Rare Baronet’s Memorial Ring to be sold in Fellows auction
- Credit: Archant
Fellows Auctioneers is no stranger to memorial rings and jewellery, but rarely does the Vintage Department see one relating to someone of such note. Lot 2 in the upcoming sale is a George II memorial ring (estimate £2,000-£3,000) for the renowned Sir Gilbert Heathcote.
Sir Gilbert was born in 1652 in the days of Oliver Cromwell’s rule. He was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge and became one of the most successful London Merchants of his generation. Around 1694, Heathcote was credited as being one of the founders of the Bank of England, subsequently being appointed Governor serving two terms in 1709-1711 and 1723-1725.
In 1698, recognising the monopoly of the East India Company, who at the time controlled the vast majority of the world’s imports, he established the New East India Company and in doing so was also appointed to their board of directors. In the same year, he represented the Whigs and gained a seat in Queen Anne’s government of 1702. He continued to feature prominently in politics, until in 1710 he was successfully elected Lord Mayor of London.
Despite these eminent achievements, Heathcote’s popularity was always in question; his dealings with the East India Company had upset many of his fellow parliamentarians and his reputation as a miser was the subject of much satire – even the Queen reportedly refused to attend his Mayoral inauguration. Such was his reputation that the famous poet, Alexander Pope immortalised him in his poem ‘The Dunciad, Book II’ a satirical view of the great and good of the time.
Sir Gilbert’s links with trade and politics earned him a huge fortune, indeed at the time of his death, he was thought to be the richest man in Britain, having accumulated wealth of around £700,000, equivalent to around £1bn today. His baronetcy was bestowed upon him just days before his death. After his death, Sir Gilbert bequeathed a large proportion of his wealth to St Thomas’s Hospital, where he had held the position of President for a decade in his later years.
When our specialists first looked at this piece, we were a slightly confused. The date on the inscription to the inside of the ring, reads ‘Obt 1732…’ (Died 1732), but our initial research told us that Sir Gilbert Heathcote had died in 1733. After some further digging, a picture of a memorial plaque to Sir Gilbert Heathcote was located, which is displayed in a Leicestershire church, near the estate of the late Sir Gilbert Heathcote 1st Baronet. The date of death on the plaque was recorded as 1732/3, which gave assurance that the date of death had been a matter of uncertain record. The memorial plaque had been relocated to the church in Edith Weston, after Normanton church (sited on the edge of Heathcote’s Normanton Estate in Rutland Water) had flooded.
And so, to how he died. The churchwarden at Edith Weston excitedly told us that this information had been told by a visitor to the church some years earlier. The visitor, thought to have been titled himself and possibly a descendant of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, had shared the story of his demise. Apparently, Heathcote had been drinking and decided to ride his horse, only to fall from it and sustain fatal injuries. A sad end to a truly remarkable life, but at 81 (or 82, depending on whose records you choose to believe) he led a life rich in status, controversy and incredible achievements.
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The memorial ring offered by Fellows is unusually heavy, though rather understated in its design (enamelled in black over the stepped gold band). The full inscription inside reads ‘Sr G. Heathcote Bar Ob 25 Jan 1732 at 81’. It would likely have been created soon after Sir Gilbert Heathcote’s death. Sometimes such rings, produced in limited quantities for close family and friends, were made in anticipation of someone’s death, following a prolonged illness for instance, but in this case the sudden nature of Sir Gilbert’s death would have elicited a quick commission. The ring once received by its owner may have been worn to attend his funeral and would then have been kept as a reminder of his life.
The ring represents a tangible record of the life of a man whose influence shaped the financial and political landscape of Great Britain today.
Lot 2 features in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian section of the upcoming Vintage Jewellery & Accessories sale taking place at 10am on Monday July 20 in Fellows’ Salerooms in the Jewellery Quarter; visit www.fellows.co.uk to sign up to bid and view the full catalogue of lots in this auction, including an array of designer and branded jewellery, handbags and clothes.
• Thursday 13th August at 11am – Antique & Modern Jewellery
• Monday 17th August at 11am – Watches & Watch Parts
• Thursday 20th August at 10am – Fortnightly auction of Jewellery
• Tuesday 25th August at 11am – The Watch Sale
• Thursday 10th September at 10am – Fortnightly auction of Jewellery
• Monday 14th September at 10am – Vintage Jewellery & Accessories
• Thursday 17th September at 11am – Antique & Modern Jewellery
• Monday 21st September at 10am – Silver & Plated Ware
• Thursday 24th September at 10am – Fortnightly auction of Jewellery
• Tuesday 28th September at 11am – The Watch Sale
All of these sales take place at Augusta House in the Jewellery Quarter – address: Augusta House, 19 Augusta Street, Birmingham B18 6JA.