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The History of Poesy Rings

Emily Langmade

Rings with inscriptions date back nearly as long as writing has existed. Signet rings with images, often carved stone intaglios but also solid gold or silver, can be dated to Ancient Sumeria, Egypt and the Mediterranean. Once writing developed it quickly made its way onto rings, particularly in Egyptian and Greek cultures.

Gold Byzantine marriage Ring from the British Museum
An early Byzantine marriage ring in the collection of the British Museum, with a man and woman depicted in profile on the front, and alternating images of men and women on each medallion on the band; they are thought to be saints.

The earliest wedding rings date to Ancient Egypt and were eventually incorporated by the Greeks and Romans. By the time of the Byzantine Empire, marriage rings featuring religious inscriptions were common and as these tokens became to be associated with love, during the age of the Norman conquest and courtly grace, the poesy ring was born.

This ring, from the collection of the British Museum, is inscribed “I dare not show the loue I owe”

Exchanged as small gifts with hidden messages, many of these rings were composed before the English language was standardized, and so the words and spellings are wonderful time capsules of the era.

Another ring, from the collection of the British Museum, is inscribed with 
“*TO*YOV*ABOVEN*ANI*CREATVRE
MY*HARTE*TO*THE*DETHE*SHAL*ENDVRE”
(To you above any creature, my heart to the death shall endure)

We reference many of these old inscriptions when we make our poesy rings. Often the same words can be found with multiple spellings on different pieces. Since the English language is living, and has changed throughout its history, we love to keep the spelling idiosyncrasies of the eras such as the interchangeable u/v* (where 'love' can be spelled 'loue') or an extra e that has since fallen off the ends of words, like the 'alle" in "alle my trvst" or the 'keepe' in "keepe promiss"

We love these sweet sayings and like to keep the spelling characteristics when we make our versions of these special rings. 

photograph of ring
A collection of our posey rings, which can be viewed at www.LockandSpoon.com

Below is a list of some of the phrases on rings in the collection of the British Museum. We’ve kept the original spelling as it is inscribed on the rings and, where applicable, we’ve included additional context in the form of word breaks, such as dots, x’s, or stars as they exist in the original pieces.

Too light to requite
If riches increase, Set not thine heart upon them
MARIE MEE
Thine most sure till death
Loue + Live + Long
IN x ABSENCE x BE x TREV x
A frenly remembrance
My loue to thee shall endles be
MY FAITH IS FIRME
Be kind and constant
If we be true & pure Or loves will endure
As true to thee as death to me
Loue is the cause Lett loue continne
NOT THE GIFT BVT THE GIVER
A frends gift
All I r’fuse thee I chuse
My friend is Dead my Joys, are fled
mor trew then trid
Where two agree both happy be
As trewe to me as i to the
bee true in hart
All I refues and thee i chus
Faithles to non yet faithfull to one
I + LIVE + IN * HOPE
Love til death
Youres am I untill I die 1662
Loue alone made vs two one
Keepe Promiss
My loue is true to non but you
I chuse thee till life refuse me
Let wisdum bee thy gide
I loue you
I fancy none but you alone
Love me
A kiss for this
All for Love
Death Parts United Harts
LET=LIKING=LAST
*TO*YOV*ABOVEN*ANI*CREATVRE
MY*HARTE*TO*THE*DETHE*SHAL*ENDVRE
Neuer look but remember A S
I dare not Show the loue I owe
Hearts vnited live contented
* A * FRIND * TO *THE * END
The . love . of . the . contenteth . me .
Be true, In, Harte
be trv In hart
In loue abide till death divide
All I refuse and thee I chuse
IN LOVE LINKT FAST WHILE LIFE DOTH LAST
In loue abide till death deuide
A-bide With Pacience
Vnited (two hearts) death onely parts
In thy Sight is my delight
Pari iugo dulcis tractus
Nos (2 hearts) unis
Not the vallue but my love
NOT . THE . GYFT . BVT . THE . GEVER
Remember the giver
* LOVE * IS * A * IOY *
A happy pair that faithfull are
The gift of a frend
vnited harts death only parts
Be trew and constant
Be Just to me
CONTINEW CONSTANT
x Long x last x our x love x ~
BE . TREV . IN . HART
Only death shall separat love
Thought absent yet constant
In Constancy lets live and dy
Rather death then false of faith
Love merits all things
None So true as I to you
BE TRVE + TO + THE + END +
True to thee Ile ever be
None to me I love like thee
My harte is your
my heart and I untill I die
My . (heart) . you .haue .& . yours .I. craue
Hearts content will not repent
two (two hearts) soe tide let none devide
In unitie lets live contented
x I x AM x YOVRES x
Never to chainge
NEVER TO CHANG
 * I LYKE + MY + CHOYS *
In thee my choyes i doe reioyes
Loue eur not the Giuft but th giuer
I loue none but thee alone
Loue is my token
Joy in none but you alone
Far apart yet nigh in (heart)
In . hart . loue . mee x
Let . no . calamitye + Seperate . amitie *
-A-FRENDS+GYFTE
No Tresure Like Content
Y for a kis take this
(Two hearts) unighted lives Contented
This and the giver is thine for ever
 I + LYVE + IN + HOPE

 

*Have you noticed this (particularly in architectural inscriptions?) Dating back to the Roman era, where Latin didn’t differentiate between the u/v sounds–kind of like how the letter ‘C’ can be pronounced with a soft (s) or hard (k) sound. As the English language developed it borrowed heavily from the Latin alphabet, and this quirk was maintained though the middle ages, until the letters ‘u’ and ‘v’ started to acquire the phonetic sounds they have today.