Rings 22.03.2013

‘Let vertue bee a guide’ 17th Century Posie Ring

17th Century Posy Ring

As seen in this previous article ‘Posie Rings From the 17th Century‘, posie rings are identified predominantly by their inscriptions. From the mid 16th century, the tendency to be written in a more phonetic English, or copied from chapbooks, was more likely. Previously, the use of Latin, Norman French and French can identify a piece from around the 15th century.

Here, we have a wonderful statement of ‘Let vertue bee a guide’. The token of love from the gift of a posie ring related to personal dedications between two people. With the dedication being hidden on the underside of the band itself, the sentiment wasn’t one that portrayed the intrinsically personal nature of the self to the public. Which brings into context the nature of the sentiment and why it was given.

The sentiment is very closely related to Aemilia Lanyer’s (Emilia Lanier) (1569-1645) poems from “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” (1611) and To all vertuous Ladies in generall:

Each blessed Lady that in Virtue spends
Your pretious time to beautifie your soules;
Come wait on hir whom winged Fame attends
And in hir hand the Booke where she inroules
Those high deserts that Majestie commends:
     Let this faire Queene not unattended bee,
     When in my Glasse she daines her selfe to see.

Put on your wedding garments every one,
The Bridegroome stayes to entertaine you all;
Let Virtue be your guide, for she alone                             
Can leade you right that you can never fall;
And make no stay for feare he should be gone:
     But fill your Lamps with oyle of burning zeale,
     That to your Faith he may his Truth reveale.

Let all your roabes be purple scarlet white,
Those perfit colours purest Virtue wore,                   
Come deckt with Lillies that did so delight                
To be preferr’d in Beauty, farre before                     
Wise Salomon in all his glory dight:                            
     Whose royall roabes did no such pleasure yield,    
     As did the beauteous Lilly of the field.

This defence of ‘virtuous women’ is a powerful statement of femininity of its time and here we have it represented in a ring that correlates roughly to the publication, and popularity, of the poem. If this consideration is correct, then there is the factor of the relationship between the couple that the ring represented to understand. From the allusion to the vows of marriage and the ideal status of the female, the assumption that the posie ring is a prelude to marriage, or a fundamental gift of love cannot be understated.

For its time, this is a wonderful statement, with the consideration it was a gift from a man to a woman. Its perception of the relationship, with the virtue of the female being an element of pride brings into context the surrounding social strata that would have produced the ring. It is a basic design, but with fine detail to the etching of the dedication. The typography is quite similar to that seen in mourning jewels of the 17th and 18th centuries – note the curl to the ‘L’ and the balance to the script. From this, we can see that the ring was not crude for its time, putting it at the higher end of society and not something crudely made. This ring was found in Bath, Somerset but that does not indicate that its history relates to there, given that social movement would have been common; however, the ring does have its history there and with the economic status of Bath, the consideration of this ring to be of higher society.

Posie rings are wonderful time capsules. Without the obvious design flourishes that indicate their times, much time must be spent with them to extrapolate their meaning and the interpersonal nature of their existence. Their true nature, on the whole, is an assumption on the part of the historian to understand them and their times, yet that will never discredit the fundamental nature of love between two people in which the ring was given.


Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Country: England
Year: mid/early 17th century
Dedication: Let vertue bee a guide