What is a livery collar?
A livery collar or chain of office is a collar or heavy chain, usually of gold, worn as insignia of office or a mark of fealty or other association in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards.
Various forms of livery were used in the Middle Ages to denote attachment to a great person by friends, servants, and political supporters. The collar, usually of precious metal, was the grandest form of these, usually given by the person the livery denoted to his closest or most important associates, but should not, in the early period, be seen as separate from the wider phenomenon of livery badges, clothes and other forms. From the collar hung a badge or device indicating the person the livery related to; the most important part of the ensemble for contemporaries. Equally gold collars that had no livery connotations were worn.
Livery collars seem to be first recorded in the 14th century. Charles V of France in 1378 granted to his Chamberlain Geoffrey de Belleville the right of bearing in all feasts and in all companies the collar of the Cosse de Geneste or Broomcod, a collar which was accepted and worn even by the English kings, Charles VI sending such collars to Richard II and to his three uncles.
One of the best-known livery collars is the Collar of Esses, which has been in continuous use in England since the 14th century. This famous livery collar, which has never passed out of use, takes many forms, its Esses being sometimes linked together chainwise, and sometimes, in early examples, as the ornamental bosses of a garter-shaped strap-collar. The oldest effigy bearing it is that in Spratton church of Sir John Swynford, who died in 1371. Swynford was a follower of John of Gaunt, and the date of his death easily disposes of the theory that the Esses were devised by Henry IV to stand for his motto or "word" of Soverayne. Many explanations are given of the origin of these letters, but none has as yet been established. During the reigns of Henry IV, his son (Henry V), and grandson (Henry VI), the collar of Esses was a royal badge of the Lancastrian house and party, the white swan, as in the Dunstable Swan Jewel, usually being its pendant.
Livery Collars Not Only for Royalty
Besides the royal collars, the 14th and 15th centuries show many private devices. A monumental brass at Mildenhall shows a knight whose badge of a dog or wolf circled by a crown hangs from a collar with edges suggesting a pruned bough or the ragged staff. Thomas of Markenfield (d. c. 1415) on his brass at Ripon has a strange collar of park palings with a badge of a hart in a park, and Thomas de Berkeley, 5th Baron Berkeley (d. 1417) wears one set with mermaids, the Berkeley family heraldic badge.
In the Renaissance, gold chains tended to replace collars, and portrait miniature of the donor tended to replace the earlier badges with symbolic devices, although "picture boxes" containing miniatures could be highly extravagant pieces of jewelry. The Elizabethan artist Nicholas Hilliard was both a goldsmith and miniaturist, and so produced the whole of pieces like the Armada Jewel, given by Queen Elizabeth I of England to a courtier. When the Earl of Rutland returned from an embassy to Denmark, sixteen members of his party were given chains of gold with the James I of England's picture, and others received just a picture. During the sixteenth century collars became marks of a specific office or Order, and subsequently remained so.
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