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As most Ricardians know, the Middleham Jewel is on display in the Yorkshire Museum, with an exact replica at Middleham. What many will not know is that the Yorkshire Branch sought to commission an analysis of sediment and soil to add to the knowledge of its provenance.
The project was mooted in 2016, and Branch members responded positively, with donations to help fund this valuable research. Subsequent discussions with York Museums Trust suggested that, in addition to the soil analysis, investigation on the textile discs contained within the reliquary could be incorporated into the research. Unfortunately the project was halted by the circumstances of the pandemic, but we are keen to see the start of the research.
The Branch Committee has resumed discussions with the principal experts identified to carry this out, and we hope to report on our progress shortly.
This precious 15th century jewel was discovered by a metal detectorist in September 1985, approximately 200 yards from Middleham Castle. The statutory inquest at Coroner’s Court, Thirsk, determined that it was not considered treasure trove, and was therefore retained by the finder. The Jewel was subsequently sold at auction in 1986 to an undisclosed bidder outside the United Kingdom, for £1,300,000.
In 1991 the owner applied for a licence to export which, following a review by the UK Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art, deemed the Jewel of outstanding importance, and the licence suspended, which allowed the Yorkshire Museum to campaign for funds to allow its purchase. The Jewel was purchased in 1992 for £2.5 million.
The lozenge-shaped pendant is made from 68 grams of gold, with a 10 carats blue sapphire stone set on one face. The pendant is thought to have been bordered with pearls originally, now lost through natural degradation.
The back panel slides to reveal a hollow interior, which originally contained three and a half tiny discs of silk embroidered with gold thread, suggesting that the jewel is a reliquary.
The obverse bears a representation of the Trinity, including the Crucifixion of Jesus and the reverse a depiction of the Nativity, with the Lamb of God, bordered by the faces of fifteen saints. Both faces of the lozenge show a plethora of symbols of faith prevalent in the late middle ages. Interpretations of the iconography of the Middleham Jewel have been suggested by many specialists.
Found in the close proximity of Middleham Castle, this exquisite, high-status jewel may have been owned by a female relative of Richard III; possibly his wife, Anne Neville, his mother, Cecily Neville, or his mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp.
This item has been dated to the 15th Century, and believed be the work of one of London’s finest medieval goldsmiths.