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‘Al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede’: The Jewellery of Margaret of York and Its Meaning
By John Ashdown-Hill
The Ricardian, Vol.17 (2007)
Introduction: The description of Chaucer’s squire, from the general prologue to The Canterbury Tales, reminds us that well before the time of Margaret of York the combination of red and white roses was nothing new, and that its significance need not be dynastic. In the margins of many folios of the Bedford Hours, for example, red and white roses appear, both in conjunction and separately. They are mingled with other flowers and appear to have no dynastic significance, though it is conceivable that, in the context of a religious text, they have symbolic meaning (being intended, perhaps, to allude either to the Virgin Mary or to the Passion of Christ). In a recent study, Jean Wilson considered the symbolic significance of jewellery associated with Margaret of York as duchess of Burgundy, in the design of which both red and white roses figure. The title of Wilson’s paper focussed specifically on the collier depicted in the small portrait, said to be of Margaret, and currently in the Louvre Museum. This collier does not survive, and Wilson commented that we cannot be certain that it ever really existed (though she is inclined to believe that it did). However, Wilson’s text ranged beyond the collier, to include discussion of Margaret’s crown, now in the treasury at Aachen Cathedral, and other pieces, for as Wilson rightly perceived, the painted collier cannot be considered in isolation. As we shall see, the repertoire of decorative elements in the collier and the crown is consistent – more so, indeed, than even Wilson realised. Considering these items of jewellery together thus helps to inform our understanding of their possible meaning. The aim of the present paper is to broaden Wilson’s discussion of Margaret of York’s jewellery by introducing additional evidence. The design and function of the Aachen crown will be re-examined in the light of pictorial and other testimony; the attribution of the Louvre portrait will be discussed, and new evidence in support of Wilson’s belief that the Louvre collier was a real item of jewellery will be presented.
The crown which Margaret of York presented in 1474 to the Blessed Virgin of Aachen is a small open crown which bears large roses of white enamel, small roses of red and of black enamel, the letters of Margaret’s name, and the conjoined initials C and M. At the back of the circlet is an enamelled shield with the arms of Burgundy. There are rows of pearls edging the top and bottom of the circle, and pearls are sprinkled elsewhere on the crown. One word for ‘pearls’ in French is marguerites, so that in a Frenchspeaking context, pearls were an obvious and apposite symbol of Margaret’s name. Wilson, however, does not comment on the possible significance of the pearls on the Aachen crown, nor on the presence of the small red and black roses.