Lady Jane Grey’s Bracelet?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
     
 
     I was recently contacted by the owner of the bracelet in the above photograph and asked for my opinion on its authenticity. The owner related to me that a family tradition placed the bracelet as a gift from Lady Jane Grey to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, prior to Jane’s death in Febraury 1554. The current owner is verifiably a direct descendant of Mary Stuart via Mary’s great-grandson King James II. The family tradition therefore had a certain ring of authenticity, and I was excited to be privileged to investigate this mystery. The owner sent me a series of good quality photographs of the bracelet, some of which are reproduced here with the family’s permission.
 
     
     
 

Description:

 
 
     The bracelet is made of a white metal, probably silver, and is comprised of nine square panels connected by means of simple 3-segment pin-in-tube hinges. There is a figured buckle at one end, while a tenth square panel at the opposite ‘tongue’ end has a triangular tapered extension intended to make that end pass more easily through the buckle. Each panel is slightly arched along the long axis, allowing the bracelet to form a circle when closed. A moveable tongue guard slides between the buckle and the junction of the second and third panels, where extensions on either side of the panel-hinge serve as stops for the guard.

     The individual panels, the buckle, the tongue piece, and the face of the tongue guard are all hand chased in a classical floral motif. Six of the panels plus the tongue piece also have a supplementary cross-hatched design filling the voids remaining around the floral work, while three panels and the buckle lack such cross-hatching. The tongue piece and the two panels immediately adjacent to it are each pierced with circular holes so as to accommodate the prong of the buckle.

     The bracelet has no markings that might aid in determining its origins. There are no hallmarks to indicate either precious metal content or place of manufacture. Hallmarking was required by law in England beginning in the fourteenth century, but household silver (collectively called ‘plate’ regardless of its shape or use) was afforded greater attention by enforcement authorities than was jewelry silver. The absence of hallmarks on this bracelet is therefore not entirely unusual. Hallmarks on jewelry did not become more common until after about 1675, though even then they were often omitted prior to the late nineteenth century.

     The condition of the bracelet, based solely on the photographs provided, appears to be remarkably good given its reported age of well over 400 years. There is minimal visible wear of the moving parts, especially of the tongue guard (where one would expect to see thinning of the metal along either side), the buckle (where thinning would again be anticipated), and the prong-holes in the tongue panels (where the prong of the buckle might be expected to erode the edge of the circular hole). No areas of repair are evident. No significant defacement of the chased surfaces can be detected. Indeed, the metal is only very minimally tarnished, leading one to assume that it has been carefully cared for and regularly polished.

 
     
 
Provenance:
 
 
     The bracelet reportedly came into the possession of the current owner by way of direct inheritance-descent from Lord Henry Phipps (d.1905), a younger son of George Phipps, 2nd Marquess of Normanby. No other documentation on the bracelet is available.

     An oral family tradition states, however, that the bracelet was given by Lady Jane Grey to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, sometime prior to the death of the former in February 1554. The Phippses were themselves descended from Mary Stuart in that Mary’s great-grandson, King James VII of Scotland and II of England, fathered an acknowledged but illegitimate daughter through Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, in about 1681. That daughter, Lady Catherine Darnley in turn had one daughter, also named Catherine, who married William Phipps.[1] William and Catherine Phipps’s son Constantine was created 1 st Baron Mulgrave in 1767, and from him the Earls Mulgrave and Marquesses Normanby descended. Thus the current owner of the bracelet is a 12th-generation direct descendant of Mary Stuart of Scotland.
 
     
 
Discussion:
 
 
     There are certain noteworthy inconsistencies in the design and construction of the bracelet. Most obviously, the individual panels of the bracelet are not symmetrically arranged. From buckle to tip, the first four panels are arranged so that the cross-hatch design on pairs of panels face each other: the cross-hatching within panel 1 faces that of panel 2, and that of panel 3 faces that of panel 4. Panel 5 seems intended to continue that alternating arrangement, yet panel 6 has no cross-hatching, thus interrupting the pattern. Panel 7 is cross-hatched, but panels 8 and 9 are not. The final tapered tongue panel is again cross-hatched.

     Panel 6 stands out from among the rest in that it is actually symmetrical within itself: if the panel is bisected by a vertical line, the left and right halves are mirror images of each other, but rotated 180 degrees. If the entire bracelet were constructed in an ideal symmetrical pattern, panel 6 might serve as a mid-point between the buckle and the opposite tip.
 
     
     
 
 
     
     
 
 
     
     
 
      [2]The most likely reason for lack of symmetry is that the bracelet was assembled by its maker with less attention to detail than one normally expects. The silversmith who created this bracelet was probably simply one of lesser skill than that of a master silversmith or jeweler.

     That the maker was one of lesser skill is also evidenced by the overall quality of the surface chasing work. In numerous areas, for example, the chased lines of the central design cross incongruously into the otherwise non-chased rim of each panel, what might be termed a ‘failure to stay within the lines’. The floral motifs, though intended to be identical from one panel to the next, have sufficient variations between panels to indicate less-refined skill. This variation is also quite evident when comparing portions of the buckle on opposite sides of the prong. The chasing is, in its entirety, somewhat crude and ‘sharp’ in appearance, lacking the delicacy seen in the work of known masters of the same period, such as Roger Flint.[3] The craftsmanship is, on the whole, of a quality to be expected from a regional silversmith in a smaller city beyond London, but not from one of the master silversmiths of the London metropolis.

     The overall decoration of the bracelet suggests a buyer below the ranks of the nobility and royalty. The absence of any precious stones and/or enamelwork is conspicuous. Almost without exception, jewelry seen in portraits of noble and royal ladies of the sixteenth century does include both precious stones and enamelwork. Jewelry was used by its wearers as a visual marker of relative wealth, and wealthier individuals were keen to possess only the highest quality — and therefore costliest — items. An unadorned silver bracelet would have been inappropriate in the context of the social culture of nobility and royalty of the sixteenth century.

     This preference among those of wealth for objects made from the costliest materials is further reflected in actual English jewelry inventories of the sixteenth century. Bracelets do appear in those inventories with regularity, though they are almost exclusively made of gold rather than of silver. Indeed, the inventory of jewels removed from the Royal Wardrobe and Treasury on 13 July 1553 for the use of Queen Jane Grey Dudley includes three pairs of bracelets, all gold, all set with precious stones and all decorated with enamelwork, plus a fragment of an additional single bracelet “containing seven pieces with counterset stones and two with ostrich feathers [as an engraved or enameled design]”.[4] Queen Katherine Parr’s surviving inventories of personal jewels includes four pairs of bracelets, again all gold, all set with precious stones, and all with enamelwork.[5] I have reviewed numerous jewel inventories from noble and royal English households of the sixteenth century without finding a single example of a bracelet made of silver.[6]

     As noted above, the family tradition states that the bracelet was a gift from Jane Grey to Mary Stuart sometime before Jane’s death early in 1554. Yet between 1548 and 1561, Mary resided exclusively at the French court, first as fiancée and then as wife of Francis II. Mary did not visit England during this period, and Jane did not visit France. Indeed, there is no surviving evidence to indicate that the two cousins even corresponded with each other.[7] And while it would not be unusual for two cousins who had never met to nonetheless send gifts to each other, they would not have done so in the absence of any established history of personal correspondence. Further, a silver bracelet without precious stones and without enamelwork would have been wholly inappropriate as a gift in this specific social context. Gifts given by a person of lesser social status (e.g.: the daughter of a duke) to a person of higher social status (e.g.: a queen) were almost without exception of the highest quality, since the giver was virtually always attempting to impress and thereby gain the favor of the recipient. Gifts of jewelry given to reigning queens (Mary was already Queen Regnant of Scotland) were virtually always of the very highest quality, and usually custom-made for the purpose. Were Jane Grey to have presented a bracelet to Mary of Scotland, that bracelet would certainly have been made of gold rather than of silver, and would have been set with precious stones and decorated with enamelwork, and quite probably would have been personalized in some way, perhaps by the inclusion within the design of some personal cypher or heraldic emblem.

     In the instance of silver as a gift between persons of high status, it was usually in the form of large pieces of household plate weighing tens of ounces, so that the total value of the precious metal was significant. The precious metal content of this bracelet, however, is less than two ounces and, in sixteenth century terms, worth significantly less than one pound in English money.[8] In comparison, Jane Grey is known to have made a gift of “a fine gold ring” and a pair of fine gloves to the wife of Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss Protestant reformer.[9] Fine gloves sold for about 10 shillings in the 1550s, very near the likely contemporary cost of this finished bracelet. The ring’s value would probably have been measured in pounds rather than shillings. It seems unlikely that Jane would have given Mrs Bullinger gifts worth significantly more than the gift supposedly given to Queen Mary Stuart.

     But perhaps most critically, the surviving early inventories of the jewels of Mary Stuart of Scotland do not include any silver bracelets. An inventory of 1561 includes “deux braceletz garniz de petits diamans et de rubbiz enrichy de unez petites perles” (two bracelets garnished with small diamonds and rubies and eleven small pearls).[10] This same pair of bracelets reappear in a later inventory of 1573 but are described more specifically as being made of gold.[11] Other bracelets in the abovementioned inventory of 1561 include a pair made of gold and decorated with “fanteurs” (an archaic term for incense, or a pomander worn on the wrist), and a second pair of gold set with rubies.[12] An additional but more extensive inventory of 1561 similarly includes three additional pairs of bracelets, including one pair garnished with four rubies and eighteen pearls and another to be used as wrist pomanders, all of gold. Several of the various inventories contain marginal notes in Mary Stuart’s own hand revealing from whom or to whom various items were gifted, but there is no mention whatsoever of Jane Grey or any of her family.[13] In short, this bracelet cannot be identified, even tentatively, among the several hundred individual items of jewelry known to have been owned by Mary Stuart.[14]
 
     
     
 
Conclusion:
 
 
     Though the family tradition that this bracelet was a gift from Jane Grey to Mary Stuart is a fascinating one, there is no evidence to support that tradition. The bracelet itself is not of the highest quality craftsmanship, as would be expected for both a noble giver and a royal recipient. It lacks the gold and gemstones seen almost without exception in bracelets listed in surviving noble and royal jewelry inventories from the sixteenth century. It is not listed among the hundreds of items of jewelry owned by Mary Stuart between 1548 and 1573.

     Further, the overall form of the bracelet — like that of a belt and buckle — is inconsistent with sixteenth-century jewelry design.[15] The form is one that actually became popular toward the end of the eighteenth century, precisely the time at which silver rose in popularity as a more affordable material for jewelry than gold. Belt-like bracelets and other jewelry remained popular until the end of the nineteenth century. Given the remarkable condition of this bracelet, it seems altogether probable that it dates to no earlier than the second half of the 1700s.
 
     
     
    J. Stephan Edwards, PhD
20 October 2012
 
       
       
       
  NOTES:      
 
[1]
 
Lady Catherine’s invented surname, ‘Darnley’, was presumably intended as a reference to James II’s great-grandfather and Mary Stuart’s second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Under normal familial naming patterns, the ‘Stuart’ royal dynasty should have been called the ‘Darnley’ dynasty beginning with James VI of Scotland and I of England, since James’s father was Lord Henry Darnley.
 
 
 
 
 
[2]
 
At present, the bracelet is 1.6 cms (0.61 inch) wide and 20.6 centimeters (8.11 inches) in overall length. The fitted length of the bracelet is between 5.75 and 7.5 inches. In comparison, modern bracelets for average-sized adult women are 7.5 inches or less in fitted length. Since pre-modern women were generally smaller in size than are modern women, it seems unlikely that any pre-modern bracelet would have been manufactured larger than this bracelet’s current size, since it would thus have been to large to fit any woman of that era. It is therefore unlikely that the bracelet has been reduced in size since manufacture. More probably, it retains its original size.
 
 
 
 
 
[3]
 
The finest surviving examples of Tudor-era silversmithing can be found most readily as church plate in the cathedrals of England: patens, salvers, chalices, reliquaries, etc.
 
 
 
 
 
[4]
 
Oxford University New College Manuscript 328/1, ff.39v and 40r.
 
 
 
 
 
[5]
 
Susan E. James, Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen (Stroud: Ashgate, 1999), Appendix V: The Quene’s Juelles, 423–431.
 
 
 
 
 
[6]
 
These inventories include those of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, Katherine Parr, Jane Grey, Elizabeth Cavendish Talbot (Countess of Shrewsbury, aka “Bess of Hardwick”), Mary Nevill Fiennes (Lady Dacre), Jane Dudley (Duchess of Northumberland), and others.
 
 
 
 
 
[7]
 
Jane’s maternal grandmother, Mary Tudor Brandon, and Mary’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Tudor Stuart were both daughters of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Jane Grey and Mary Stuart were thus second cousins.
 
 
 
 
 
[8]
 
In the coinage of Edward VI, the silver shilling had an average weight of about 5.5 grams. This bracelet weighs 32 grams, the equivalent in silver of 5.8 shillings (20 shillings = 1 pound sterling). Even if the value of the finished bracelet is triple that of the precious metal content, to account for manufacturing costs and “retail mark-up”, it would still have had a value of less than one pound sterling.
 
         
 
[9]
 
John ab Ulmis to Heinrich Bullinger, 16 August 1552, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1847), 457.
 
         
 
[10]
 
Andrew Lang, Inventaires de la Royne Descosse Dovairiere de France: Catalogue of the Jewels, Dresses, Furniture, Books and Paintings of Mary, Queen of Scots (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Cluib, 1863), 9. The volume includes jewels taken by Mary from Scotland to France in 1548 and acquired while in France before her return to Scotland in 1561. It would thus presumably include any bracelet gifted to Mary by Jane Grey prior to early 1554.
 
 
 
 
 
[11]
 
Lang, Inventaires, cli. “Ane paire of bracellettis of gold of musk contenand everilk braclett foure peces and in everilk pece viij dyamantis and vij rubyes and xj perles in thame baith” (one pair of bracelets of gold of musk [and] contained in each bracelet four pieces and in each piece 8 diamonds and 7 rubies and 11 pearls in them both).
 
 
 
 
 
[12]
 
Lang, 13.
 
 
 
 
 
[13]
 
The pages are likewise countersigned by Mary in her own hand in each lower righthand corner.
 
 
 
 
 
[14]
 
No inventory of personal jewels owned by Jane Grey or any member of her immediate family has survived, leaving no means for determining any documentable link between Jane and the bracelet.
 
         
 
[15]
 
See Diana Scarisbrick, Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery (London: The Tate Gallery, 1996), the definitive text on jewelry of the sixteenth century.
 
         
         
         
     
 
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