September 10, 2014

Closet Histories #1.4: Tudor Jewelry

As you may have noticed over the last few Closet Histories posts, the Tudors loved their bling. Sadly even something as permanent seeming as jewelry is now a rare artifact today. Being as valuable as they were, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and cameos were often recycled from old pieces into new ones so that little Tudor era jewelry remains intact for us to admire today. Luckily we can still study the enduring images portraitists captured of their wealthy sitters bedecked in glittering gems!

As we have noted, set jewels and pearls were used directly on the gowns of Tudor noblewomen. Jewelry was sewn in profusion to necklines, sleeves and onto headdresses. Some of these small jeweled sections were removable brooches but I'm sure these gold and jeweled pieces would have been recycled onto different gowns even if they were sew on and not pined. One can only afford so many jewels after all.

In addition to the jewelry sewn to the garments themselves, Tudor women also wore necklaces, earrings, rings, girdles (long jeweled belts), brooches, pomanders and even jeweled fan handles. Bracelets seem to have been a rare occurrence, mostly because sleeves were long and elaborate (and often bejeweled) anyway so bracelets wouldn't be much seen. A Pomander was a small sphere containing perfume to ward off the Renaissances many bad smells! They were often made of metal filigree and could be worn as a  necklace pendant, from the belt/garter or have been hand held.

Most of the elite Tudor's jewelry was made of gold. The preferred gemstones were emeralds, sapphires, rubies, diamonds and above all pearls, pearls and then more pearls. The ladies above are all wearing pearls in some capacity. In the first portrait, the lady wears a golden and jeweled girdle, a large brooch with dangling pearls and a necklace with a large ruby and hanging pearl pendant. Not to be content with just jewelry, her gown is made with metallic brocades with real metal threads and her partlet and under-sleeves are richly embroidered with gold threads! 

The lady in the center (Elizabeth I as princess) wears the typical formation of Tudor jewelry. She wears a long looped pearl necklace and from the shorter of the two loops hangs a gold and jeweled pendant while the rest of the length is of just pearls and disappears beneath her neckline. Her french hood is studded with gold and pearls, as is the neckline of her gown. She also wears a large brooch, several rings, and a pearl belted girdle with a long golden chain. Finally if you look closely you can see that her under-sleeves are pinned shut with a series of jeweled buttons or brooches. So much bling! She was a daughter of the king after all.

The last portrait above reinforces the pattern just discussed in the portrait of Elizabeth. Here her stepmother Jane Seymour wears a similar look. Again what looks to be a long (this time double strand) pearl and jewel necklace is looped twice round to create a choker and a longer looking necklace. I really can't say weather this look was achieved using one long necklace or two separate but matching necklaces, but I lean towards saying one necklace as this style is so prevalent in portraiture. Jane again also wears jewels and pearls on her gown neckline and on her gable headdress. She also wears a huge brooch on the center front of her gown, a golden girdle and several rings.

Now that we have talked about the Tudor style basics, lets droll over some extant examples!

Here we see pendant designs from the famous Tudor era painter Hans Holbein, c. 1532-43 
Renaissance Gemstone Ring -- 16th Century -- Western Europe -- Gold & tourmaline.

Dove pendant, gold and enamel, Europe, ca 1550
An example of a golden pomander, Italian 16th century
Large unusually shaped pearls were often interpreted by the jeweler in imaginative ways, like this Lannister worth lion pendant! German or Flemish; After Hans Collaert the elder (Flemish, ca. 1530-1581)

Pendant, England 1540-1560, 
Enamelled gold, set with a hessonite garnet and a peridot, and hung with a sapphire, V&A
Necklace, gold, enamel, emeralds, diamonds, 1550-1600 
The Lennox Jewel’ (or ‘Darnley Locket’), Now in the Royal Collection having been acquired by Queen Victoria from the estate of Horace Walpole, who had died in 1797. Made for Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, 1571-1578.
Interested in seeing more Renaissance and Tudor jewels? check out this excellently curated pinterest board I found while researching this post : Renaissance Jewelry

That's all on the Tudors for now, though next week we explore fashion in the reign of the last Tudor herself, the magnificent queen Elizabeth I!

All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!

Thanks for reading! 


  1. That is some gorgeous jewellery. I especially love the lion with the pearl belly. It's amazing just how much bling they could cram into an outfit!

    1. They certainly could cram on the jewels, I guess we have the bedazzler and sequins now but they just don't have the same effect!

  2. This may go without saying, but I'm madly in love with this excellent post. I can never, ever get enough of seeing and learning about jewelry from any era, be it the 1940s, ancient Roman, the Victorian era, the Tudor period, or any other time frame, so this post is beyond up my alley.

    ♥ Jessica


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