The Mourning Ring of Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort

A black-enamelled band ring for the Duke of Beaufort in our upcoming auction is a fine example of the Georgian mourning rings that continued to inspire jewellers and jewellery wearers long into the Victorian era. Mourning jewellery was further popularised by Queen Victoria after the untimely death of her husband, Prince Albert.

We can see from the neat gold lettering of this ring that it commemorates Henry Somerset (1744-1803), 5th Duke of Beaufort. Survived by his wife, Elizabeth Boscawen (1747-1828) and their 13 adult children, including their three influential sons, Henry, Charles and Fitzroy, Henry’s ring may have been worn by any of his many relatives.

Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort

Henry was only 12 years old when he succeeded his father as the 5th Duke of Beaufort, 7th Marquess of Worcester and 13th Baron Herbert. His list of titles only grew throughout his life. Which we know ended according to this ring on 11th October 1803 when he was 59 years old. His highest accolade was, arguably, becoming Knight of the Order of the Garter. This is the highest order of chivalry in the UK. Though he gained many influential positions, Henry was born into an already important family. The Somersets descended from Edward III and the Plantagenets, the ruling family that held the English throne from 1154 to 1485.

The Dukes of Beaufort

Since 1612, the Somersets have lived in and looked after the vast Badminton estate in Gloucestershire. The house has given its name to the game of badminton. Some people say that the game was invented at the house by people playing their own version of the games battledore and shuttlecock. It could have even been the 5th Duke’s sons and daughters. The dimensions of the house’s entrance hall match those of the modern badminton court at 13.4 by 6.1 metres. A paragraph about life in a country house in a Victorian journal from 1863 detailed the rules of this new game and notes that a string should be suspended across the room at five feet high to separate the teams of players. This is an aspect of the game that set badminton apart from both battledore and shuttlecock.

A century later, the estate became known for another sport: horse riding. The 5th Duke was Master of the Horse to the Queen Consort from 1768 to 1770 and this love of horses passed down through the family. In 1949, the 10th Duke of Beaufort decided to host an annual riding event through the estate, with a specific focus on training riders for international events. The 11th Duke was an accomplished rider himself, placing second in the Badminton trials in 1959. Today, Badminton Horse Trials are an important point in the equestrian events calendar.

Henry, 5th Duke of Beaufort’s mourning ring encapsulates a small part of this highly influential family’s history. As a large family, the ring could have passed down from one of his many children – it may have even been worn during one of the first games of badminton!

Auction information

Fine Jewellery – Thursday 9th February 2023 at 10 am.

Lot 42 A Georgian 22ct gold black enamel mourning ring, marked for Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort’. The engraving reads ‘Henry Duke of Beaufort Ob. 11 Oct 1803. AE59’. Estimate £300 – £400.

Mourning ring -engraving reads 'Henry Duke of Beaufort Ob. 11 Oct 1803. AE59'.

Viewing Times

London

Tuesday 31st January

Wednesday 1st February

Birmingham

Tuesday 7th February

Wednesday 8th February

Thursday 9th February

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