a badge bought at a particular shrine retained the
properties of the saint which was honored there.
pilgrim badges were worn prominently attached to hoods, bags and
sewn onto hats.
Pilgrim badges were made of an alloy
of lead and tin or pewter. These were cast in moulds and were
often cheaply made with the quality of the pewter varying greatly.
Badges favoured by women featured Saint Katherine, patron saint
of learning for young women, or of the Virgin Mary.
The badge at left depicts the head
of John the Baptist, patron saint of Perth in Amiens, France.
It is completely intact, with four rings which enabled the badge
to be sewn onto the pilgrim's hat or cloak. The back is decorated
with a crucifix design and the inscription on the front identifies
it as the sign of John the Baptist.
Secular badges were similar to pilgrim badges in that they were
made from pewter and cheaply made. Unlike pilgrim badges, they
were not of a religious nature and covered more mundane topics,
like hounds, flowers, hearts with love slogans and an eye-watering
range of carnival badges which we see today as X-rated.
Medieval people, however, appeared
to be hilariously fond of them.