Mystery Solved: Identity Discovered Behind Ship Ring

September 9, 2011

For those of you who are new here, or who are not familiar with the wonderfully informative article that Hayden wrote about a mourning ring of mine, a ring I call the Ship Ring, please see the post from April 15, 2010. Here you will find the background for this post, in which thanks to a friend’s research, the identity behind the ring is brought to light. Once having learned to whom the ring is dedicated, the careful analysis presented by Hayden from last year’s post, and my own research into the personal history behind this ring can be seen as two separate routes of research that work in tandem with each other, helping us understand this ring in its entirety.

To summarize, Hayden’s analysis of this magnificent ring took into account a number of different aspects of the piece, that we shall see, make complete sense in light of the discovery of the true identity of the person mourned. In a nutshell, I purchased this ring online from an Englishwoman who really knew nothing about it other than it had been in her late husband’s family for over 50 years. The inside of the ring shank has the usual memorial dedication, with the date of death, and the age; however, in this case, rather than a full name, there are only initials (E. W.) with a crown, or coronet, in front of them. What intrigued me quite a lot when I first examined this ring, was a much larger coronet engraved on the underside of the bezel, along with a prominent initial “W” and then the two initials “A+T”. Here were pieces of a puzzle left to me to solve regarding the identity of the deceased: two coronets (inner shank, and under the bezel), initials E. W. on the inner shank along with the date of death (Dec. 1, 1841) and the age (83), plus two joined initials not matching the others (A+T). Where to begin?

Well, I decided to start with the coronet. I really felt that this crown was too large of a design to be a maker’s mark; it must signify something else, and something relating to the “W” below it. Not being familiar with English royalty and peerage, I had to do a bit of online research. I learned that in the peerages of the United Kingdom, the design of a coronet shows the rank of its owner. This is through the motifs of “strawberry leaves” and “pearls”, or “silver balls”, in two dimensional representations. The coronet under the bezel of this ring corresponds exactly to that of an earl. Because the coronet is featured so prominently on top of the initials W and A+T, and again on the inner shank before the letters E. W., I felt quite certain that this person was an earl; namely, the Earl of W___. But who could that be? Since I had the date of death, and the age of the person, I thought I might be able to discover who this was by utilizing these clues. Referring back to the post from April 15th of last year, you can read about how I used these to come to a possible identity, which, as it now turns out, is not correct. However, going with the assumption that this was an earl, I looked at all the possible earls of Ws, whose date of death and age matched the information on my ring. And I did come quite close; John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. He had died on Dec. 15, 1841 at the age of 82. Pretty close, but not exact. Now, if you look at the photo of the inner shank of my ring, you’ll see that there was a piece of gold inserted on top of the original shank, and this piece had been engraved with “obit Dec. 15” .Would it be possible, I asked myself, if the ring had been mistakenly engraved- that is, the “5” from Dec. 15th left out, giving the date of death on the ring as Dec. 1? I thought it was possible, yes, but then we come to the mystery of the two initials, A+T. In my research of John Fane, I could find nothing that could relate to those two initials. So, for the time, I left that piece of information aside, and I moved to looking more carefully at the front of the ring. Here we have a ship, beautifully painted in sepia, moving away across the waves of the ocean. Surrounding the ship is a garter with a buckle made of seed pearls and hair. What of this ship? Did it refer to a naval career or one as a shipping merchant? No, I could not find anything like that for John Fane. However, as Hayden pointed out, the ship symbolizes the passage of the soul into the afterlife, and that certainly made sense here, for a mourning ring. And the garter? Well, I did find out that John Fane was made Knight of the Garter in 1793. Was all of this leading me towards the Earl of Westmoreland as the person commemorated here? I still could not be sure, but the use of the earl’s coronet, and the date of death and age on the ring so close but for one digit- these things made me feel I was on the right path. But now, what of some of the aspects of this ring that Hayden asked us to look at and analyzed? In reading his article, these could not be ignored and I felt that they played an important role in making sense of this ring. One of the main things to look at in dating rings is the shank. In the article we’re shown a comparison between this ring and one from 1786, with special attention paid to the sides of the shank and the way they connect to the front of the ring.

The similarity is quite apparent, and we see how the detailing of the shank in the ship ring shows the prototype for the style we see in the 1786 ring. This gives rise to the question of whether the ring was repurposed at the later date of 1841 to mourn a family member, but had been utilized previously in the late 18th century as a sentimental token. As we’ll see in the discovery of the true identity of the deceased, this is quite likely and makes perfect sense.

So finally- who is the ring for?  Thanks to a friend who is an experienced genealogical researcher, who took the information about this ring that I provided (the information contained in the post from last April plus my photos) and researched it based on the death date, I have learned that this ring mourns the death of Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Winterton. Who is she, and how did my friend connect the information with her? Well, he tells me that he looked to see who of import might have died on the date given in the ring, and then looked to see if the age and rank matched. A dowager Countess is the wife of a late earl; in this case, the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. And what was Elizabeth’s maiden name? Armstrong. And there we have our earl’s coronet, the W, for Winterton, A+T for Armstrong + Turnour, and the date of Countess Elizabeth’s death in London at the age of 83 on Dec. 1, 1841. And now, knowing all of this, the items that were previously analyzed by Hayden fall neatly into place. We have the ring shank, pointing to a date in the late 18th century; that is, earlier than the engraved date of 1841. Certainly the ring could have been a sentimental or marriage token at the time of the marriage of Miss Elizabeth Armstrong to the Earl of Winterton, which was in 1778. At that time, to commemorate the union, the coronet and initials on the underside of the bezel could have been engraved on the ring. And symbolizing never ending love, we have the garter, and buckle motif. That’s certainly fitting for a marriage. At some point, the ring was enlarged- we can see the solder lines of where a small piece of gold was added to the back of the shank to make it bigger. At this point, or perhaps later, for a reason I’m not sure of, a larger piece of gold was added to the inside of the shank. And then, when the Dowager Countess died, the usual mourning dedication, with the addition of the appropriate coronet before her initials was engraved to the inside of the shank. And here we have the solution to the mystery, and a confirmation of both the ring being tied to an Earl of W____, and to one with a history prior to its engraved date, with a purpose more sentimental than mourning when it was first commissioned and presented.

And so we see how diligent and patient research, backed up by facts, as well as an educated stylistic analysis, are both equally important in understanding the personal history behind a piece of antique jewelry and in fully grasping the purpose of the item and its relation to its time and its culture.

*For those who are interested, or may need help with similar research, my friend directed me to this website:  -this is a resource for British Peerage and Baronetage. Here is the page he found for the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. Reading down, you’ll see the entry for Elizabeth Armstrong, his second wife:

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