Finger-Ring Lore: Historical, Legendary, Anecdotal

Susan Durack, Special Collections and Archives

Ring Lore cover image
Design on front cover of book

A book with the intriguing title Finger-Ring Lore: Historical, legendary, anecdotal written by William Jones has sat enticingly in our Special Collections for a number of years. Its dark blue buckram cover with decorative gold spine together with its specialised subject matter – rings their history and lore added to its sense of mystery. My curiosity was roused by the subject matter and its author who was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. The book was published in 1877 by Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly.

According to the contents page, the book deals the history of rings from the earliest period, ring superstitions, secular investiture by the ring, ecclesiastical usages, betrothal, wedding and token rings, memorial and mortuary rings, posy inscription and motto, ring customs and after all that, there is a chapter titled “remarkable rings”. There are many illustrations throughout to assist the reader. A description within gives more detail as to the breadth of its contents.

finger ring lore TP
Title-page

“The importance of this branch of archaeology cannot be too highly appreciated, embracing incidents, historical and social, from the earliest times, brought to our notice by invaluable specimens of glyptic art, many of them of the purest taste, beauty and excellency; elucidating obscure points in the creeds and general usages of the past, types for artistic imitation, besides supplying links to fix particular times and events”.

There was a belief that rings had protective powers and this was founded on the materials used in their composition such as precious stones set as charms or talismans or the inclusion of a device, inscription or “some magical letters” engraved on the circumference.

A dove, carrying an olive branch  in its mouth, engraved in pyrites and mounted in a silver ring ensured the wearer the utmost hospitality wherever he went, as it conveyed the power of “fascination”. Rings made from the hoof of an ass and enclosed in gold were considered a remedy for epilepsy.

Jones notes an item in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1794 which states that a silver ring will cure fits when it is made from 5 sixpences collected from as many bachelors, to be brought by a bachelor to a bachelor smith.

ancient irish rings
Illustration of rings found at Newgrange

References to rings and ring-lore in Ireland is also mentioned. He notes that the Royal Irish Academy possesses some beautiful specimens of rings.  The Londesborough  Collection includes two “remarkable” rings found at Newgrange, Co Meath.  Jones informs us that Aildergoidhe, son of Muinheamhoin, King of Ireland who reigned 3070 am is traditionally said to have been the first prince to introduce the wearing of gold rings to Ireland and were bestowed on people of merit who excelled in the arts and sciences.¹  An interesting Maynooth connection is that Lord Londesborough’s second wife and widow, Lucy Grace Bridgeman married Lord Otho Fitzgerald who was the third son of Augustus Fitzgerald, 3rd Duke of Leinster whose family home was at Carton House Maynooth, Co. Kildare.

 

venetian pison ring
Examples of Venetian poison ring
roman thumb-ring
Example of a Roman Thumb-ring

In Ireland there was the popular belief that finding the ring in a piece of Michaelmas pie would ensure the maiden would soon be married.  Variations of this were also practiced in Britain where three girls together in silence on St.Faith’s feast on 6th October would make a cake of flour, spring water, salt and sugar and bake it in a Dutch oven. The cake had to be turned three times by each girl.  When baked it was turned into three equal parts and each girl must cut her share into nine pieces, drawing each piece through a wedding ring of a woman who had been married seven years and each girl must her eat the pieces of cake while she is undressing and repeat these verses.

“O good St. Faith, be kind to-night,                         

And bring to me my heart’s delight;

Let me my future husband view

And be my visions chaste and true”

Spine ring lore
Spine design

The author, William Henry Rich Jones was a Church of England clergyman and antiquary. He was the eldest son of William Jones, chief secretary of the Religious Tract Society.  Born in 1817 in the parish of Christchurch, Blackfriars, he attended King’s College, and Magdalen Hall, Oxford where he won the Boden scholarship for Sanskrit in 1837.  In 1841 He became curate of St. Andrew, Holborn and rector of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1842.  In 1851 he was vicar of Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire.  From 1861 to 1873 he acted as rural dean of Potterne and in 1872 he was appointed to the diocese of Salisbury and became Canon.

In 1842 he married Elizabeth Woodhouse Perks who died shortly after.  In 1849 he married Mary Caroline Lydia daughter of William Osborne Rich and in 1883 he prefixed his wife’s maiden name to his surname.  They had three daughters and a son.

 

 

dedication ring lore
Dedication within book

Jones was central in the restoration of the Anglo-Saxon church at Bradford-on-Avon.  He made significant contributions to the history of Wiltshire. Jones was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1849. He contributed poetry with mainly antiquarian or medieval themes to the literary magazine Bentley’s Miscellany. He wrote a number of articles for Wiltshire Archaeological Society, of which he was elected vice-president in 1882.

He died suddenly at home at the vicarage, Bradford-on-Avon, on 28 October 1885, and was buried in the town cemetery on 3 November. For a full description of his literary output see http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-15115?rskey=iR6rad&result=1

The illustrations and content maybe of interest to those interested in art, crafts and design, material culture, folklore and customs, film and documentary makers and there is always of course the curious reader. This 1877 publication is timeless in its appeal to audiences that were not imagined at the time of its production.

  1. An account of some Antiquities found in Ireland; communicated by the Right Rev. Richard Pococke later Bishop of Meath in Archaeologia: or miscellaneous tracts relating to Antiquity, Society of Antiquaries of London, vol. 2 (1773) p. 37.

 

 

 

44 thoughts on “Finger-Ring Lore: Historical, Legendary, Anecdotal

  1. alexandrutrawick November 22, 2018 / 10:03 pm

    Thanks for your really helpful post, it came just at the right time for me! I’ve just uploaded my first post and this is my very first blog (I know, I’m a little bit late to catch on! LOL) so I really need all the extra tips and help I can get!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Simon November 23, 2018 / 6:09 pm

    This was really fascinating. I had no idea there was so much lore attached to rings from so long ago. It gives me a better appreciation for Tolkien now and other fantasy writers because I now see how they drew inspiration from this. I wonder what other jewelry was invested with magical properties from this era.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jason Twinam November 24, 2018 / 4:49 am

    Nice work..informative. I love the piece

    Liked by 1 person

  4. GauthamKiran November 24, 2018 / 5:38 pm

    Fascinating and interesting. I have read it in full. That’s a great blog post

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jean November 25, 2018 / 12:04 pm

    Great to write compelling blog post to pique non-academic audience also. (I was a former special librarian.)

    Like

  6. Nicola Kelly November 26, 2018 / 11:44 pm

    Fantastic blog post!

    Like

  7. arcticamazonkkf November 27, 2018 / 5:40 am

    Wonderful read, I now wish to return to museums I’ve visited and study the rings even more. Ty

    Liked by 2 people

  8. butlerhaven November 29, 2018 / 9:23 pm

    Love it! Super informative

    Like

  9. Clayton A. D. November 30, 2018 / 3:14 pm

    Extremely interesting, thanks for the share! I love lore of all kinds, and this is a sort I haven’t run across in quite a while.

    Liked by 1 person

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