The Coleridge Collar is an extraordinary survival of English renaissance goldsmith-work and, on the basis of stylistic and scientific analyses, can be dated to between 1st April 1545 and October 1551, making it the only known, complete, surviving gold collar of office from the time of Henry VIII.
The ubiquitous nature of livery collars - symbols of attachment to a particular family - meant that anyone, even those without an understanding of their symbolism, would recognise a motif on a collar such as a figure of St George on horseback, or a suspended Golden Fleece or, indeed, a Latin inscription on a garter. In their earliest incarnations these instantly recognisable motifs signified that the wearer was loyal to a particular master and, latterly, loyal to the ruling monarch.
Perhaps the most famous livery collars were those used by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and uncle to Richard II (r. 1377-1399), that included as their motif a sequence of esses. From a symbol of personal feudal livery, the collars then changed into an official symbol of allegiance to the king when, in 1399, Henry IV, John of Gaunt's son, became the first king from the House of Lancaster. Their official status can then be dated to 1401-2 when Henry declared that all the sons of the king, dukes, earls, barons and bannerets may wear the livery of our Lord the King of his collar as well in his absence as his presence: all other knights and esquires may wear it in his presence (Lightbown, op. cit., p. 249). As one would also expect, the metal used for the collars also depended on the wearer's status; gold being used for the great barons and lords, and more base metals for the lower classes. During the rule of the Yorkist kings (1461-1485), however, esses on collars were supplanted by motifs such as suns and roses. They were subsequently revived by the first Tudor kings, who included on their livery collars the Tudor rose, knots and Beaufort portcullises; as can be seen on the Lord Mayor of London's collar (illustrated and discussed in Princely Magnificence, op. cit., pp. 52-3, no. 18) and on the Coleridge collar offered here.
The significance of the esses has caused much debate with numerous different theories having been proposed. In his discussion on the use of the letter 'S', the 15th century Valencian knight, Joan Martorell, author of the chivalric novel Tirant lo Blanc, says that no other letter in the alphabet excels in its authority and perfection or in power to signify the highest things. He notes the attributes best associated with the letter 'S' as being sanctedat, saviensa, sapienca, and seynoria (sanctity, wisdom, learning and lordship; Lightbown, op. cit., p. 248). It is also possible, as Lightbown illustrates (ibid.), that this motif may have been appropriated by John of Gaunt from his mother Philippa of Hainault who, in 1348, had a chamber arrayed in red sindon patterned throughout with the letter 'S' - supposedly referring to the word souverayne (sovereign). Interestingly, among the many mottoes that Henry IV adopted two of them were souverayne and soveignez ('remember'; ibid.). Another highly plausible theory is that the esses refer to the Latin phrase Spiritus Sanctus, or Holy Spirit and, by extension, the seven gifts that the Holy Spirit bestowed upon man: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear (of God).
Towards the end of Henry VIII's rule, the use of collars of esses became restricted to judges and other high ranking officials; most notably by Lord Chief Justices of the King's (or Queen's) Bench and the Chief Justices of the Common Pleas. These collars of office became the personal property of each Lord Chief Justice and were subsequently sold, upon the office-holder's retirement, to the incoming occupier of the post.
The Coleridge collar
The present collar was almost certainly created for Sir Edward Montagu when he held the post of Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas between 1545 and 1553, and would then have been worn by every subsequent holder of the office until the last person to occupy the post, Lord Coleridge, merged the office with the post of Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's bench in 1880, and created the new role of the Lord Chief Justice of England. The collar for the former office then became superfluous, and it became the personal property of Lord Coleridge. It remained in his family until it was recently purchased by the present owner from his descendants.
It is likely that a collar of some shape or form, intended to be passed down to each subsequent Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, existed from the creation of the role in 1190. The first person known to wear a collar of esses in a strictly official capacity was by Sir Robert Brudenell (in office 1520-1530) as can be seen on his effigy in the south aisle of the church of Dene, Northamptonshire. However, for reasons to be discussed below, compelling arguments exist that show the Coleridge collar was made in the mid-16th century with the intention of replacing the one worn by Sir Robert.
From a stylistic point of view, the combination of the Tudor rose, knots, and Beaufort portcullises on this collar mean, for the reasons discussed above, that it would not have been created before Henry VII, the first Tudor king after 24 years of Yorkist rule, took power in 1485. As is mentioned previously, it is closely similar, in its iconography, to another collar of esses which was commissioned by 1532 when it was presented by Henry VIII to Sir John Alen, a member of his Council and twice Lord Mayor (Princely Magnificence, op. cit., pp. 52-3, no. 18.). Although heavily restored, this collar, still worn by the Lord Mayor of London today, compares very closely to the Coleridge collar in that it is composed of virtually identical alternating esses and knots and in the decoration of the portcullises, which would suggest that both were made at a similar time. There can be little doubt, however, that the Coleridge collar is the same one worn by Sir Edward Montagu, who became Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in November 1545, in his posthumous portrait of the late 16th century today in the collection of the Duke of Buccleugh at Boughton House (see comparative illustration 1). Visually, the Coleridge collar and Sir Edward's appear to be identical and, although the rose in the portrait seems to have been enamelled, it is likely that the enamel subsequently chipped off or was damaged and then removed entirely. The collar can then be clearly seen in an early 17th century portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London, around the neck of Sir Henry Hobart, who assumed the role between 1613 and 1625 having collected the collar from Lord Coke who moved over to the King's bench in 1613. It is recorded again in 1714 as being passed to Lord Trevor who assumed the role, between 1701 and 1714 (Purey-Cust, loc. cit.), and is featured in his portrait of circa 1705 in the Government Art Collection, London. The collar can also be seen in numerous engravings of subsequent Lord Chief Justices until 1880 when Lord Coleridge is the last man seen wearing it in an official capacity (comparative illustration 2).
Thus, from stylistic and documentary evidence a plausible hypothesis regarding the collar's approximate date of facture and its subsequent history can be formed. It is, however, through taking into account the results of a recent x-ray fluorescence test that one can propose a considerably more precise date. This test, carried out on a number of the elements of the Coleridge collar, demonstrates that there are no recordable elements other than gold, silver and copper - as was typical of English works of art in gold from the 15th and 16th centuries. After that time, one would expect to find additional trace elements introduced into the alloy, which argues against the possibility that the present collar is a later imitation of a 16th century design. However, more significantly, the test shows that the alloy used for the esses, knots and portcullises was, approximately, 20 carats throughout, while the rose was 22. The fact that the collar is 20 carats is important as it is known that Henry VIII debased the currency between 1st April 1546 and October 1551 (Challis, loc. cit.). This saw the standard of gold being reduced from 22 to 20 carats but then being upgraded back to 22 carats five years later. Furthermore, by 1573 Elizabeth I was also known to have ordered all goldsmiths not to produce or hold any wares in Britain with a fineness of less than 22 carats - a standard which remained in place until 1798 (Jackson, loc. cit.) This therefore gives a very precise window for when the collar would have been made and excludes the possibility that it was copied or, indeed, replaced between at least 1551 and 1798. With regards to the differing standard of the rose, one cannot say with certainty when it was cast, but one can hypothesise that it was either made before 1546 or after 1551. Since it is also cast from a comparable alloy to the rest of the chain it would almost certainly have been created in the 16th century.
The second factor that the x-ray fluorescence test highlighted was the declining proportion of gold in the alloy of the repairs. This is of particular interest as it demonstrates that the collar was regularly worn, damaged and subsequently repaired over time. This is explained by the fact that in order to repair a previously repaired metal, the melting point of the new solder would have to be low enough so that the old repairs did not melt when the collar was reheated. Thus by reducing the amount of gold in a solder one would also be able to reduce the melting point for the necessary repair. While this, in isolation, does not provide a casting date, it provides a practical explanation for decreasing qualities of gold in the alloy of the solder and, additionally, corroborates the impossibility of the collar being of a later facture since such elaborate repairs would have been too complex to recreate.
The argument above clearly suggests that the collar inherited by Lord Coleridge in 1880 was first owned by Sir Edward Montagu until the latter gave up his office in 1553. It was then passed down to every successive Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. After establishing, and assuming, the new role of the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Coleridge henceforth wore a 'modern' 19th century collar and kept his previous collar for himself.
There can be no doubt that the Coleridge collar is truly an historic and incredible survival of 16th century English goldsmith-work. It is even more remarkable that by using a combination of art historical and scientific analyses, one can convincingly date the collar to between 1546 and 1551. Therefore one has to consider the fact that, given this dating, Sir Edward Montagu must have been given a new collar shortly after his accession to the role of Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. And while the practical reason for the old collar's replacement will remain enigmatic (but, arguably, due to either theft, loss or damage beyond repair), one should consider the tantalising idea that the new collar was presented to Sir Edward by Henry VIII himself sometime between 1546 (when the standard of gold was reduced to 20 carats) and 1547 (the year that Henry VIII died). Surely it would seem to be a suitable gift for the man that the King made a member of his Privy Council, one of the sixteen executors of his last will and governor to his son, and heir, Edward VI.
We are grateful to Duncan Campbell for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.