Skip to page content | Skip to submenu

Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

items » the swan badge...

The swan badge and the Dunstable Swan

R 488 Item, j cigne d'or aimell' blanc ove j petit cheine d'or pendant entour le cool, pois' ij unc', priz, xlvjs. viijd.

[Item, a gold swan enamelled white with a little gold chain hanging around the neck, weighing 2 oz., value, 46s. 8d.]

A photograph of the Dunstable Swan

The Dunstable Swan Jewel (London, British Museum)

Larger image (28KB)

The swan badge described in Richard II's treasure roll seems to have resembled closely the Dunstable Swan Jewel in the British Museum. Like the white hart of Richard II, the swan was almost certainly a livery badge. Such badges were given out and worn to express allegiance to a king or great noble. A gold badge would have belonged to an important person, although less expensive versions would also have been distributed. Several noble families liked to trace their descent from the legendary swan knight, who arrived in a swan-drawn boat to rescue a lady. Among these noble families were the descendants of the de Bohun earls of Hereford. The last heirs were two sisters, Eleanor (c. 1365-99), who married Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester (1355-97), youngest son of Edward III, and Mary (d. 1394), wife of the future Henry IV. Among the precious possessions Eleanor left in her will was a book containing a swan romance bequeathed to her son, Humphrey, and on her memorial brass in Westminster Abbey can be seen a little swan. One of the books seized from Thomas of Woodstock in 1397 had swans embroidered on the covers. Many objects recorded in the inventory among Richard II's treasure were seized from Thomas of Woodstock when he was declared a traitor and murdered in 1397 (see Lords Appellant). This is one possible origin both of the swan badge documented in the inventory and of the surviving object.

The Dunstable Swan Jewel was found during excavations at the Dominican Friary in Dunstable (Bedfordshire) in 1965. It is made of white enamel on gold in a technique perfected in Paris in the years around 1400. Laboratory examination has also revealed minute traces of pink enamel on the beak. This is now almost entirely lost, but some enamel which looks black survives on the legs and feet. The chain and coronet are gold and there is a gold pin on the back. The enamel technique is known today by the French term, émail en ronde bosse, meaning objects where the molten glasses are applied on gold in the round to produce a three dimensional effect like miniature sculpture. Some enamels in this technique were made by goldsmiths working in London. These highly skilled craftsmen might be native born or aliens from the Low Countries or Cologne who had settled there. The Dunstable Swan Jewel could have been made in France or England. It is a very rare survival.

The swan badge is listed on membrane 14 of the treasure roll.

items | back to top