Archive find reveals a king's taste for bling


10 February 2016
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imports_CESC_-university-of-edinburgh-art-collection-2-92687_63441.jpg Archive find reveals a king's taste for bling
A 400-year-old document discovered in the collections of the University of Edinburgh has shed light on the lavish jewels owned and worn by King James VI and his wife Anne of Denmark. ...

A 400-year-old document discovered in the collections of the University of Edinburgh has shed light on the lavish jewels owned and worn by King James VI and his wife Anne of Denmark.

This insight into the King and Queen’s love of jewels was discovered by archive staff completing a project to document the University’s Laing Collection. The vast collection bequeathed by antiquary and bookseller David Laing has been described as the most important manuscript donation in the library’s history.

The letter outlines a series of proposed repairs and embellishments to be carried out by the King’s jewellers, Sir John Spilman and William Henrick. The king's love of jewellery is reflected in the total cost for the work, which comes to £1374, 14 shillings and 1 pence, approximately £140,000 in today’s money.

The manuscript details work completed on a number of brooches made up of gold feathers, which are depicted in a number of portraits of King James IV from the time, including the example shown above. Other pieces include a chain with diamonds and rubies, a jewel fashioned like 'the bough of a tree' and armour for the King on which emeralds, garnets and sapphires were set. Techniques used by the jewellers – such as soldering, mending, trimming and setting – are also highlighted in the document.

A RARE DOCUMENT

Archive Manager Rachel Hosker, said: 'In 1604 the King and Queen were in the public gaze as never before and, knowing how much they liked jewels, it is clear they were keen to impress. This rare document offers insight into this aspect of their lives at a pivotal time in British history.'
 
The manuscript – along with thousands of other items in the University of Edinburgh’s collection – can be accessed by students and staff as well as wider public who wish to carry out their own research. For more information, visit the Centre for Research Collections website.

(James VI image copyright University of Edinburgh Art Collection; manuscript image copyright Centre for Research Collections)

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