The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Posy rings, the name deriving from poesy ('poetry'), are rings with inscriptions that express affection, friendship and love. Rhyming or cryptic inscriptions were fashionable from around 1200-1500, and were written in Latin but more commonly in French, the language of courtly love. Both these languages were spoken and understood fairly widely by the elite in medieval Europe. The repetition of particular inscriptions suggest that goldsmiths had reference books of stock phrases; the more unusual inscriptions perhaps indicate a client's individual request.

Posies, also known as 'resons' or 'chansons' can be found on personal items such as gloves, handkerchiefs, knives or painted on trencher plates. They were chosen by the giver or could be taken from published compendiums or commonplace books such as the 1658 "The Mysteries of Love or the Arts of Wooing" or "Love's Garland or Posies for Rings, Hand- kerchers and Gloves and such pretty tokens that Lovers send their Loves" (1674). The ability to choose or write a posy became one of the literary exercices expected of an educated person. Friends and family would often help to find the right words. In a letter from Matthew to Edward Nicholas, May 17 1622, Matthew regrets his inability to find a posy for his brother Edward: 'That you may not suspect my desire to helpe you in your choice of a posie I will sende you such as have come into my minde by often meditating thereon, though I am pleased with none of them [...] I write not these because I have an opinion of them as that you should make your choyce out of them, only to give you assurance that I have not neglected your request, though unable to satisfy your desire'. Goldsmiths would also have kept rings in stock inscribed with a range of posies.
The small size of this example suggests it was owned by a woman.

The circular hoop could be engraved both inside and out; until around 1350 the style of lettering took the form of the rounded capitals, known as Lombardic script, and from that date until after 1500 lettering was in the spiky script known as Gothic.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Ring
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1500/1530
  • Location: Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: Diameter: 1.9 cm outer hoop, Height: 0.3 cm
  • Provenance: Given by Dame Joan Evans
  • Medium: Gold, engraved

Additional Items