Lovers’ Gifts in the Middle Ages

As a Valentine themed post, I’d like to present a selection of late medieval tokens with inscriptions referring to love and desire. Part of the 1300–1500 strand of the Inner Lives project looks at desire, love and compulsion, particularly in connection to magic and cosmological forces.

Fig 1.jpg

In the late Middle Ages, rings and brooches with inscriptions were frequently interchanged between lovers. Geoffrey Chaucer mentions them as suitable gifts for your lady in his poem The Legend of Good Women (c. 1385): “Send hire letters, tokens, brooches, and rynges.”

In the same vein, the Prioress, the vain pet-loving nun from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, wears a string of green beads from which:

An theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after Amor vincit omnia” [Love conquers all]

Most rings with love inscriptions are gold bands, with the inscription on either the outside or inside of the ring. They can be plain or feature engravings of leaves, flowers, hearts, or favourite saints, among other subjects. Some of the inscriptions make a firm demand on the affections of the recipient (e.g. ‘desire no other’), while others offer a statement of adoration to the intended (e.g. ‘you have my heart’).

Here is a selection of love inscriptions on medieval rings in Latin, Old French, and Middle English :

  • +a+volla+moii ♥ gardi li mo (Ah, here is my heart, take care of it for me) 14th c. [British Museum AF.1074]
  • have ♥ [heart] and al (15th c.) [British Museum 1854,0824.2]
  • autre nevet (never desire another) (15th c.) [British Museum AF.1080]
  • amor meus (my love) (15th c.) [British Museum AF.1078]
  • nul autre (no other) (early-mid 15th c.) [Museum of London 81.155]
  • mon cor avez (you have my heart) (mid-late 15th c.) [Museum of London 80.229]
  • de tout mon couer (with all my heart) (15th c.) [Museum of London 4113]
  • amo/re vo/le vo/le fe (Do as your heart prompts you) (15th c.) [Ashmolean Museum WA1897.CDEF.F420]
  • je le de sir (I desire him) (15th c.) [V&A 890-1871]
  • pense de moy (think of me) (c. 1400-1450) [V&A M.222-1962]

Fig 2

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  •  vous et nul autre (you and no other) (1400-1450) [V&A M.57-1946]

Fig 3

 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  •  autre ne vueil (Desire no other) (15th c.) [V&A 7125-1860]

Fig 4

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  •  ffor euer (15th c.) [V&A M.242-1962]

Fig 5

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • aimis. ames. aimie. aue (love, my love, you have a lover) (15th c.) [V&A M.63-1960]

Fig 6

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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