Rings Were Prizes in Medieval England

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Usually kings gave a purse of money at jousting tournaments, but in one case at least, ruby and diamond rings held a knights eye. Also, rings given in the Crusades as a reward for bravery or to bestow a blessing for safe return home, have been preserved.

Rings of the Crusades

Richard the Lion Heart gave a ring from his own finger to an English knight, Sir William D’Anny, in recognition of his bravery. He directed him to emblazon on his crest, a demi-Saracen holding a lion’s paw in one hand and a ring in the other. The reason for this order was the knight’s bravery in killing a Saracen prince in 1192 and also a lion near the Syrian city of Acu, later known as St. Jean d’Acre. In that case, he brought a paw from the lion to Richard as proof of his valour.

Another gift from Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) to Richard Coeur de Lion was a set of four rings. Each ring, set with a different stone, arrived with an accompanying letter explaining its meaning. The ring with the emerald, glowing with its verdant hue, symbolized how we should believe. The sapphire reminds us of celestial purity and how we should hope. The garnet, with warmth of colour, denotes how we should love. The topaz, with clear transparency, reminds us how we should act and the circular form of the rings themselves stand for eternity with no beginning or end, and admonishes us to pass our focus from terrestrial to celestial and from temporal to eternal goals.

A ring was found in the ruins of Eltham in Kent, a gold hoop with an Oriental ruby surrounded by five uncut diamonds equidistant from each other. The ring weighed over half an ounce and bore the inscription in old French:

“Qui me portera exploitrera
Et a grant joye revendra.”
(Whosoever weareth me will do doughty deeds
And will return filled with joy.)

The motto points to the Crusades and it is thought it was given to a knight on the outset of his expedition to the Holy Land. Because it was found in England, one can only speculate the wearer returned safely.

Jousting Prizes

Jousting was the most popular sport of the Middle Ages. Knights participated for the prize money and the status of best in the sport. Because kings held the tournaments and donated the prizes, a winner could stand to win large sums of money.

King Henry VIII held tournaments of jousting competitions and gave prizes of a ruby ring for jousting prowess and a diamond ring for the most telling strokes. One winner of a ruby ring,Thomas Brandon the Earl of Suffolk, later married the presenter of his award, Princess Margaret, sister to the king. Margaret married him after the death of her first husband, Louis XII of France. One winner of a diamond ring was Sir Edward A. Borough. An extra prize of an emerald ring was given to the Earl of Essex for valour.

As todays top athletes receive a large payment and renown, so did the sportsman of the Middle Ages.