The Grenville Jewel

WB.168     1635–40 • Enamelled gem-set gold, pearl • locket miniature

The locket contains a miniature signed by David Des Granges of Sir Bevil Grenville (1596–1643). He was a Cornish Royalist general who was killed in 1643 in the English Civil War. The locket is referred to in his wife’s will in 1647 and descended in the family until Baron Ferdinand acquired it in the 1890s.

Curator's Description

Oval locket; gold; contains miniature portrait in watercolour, vellum laid on card, of bearded man in armour, said to be Sir Bevil Grenville, Cornish Royalist General; case entirely covered with champlevé enamel, leaving thin outlines of gold; ground filled with gold scrolls on black; lid with lozenge quatrefoil; back with pansies, marguerites, green leaves and set with large square sapphire in centre, surrounded by rubies, opals and diamonds, with two emeralds; pendant pearl with enamelled setting.

This object was previously owned by Charles Chichester, Catherine Chichester, Charles Harward, Elizabeth Prideaux and Grace Grenville, and collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

4.2 cm wide, 10.9 cm high, 3.2 cm deep, and it weighs 50g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1986:-

Origin: English, c. 1635-40.

Provenance: From the Lady Dame Grace, widow of Sir Bevil Grenville (her will dated 19 April 1647), to her daughter, Elizabeth Prideaux, wife of Sir Peter Prideaux, of Netherton, whose second eldest daughter, Elizabeth (in her will dated 11 February 1710, and proved at Exeter on 30 August 1711), bequeathed it to her nephew, Charles Harward; he died without issue and it passed to his sister, Catherine, the wife of Arthur Chichester, of Hall, Devon; by descent to Major Charles Chichester's grandfather, who sold it to Baron Ferdinand Rothschild around 1890. (For a reference to the documentary evidence see Stucley 1983, p. 149.)

Commentary: The correct spelling of the family name has now been established in John Stucley's recent biography (1983), in which he points out that in the past it has “invariably been called ‘Grenville’ by other writers” (p. xi), whereas, in fact, it varied from generation to generation. Bevill's grandfather, Admiral Sir Richard (d. 1591 in ‘The Revenge’ off the Azores), had signed himself 'Greynvile', while he and his father, Sir Barnard, consistently spelt the name 'Grenvile'. However Bevill's eldest surviving son, John, changed his name to 'Granville' when he returned with Charles II’s court from exile in 1660 and was created Earl of Bath.

This Cornish family was totally unrelated to the Grenville family (later Dukes of Buckingham), although, to add to the confusion, both families lived at places with almost identical names - Stow and Stowe; the ducal country seat at Stowe in Buckinghamshire still survives, but the Earl's grand mansion built in 1680 at Stow on Cornwall's north coast (near Bude) lasted only some forty years and had itself replaced the unpretentious country house on which Bevill himself had spent so much money and thought in the 1620s and 1630s.

Bevill was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, where in 1614 he took his BA degree and presented a silver cup to his college. In 1619, when he was twenty-three, he married Grace, daughter of the wealthy Sir George Smith, of Madford House, near Exeter. From 1621 to 1629 he was regularly elected an MP, either for Cornwall or for Launceston, and spent much of his time in London; even during the thirteen years when the King governed without a Parliament, he clearly remained in close touch with the political elements, both in London and in the West Country. With his father's death in 1636, Bevill became not only the head of the Grenvile family but an owner of substantial property in Devon and Cornwall; he was both colonel of the local troop and Deputy Lieutenant of the County. He became increasingly part of the Establishment and both he and his wife, Grace, had their portraits painted at this time, as the family correspondence indicates. In 1639 he raised a regiment and, having made a will (dated 8 April 1639), Bevill left his wife and their eight children to join the King at York, from where the royal forces were to set out to punish the rebels in Scotland. By the time the King signed the Treaty of Berwick in June, Bevill Grenvile had evidently been singled out for royal favours; he was knighted by the King and became an honoured guest of the Earl of Pembroke, the Lord Chamberlain, at Wilton. During the troubles of 1640-2, including the Earl of Strafford's trial and execution in May 1641, Sir Bevill was strategically absent from Parliament for much of the time. By raising a lot of money on his lands, however, he and his regiment of 1,200 men were able to play an important role in the early successes of the Cornish Royalist army. Tragically, on 4 July 1643, at the Battle of Lansdown, near Bath, Sir Bevill's brave fight ended when he was severely wounded and died the next day. His son remained with his father's regiment, taking part in the siege of Bristol. His widow, Grace, was able to retire to Madford House, which she had inherited, and her daughters were with her when she died there in 1647 in the home of her childhood.

The Jewel is a most rare and important document, illustrative of the brilliant quality of English goldsmiths' work - and of the change of taste in jewellery of this Late Renaissance type - in the decade before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. The miniature provides valuable evidence for the dating of the jewelled locket because the artist, David Des Granges, did not begin his career as a miniaturist until after 1630. He was baptised in London on 24 May 1611 (or, possibly, 20 January 1613) as a Huguenot, although he subsequently became a Roman Catholic. His father, Samson, came from Guernsey and his mother was equally of French extraction, being a 'Marie Bouvier'. He trained as an engraver, producing in 1628 while still a youth an engraving of St George and the Dragon after the Raphael painting which had been sent in 1506 as a gift to Henry VII from the Duke of Urbino on the occasion of the latter's being made a Knight of the Garter. He may have owed this privileged opportunity to Inigo Jones, whose likeness he later painted more than once and whose friendship he is said to have enjoyed. Inigo Jones, as the King's Surveyor of Works (since 1615) and producer of the court masques, had access to the art collections of the leading collectors, like Arundel and Pembroke, as well as the royal collection which, following the death of the Duke of Mantua in 1627, was vastly enriched by Charles I’S purchases from the Gonzagas. Having been employed by Charles I (beheaded in 1649), David Des Granges decided to follow the fortunes of Charles II, who was crowned at Scone in 1651, and it was there, in Scotland, that he was appointed His Majesty's limner. Although his earliest dated miniature appears to be the portrait of 'Catherine Manners, Duchess of Buckingham' at Windsor Castle, which is signed: ‘D.D.G. 1639’, he may have begun painting miniatures a few years earlier because at least one (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), shows the sitter, an unknown lady, dressed in the fashion of the early 1630s.

In his portrait miniature of Sir Bevill Grenvile David Des Granges has painted the face of a man in his late thirties or early forties and, indeed, it can be compared with the large oil painting still preserved in the Cornish branch of the family at Padstow, which portrays Sir Bevill Grenvile in an almost identical fashion and is inscribed: ANO • DNI • 1636 / AETATIS • SVAE • / • 40 •

This large half-length portrait is illustrated in colour on the front cover of the recent biography by Stucley (1983) and, while it is possible that David Des Granges may have worked from this painting, there are interesting differences to be noted, especially in the character of the face. Consequently, it seems more likely that David Des Granges painted this miniature from the life, perhaps in 1636 or at the time when in 1639 Bevill was preparing to join the King in York, leaving an anxious Grace Grenvile behind. There is, unfortunately, nothing to indicate that it was made as a gift to his wife on the occasion of the King dubbing him a Knight - and, indeed, his letter suggests that he was not wholly pleased to receive this honour at that time.

The first written record of the jewel occurs in his widow's will (19 April 1647): “The Lady Dame Grace Grenvile widow ... do charge my two eldest daughters who I make my whole executors to see all the said debts and legacies paid and my goods to be divided amongst you. These two jewels or pictures, I give one to you (my daughter Prideaux) and the other to my daughter Fortescue . . .” Her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Prideaux, had been married on 17 November 1645, only two years after her father's death, and, ironically, her husband, Sir Peter, of Netherton Hall, had a brother, Edmund, who was a leading Parliamentarian and was made Attorney-General under Cromwell.

The goldsmiths' work of this locket is of such a high quality that, in England, only a London workshop could have been responsible for it - indeed, perhaps only a workshop patronised by the extravagant court of Charles I. The fashion for shallow pendant lockets to hold miniature portraits had grown in the reign of Elizabeth I, no doubt under strong influence from the Continent. A fine example preserved in the Imperial Collections in Vienna was described in the 1619 Inventory as containing a miniature of the King of England (see ‘Princely Magnificence, Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630’, ed. A. Somers Cocks, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum (Debrett’s Peerage Ltd), London, 1980, p. 54, no. 22, where it was dated by Somers Cocks “about 1575-90”, despite the fact that there was no King of England on the throne between Edward VI (d.1553) and the accession of James I in 1603, and despite her acknowledgement that the interior of the miniature case in Vienna “is, however, closely related to the decoration of a case containing an English miniature in the British Museum”, i.e. the Grenville Jewel. Indeed, the coloured illustration of the interior of the Vienna locket (‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, p. 55) conveys, albeit most inadequately, the great similarities that exist between it and the formal geometrical pattern on the reverse of the Jewel; the same intricate scheme of interlocking patterns is combined with a similar intensely vivid palette of translucent enamelling. The Vienna locket should now be reconsidered and probably dated c. 1610-18. Furthermore, both lockets should be contrasted with the miniature case or locket containing a Nicholas Hilliard miniature of the ageing Queen, probably dating from after 1600, which is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum (see Joan Evans, ‘A History of Jewellery, 110-1870’, London, 1970 (rev. edn), pl. 104 a-b; also ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. 36, col. illus.). This example serves to illustrate the slightly earlier stage in the English fashion: the exterior (except for the pierced, geometrically designed, gem-set cover) is covered in a black-enamelled ground, against which an intricate scrolling design of stylised foliage, flowers and dolphins is executed in a wide range of enamel colours within fine gold outlines, and, in some areas, the pattern is created by leaving the gold in reserve against the black-enamel background. Although the technique is very similar, the stiff design is still in the rigid tradition of the Late Renaissance and contrasts with the Grenville Jewel with its looser qualities of dense floral design.

The design of the suspension-pendant at the top of the Jewel is interestingly similar to both the Victoria and Albert Museum's ageing Queen Elizabeth locket of c. 1600 (discussed above) and the Queen Anne of Denmark miniature case of c.1610-15, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (see Evans 1970, pl. 103 a-b; also ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. 118, col. illus.). This distinctive type of suspension-pendant is again to be found on another locket or miniature case (now empty), which was given in 1975 by Joan Evans to the Victoria and Albert Museum (see Evans 1970, p. 137, col. pl. IXb, where it is said to be “English, c. 1600'”; also Shirley Bury, ‘Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue’, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1982, case 13, board D. 7, illus. of the reverse side, p. 70, where it is described as “North European, last quarter of sixteenth century”). This miniature case, instead of having a black-enamelled background, is burnished gold, against which is seen a mass of flowers and leaves of many kinds (including roses, pansies, cornflowers and pinks), all asymmetrically and profusely 'scattered' in bright and varied enamelled colours, including white as well as the vivid translucent reds, blues, etc. The Joan Evans locket is, both technically and stylistically, similar to the Grenville Jewel, although it has no gemstones; its enamelled pendant (at the top) corresponds quite closely to the Jewel. Furthermore, it corresponds to the trend away from the formally arranged ornament (see the design by Pierre Nolin dated 1619, in the British Museum Print Room, which is becoming less stiff) towards the asymmetrical naturalism of a flowery kind, which was so cleverly contrived in the designs of François Le Febvre in his ‘Livre des Fleurs’ of 1635 (see Evans 1970, fig. 25). The Joan Evans locket can, therefore, be more convincingly dated c. 1630 and may even have originated in the same workshop as the Grenville Jewel.

The other side of the Grenville Jewel demonstrates the persistence of the formal geometric patterns into the 1630s, although in its subtle complex interrelationship of the various elements of the design, it presents a much more sophisticated solution than in the earlier versions (see WB.170).

The integration of the gemstones into the floral design of the Grenville Jewel is exceptional but, of course, few comparable jewels have survived from the court of Charles I, although the Earl of Northampton's insignia of the Order of the Garter, made between September 1628 and April 1629, is spectacular proof of the brilliant standards of craftsmanship available in London at that time (see Tait in ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, pp. 96-8, no. 127, for a detailed discussion of the four parts of this insignia and of the particular splendour that surrounded the Earl's installation in 1629 as part of Charles I’S desire to increase the magnificence of the ceremonial aspects of the Order). Indeed, the quality of the gem-setting, especially the diamonds on the George and on the Garter itself, and of the enamelling is remarkably high, for both the George and the Lesser George are excellent specimens of email en ronde basse, completely fashioned in the round.

The use of opals, in combination with the sapphire, diamonds and rubies, has few parallels among extant Elizabethan, Jacobean or Caroline jewellery, but it is misleading to conclude that “the use of opals was very rare during this period” (Somers Cocks in ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, p. 62, no. 45). A reading of the Inventories quickly shows how popular the opal had become by the middle of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Two of the early references occur in the New Year's gifts ‘charged upon Ladye Howarde, 1573-4’:

“Item, one litle lilly potte of agathe, being a juell garnished with golde enamuled, and flowers with garnets, and two smale sparcks of ophall, and other smale stones.

Item, a fayre juell of gold, enamuled with dyvers coulours, garnished and furnished with dymondes, rubyes, emeraldes and ophall, with a smale pendaunte of dyamondes, and the shell opall like a rose. In the midst of the same juell are two personages, and from above a hande holding a garlande.”

Clearly, the last object was an elaborately enamelled and gem-set jewel or, perhaps, a miniature case.

The Queen received from her Master of the Horse, as a New Year's gift in 1577-8, a wonderful necklace of diamonds, rubies and opals set in enamelled gold. On that same occasion she also received two very interesting pieces:

“Item, a juell, being a lampe with a harte in a flame of fyre, garneshed with two saphers, diamonds, rubyes and ophalls, and a sarpent of ophall with a ruby pendant, set with six small perles and one perle pendant. Item, a juell, being a lylly of golde, with a butterflye in the same, and a sea crabbe, garneshed with small ophalls, rubyes and diamunds, with rooses of mother-of-perle and sparks of rubyes.”

'Small opals' is a phrase that recurs throughout the Inventories and lists of jewels during the rest of Queen Elizabeth's reign, although in 1583 she received as a New Year's gift a jewel with 'two pendant ophalls' and in 1586-7 a jewel of the Order of the Garter: “One George of gold, enamyeled white, and sett with fayre rubyes and six opaulls”. The many references to opals in these official records make it clear that they had become a popular gem-stone at Queen Elizabeth's court, and the most spectacular example to have survived is the famous hat-jewel, the Drake Star, which, with the Drake Jewel, has remained in the same family by descent from Sir Francis Drake (see ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, p. 62, no. 45, col. illus. on p. 15; also H. Clifford Smith, ‘Jewellery’, London, 1908, pl. 34). The Drake Star has a large foiled ruby (in the centre) engraved with an orb (in intaglio) surrounded by a circle of eight opals and, an outer ring of alternating diamonds and small opals; then, the pointed rays of the Star set with table-cut rubies. It is a splendidly individual design and judging from the style of the ruff worn by the lady (the Queen?) in the faded miniature (on the reverse) this hat-jewel dates from c. 1580.

The goldsmith who made the Drake Star mounted the opals in exactly the same kind of raised four-claw setting as used on the Grenville Jewel and is such a striking feature of the Jewel. The purpose was, doubtlessly, to let as much light pass around and through the opals as possible rather than sinking them into a deep collet of gold. The opals on the Jewel are particularly iridescent, almost like the opals of Mexico, where the red and the orange-red fire opals were discovered at an early stage and were certainly in use there before the Spanish conquered Mexico. Several other parts of Central America also have sources of opal, but it is not known to what extent some of these may have been opened up as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. Prior to the discovery of Mexico, Europe obtained its opals via Constantinople from the deposits near Czerwenitza, formerly in Hungary but now part of Czechoslovakia. However, the opals on the Grenville Jewel do not appear to be typical of the Hungarian kind and it seems most likely that they had come from Mexico or Central America. Perhaps this new source from the New World was being tapped by the English and hence the sudden popularity of the opal among court jewellery - even Sir Christopher Hatton's grand gift to the Queen of a seven-piece head ornament in 1584 comprised opals among the diamonds, rubies and pearls.


  • Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 168, pl. XL
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 168
  • Hugh Tait, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: The Legacy of Baron Ferdinand Rothschild to the British Museum’, London, 1981, p. 56, col. pl. XI A, B and C
  • John Stucley, ‘Sir Bevill Grenvile and his times, 1596-1643’, Chichester, 1983, p. 149, pl. 3 a-b
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 35, pls. XXIV, XXVA,B, fig. 170
  • Hugh Tait, 'Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 464
  • Diana Scarisbrick, 'Ancestral Jewels', Andre Deutsch Ltd, London, 1989, p.37
  • Diana Scarisbrick, 'Portrait Jewels: Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs', Thames & Hudson, London, 2011, p.120
  • Dora Thornton, 'A Rothschild Renaissance: Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest', British Museum, London, 2015, pp.242-247.
  • References

    1. Read 1902: Read, Charles Hercules, The Waddesdon Bequest. Catalogue of the Works of Art Bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898, London, BMP, 1902
    2. Dalton 1927: Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, The Waddesdon Bequest : jewels, plate, and other works of art bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild., London, BMP, 1927
    3. Tait 1986: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; I The Jewels, London, BMP, 1986
    4. Tait 1986a: Tait, Hugh (ed), Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery, London, BMP, 1986

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