His Good Late Majesty: Memorial Jewelry for King Charles I

In Britain in the 1800s, the widow’s grief of Queen Victoria helped spur the creation of mourning jewelry, but in the 1600s, the impetus was the judicial murder of an anointed king.

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A mid-17th Century gold mourning ring for King Charles I with an enameled portrait covered by cut crystal. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; gift of Mrs Stubbs, 1923.

Charles Stuart, later King Charles I,  was born in Fife, Scotland, 19 November, 1600, to  King James VI of Scotland, later James I of a unified Britain, and his wife Queen Anne of Denmark. He was a second son, never meant to rule. Yet, Charles had the role of heir foisted on him at the death of his beloved, handsome, and accomplished older brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, who died unexpectedly in 1612.

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This circa-1700 mourning pendant, sold by the auction house Christie’s in 2016, contains a painted oval portrait of Charles I against a blue ground within black dot decoration, beneath faceted rock crystal. The reverse features a sepia crown and cypher ‘C. R.’ above the date ‘Jan 30 1648/9’ and an image of a skull and crossed bones upon a plinth, under crystal.

Charles was small, sickly, and had a stammer. He was also intellectual, loved and patronized the arts, favored elaborate high Anglican worship in the age of the Puritans, and married a Roman Catholic—the delicate and beautiful Princess Henrietta Maria of France, known as Queen Mary, after whom the U.S. state of Maryland is named. Charles also believed profoundly in the Divine Right of Kings, was willful and stubborn, and refused to make the compromises that could have prevented a civil war, the destruction of the monarchy, and his own death.

As had the life his similarly-natured paternal grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, his own earthly days ended in execution by beheading on 30 January, 1649. His final words were “I go from a corruptible to an uncorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be.”

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The inscribed band and reverse image of the National Gallery of Victoria ring, showing the initials C. R. (“Charles Rex”) between a skull, with a crown and laurels floating above.
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A Heart-shaped gold and enamel pendant, circa 1650, containing a miniature of Charles I, an interwoven arrangement of his hair, and a part of the blood-stained linen shirt he wore at his execution. Courtesy National Museums of Scotland.

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A Quaker Legacy

“I lament the loss of honest Richard Hough. Such men must needs be wanted where selfishness and forgetfulness of God’s mercies so much abound.”—William Penn, 1705

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The subject of this black-and-white version of an albumen paper print is my great-great-grandmother, Rebecca Barbara Hough Murdock (25 Nov., 1828-26 Nov., 1917), widow of Thomas McKea Murdock (28 June, 1827-17 April, 1891), seated on a bench outside the Fox family home at 5737 Pierce Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1916. Her daughter, my great-grandmother Rebecca Elizabeth Murdock (29 Sept., 1863-14 April, 1918) married John Thomas Fox (31 March, 1860-11 Jan., 1928). Together they had ten children, the youngest of whom—Helen Kathleen Fox (4 Oct., 1906-28 June, 1983)—can be seen at left. (The fingerprints of my ancestors are also clearly visible.)

Rebecca Hough’s parents were John Thompson Hough (1801-6 Nov., 1869), a cabinet maker in Pittsburgh, and Mary Ann McBride (b. 1804, New Jersey). Rebecca was a direct descendant of the early Quaker Richard Hough (1650-25 March, 1705), a trusted friend and advisor of William Penn. Penn asked Hough to accompany him to Penn’s new land in America to assist in governing the nascent commonwealth.

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Quakers seek religious truth through inner knowing and place emphasis on a direct connection to God.

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