· 7 October 2021 ·
· What I lost in 1591 was not my ring ·
• THE FIND •
This story begins with journalism, which is not to say facts. I’ve compiled a recap of recent-ish events from a couple of websites and a local tabloid. Their words, not mine. Source links are given at the end of the post.
Hedingham Castle Estate Ring. Elizabethan gold ring with Edward de Vere as Emperor. Metal detectorist’s discovery linked to flamboyant earl who was a favourite of Elizabeth I.
A late sixteenth-century gold ring recently went to auction. Detectorist Tomasz Krawczuk unearthed the ring in December 2018, on land near the River Colne between Halstead and Hedingham Castle in Essex, part of a tract held from Norman times by the de Vere family.
The castle, the de Veres’ principal seat throughout the medieval era, was owned during Elizabeth I’s reign by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). Although considered unsuited for any responsible office because of a volatile temper [note the adjective, we’ll be seeing it again], as a champion jouster and a writer with a talent for love poetry, he was a favourite at the court of Gloriana.
The ring, of Italian craftsmanship with ornate scrollwork and a carnelian intaglio carving of a classical male bust, would befit a man of de Vere’s status. The portrait is possibly of de Vere himself.
The ring was auctioned on 23 February 2021. Estimated at £15,000 to £20,000, it sold for £46,000, total with fees £58,420.
The spelling-challenged Essex Chronicle added the detectorist’s thoughts about his find in its 25 March issue.
Mr Krawczuk, who will split the proceeds of the sale with the landowner, said: “You go out expecting to find a couple of buckles and if you are lucky a nice coin, but nothing of this level.”
In addition to the spell-check failures and the wrong century, this time I’m notoriously volatile. Copy, paste, toss in an adverb.
Moving from journalism to capitalism, the ring soon resurfaced for sale on two websites. The descriptions fill out my biography a little, mentioning my time in Italy and the other bit that comes up whenever someone wants to sell something with my name attached.
It has since been suggested that de Vere was using the pseudonym ‘Shakespeare’ to write plays and poems, as this was a profession that was looked down upon for someone in his position. Some of the evidence for this theory includes many instances in the plays that mirror events and people in his life. This is known as the Oxfordian Theory of Shakespeare Authorship which is still debated today, adding a further dimension of interest and intrigue to this piece!
Everyone loves the Authorship Question when it’s time to advertise.
The first website is a posh design marketplace where the asking price is £162,500approx/floating conversions: $221,000; €190,400; ¥1,426,000. I wonder what Tomasz Krawczuk’s thoughts are now.
The other site is the seller’s own. Berganza Ltd is a London jeweller who does a lot of business in antique rings. The listing says please enquire for the price, so I did. They quoted £150,000 or $208,500. Be sure to cut out the middleman and save yourself a few quid.
Anyone who’s seen Detectorists can picture Lance and Andy swinging their contraptions over Hedingham’s grounds and the surrounding area. It’s barely fiction. The series aired from 2014 to 2017, set in the invented town of Danebury in north Essex. Danebury can’t be far from Hedingham, though the boys’ quest to find the burial site of King Sexred of the East Saxons would put it nearer the coast.
Any further north and you’d be in Suffolk. 
[Satellite views: Google Maps]
- ANDY [Mackenzie Crook]: We all know there’s a Saxon ship burial somewhere in this part of the county. Just got to find it first.
- LANCE [Toby Jones] (dreamily): Saxon hoard… that’s basically the Holy Grail of treasure hunting.
- ANDY: Well no, the Holy Grail is the Holy Grail of treasure hunting.
- LANCE: If you’re going to be pedantic…
Pearce Quigley, my favourite Grumio, plays Russell, another member of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club. I suspect that the DMDC’s rivals Simon and Garfunkel are transplants from Warwickshire. Paul’s accent gives him away.
Did Tomasz Krawczuk do the gold dance? The Essex Chronicle didn’t ask.
• First things first. Is it your ring?
OF COURSE it’s my ring. Who else’s could it possibly be? That ring, buried, there– even the faintest understanding of probability answers this without any elucidation from me. But elucidation is what I’m here for.
It wasn’t an heirloom that I inherited or handed down. It wasn’t mislaid by anyone modern. It had no documentation, no history. It was never bought, sold, stolen, or reported missing. It’s fit for a museum! Anyone losing it would have torn up half of Essex and pumped the Colne dry to find it again. When Tomasz Krawczuk tried it on right out of the ground, his finger was the first to wear it since my own. This blog post is now its provenance. Go with me to a notary.
• Where exactly was it found?
By the bend where the River Colne turns east before heading south again. Brook Street Farm, now. If you’re a hawk or a handsaw the castle is 2½ miles north, north-west: when the wind is southerly, it’s still 2½ miles.
• Is it your face?
My turn to ask a question. Why do so many people misidentify me? I know there’s only the one undisputed portrait to go by, but even my ancient eyeballs have no trouble with this.
Who can think that these are three faces of E Vere? People may have personal motives to wish it or financial motives to say it, but that doesn’t make it so. Just as my father’s portrait is not me, neither is the hairy chap in the toga. He was carved into the carnelian before I had anything to do with him. Moreover, imperial cosplay is the sort of thing you’d find in the Earl of Essex’s selfie collection. If I wanted to be an emperor or a king I didn’t need to dress up. I wrote it down.
• Okay, not you. But surely Italian?
Italian, surely. Venice, early 1575, no surprise there. It was custom-made, but not for me. Like the gold chain of Antipholus of Ephesus, the bespoke jewel found its way (on)to the hand of another. I bought it in the Ruga degli Anelli in the sestiere di San Polo, just across the Rialto bridge. The goldsmith was Angelo Tinti, a man not easily forgotten.
A (bearded) nobleman shopping at a goldsmith’s
window. Augsburg 1576, not Venice 1575.
If you’re going to be pedantic…
British Museum 1863,1114.778
Inside Tinti’s workshop the intaglio ring stood out among the anelli on display. Noting my interest, the maestro handed it to me to try on. He spoke with some bitterness of the diaol empio who commissioned the jewel before committing a crime so heinous that he fled the city rather than face trial. The goldsmith was clearly offended that his work might have adorned the hand of such a sinner, but his umbrage was as much financial as moral. Charged criminals flouting Venetian law put themselves outside its protection, and such outlaws who dared return to La Serenissima could be killed on sight, by anyone, with impunity. For Tinti, pickup and payment were unlikely.
So were interested English earls. As I examined the ring on my finger its maker examined me, scanning me top to toe. He met my eye without a hint of deference. The magic words ‘boys, it’s dinnertime’ made his garzoni vanish like sprites. Another minute of thought, then a murmured ‘iacta alea esto’ as he crossed himself.
- — Your Lordship can have the ring for the balance owed.
The implication took my breath away. Tinti would sell me the ring at half price because I’d get it out of the shop and out of the city, yet he wouldn’t be out so much as a ducat. The impious outlaw would pay for his insult. The catch lay in the risk that he’d reappear to demand his jewel, his deposit, or a pound of someone’s flesh.
It may not have been the dearest ring in Venice but it was dear enough. At half off I could just about afford it. The workmanship was exceptional, the style elegant, not ostentatious. You know the quote.Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3 It fit my finger like it was made for me. Another minute of thought, then I crossed myself and rolled the dice.
- — È venduto. Sold.
Should the outlaw turn up and matters come to swordplay, I was sure I’d hold my own. I didn’t know if the impunity law extended to foreigners, but I could always claim self-defence. This time it would even be true.
Tinti’s relief was evident as we clasped hands. We sealed our bargain with a considerable amount of grappa. The liquor loosened him up.
- — Don’t sweat it. If that devil returns before you leave, Sant’Antonio’s pigPatron saint of Venetian goldsmiths, Saint Anthony the Abbot had a pig who distracted the demons in Hell while Anthony stole a firebrand to warm humanity. I can’t make this stuff up. will keep him distracted until his enemies find him. Venetians and your inglexi will think the face is yours, so no one will make the connection. But I use my eyes to see, and I know you would not have such a barba.
His eyes were as sharp as his wits. Had I worn one at the time no barba of mine would grow so thick, but the ruse would hold water. Angelo Tinti’s real talent was wasted on trinkets. This man would have schooled Machiavelli. He could outthink my father-in-law. I wanted to take him back to England to run my affairs. I told him so. He replied with the deference he hadn’t shown earlier, bowing slightly in acknowledgement as if this wasn’t the first time he’d been asked.
- — Your Lordship does me great honour, but I’d never survive a winter in Inghiltera. Better a goldsmith in the sun than a frozen consigliere.
And so I had to settle for giving his name to the goldsmith in The historie of Error, which I (re)wrote for the court soon after my return to Inghiltera. The play was revised over time as all my work was, and ended up in print as The Comedie of Errors in the First Folio of 1623.
The Earl of Essex never did believe my oath that the ring’s crowned head wasn’t mine. Some people just won’t be told.
• Why didn’t the Dutch pirates take the ring when they stole all your stuff on the crossing to England in 1576?
A perceptive question. I convinced the wretches to leave the queen’s gloves, but no improvised pentameter would have saved my ring. The obvious answer is that they never saw it. Back in Venice I knew it would be foolhardy to travel across Europe wearing something that valuable. A hollowed-out book  did the trick, packed at the bottom of a trunkful, additions to my library. Herodotus was in there. To seaborne thieves a heavy chest of books wasn’t worth the trouble. Had they been bright enough to rifle the contents they would have discovered otherwise.
• Did you learn the outlaw’s identity, whether it was his face?
No. Even grappa didn’t drop Tinti’s guard that far, and I chose not to put him on the spot by asking. I suspected the crime, but not the criminal. Once I left Venice it didn’t matter. The man on my ring became Aurelius– Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (born Marcus Annius Verus), the second-century Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher. I liked having him at hand, watching me with the steady gaze of his profile eye. Stoicism was not in my nature, but the wise words of counsel and consolation in Aurelius’s Meditations helped me through some very tough times– like the one I’m about to describe.
• This will explain how Aurelius ended up in the ground?
When my father died unexpectedly in 1562, the estate of the Oxford earldom was much reduced from his own inheritanceThe details are beyond the scope of this post, but The Fall of the House of Oxford by Nina Green [PDF, shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org] is instructive. Rhenish is recommended.. The following decade of my minority and wardship saw its condition go from bad to worse under the dual predations of Leicester and Cecil. Then came the staggering cost of buying back my patrimony from the crown, regaining legal ownership of what was left. People accuse me of devouring a fortune. The fortune had already been devoured. I never got free of the fees and fines that Elizabeth refused to remit. I’m not saying I was frugal with what I did have, but the ratio of what I spent to what was never mine in the first place is far out of kelter in most people’s image of me– especially my detractors, whose purposes are served by the fallacy.
I knew as well as anyone that my deficit economy was unsustainable, but I had more important things to do than struggle against an inevitable outcome. By 1591 a crisis was imminent. The year began with old gasbag Tom Churchyard’s sanctuary imbroglio at St Peter’s Hill, ending my nearly two decades of support for an amorphous herd of importunate scribblers. I simply couldn’t pay their rent and bar tabs any longer. A few chose to bite the hand that fed them once the feeding stopped.  If you’re not familiar with Timon of Athens, have a look at it. Rough sledding in places (I never finished it properly, nor did anyone else) but entirely relevant.
Everything I was and everything I did found its way into my work. The things I bought with the remains of my inheritance were as important to Shake-Speare as Italy or Ovid. Italy was one of the things I bought, it didn’t come at second hand. If I was indulgent to myself, so was I generous to others. I was no pinching merchant, and I never counted the cost of being who I needed to be. Condemn me if you like, but throw away your Sonnets, your Hamlet, your Romeo and Juliet if you do. You can’t have it both ways.
My saleable assets were nearly gone. Interest and penalties demanded by the crown continued to accrue. Other creditors were baying. Trusted employees were lining their pockets at my expense. You get the picture.
One ray of light shone through this darkness. December saw my marriage to Elizabeth Trentham, maid of honour to the queen. The hand she joined with mine held a future of loving affection, quiet security to work in, and even the gift of our son Henry. Had I been around to write it the First Folio’s dedication would have honoured Eliza Trentham, not Bill and Phil Herbert. Anyone who values what’s in that book has Eliza to thank for it.
Before the wedding, however, the most unkindest cut of all.
A bargain & sale of the honour, castle, manor, parks, etc of Hedingham from Edward, Earl of Oxford, unto William, Lord Burghley, for life, the remainder after his decease to the Ladies Elizabeth, Bridget, & Susan Vere & to the heirs of their bodies, [et cetera]
— National Archives SP 12/266/99, f137 
Though an Earl of Oxford grandson had eluded Burghley’s grasp, the seat and symbol of the Oxford earldom did not. Land never mattered to me, but losing Hedingham was traumatic. Losing it to William Cecil was devastating.
- The ride along the river on a late November day
- The leaves were down, the wind was chill, the clouds all lowr’d gray
- The decades without reckoning, now time to pay the cost
- The land bestowed ere Domesday soon for ever would be lost
I bid farewell to my past by leaving a piece of it behind. I buried Aurelius at the bend, within a copse of alder far enough from the bank that I figured he’d be safe from ploughshares and high water. I didn’t consider metal detectors.
A week later in London I signed the papers. Before the month was out I wed Eliza. I never saw Hedingham again.
Everything is only for a day, both that which
remembers and that which is remembered.
— Meditations, Book IV
Receive wealth or prosperity without
arrogance, and be ready to let it go.
— Meditations, Book VIII
 Though set in Essex, Detectorists was filmed in Suffolk, where Framlingham played the part of Danebury. Several notable Howards are entombed in Framlingham’s Church of St Michael, including Thomas, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy (not a Howard but married to one), and my Uncle Henry (Surrey) and Aunt Frances, my father’s sister. Frances rests beside her husband with the blue boar of the de Veres at her feet. [Photo: Church of Saint Michael, Framlingham] [note 1 return]
 Giacomo di Grassi’s Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme, the best Italian arms (blades) manual then in print, published in Venice in 1570. I bought a few copies to give as gifts so I sacrificed one. Good decision. At home I kept the ring in the book when I wasn’t wearing it, a reminder of its escape from the pirates and the rapier fight with the outlaw that never took place. Whenever I ate bacon I thanked the pig. [note 2 return]
 Alexander Waugh’s article 1591 – A Watershed Year for Oxford and the English Theatre in the July 2021 De Vere Society newsletter (Vol 28 No 3) adds detail and insight to my necessarily brief mention of these events. The DVS has kindly posted this article to their public archive. You can receive full newsletters hot off the press by joining the DVS. [note 3 return]
 Quotation from 1598 memorandum (following Burghley’s death) listing the terms of the 1591 sale of the Hedingham estate. National Archives SP 12/266/99, f137. Modernised transcript ©2005 Nina Green [oxford-shakespeare.com]. [note 4 return]
● Grazie mille to fellow poet Joshua Gray, who did yeoman service with some on-the-canal research during his own Venetian holiday. In Book Review: Strong Stuff I wrote about the book of poetry that Joshua wrote about me.
● My verse near the end of this post was modelled metrically on Metamorphoses, Ovid’s narrative poem that I ‘helped’ translate from Latin into English when I was a teenager. See what Ovid, Gilligan, and Mudville have in common in Seven Times Fourteener.
● I untangled the confusion over the misidentified portrait of my father in Look Upon His Like(ness) Again.
- • Banner: detail, Manor of Castle Hedingham survey map, 1592
- · Israel Amyce, surveyor
- · Essex Record Office D/DMh M1
Amyce was one of the men who colluded in fraud while employed as my trustee. Upon acquiring Hedingham’s honour, castle, manor, parks, etc, William the Treasurer hired Amyce to make a Domesday Booklet, a thorough inventory of his new possession. The Essex records estimate the land in Amyce’s survey to be about 5000 acres.
- • Video, Hedingham Castle Estate Elizabethan Gold Ring with Edward de Vere as Emperor, Lot 497, with Tim Wonnacott [YouTube]
- · TimeLine Auctions Ltd, Harwich, Essex
- · posted 01 February 2021
- • Lot 497: The Hedingham Castle Estate Elizabethan Gold Ring with Edward de Vere as Emperor [invaluable.com]
- · This pre-auction overview shows evidence of actual research, even if some of the information is off and my temper is again volatile. It concludes with the briefest mention of Authorship as “an interesting aside”, citing J T Looney’s ‘Shakespeare’ Identified by name, which is more than anyone else bothered to do.
- • Timeline: Antiquities 23 February 2021 [detectingfinds.co.uk]
- · Detecting Finds blog by Peter D Spencer
- · 25 February 2021
- • Gold ring fitting for a de Vere [antiquestradegazette.com]
- · Antiques Trade Gazette
- · by Roland Arkell
- · 15 March 2021
- • Essex Chronicle [magzter.com]
- · published by Reach PLC
- · 25 March 2021 issue, page 19
- ⭐ For sale: Elizabethan Intaglio Ring Featuring Edward de Vere, circa 1575 [1stdibs.com] (the online marketplace)
- ⭐ For sale: Elizabethan intaglio ring featuring Edward de Vere [berganza.com] (the jeweller)
- • Detectorists [bbc.co.uk]
- · BBC Four series, 19 episodes, 2014-2017
- · written and directed by Mackenzie Crook
If you’re in the UK and your licence is paid up, you can stream this Arcadian series on the BBC iPlayer, at least into November. In the US it may still be on the Roku Channel. Check your local listings or buy it. Detectorists is a bigger jewel than Alfred’s. Click on the images to view clips at YouTube. [jump return]
· Simon and Garfunkel (Season 1 Episode 2)
· The Gold Dance (Season 2 Episode 6)
- • Renaissance Venice [worldcat.org]
- · J R Hale, editor
- · Faber and Faber, London, 1973
- · Chapter XI, Authority and the Law in Renaissance Venice
- · by Gaetano Cozzi
- • Dating Shakespeare’s Plays [datingshakespeare.co.uk]
- · edited by Kevin Gilvary, 2010
- · contents freely available as PDFs at the link
- · paperbound reprint at Portsea Press
- · The Merchant of Venice [PDF]
- · The Comedy of Errors [PDF]
- · Timon of Athens [PDF]
- • Monstrous Adversary
- · by Alan H Nelson
- · Liverpool University Press, 2003, 548 pages
Watch out for the venom that drips from every page. Hazmat Level B.