The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Object Type
The bezel (head) of this ring is enamelled in white with a death's head surrounded by the inscription 'BE HOLD THE ENDE'. The second inscription, 'RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH', runs round the edge. On the reverse of the bezel are the initials 'ML' connected by a true lover's knot.

Ownership & Use
This ring appears to be both a memento mori ring, which reminds the wearer that she or he must die, and a marriage ring. The second inscription on the ring ('RATHER DEATH THAN FALS FAYTH' ) and the true lover's knot that unites the two initials suggest that it was used as a betrothal or marriage ring by 'M' and 'L', although we do not know who they were. The solemn vows of marriage are associated with death: 'till death us do part'.

The juxtaposition of memento mori and marriage imagery would not have seemed strange to the ring’s first owner. In the painting of the ‘Judd Marriage’, 1560, now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, marriage and death are both seen as rites of passage. The earthly, transitory nature of marriage is contrasted with the eternity of death and judgment. The couple exchange their vows over a skull whilst the motto above reads:

‘The word of God
Hath knit us twain
And Death shall us
Divide again’

In the past it was thought that the ring was a gift from Charles I (ruled 1625-1649) to Archbishop William Juxon (1582-1663) on the day of the King's execution, 30 January 1649. We do not have any evidence to support this story.

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  • Title: Ring
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1550/1600
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 2 cm estimated, including scrolls, Width: 1 cm estimated, Diameter: 2.3 cm estimated
  • Provenance: Bequeathed by Miss Charlotte Frances Gerard
  • Medium: Gold, chased and enamelled