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Wedding, Engagement, Anniversary & Love Rings

Famous Love Rings | A Selection From History

The Marriage of the Virgin painting love rings
Love rings used in art as seen in the painting The Marriage of the Virgin (c. 1680).

As much as love stories throughout history have captivated the mind and the heart, the love rings attached to these stories from the past encapsulate all of the emotions of the love pairing, be it beautiful or tragic. Below is a selection that continues to enthrall:

 

Clovis I and Clothilde’s Betrothal Ring

Louis IX’s Rebus Ring

The First Diamond Betrothal Ring

The Smallest Diamond Betrothal Ring

Martin Luther’s Wedding Ring

Lady Catherine Grey’s Gimmel Ring

Thomas Lyte’s Posey Rings

Queen Victoria’s Betrothal Ring

Love Rings of Balzac and Madame Hańska

The Bequest of Queen Louise-Marie

Marilyn Monroe’s Engagement Ring

 

 

Clovis and Clothilde’s Betrothal Ring

 

Clovis I (c. 466-511 A.D.) is known for his unification of the Frankish nation, his conquest of Gaul, and his famous conversion to the Roman Catholic religion.  His wife Clothilde, now venerated as the saint of brides, was instrumental to her husband’s conversion and, in her later years, was known for her charity.

Saint Clothilde love ring
A 12th century sculpture of Saint Clothilde.

Clovis married Clothilde in 493 A.D.  An account of his proposal is given in Kuntz (1913):  

“Aurelian [the King’s messenger] pursued his journey from these parts [of Burgundy], bearing with him the ring of Chlodwig [another name of Clovis I] that he might gain the better credence thereby. When he arrived at the city where Chrotechilda [another name for Clothilde] resided with her aunt, Aurelian presented himself and said : ‘Chlodwig, King of the Franks, hath sent me to thee; if such be the will of God, he wishes to associate thee with himself in his majesty, as spouse.  That thou mayst be assured of this, he hath sent thee this ring.’  Accepting the ring, she was filled with great joy, and answered: ‘Take a hundred solidi as a reward for thy labor.  Return quickly to thy lord and say to him: ‘If thou desirest to associate me with thyself in matrimony, send envoys straightway to my paternal uncle Gundobard, and ask him for my hand.’”

 

statue of King Louis IX and Queen Marguerite
Statue of King Louis IX of France and Queen Marguerite on Ludwigkirchplatz in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.

 Louis IX’s Rebus Ring

 

A rebus is a puzzle in which the syllables of words and names are represented either by pictures or letters of things that sound the same.  Rebus or cipher rings were enormously popular in Victorian England.  

 

Perhaps this tradition began in 1234 when King Louis IX of France wed Marguerite of Provence.  To celebrate their marriage, the King commissioned a special ring.  The outside of the ring was decorated with a garland of entwined daisies and lilies.  The daisies symbolized his wife  (“marguerite” is French for daisy) and lilies (fleurs de lis)  symbolized Louis’ kingdom.  On the inside of the ring, the motto “This ring contains all I love” was inscribed.

 

Mary of Burgundy portrait
Portrait of Mary of Burgundy.

The First Diamond Betrothal Ring

 

Although it is unlikely the first diamond ring was used as a love token, the first recorded account of a diamond betrothal ring comes to us from 1477.  It was given by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy at the suggestion of a faithful advisor who counseled: “At the betrothal Your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring.”  

 

Although the marriage was arranged because of Mary’s sizable fortune, the couple was apparently happy together until Mary died at age 25 as the result of a horseback riding accident.

 

 

Mary of England love ring
A portrait of Mary in 1544.

The Smallest Diamond Betrothal Ring

 

The smallest betrothal ring on record was given to a two-year old toddler, Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon.  Throughout her childhood, King Henry negotiated several potential marriages for his daughter.  In 1518, when she was only two years old, Princess Mary was promised to the Dauphin Francis, son of Francis I, King of France, but after three years, the contract was dissolved.  For this event, a tiny gold ring set with a diamond was fitted for Mary’s finger.

 

 

Martin Luther’s Wedding Ring

 

portrait of Martin Luther
Portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach (1529).

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a German monk and theologian whose ideas inspired the Protestant Reformation and changed the course of Western civilization.  Among other works, he translated the Bible into the vernacular, which made the Scriptures accessible to everyone.  

 

In 1523, Martin Luther played a key role in helping twelve nuns escape from the Nimbshen Cistercian Convent in fish barrels.  He also helped to find husbands for the nuns and finally settled on one, Katharina von Bora, for himself.  Although the Roman Catholic Church frowned upon marriage among the clergy, Martin Luther did not subscribe to this view.  He had long condemned vows of celibacy on biblical grounds, but his decision to marry surprised many.  “Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts,” he wrote to a friend, “the Lord has plunged me into marriage.”  

portrait of Katharina von Bora
Portrait of Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach (1526).

 

Luther had a wedding ring made for Katharina, which was set with a ruby and embellished with an image of the crucifixion.  Luther further quipped that he married “to please himself, to tease the Pope, and to spite the Devil.”  

 

The couple took up residence in a former Augustinian monastery called “The Black Cloister.”  Katharina was a woman of wit and boundless energy.  She managed the vast holdings of the monastery, bred cattle, and ran a brewery and a hospital.  Luther called her the “Boss of Zulsdorf,” after the name of the farm, and the “Morning star of Wittenberg” for her habits as an early riser.  In addition to tending to the lands and grounds of the monastery, Katharina also bore six children and raised four orphans.

 

Lady Catherine Grey’s Gimmel Ring

 

Lady Catherine Grey (1540-1568) had an unfortunate love life.  In 1553, she was married to Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, in a political match arranged by her parents.  During the political turmoil that followed the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Catherine’s older sister, was deposed in favor of Mary I of England.  As a result, the Earl of Pembroke distanced himself from the Grey family and had his marriage to Catherine annulled.

 

Edward Seymour married Catherine Grey
A portrait of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, (1565).

During her time at Court, Catherine became friendly with Jane Seymour, niece of Henry VIII’s third wife, also named Jane Seymour.  Catherine met Jane’s brother Edward Seymour, the 1st Earl of Hertford, and fell in love with him.  Although it was illegal to marry without Queen Elizabeth I’s consent, they secretly wed in 1560.  

 

Due to its illicit nature, there was no formal record of the marriage.  Apparently, the wedding was conducted at Edward’s house with Jane the only witness.  Before he left for the Continent at the bidding of the Queen, Edward provided his wife with a document acknowledging their marriage and her right to his property in the event he died while abroad.  In an unfortunate series of events, Catherine lost the document and Jane died of tuberculosis.  Catherine, now visibly pregnant, had no means to prove she was married.

 

Catherine Grey love ring portrait
A miniature of Lady Catherine Grey, by Levina Teerlinc, about 1555-1560.  On the reverse it is inscribed: “The La Kathe’ Graye Wyfe of Therle of Hertford.”

As a granddaughter of Mary Tudor and great-granddaughter of Henry VII, Catherine had a valid claim to the throne of the Kingdom of England.  This made her a potential threat to Queen Elizabeth.  When the Queen heard about the situation, she immediately imprisoned Catherine in the Tower of London, convinced that the marriage was part of a wider conspiracy against her.  Edward was forced to join her there when he returned from his travels.  A Commission of Inquiry was held and the couple was questioned at length about the details of their marriage.  Catherine exhibited her gimmel ring as proof of her marriage to Edward.  The ring, which was comprised of five separate hoops, was inscribed with the following verse:

 

As circles five by art compact shews but one ring in sight

So trust uniteth faithful mindes with knott of secret might

Whose force to breake but greedie Death no wright possesseth power

As time and sequels well shall prove

My ringe can say no more.

 

 

The cover of the Lyte jewel
The cover of the Lyte Jewel bears the letters “R” for the Latin Iacobus Rex.

Thomas Lyte’s Posey Rings

 

Thomas Lyte (1568-1638), a genealogist, would have vanished into obscurity if it were not for his work on one family tree—that of King James I of England.   

 

Lyte jewel interior
The interior of the Lyte Jewel has a portrait of King James I of England.

King James, son of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, advanced to the throne of England in 1603.  To stifle political intrigue surrounding his accession as the first Stuart monarch of England, he and his advisors saw an advantage in emphasizing his ancient lineage not only through the Tudor line, but also to the mythical founder and King of all the Britons.  Lyte was commissioned to produce the genealogy. To show his appreciation, King James presented Lyte with an enameled gold locket containing the King’s portrait.  

 

Lyte was married two times.  First to a “Miss Worth” and second to Constance Baskerville.  His wedding rings apparently contained original posies written for each of his brides:

“Lytes’ Love is Little Worth”

“Constance Bee Constant and Thy Lyte Resplendent”

 

 

wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
A wedding portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria’s Betrothal Ring

 

Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert, in 1840.  The match was considered an exceedingly good one, with the Prince filling the role of companion, advisor, and lover.

 

Queen Victoria’s engagement ring took the form of a snake or serpent, considered at the time to be a symbol of everlasting love and good fortune.  Unfortunately, the union was relatively short lived; Prince Albert died of typhoid fever in 1861.  The Queen was disconsolate, and wore black as a symbol of her mourning for the rest of her life.    

 

 

Honore de Balzac portrait
Daguerreotype of Honoré de Balzac by Louis-Auguste Bisson (1842).

Love Rings of Balzac and Madame Hańska

 

Honoré de Balzac was a famous 19th century French novelist and playwright.  He had a long-term love affair with Ewelina Hańska, who he eventually married.  In 1832, Balzac received an anonymous letter from “L’Étrangère” criticizing the sexism, cynicism, and atheism in one of his novels.  Intrigued, Balzac took out a notice in the Gazette de France hoping to attract the attention of his anonymous critic.  As a result, his 15-year correspondence with Ewelina began.  

 

portrait of Ewelina Hanska
Portrait of Ewelina Hańska by Holz Sowgen (c. 1825).

At the time, Ewelina was married to a man some 20 years her senior.  When her husband died in 1841, Ewelina was pursued by the composer Franz Liszt as well as Balzac.  In 1843, Balzac gave her a ring set with jacinth and inscribed with her name.  She returned the favor and Balzac wrote of how much her gift meant to him:  

 

“It is my talisman…I put it on the index finger of my left hand with which I hold my paper, so that I am gripped by thoughts of you, I feel your presence close to me, and instead of looking for the words and ideas in the air, I just ask my lovely ring.”

 

Balzac and Ewelina were finally married in 1850, but like so many romantic tragedies, Balzac died five months later.

 

 

Queen Louise-Marie painting
Queen Louise-Marie of Belgium painted by Franz Winterhalter.

The Bequest of Queen Louise-Marie

 

Louise-Marie was a French princess who became the first Queen of the Belgians upon her marriage to King Leopold I. Since Leopold was a Protestant, they had both a Catholic and a Calvinist wedding ceremony.

 

The marriage of King Leopold I and Queen Louise-Marie was a happy one, lasting eighteen years.  When she died of tuberculosis in 1850 at the young age of 38, she bequeathed her wedding ring “being my most treasured and dearest possession” to her beloved husband.

 

 

Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio
Marilyn Monroe with Joe DiMaggio during some of their happiest moments.

Marilyn Monroe’s Engagement Ring

 

Marilyn Monroe carries a unique stature among the romances of Hollywood’s golden age. Her relationship with professional baseball player Joe DiMaggio was torrid and often fraught with strong emotional attachments. Although they would divorce, they stayed extremely close and cared for one another deeply throughout the rest of their lives. There were even rumors after Marilyn’s untimely passing that the two had been headed toward a reconciliation.

Marilyn Monroe's engagement ring
A reproduction of Marilyn Monroe’s famous engagement ring.

 

Queen of Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe received a platinum eternity band as an engagement ring from husband, Joe DiMaggio.  The ring featured channel set baguette diamonds and later sold for $772,500 at auction.

 

Now that you have seen some famous examples of love rings from history, there are some special ones to learn about in Love Rings in Literature | A Selection from History.

 

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