She knew enough to feel secure of an honourable and speedy establishment, and her imagination took a rapid flight over its attendant felicities. She saw herself at the end of a few weeks, the gaze and admiration of every new acquaintance at Fullerton, the envy of every valued old friend in Putney, with a carriage at her command, a new name on her tickets, and a brilliant exhibition of hoop rings on her finger.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 15
Ah, Isabella Thorpe, one of my favourite of all Jane Austen’s adventuresses…imagining with some relish, the materially rich life she will enjoy with James Morland as his wife and helpmeet.
A severe reality check is needed: and Jane Austen duly gives her one.
What Isabella is imagining in this passage are the trappings of a very rich woman,-the establishment, the household, the new carriage, the whole package, if you like. Sadly for her what she is imagining, and very prettily so may I note, is the life of a rich woman, not the life of a wife of a lowly curate, or rector of a living with a small income….Ahem.
Let’s consider the type of Jewellery she was fantasizing about, shall we?
and a brilliant exhibition of hoop rings on her finger.
Hoop ring is a generic term for rings set with stones in the manner pictured above, or simple, plain gold hoops like a plain wedding ring. In Jane Austen’s era that they were not necessarily given to mark one event, like an engagement ring. That term is very Victorian, by the way , and that is one of the reasons Jane Austen would not have referred to it as such- “engagement ring” : its first usage in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1861 (by George Elliot in Slias Marner) ,well after our time period.
Rings were undoubtedly given as tokens of love during our era.
Sentimental Jewellery, as it as known, was very popular:
In the eighteenth century the ring was still the most significant of all love tokens, its unbroken circle continuing to stand for mutual commitment and eternal regard. From the 1790s the message was sometimes reinforced by a clever arrangement of coloured stones, the initial letters of which spell a term of endearment. Typically they are as follows:
Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond for Regard;
(A REGARD ring from my own collection)
Amethyst, Malachite, Jacinth, Turquoise and Emerald for Amite;
Lapis, Opal, Vermeil (a misnomer for a hessonite garnet) and Emerald for Love.
Sometimes the stones would be arranged in the form of a pansy flower called pensee in French, standing for “think of the giver”.
(See: The Triumph of Love: Jewellery 1530-1930 by Geoffrey Munn, page 57)
Plain gold hoop rings( like modern plain wedding rings) could be inscribed with lovers messages, and were known as “posey rings”. There is an 18th century “posey” ring- the term meant “little poems”-in the collection at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire with an inscription engraved on the inside as follows:
THO FARE (sic) APART YET NEAR IN HEART
That the tradition continued ( but with not much effect, in this particular case ) is illustrated by the fact that a gold hoop ring romantically engraved with the motto, SANS PEUR” which alluded to the ideals of knights in the age of chivalry, was given to Lord Byron by Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815.
Posey rings were also used as wedding rings.
Interestingly George III began the trend for an additional “keeper ring”( and it is from this that our modern eternity ring has evolved). On his marriage to Queen Charlotte on the 8th September 1761 in addition to a wedding ring, (and a magnificent collection of other types of jewellery) he gave her what was known as a “keeper ring” pictured below. It is still in the Royal Collection:
Mrs Papenidck , assistant keeper of the wardrobe and reader to Queen Charlotte, recorded in her diary that it was the King’s
“particular present to his bride”
and that it was a diamond hoop ring of a size designed not to stand higher than the wedding ring to which it was to serve as a guard. She added that:
On that finger the Queen never allowed herself to wear any other in addition although fashion at times almost demanded it.
Throughout the whole Georgina era, fashion certainly demanded that a profusion of rings be worn. Here is what William Taylor, a footman in service with Mrs Prinsep, a widow of a rich London business man, had to say about her and her friends fashion for wearing many rings:
Dressed up monstrous fine with their jewellery I took notice how many rings there were on th fingers of four of these old cats as I call them, and there were no less than thirty one, some wedding some mounring, and others set with diamonds and precious stones of great value.
(see The Dairy of William Tayler, Footman (1827)
The construction of hoop rings positively encouraged the wearing of many rings at one time. As Diana Scarisbrick notes in her magnificent book, Jewellery in Britain:
The new style of the Georgian era, emphasizing width rather than length meant that more than one ring could be worn on the finger, and hoops, enameled or set with stones or pearls round half the entire circumference were very popular.
(See page 362-3 Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837 by Diana Scarisbrick.)
Here are some example of “what fashion demanded”: first, Ingres’ portrait of Marie Marcoz, Vicontesse de Senonnes (1816).
And here is a close up of her hands so that you can see the plethora of fashionable rings clearly:
This is Sir Thomas Lawrence’ portrait of Princess Sophia, daughter of George III and sister to the Prince of Wales
and a close up of her hand
and finally his portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire in 1819
and a close up of her hoops, at least one on every finger, note:
So, there you are…hoops, posey and “regard” rings and other rings in profusion , yes , should Isabella marry a rich man ;-) I wonder if she ever managed it……