The Dunstable Swan Jewel
Medieval, around AD 1400
From France or England
The Dunstable Swan Jewel is a livery badge of the highest order and quality. To wear such an item was a declaration of allegiance to a noble family or a king. It is made from opaque white enamel fused over gold, a technique known as émail en ronde bosse that developed in Paris in the second half of the fourteenth century. The chain and coronet attached to the swan’s neck are also of gold.
The emblem of the swan was very popular among nobles eager to demonstrate their descent from the Swan Knight of courtly romance. The most notable English family of the fourteenth century to use this symbol was that of De Bohun. The swan was adopted by the house of Lancaster when Henry of Lancaster married Mary de Bohun in 1380. When Henry became King Henry IV in 1399 the swan badge became associated with the Prince of Wales.
Although descriptions of similarly fine pieces of livery jewellery exist in documentary form, the Dunstable Swan Jewel is the only known surviving example of such a badge. It probably belonged to a prominent supporter of a rich and influential family, such as the de Bohuns or the house of Lancaster. Emblems made of less rich materials would have been distributed to supporters of lower social status, including servants. | THE BRITISH MUSEUM