Ring ostensibly owned by Joan of Arc sells for $333,000

A ring that was ostensibly owned by Saint Joan of Arc sold on Friday at Timeline Auctions for £240,000 ($333,000), blowing through the presale estimate of £10,000-14,000 ($13,990-19,590). Including buyer’s premium the final cost was £297,600 ($412,845). According to Timeline spokesperson, “The ring is returning to France.” Some news reports assume the French government is the buyer, but the auction house was vague on the particulars so it could just as well be a private collector.

The ring is silver-gilt inscribed with the letters “I” and “M” on the shoulders and “IHS” and “MAR” on the face. Those are abbreviations for Jesus and Mary. Along the shank are lozenges with very worn florals inside. It was made around 1400 and has an illustrious ownership history that can in theory be traced all the way back to the trial of Joan of Arc in 1431.

After Joan’s arrest, her ring was taken by Bishop Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, chaplain to the Duke of Burgundy and ally of the English, who presided over her trial for heresy. According to the ownership history established by researchers in the 20th century, Cauchon gave the ring to Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who was present at the trial. It remained in his family, the Cavendish-Bentinck family (Dukes of Portland), for 500 years until the early 20th century when Lady Ottoline Morrell gave it to artist Augustus John a few years before 1914. It was through John that it first entered the auction market in 1914. The ring passed through several hands before physician James Hasson acquired it at a Sotheby’s auction in 1947 for the grand sum of £175. The current seller was Dr. Hasson’s son Robert Hasson.

Joan’s rings came up several times at her trial, as documented in the extant transcript (English translation here). The prosecution kept trying to make something of them, asking leading questions insinuating that her rings were seen as objects of devotion and power like the rings of kings, popes and saints. From the transcript:

Asked if she herself did not have some rings, she replied to us, bishop: “You have one of mine; give it back to me.” She said the Burgundians have another ring; and she asked us, if we had her ring, to show it to her.

Asked who gave her the ring which the Burgundians had, she answered her father or her mother; and she thought the names Jhesus Maria were written thereon; she did not know who had them written; she did not think there was any stone in it; and she was given the ring at Domrémy. She said that her brother gave her the other ring which we had and she charged us to give it to the Church. She said she never cured any one with any of her rings. […]

Asked whether the good wives of the town did not touch her ring with their own, she answered that “many women touched my hands and my rings; but I do not know with what thought or intention.” […]

Asked of what substance one of her rings was, on which the words Jhesus Maria were written, she answered that she did not properly know; and if it was of gold, it was not of fine gold; and she did not know whether it was of gold or brass; she thought there were three crosses, and to her knowledge no other signs save the words Jhesus Maria.

Asked why she gladly looked at this ring when she was going to battle, she answered that it was out of pleasure, and in honor of her father and mother; and having her ring in her hand and on her finger she touched St. Catherine who appeared before her.

According to the auction house and the documentation (all of which dates to the 20th century), the ring matches this description, but I think it’s a pretty huge fudge to say the ring has three crosses on it like Joan said it did. There are no crosses engraved on the ring. The lot description describes: “incised niello-filled florid lozenges and triangles, the design giving the appearance of three crosses.” I don’t really see Joan of Arc being so subtle as to describe crosses formed by negative space instead of just the plain fact of the lozenge decoration.

The wear, ring style and engraving are consistent with a 15th century date, so whoever dropped more than a quarter of a million dollars on the piece has a nifty medieval devotional ring to show for it, plus the Cavendish-Bentinck family lore, a hundred years of speculation and several museum exhibitions in France and England connecting it to Joan of Arc.

12 thoughts on “Ring ostensibly owned by Joan of Arc sells for $333,000

  1. She’s a “saint” even though convicted of heresy by churchmen? How very flexible religious establishments are.

  2. She was retried posthumously in 1455-56, and found innocent. This was in the lifetime of her mother, who with Joan’s brother had requested the retrial. Her King, Charles VII, was glad to help, and there were quite a number of witnesses who had actually known Joan who testified.

    THE RETRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC: The Evidence for her Vindication, by Régine Pernou, has much fascinating detail.

    My favorite item was from one of the men who’d been sent to investigate her character, who testified that of all the people he’d spoken to who knew Joan, none had anything to say that he would not have been glad to hear about his own sister.

    She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920,

    1. Indeed, and Cauchon was roundly criticized for turning what was supposed to be an ecclesiastical court into a blantant political excercise on behalf of the Burgundians and English. Everyone knew the heresy decision was trumped up.

  3. Oh well, I suppose she can be reretried whenever it suits, and then desainted if that seems to someone-or-other’s advantage.

  4. dearieme, can you provide any cases of someone being “desainted” (other than the case of Philomena, who was never actually canonized in the first case)? I’m not aware of any such situations.

    Also, the retrial should more accurately be called an appeals court, since it was judged by Rome. There’s nothing scandalous or overly flexible to appeal to a higher court after an obvious screw-up.

    Let’s not get personal biases and cynicisms in the way of accurately documenting and understanding history.

  5. the price is inflationarily absurd and is just a reflection of the elite’s policy of printing of money and it flowing directly into the financial assets held by the rich, which of late has been greatly inflating the value of art and historical object. Auctioneers just don’t just setarbitraty presale estimates. it’s people with too much money driving up the cost of any asset their grimey hands touch. sad.

  6. I’ve seen it called a “nullification trial,” which, since it nullified the earlier verdict, seems a good description.

    I don’t know about being “de-sainted” or “un-canonized,” but those old enough may remember the calendar of saints being pruned in the 1970’s with the removal of some favorite traditional saints because they weren’t well enough documented. As I recall — and I’m not Catholic, so my recall is not guaranteed perfect — those saints were removed from the official calendar, but private devotion to them was not forbidden.

  7. I have no problem with the authenticity, there are obviously three crosses on the ring, the higher relief of the negative spaces would have made them the most prominent feature of the band as they caught the light (well demonstrated in the photograph) while the lozenges receded into the background.

    It’s just that from Joan’s description we assumed they would be three Christian Crosses representing the Crucifixion when in fact the crosses are simply part of a decorative pattern.

  8. @livius drusus.

    Do you have any infomation about the relationship between the Cavendish-Bentinck family and Henry Beaufort. The C-B family were old Dutch nobility who were certainly around at the time of Joan’s demise but they didn’t appear in England until the 1680’s crossing over with William of Orange, so I can’t quite see where the family link with Henry comes from.

    They were well known collectors, could they have just bought the ring at some point rather than it being passed down in the family? If so this would mean 200 plus years of the rings history are missing.

    The famous Portland Art Collection has been kept very private indeed and few know exactly what it contains, but the family also owns King Charles’ pearl earring worn everyday of his life and even on the chopping block. It was repectfully removed from the severed head before it was sewn back onto the body for display. Later given to the family by Charles’ daughter Mary (wife of William of Orange).

  9. Partly answering my own question…..

    I have traced a family link to Bess of Hardwick and her 2nd husband Sir William Cavendish (m.1547) One of their children was a forbearer of the Cavendish-Bentinck line, I’m still looking for a family link to Henry Beaufort though.

    Interestingly William Cavendish made his fortune following the Dissolution of the Monasteries , as an official of the Court of Augmentations he was able to select choice properties and items for himself. So this may still present the possibility that the ring did come to the family via ‘collection’ rather than descent.

    100years still missing in the rings history.

  10. Design typical of English finger rings of the late medieval (later than Ms. d’Arc) period. Early provenance utterly unprovable and almost certainly spurious.

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