The Athenian Solon (638 BCE – 558 BCE) wrote that “True blessedness consisteth in a good life and a happy death” and this ring promotes both as a perfect balance in a relationship. The Age of Enlightenment hasn’t a fixed date for introduction into society, but the post c.1650 period is accepted, however, it wasn’t widely permeated until the turn of the 18th century. From its inception, the Protestant movement created the thought which challenged Catholic indoctrination and this schism was enough to infuse society with the idea of the self beyond the static social values that had held it previously. Philosophical reason empowered democracy, equality, liberty, thought and the press; moving religious authority away from its dominance, effectively separating church and state.
Which leads us back to the concept of this ring. We have evidence to show its classical values, but why would this be a statement of love for its time? The true telling here is that a “happy death” is a possible outcome. A happy death, by any means when there was a final judgement, is the right of passage into heaven, beyond the relationship structure. This “happy death” would be the outcome of a good life between a union of people, rather than living in virtue for an acceptable judgement by god. This bring the concept back to the quality of living being beyond the standard of living, but improving on life quality.
The society which could now breed this had the ability to position itself in a more socially mobile way. With the challenge to traditional methods of thinking which kept people held within their class paradigm; accumulation of wealth and the change to personal status was a new concept. While the social change of the early 19th century was far more fundamental to social reaction, this was far more important from the view of the social constraints that had put god ahead of the value system and maintained a more insular look upon what wealth could be accumulated and what education could be gained. Values within a village remained, yet now had the influence of knowledge from outside of their ecosystems. Chapbooks and greater mobility of thought in print that had not been previously more than official ecclesiastical writings, created a narrative with which smaller societies could communicate.
By the early 18th century, English society had passed through the Civil War, the Restoration and the 1666 Great Fire of London, which all have established a basis of thought that bred the change in Memento Mori and sentimental jewels. Death was now a more immediate concern, combined with the new thoughts on life and social establishment. Death, reflecting upon life, was beyond judgement and a fact which required the person who would create a jewel like this to think of a better life for the family that would stem from the giving of its sentiment.
With a ring stating that a “good life and a happy death” was the ultimate goal of a relationship, then providing for that relationship and creating a better lifestyle was the new pinnacle of what a betrothal could be. The superb Judy Rudoe has written a comprehensive history of this piece, and the certificate from the British Museum is more than enough to prove its worth.