Shakespeare’s Globe discovers Shakespeare’s family ring
A posy ring inscribed with the Shakespeare family motto ‘Non Sans Droict’ has been found whilst mudlarking on the shores of the River Thames
The River Thames. England’s longest river, its depths containing many secrets from over 2,000 years of history. The Thames is a popular spot then for mudlarking: the scavenging and studying of historical objects preserved in the foreshore. With our present-day Globe Theatre situated on Bankside in the heart of what would have been Shakespeare’s London, our stretch of river is the perfect spot to find an Elizabethan theatrical treasure – including Shakespeare’s family ring. Professor Sally Idao shares the exciting tale behind our most recent discovery…
We’re on the stretch of the river from Southwark Bridge to Millennium Bridge, trudging through a sea of slime, the large algae-covered letters spelling out ‘BANKSIDE’ on the riverbank’s wall behind us. We’re stopping every couple of metres, scanning the soggy ground for any signs of treasure on the surface. The water recedes twice each day with the tide, revealing the rocky foreshore beneath. With the Globe Theatre and our offices being so close to the Thames, a quick break to pop out for a spot of mudlarking has become a regular occurrence.
‘We’re on the stretch of river from Southwark Bridge to Millennium Bridge, the large algae-covered letters spelling out ‘BANKSIDE’ on the riverbank’s wall behind us’
A stroke of luck then on one fresh, spring morning in March that something catches our eye – a glint of silver – a notable difference from the usual buttons, buckles and thimbles. Brushing away the muddy sand reveals what looks like a delicate posy ring. It’s a little black with tarnish, but an inscription can just be seen on its exterior. Posy rings were popular through Medieval and Elizabethan times, with the term ‘posy’ describing the amatory verse or rhyming motto engraved on the ring.
We excitedly head back to the office with our find, eager to uncover more about our treasured object. Once back in the warmth we examine the ring more closely, cleaning away the dirt to reveal the full inscription.
An intake of breath.
‘Non Sans Droict’
We turn to each other, disbelieving. ‘Not without right’. It’s a phrase we all know well, being the family motto of none other than our playwright, William Shakespeare. Could this be…?
‘The inscription reads: ‘Non Sans Droict’, Shakespeare’s family motto. Could this be his ring?’
Shakespeare would have crossed the river on many occasions, from his lodgings at Silver Street north of the river in the City, to his playhouse at the Globe on the south bank. He could have walked along London Bridge, with its bustling crowds and shop fronts, or paid a ferryman and crossed the Thames in a small rowing boat, to reach the ‘glory of the banke’: Bankside was home to the playhouses, animals baiting arenas and taverns frequented by the players.
Easy then, for a ring to slip off one’s finger and drop into the Thames below.
‘The anaerobic properties of the river’s mud mean many objects are encased in an oxygen-free environment, preserving everything buried almost as new’
It’s incredible what you can find when mudlarking along the foreshore of the Thames. The anaerobic properties of the river’s mud mean many objects are encased in an oxygen-free environment, preserving everything buried almost as new.
We are currently researching documents of the time to determine if Shakespeare himself owned such a ring and it’s due to be inspected by a team of expert archaeologists in the coming months.
For now, though, we’re holding on to the dream we’ve found Shakespeare’s family ring.
Want to mudlark on the Thames? You’ll need a permit from the Port of London Authority and you’re also required to report anything of archaeological value.
The Thames foreshore is potentially hazardous. Mudlark with a friend or group if possible, and make a note of high tides, be sure you can get off the foreshore quickly as the tide can come in fast!