While the style of the setting means this pendant is said to date from the early 17th century, a family tradition holds that it was made for a Protestant William Barbor, variously described as a London tradesman or grocer.
The story, said to have been first recorded in the early 18th century, goes that the jewel was made to commemorate Barbor’s escape from being burnt at the stake (thanks to his Protestantism) due to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 following the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary I (‘Bloody Queen Mary’).
Barbor had been regarded as a heretic during Queen Mary’s reign and is said to have condemned to death for his faith but the death of the queen meant he no longer faced a sentence of death.
Even so, Barbor died in 1586, and while the onyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth I in the centre of the jewel dates from about 1575-85, the “pea-pod-style” setting of the jewel – which features rubies and diamonds and a cluster of pearls – has been dated to between 1615-25, during the reign of King James I, which places its creation well after Barbor’s demise.
The enameled jewel features an oak tree on the reverse side (pictured).
The Barbor Jewel is currently on display in the exhibition, Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars, at the V&A which runs until 14th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London