WEDDING RINGS - MATERIALS - LETTERING ON RINGS
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.
There were no limitations other than attempted Sumptuary Laws
at that time as to how many rings could worn at one time.
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
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.
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.
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.
Shown at right is a gilded ring with an undecorated band and pie
crust setting and jade stone. It is dated to the 14th century
from Piercebridge County, Durham in the UK and is part of the
The ring at the top of the page 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.
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.
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 a 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
© Rosalie Gilbert
All text & photographs within this site are the property of
Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
Art & artifact images remain the property of the owner.
Images and text may not be copied and used without permission.