Hat jewel

WB.193     1600–1650 • Enamelled gold, precious gems • aigrette hat-ornament

A military trophy worn on the hat as seen in portraits of the early 1600s.

Curator's Description

Aigrette; gold; enamelled and set with jewels; in two layers, one behind being a palmette of open-work scrolls, partly enamelled; five plumes rise from top, three jewelled with rubies and diamonds, others enamelled; front also open-work, military trophy, cuirass, helmet, crossed scimitars, enamelled and set with four diamonds.

This object was collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

4.7 cm wide, 8.6 cm high, 1.3 cm deep, and it weighs 32.7g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1986:-

Origin: German or Netherlandish, early 17th century.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: The aigrette was a jewelled ornament that became particularly fashionable in Europe around 1600, when it was usually worn in the hat by men, either to fasten a feather or a plume of feathers to the hat or to take their place, by having the aigrette in the form of feathers in gem-set and enamelled gold.

The method of wearing them - in the most lavishly spectacular fashion - is well-documented in the portraits of the princes of the ruling dynasties; for example, the 1604 full-length portrait of Henry, Prince of Wales (formerly in the family of the Lords Berwick and, in 1980, lent by the Earl of Mar and Kellie to the special exhibition ‘Princely Magnificence’, no. p.22, col. illus.), shows three white ostrich feathers held in position by a large feather-shaped jewel with rubies, diamonds and pearls, while two similar aigrettes (on the right) pin back the brim of the hat. At this time Prince Henry's father, King James VI of Scotland and I of England, was often depicted wearing one of the two famous Stuart jewels which he had specially made as hat ornaments - namely the Feather and the Mirror of Great Britain. The Feather, which was accurately described in the 1606 schedule of the Royal Jewels, can be clearly recognised in the Earl of Haddington's historic portrait of James I (‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. P.20, col. illus.). The same 1606 schedule of the Royal Jewels describes the jewel that James I had created in 1604 to symbolise the Union of the Kingdoms: ‘Item, a greate and Riche Jewell of gould, called the Mirror of Greate Brittaine, containing ...’ In the famous Losely Park portrait of the King, the plume of feathers in his hat is held in place by this great jewel.

On a more modest scale, aigrettes - that is, jewels of a feather design - can be seen, carefully delineated, in a number of late Elizabethan paintings and miniatures of courtiers, like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (d.1588), whose late portrait at Hatfield House is attributed to William Seager (see David Cecil, ‘The Cecils of Hatfield House’, London, 1973, p. 73 with illus.; also Erna Auerbach and C. Kingsley Adams, ‘Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture at Hatfield House’, London, 1971). On his head Dudley wears the soft Elizabethan bonnet ornamented with one jewel - a modestly proportioned circular aigrette with the three spiky jewelled plumes projecting vertically upwards. The general effect and overall proportions seem quite close to the Waddesdon example.

The fashion may have come to England from the French court, for the duc d'Alençon, suitor for the hand of Queen Elizabeth, was lodged with his retinue at the English court from October 1581 until February 1582, and in his miniature at the beginning of the famous illuminated Prayer Book of Queen Elizabeth (British Library, Department of Manuscripts, Facsimile 218) he is depicted wearing a short aigrette - in exactly the same manner (in the centre of the head) as the duc de Joyeuse (1561-87), Amiral de France and favourite of Henry III (Bibliothèque nationale, n.a.l. 82, folio 56r, 5x4 cm). This miniature of Anne, duc de Joyeuse, is important evidence because he was in the van of fashion at the French court (see D. Bentley-Cranch, Quelques Additions à l'oeuvre de Nicholas Hilliard, ‘Gazette des Beaux-Arts’, October, 1983, p. 129 ff., fig. 3; for reproductions of the portrait of the duc d'Alençon, see E. Auerbach, ‘Nicholas Hilliard’, London, 1961, p. 78, figs 39 and 41). However, it would seem that when the aigrette was adopted by men in England it was worn in a very different way, usually at the side of the hat above the temple.

Significantly, the aigrette was also worn by ladies, and at least one portrait of Queen Elizabeth painted in the 1580s shows her wearing an aigrette in the centre of her head-dress. Ladies continued to wear aigrettes well into the 1620s, but the style of the Waddesdon aigrette does not suggest that it was intended for a lady to wear, though the evidence is inevitably most inconclusive on this point.

It is often argued that the fashion for the aigrette was due to the waves of Oriental influence reaching Europe at this time, partly via the Turkish route and partly because of direct contact with the Mughal court in India. Certainly, Transylvanian court jewellery belonging to Prince Gábor Bethlen (reigned 1613-29), which is preserved in the Bucharest Museum, includes a three-feathered aigrette of pierced silver-gilt set with turquoises, the lower part of the jewel being a pierced roundel of foliate design (see Marin Matei Popescu, ‘Podoabe Medievale in Tările Române’, Bucharest, 1970, no. 136, p. 65, col. pls 65-6). Another aigrette, brightly enamelled and bearing the arms of Prince Gábor Bethlen, was formerly in Count Géza Andrássy's possession (see Sandor Mihalik, ‘Old Hungarian Enamels’, Budapest, 1961, p. 30, pl. 38). However, earlier evidence of a conclusive kind is lacking, and even in India it is not decisive. As a result, it is arguable that the adoption of the aigrette as a turban ornament was due, at least in India, to European influence at the court of Akbar's son, Jahangir (reigned 1605-27). Akbar, the third Mogul Emperor (1555-1605), is usually shown wearing a turban plume, like those worn by the Safavid court in Persia, set into a gold holder (or sarpech) which made it stand upright in the centre at the front of the turban. In Jahangir's reign the plume moves to the side, often towards the back, and is shown weighed down by pearls and gemstones. The famous portrait of Jahangir's son, Khurram, of 1616-17 (Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 14-1925), shows the young man wearing the new style of turban plume (see ‘Paintings from the Muslim Courts of India’, British Museum, London, 1976, no. 117, with illus. on p. 71); he is also depicted holding up in front of him an aigrette of the type that had by then become so fashionable in Europe and was, for example, recorded in the Arnold Lulls Album of drawings of jewellery (see Evans 1970, fig. 72 ; also ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. G.44, with col. illus. of the two aigrettes on p. 39 of the Album). Arnold Lulls (active c. 1585 - c. 1621) was a Dutchman who supplied James I and his queen, Anne of Denmark, with jewels, and it is suggested that the Album derives either from his workshop or his activities as a marchand-orfèvre, though the precise purpose of the Album and its connection with Arnold Lulls is still unclear. However, it is surely significant that as many as seven different versions of these aigrettes are recorded in the Album and that most of the jewels depicted seem to date from the second decade of the seventeenth century.

The trophy design of the Waddesdon aigrette has been compared with the engraved designs of Paul Birckenhultz, whose set of plates published in Frankfurt am Main, c. 1600, included a gem-set pendant jewel in the form of a military trophy with Roman armour in the centre. Dame Joan Evans was the first to draw attention to these similarities, though the Birckenhultz design she chose to illustrate in her book (Evans 1970, p. 121, fig. 16) is closer to the pierced openwork of the lower layer and to the gem-set flowers with enamelled petals of the Waddesdon aigrette.

One surviving gold military trophy aigrette with an impeccable provenance is the massive agraffe of 1603, which was commissioned by Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria (1597-1651) through Georg Beuerl, marchand-orfèvre; the final payment in 1610 was 1,300 florins (see ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. 113, col. illus. on p. 14). This lavishly gem-studded aigrette was designed to be worn in the hat, but there is a portrait of Maximilian's first wife, Elizabeth (after 1623), wearing it on her left arm, although by 1617 it had been included in the list of jewels declared to be inalienable heirlooms of the House of Bavaria; it has remained in the Schatzkammer of the Residenz in Munich. Much larger, grander and finer in every way, the design of Maximilian's agraffe is nevertheless very similar, with its enamelled Roman-style cuirass and helmet in the centre, crossed weapons on either side and plumes above. The Waddesdon aigrette has a quite different quality, however, because it is executed with a delicate, almost floral, gaiety.

Far closer in scale but lacking the military trophy design is the gold enamelled and diamond-set aigrette that was buried with Francis I, Duke of Szczecin and West Pomerania (b.1577-d.1620), and which was only uncovered by the bombing of Stettin (Szczecin) during the Second World War (see ‘Princely Magnificence’ 1980, no. 125,

col. illus., p. 94, where it is stated to be 5.5 cm high). In particular, the technique of the white-enamelled plumes with gold markings is strikingly similar. The lower part of this aigrette has a similar openwork quality, though set with finer diamonds. Significantly, the body of the young Duke Albrecht of Holstein, who died in 1613 while in Dresden and was buried there in the Kreuzkirke, was also found with many jewels and orders in his coffin, including two aigrettes on his hat, one in the form of a Roman-style military trophy (see E. von Watzdorf, Gesellschaftsketten und Kleinode Anfang des XVII Jahrhunderts in the ‘Jahrbuch der preussischen Kunstsammlungen’, LIV, 1933, pp. 185-6). In England the only comparable hat-jewel with a well-documented history is to be found in the Soane Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, where it has been since Sir John Soane (d.1837) purchased it at the Mrs Barnes sale at Redland Hall, Bristol, in 1833. Originally set with twenty-five diamonds and eighty-three rubies, this hat-jewel is only 3.4 in high (see Hugh Tait in ‘The Great Book of Jewels’, eds E. A. and J. Heiniger, Lausanne, 1974, p. 231, with excellent col. illus.). However, it has lately acquired a certain fame because of the wide acceptance of the legend surrounding its early history - namely, that it is “King Charles I’s Jewel captured at the Battle of Naseby in 1645”. Indeed, Dame Joan Evans not only accepted this tradition but she went on to propose that this splendid jewel may have been made “to the order of the King of Denmark as at present to James I” because it depicts a standing figure, armed with a drawn sword and a shield, surrounded by a trophy of arms, including a flag with a St Andrew's Cross and a couchant lion beneath his feet (see Evans 1953 (rev. edn 1970), p. 122, pl. 96b). More recently this surmise has led to an even more misleading suggestion that perhaps it was “made in 1616 for presentation to Charles when he became Prince of Wales” and that it “could have originated from the London workshop of a Netherlandish master” (Hackenbroch 1979, pp. 258-9).

Unfortunately, none of this legend is capable of proof. Indeed, the story of its association with Charles I is a myth that post-dates its fully documented exhibition at a Meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London on 17 April 1755. On this occasion the Minutes of the Society not only recorded in detail the facts concerning this exhibit but referred to the making of a very precise drawing of the jewel by the President, J. Theobald, FSA.

The drawing and its accompanying description are reproduced here for the first time because they establish, beyond doubt, that its earlier history was unknown in 1755 and no association with Naseby or Charles I had at that time been suggested. Furthermore, they establish the original condition of this hat-jewel (like the diamond in the brim of the man's hat which is now lost) and the inaccurate way in which the later repairs have been carried out, resulting in the figure being largely obscured by the crown and the shield. It reads:

“A Jewel in the possession of------------, shown to the Antiquary Society April 17, 1755 by John Locke, Esq. This Jewell is made of fine Gold enamelled, on the top is a small Pennon under which is a chaplet of Olive or Myrtle which runs behind the Man & reaches as low as his middle, over it a Coronet, set with Diamonds & Rubies. The Man has a Hat, turned up before & a Diamond button in the Front; he has a Scarfe on his Arm & another over his Shoulder which flows behind him, also a Belt in which hangs his Sword, naked, as well as that in his Hand: his Habit is Military tho' without Armour, a Shield on his left arm, he treads on a Lyon Couchant surrounded with Military Trophies; on the white Flag is a Saltire Cross set with Rubies which seems to be the Arms of Spain.

There is 2 Battle Axes a Cartizan, a Sheaf of Arrows, a Dagger or Scimeter, a Drum, a Harquebus, a Helmet, an Ensign, & a Shield.

No 1 is a large Ruby in the Shield No 2 another smaller in the Lyon the rest are much of the Size represented, the Diamonds are Small. 25 Diamonds, 83 Rubies. The Mans Coat white, spotted with Gold, his Breeches green enamelled with flower of gold.

J. Theobald delin.”

In the Society's Minutes one important fact concerning this exhibit was deliberately not recorded - the identity of the owner. Consequently, all attempts to trace the earlier history of this jewel have been unsuccessful, but it is clear that there are no grounds for associating its production with Christian IV, King of Denmark, James I or Charles I.

Its origin has long been described as “German, early 17th century”, and certainly the elegant figure standing on the lion in a highly mannered pose is remarkably close to the rare gold enamelled pendant figures of a military officer carrying a gun over his shoulder, one of which is preserved in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden, and another in the Royal Palace, Stockholm (illus. in Hackenbroch 1979, p. 257, figs 703 and 705). As Yvonne Hackenbroch has stated, these very distinctive figures may be derived from Theodore de Bry's ‘Stam und Wappenbuechlein’ published in Frankfurt am Main in 1593, or they may be directly inspired by the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1616) whose set of twelve military officers was engraved by his pupil, Jacob de Gheyn, several years before Theodore de Bry had adapted them and given them that precious and elegant quality. However, other artists were not so slow to see the attractions of these elegant military officers, and in Augsburg Corvinianus Saur used this idea as the central motif of one of a set of seven ornamental designs which he engraved in 1594 (see Hackenbroch 1979, fig. 595). All the surviving jewelled figures are of such quality that a leading workshop, perhaps in the Netherlands or in Germany, was clearly responsible for them and, very possibly, for the Soane Museum hat-jewel and for the Waddesdon aigrette as well. The indication is, once again, that these jewels would have been at their most popular towards the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The pierced openwork of the Soane jewel and its construction in layers is closely related to the Waddesdon aigrette, whilst the method of setting the gemstones and of fashioning the enamelled goldwork is remarkably similar. The Soane hat-jewel is a far grander conception, but in its restless outline and cluttered mass of surface detail it is not unlike the Waddesdon aigrette. Finally, the same fussy quality, combined with a symmetrical arrangement of similar plumes, can be seen in a colour drawing of an aigrette in Jakob Mores's book of sketches from 1593 to 1608, preserved in the Hamburg Stadtbibliothek (see Stettiner 1916; also illus. in Hackenbroch 1979, fig. 583). The importance of Jakob Mores's drawings lies in their record of Baltic and North German taste around 1600, and it is into that milieu that the Waddesdon aigrette seems to fit best, rather than into the 'Vienna-Prague' category proposed by Yvonne Hackenbroch in 1979. (The role of Jakob Mores and his two sons is further discussed in cat. no. 12, p. 107-8.)


  • 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. 193, fig. 28
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 193
  • Joan Evans, ‘A History of Jewellery, 110-1870’, London, 1953 (rev. edn 1970), p. 122, pl. 96a
  • Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Renaissance Jewellery’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, New York and Munich, 1979, p. 190, fig. 524
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. 1., The Jewels', British Museum, London, 1986, no. 9, pl.VIIA, figs. 81-82
  • Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton, 'Shakespeare : Staging The World', British Museum, London, 2012, p.185 fig.16.
  • 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

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