The Lady Brook Medieval diamond ring
A Medieval gold diamond set and inscribed love ring, late 14th century, the shank taking the form of two angular entwined bands, the square rising pyramidal bezel close set with a pyramidal diamond crystal, the interior bearing a lower case black letter inscription in Medieval French reading: ‘ieo vos * tien * foi * tenes * le moy’ translating ‘As I hold your faith, hold mine’, ring size L½. £30,000-£40,000
This ring was a detectorist find, discovered in Thorncombe parish, Dorset.
The ring is recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database Ref: DEV-D1B964 and has subsequently been disclaimed as Treasure, Ref: 2019-T179.
The location of the find in Dorset was acquired by Henry de Broc (or de la Brook) from Reginald de Mohun (1206–1258), Feudal baron of Dunster in Somerset who had inherited it from his first wife Hawise Fleming, daughter and heiress of William Fleming. It then passed by descent through the Brook family.
By the late 14th century, the Manor was in the possession of Sir Thomas Brook (c.1355-1418), who also owned La Brooke in the parish of Ilchester, who was the largest landowner in Somerset, and served 13 times as a Member of Parliament for Somerset (between 1386 and 1413). Sir Thomas was the first prominent member of his family, largely due to the great wealth he acquired from his marriage in 1388 to the wealthy widow Joan Hanham (d. 1437). Joan was the second daughter and co-heiress of Simon Hanham of Gloucestershire, and the widow of the Bristol cloth merchant Robert Cheddar (d. 1384), MP and twice Mayor of Bristol, whose wealth comprised 17 manors, five advowsons and very extensive properties throughout Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire, together with 21 shops, four cellars and 160 tenements in Bristol. Her son Richard Cheddar, MP, signed over his large inheritance to his mother and stepfather, Sir Thomas Brook, for the duration of their lives, due to the latter having ‘many times endured great travail and cost’ in defending them during his minority.
The Brooks were granted a licence to crenelate the Manor in 1396 and create a park of 200 acres of pasture and wood. They resided there until they acquired the manor of Weycroft in the parish of Axminster, Devon, in around 1395, thereafter they split their time between the two residences. In May 1415, an ailing Sir Thomas Brook signed his will at the Manor, although he did not die until January 1418. His wife died 19 years later in 1437, and the couple were buried together in Thorncombe, the local parish church, under an elaborate ledger stone and monumental brass, considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the country. Unusually, although Sir Thomas was a knight, both he and his wife are depicted wearing fine civilian clothes and the Lancastrian Collar of Ss.
The current Church of St Mary the Virgin at Thorncombe was built in 1887, about 50 yards south of the site of the former church (built at the same time as nearby Forde Abbey, in the late 12th / early 13th centuries by Cistercian monks) but the Brook effigies were preserved and inserted in another ledger-stone and placed in a relative position therein on a low tomb.
Although the knightly chivalric code dates to the 12th century, the notion of chivalric and courtly love really hit its peak in the 14th and 15th centuries. Courtly love is an ideal - the devotion of a great aristocratic knight to the most beautiful, courtly lady, ‘that love is not only virtuous in itself but is the very source and cause of all the other virtues’. This period also saw the flowering of ‘Court Culture’, which brought a new elegance to court life, a new delight in elaborate ceremonialism, and a new and high degree of stylisation to the manners of the French speaking aristocracy in England. This focus on courtly love can be seen in the literature of the time, such as Chaucer and Mallory. It can also be seen reflected in jewels, the ring offered here for sale being a fine example, with the two entwined bands representing the entwined lives of the couple (giver and receiver) and the personal love-themed posy inscription within, written in French (the language of both love and the aristocracy).
In her cataloguing of a similar mid 14th century marriage/betrothal ring with an entwined band, Sandra Hindman also compares the pierced decoration of the band to developments in Gothic architecture, such as Sainte Chapelle in Paris.
Hindman, S., et al, Towards an Art History of Medieval Rings: A private collection, Paul Holberton Publishing, 2014, p136, no. 22.
Ogden, J., Diamonds, An early history of the king of gems, Yale, 2018
Ashe, L., Love and Chivalry in the Middle Ages, British Library, Jan 2018
Benson, L., Courtly Love and Chivalry in the Late Middle Ages, in Fifteenth-century studies: recent essays, ed. Yeager, R. F., Archon Books, 1984.