British Collection Highlights:

The Thame Hoard

The Thame Hoard is made up of five medieval gold rings and ten silver groats (c.1351 – c.1457). It was found on the edge of the River Thame in 1940, by a couple walking their dog by the river bank, which was piled high with debris caused by dredging. As the man bent down to pick up a stone to throw for his dog his eye caught shiny objects amongst the gravel. The Coroner declared the hoard treasure trove and the hoard came to the Ashmolean.

In medieval England clothing and jewellery became an important means of expressing wealth and status. The degree of ornamentation, and quality of materials used, set the upper classes apart from the poorer citizens. Gold rings in particular were considered prestigious items of decoration and by the middle of the fourteenth century a decree had been introduced making it legal only for the upper classes to wear such symbols of status.

We do not know for sure why the rings and coins in this hoard came to be deposited. One suggestion is that the reliquary ring may have belonged to Robert King, elected abbot of Thame in 1529. In November 1539 the abbey was surrendered to the King, and the objects may have been lost in flight or hidden until negotiations were completed, but were never collected.

Click to enlarge

Thame Reliquary Ring (Click to enlarge)

Reliquary ring from the Thame Hoard (ring e) (AN1940.228)

The five rings contained within the Thame Hoard are all made of gold. Three of them include stones believed to have magical properties. Ring b is set with a peridot, ring c with a toadstone and ring d with turquoise. Peridots were believed to offer protection to their wearers; toadstone (in fact fossilised fish teeth and nothing to do with toads) was supposed to bring a man victory over his enemies; while turquoise was believed to change colour if placed near poison.

The remaining two rings include a personal ring (ring a), engraved with ornamental flowers and a dedication in French ‘tout pour vous’, and a reliquary ring (ring e). The latter is set with an amethyst in the shape of a double armed cross and may have once contained a holy relic. It is engraved on the back with the crucifixion and is inscribed (in Latin) ‘Remember me, O Lord’.

Ten silver groats dating from c. 1357 – 1457 were recovered alongside the rings. The earliest coins in the hoard were minted in London and display the portraits of the monarchs Edward III, Richard II and Henry V. The remaining seven coins display the portrait of Henry VI and were minted in Calais.

The lack of wear on many of these coins shows they had not long been in circulation when they were lost. The coins are particularly important as they help us to date the hoard to after 1457 (on the basis of the date of the latest coin).

The rings from the hoard are on display in the ‘England 400-1600’ gallery on the second floor.

Reverse of Thame Reliquary Ring

Back of Thame Hoard Reliquary ring which is engraved with the crucifixion and is inscribed (in Latin) ‘Remember me, O Lord’ (AN1940.228).

Rings from Thame Hoard

Rings a (left) and b (right) from the Thame Hoard (AN1940.228).

Rings from Thame Hoard

Rings c (left) and d (right) from the Thame Hoard (AN1940.228).

Further Information

Evans, J., Thompson A, and Leeds, E.T., ‘A Hoard of Gold Rings and Silver Groats Found Near Thame, Oxfordshire’, Antiquaries Journal, 21, (1941), 197-202.

Scarisbrick, D., Finger Rings, (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003). See page 40.

Taylor, G. and Scarisbrick, D., Finger Rings from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day, (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1978). See numbers 432-436.

Find out more about:

Arthur MacGregor and Christine Edbury
January 2012