This beautiful signet ring was commissioned by Sir Thomas Gresham, an English merchant and agent of Henry VIII and all three of his children in turn. The enamelled grasshopper on the underside of the ring was his family’s family badge. According to legend, the founder of the family was abandoned in long grass as a newborn, but was rescued when a grasshopper drew a woman’s attention to the babe. More likely, the badge is a testament to this period’s proclivity for puns – Gresh/grassh.
This ring was not actually worn by Gresham himself; instead, he had this and many other similar rings commissioned for his business associates with their respective coats of arms. This particular ring was given to Sir Richard Lee, identifiable by his coat of arms, a Tudor royal military engineer – in fact, he was the first ever English engineer to be knighted.
We don’t know precisely why Gresham gave out these rings; were they gifts meant to curry favour, reminders to act in Gresham’s favour, or perhaps even a sign of patronage? We really don’t know. But this enamelled grasshopper is one of my favourite pieces of Tudor physical history.