Of exceptional rarity and wholly authentic, the present chain (or necklace or Livery Collar) is one of few surviving from the fifteenth century.  Similar chains appear in paintings of the period, and a few exist in major European museums.  Many similar chains signify loyalty to a sovereign (such as the SS-chains) or affiliation with a chivalric order (such as the Order of the Golden Fleece).  The letters on our example – which can be read either as S + M or M + S may refer to the names of a couple and the union of their two houses or it could be an abbreviation for a prayer such as “Sancte Maria.”  A scientific report accompanies the fine object, which would be wearable today.


The long chain is composed of 22 silver gilded links in the shape of the letters ‘S’ and ‘M’, in Gothic script and alternate sequence (except for two adjoining ‘M’s); with two loops on either side, these are joined by silver loop rings. The reverse sides of the individual links are plain with striated lines from the cast. On the obverse the ‘M’ links have ornamental diagonal banding and the ‘S’ links semi-spherical indentations forming a pattern with accompanying raised rim.  Both ends of the chain have two elongated oval silver links with loop rings as attachment for the hook and loop clasp formed of trefoil wire frame and central roundel with cherub’s head in relief surrounded by an aureole. The chain is in good wearable condition.

Condition report:

The XRF-analysis carried out at the Assay Office in London in 2023 indicates that the chain is authentic.  A sign of age is the application of mercury gilding, a technique applied to silver in Europe and known since Antiquity, but discontinued by the 19th century. There are two small repairs on the reverse of the central “S” link and “M” links. The XRF analysis also mentions 2 brass metal jump rings, 1 AG 925 gold plated jump ring and high mercury solder repairs.  The oval rings at the front and the hook and loop clasp are later.


Private Collection, The Netherlands


By the fifteenth century, chains, livery, or chivalric collars, similar to the one here, belonged to the fashion of the period and were worn by the elite classes as a sign of authority and a reflection of chivalric courtly life. The use of material either gold, silver, or silver-gilt reflected the wearer’s rank within society and was dependent on the ever-changing sumptuary laws of the time and the country in which it was awarded. In England, for example, gold was reserved for royalty and silver for knights or ambassadors. For further information on the tradition, varying Orders and functions for wearing collars, see: Ronald W. Lightbown. Medieval European Jewelry. Victoria and Albert Museum: London, 1989, pp. 245- 292; Marian Campbell. Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500, London, 2009, pp. 98-103.

Collars draped around the neck, or chains as a girdle around the waist, were an integral part of men’s costume and jewelry. However, women wore shorter versions as neck attire with their low-cut gowns, as depicted on the tomb effigy of Sir Ralph Neville (d. 1425) and his wives wearing SS-collars, St. Mary Church, Staindrop, County Durham, c. 1430 (fig. 1, cf. Campbell, 2009, pp.101-3, fig. 114).

Livery or chivalric collars given as badges of honor and authority go back to the fourteenth century when rulers at the courts of Europe established chivalric orders. These signified either the identity of the wearer, their political or royal allegiance, or affiliation to a fraternity. Most prominent of the Orders are the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Ermine, and the Order of the Golden Fleece. 

Livery collars are specific to England.  The earliest known livery in England is that of the ‘SS’ and its origin is associated with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99), and later with his son, King Henry IV (1367–1413). An early representation of the livery collar is seen on the tomb effigy of Sir John Swynford in Spratton Church, Northhamptonshire, who died in 1371 (fig. 2, cf. Lightbown 1989, pp. 247-8, fig. 131). The letter ‘S’ is believed to represent Henry IV’s favorite motto Souverayne (sovereign), and other interpretations for the letter ‘S’ include ‘Souvenez vous de moi’ (forget-me-not) or sanctedat, saviesa, sapienca, seynoria (sanctity, wisdom, learning, knowledge). The English SS-collar is depicted on fifteenth and sixteenth century portraits, such as that of Edward Grimston (d. 1478), a diplomat in the service of King Henry VI, painted by Petrus Christus (fig. 3) or Sir Thomas More of 1527 by Hans Holbein the Younger (fig. 4) which show how the design changed over time. The only surviving Esses collar from the fifteenth century, probably 1440, is in the Museum of London (fig. 5, cf. Campbell 2009, pp. 101-3, fig. 115; and John Cherry, Medieval Goldsmiths, London 2011, p. 53, fig. 37). For a detailed history of Livery Collars in England, see: Matthew Ward. The Livery Collar in Late Medieval England and Wales: Politics, Identity and Affinity, Woodbridge, 2016.

The significance of the letters ‘S’ and ‘M’ on this chain, are yet to be identified. The interpretations are manifold:  either these indicate the owner’s initials, a family’s armorial device, or membership of a noble household, chivalric order company, or confraternity. The ‘S’ may mean ‘forget-me-not’ (as quoted above) and the ‘M’ may have a religious connotation, such as from an Order venerating the Virgin Mary. The ‘M’ monogram appears as links of a chain thought to have belonged to Michelle de France (1395-1422), wife of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, but since has been attributed to the Virgin Mary, today Museum Altes Zeughaus, Solothurn (fig. 6, see: Christian Hörack (ed.), Bossard Luzern 1868-1997, 2023, p. 315 with further references). In this context the chivalric order of the House of Savoy was consecrated to the Virgin as the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, with a collar from the fourteenth century (see: Collection D. David-Weill, Orfèverie XIIe au XIXe siècle, Hotel Drouot, 5 May 1972, no. 183).  

Such collars or chains with Gothic lettering were worn in Europe as far North as Scandinavia, cf. an example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (M. 303-1920, fig. 7). However, this collar is most likely to be English and from the fifteenth century. The trefoil clasp is a feature found on fastenings of the SS-collar in the Museum of London, quoted above, and on various tomb effigies, such as that of King Henry IV and Joan from Navarre from Canterbury Cathedral, c. 1413 (fig. 8, cf. Lightbown 1989, p. 304, fig. 164). The closest in design is a clasp with trefoil and central roundel in relief found on a Wait’s chain of 1429-30 made by the city of Exeter for the civic musicians, known as waits (fig. 9, cf. Lightbown, 1989, pp. 274-5, fig. 142). 

This is one of very few livery collars extant that can be confidently dated in the late medieval era.  It is closest to the one in the Museum of London.

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