Archive reveals King’s taste for bling

Glimpses of a royal couple’s passion for jewellery have come to light in an archive document.

Painting of King James VI and I by Paulus van Somer I c.1650–1689

The 400-year-old manuscript details some prized lavish jewels owned and worn by King James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife Anne of Denmark.

The document, from the University’s collection, is dated from 1604, a year after the Union of the Crowns and the King’s first year as ruler of both kingdoms.

Jewellery repairs

This rare document offers insight into this aspect of their lives at a pivotal time in British history.

Rachel HoskerArchive Manager

The letter outlines a series of proposed repairs and embellishments to be carried out by the King’s jewellers, Sir John Spilman and William Henrick.

The total cost for the work comes to £1374, 14 shillings and one penny, which is approximately £140,000 in today’s money.

Students on a number of courses at the University will examine the document as part of their studies, enhancing their understanding of the period and the importance of such archives.

Important collection

This insight into the King and Queen’s love of jewels was discovered by archive staff completing a project to document the University’s Laing Collection.

The vast collection bequeathed by antiquary and bookseller David Laing has been described as the most important manuscript donation in the library’s history.

In 1604 the King and Queen were in the public gaze as never before and, knowing how much they liked jewels, it is clear they were keen to impress.

Rachel HoskerArchive Manager

The manuscript details work completed on a number of brooches made up of gold feathers, which are depicted in a number of portraits of King James IV and I from the time.

Technique insight

Other pieces include a chain with diamonds and rubies, a jewel fashioned like the bough of a tree, and armour for the King on which emeralds, garnets and sapphires were set.

Techniques used by the jewellers - such as soldering, mending, trimming and setting - are also highlighted in the document.

The manuscript - along with thousands of other items in the University of Edinburgh’s collection - can be accessed by students and staff as well as wider public who wish to carry out their own research.