George Heriot, the founder of the eponymous school, was one of the court jewellers to King James VI & I and his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark. Known in his time as Jinglin’ Geordie because of sound of coins in his purse, he grew very wealthy as a result of his royal connections. A painting of him by John Scougal, said to be ‘priceless’, normally hangs in the school in Edinburgh.
However, for the first time ever, it’s leaving Scotland for a major exhibition in London, aimed at unlocking the mystery and secrets behind the world’s largest collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewels, known as the Cheapside Hoard. The painting was chosen to place the Hoard in the context of its era, showing visitors an example of a jeweller who was active at the time.
The Hoard was discovered by chance in 1912 deep underground in London’s Cheapside by workmen demolishing a row of buildings. It is an extraordinary and priceless treasure of late 16th and early 17th century jewels and gemstones – widely believed to have been a jeweller’s stock-in-trade. The story of the treasure is multi-faceted – a tale of War, murder on the high seas, chance discovery and clandestine dealings.
It’s now been discovered that it was buried between 1640 and 1666. The key to unlocking this was a previously overlooked intaglio (a gemstone with an engraved design). Because it was engraved with the heraldic badge of William Howard, the first and only Viscount Stafford, it’s proved to be the latest datable item in the Hoard. This, alongside recent excavations at the site of discovery that show clear evidence of damage caused by the Great Fire of London, has seen the Museum of London accurately date the burial of the Hoard for the first time.
The exhibition will be the first time that the Hoard has been displayed in its entirety since its chance discovery deep under a cellar floor in London’s Cheapside over 100 years ago. At nearly 500 glittering pieces strong, it includes delicate finger rings, cascading necklaces, Byzantine cameos, beautiful jewelled scent bottles, and a unique Colombian emerald watch.
According to Hazel Forsyth, the exhibition’s curator, “Ever since the unexpected discovery in June 1912, the Cheapside Hoard has been swathed in mystery, rich in questions that had been left unanswered for too long. The Stafford intaglio has been absolutely vital in shedding new light on the collection, providing crucial dating evidence for the deposition of the Hoard between 1640 and 1666, and making a specific link to an individual who had international connections and a penchant for collecting gems and antiquities.”
The exhibition – The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels – opens at the Museum of London next Friday 11 October.