A pilgrim badge (with noble ties?)

In 2011 a pilgrim badge was discovered and recorded in Essex (ESS-940232). It depicts Saint Hubert or Saint Eustace, as both saw a vision of a cross between a stags’ antlers whilst hunting. This prompted St Eustace to convert to Christianity, while St Hubert, who was already a Christian, saw this as a sign to repent his sins. St Eustace is an earlier saint, with the iconography of St Hubert being taken from St Eustace’s story (Spencer, 1990 p.54). Given the date of the badge, it is most likely that the Saint being depicted is the later St Hubert.

ESS-940232 Pilgrim badge of St Hubert.
ESS-940232 Pilgrim badge of St Hubert. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service: License: CC-BY

St Hubert was mainly venerated in the Ardennes and Picardy, but iconography of St Hubert is common on English shores, as depicted on seal matrices and pilgrim badges. The images on those objects are usually a stag or hunting horn, the sign of St Hubert as the patron saint of hunters, but the badge in this article is much more elaborate. It depicts a whole scene; the stag, St Hubert and his horse, all in great detail. What is more extraordinary is that the back plate survives. It has a chequered design of dark blue enamel with alternating gilded squares and a border in the style of rope-work. It is also made out of a copper alloy, not the lead that pilgrim badges were normally made of. This is no ordinary pilgrim badge and although there are similar shaped badges on the database with images of other saints ( BH-589BA2, GLO-BECDA3). A more corroded badge depicting the same scene as the one discovered in Essex was found in Warwickshire, although no back plate survives (WMID-8EB286). The combination of imagery, design and where it was found, was worth a more thorough investigation.

WMID-8EB286 Warwick pilgrim badge
WMID-8EB286 Warwick pilgrim badge. Copyright: Birmingham Museum’s Trust. License: CC-BY

Perhaps the location of the badge in Essex was a clue to its unusual grandeur. Not far from where the object was found is Hedingham Castle, the former seat of the de Vere family for over 600 years. The castle was built under Aubrey de Vere I, a French nobleman who was tenant-in-chief in England under William the Conqueror in 1086. Aubery became the first Earl of Oxford, with his land including most of Essex.  The badge dates to the Pre-Reformation period, in which the castle was owned by John de Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford. The de Vere family were part of the royal court and John attended King Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and was part of Henry VIII’s entourage when he met Emperor Charles V.  During this period, Hedingham Castle had three large parks, where hunting took place. As St Hubert was the patron saint of hunters his association with John de Vere, who himself was a prolific hunter, makes reasonable sense.

The link to the de Vere’s land suggests one way the badge may have been lost, but gives no clue as to why the badge depicts such a detailed and unusual scene. John de Vere died in 1526 and passed Hedingham Castle to his second cousin, also called John de Vere, who became the 15th Earl of Oxford. He was Lord Great Chamberlain, a Knight of the Garter and part of the Privy Council. He was also in attendance when Henry VIII met Anne of Cleaves in AD1540. Further research showed that Anne of Cleaves came from the same family as Gerhad V, Duke of Jülich and Count of Ravensberg. Between AD1445-1447 he founded the Order of St Hubert, supposedly to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Linnich on 3rd November, Saint Hubert’s day. In AD1521 the male lines of the Dukes of Jülich and Berg, who held the duchies and the county of Ravensberg died out.  The titles passed to John III Duke of Cleves and Count of Mark, through his wife. They had a son, Wilhelm, who inherited the duchies and became administrator of the Order, and three daughters, one of whom was Anne of Cleaves. On the Order’s badge, which would sit on the collar of the Grand Master, is the image of a kneeling St Hubert praying in front of a stag with a cross in between the antlers.

Cross of the Order of St hubert By Robert Prummel
Cross of the Order of St hubert By Robert Prummel. Copyright: GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), from Wikimedia Commons. License: CC-BY-SA-3.0

This image is remarkably similar to the one on the badge from Essex, making it possible that this St Hubert badge has ties with the Order in Germany. Although Anne of Cleaves would have been familiar with the Order, as her brother held a key position within it, there is no evidence to suggest that it was Anne who bought the Order or the iconography of St Hubert into the royal court, as she arrived in England around twenty years after the Reformation. Nonetheless, the links between the badges, Anne, Henry VIII, the de Vere family and hunting cannot be ignored.

The uniqueness of the scene on the Essex badge may suggest that the image is continental, with the Order of St Hubert having been established at roughly the same time as this badge was produced. However, badges of the Order of St Hubert were generally inscribed (Robson, 1830 p.131) and this badge from Essex is not. It is possible the badge is of English manufacture, copying the iconography of German counterparts.  The decoration of the badge, being made of gilt copper alloy and being found so close to Hedingham Castle suggests that the badge likely came from a high status household. What this research has shown is that this object could be a link to nobility that held Essex during the reigns of the most infamous English royal family, the Tudors.

Written by Katie Bishop (PAS volunteer in Essex)


Robson, T. 1830. The British Herald. Sunderland: Turner and Marwood.

Spencer, B. 1990. Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum Medieval Catalogue 2: Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges. Salisbury: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.

The archaeology of Essex: A whistle-stop tour

Essex is an incredibly large county, covering 3670 km2, and as such has a wealth of history. Archaeological excavations and metal detected finds have been able to inform us about a great deal more than the written record already had. Here are a few of the significant events in Essex’s past and some objects that highlight each period.

(300,000-200,000 BC) A great deal of evidence for human activity in the palaeolithic (early stone age) comes from Essex. In 1911 Hazeldene Waren found a large assemblage of stone tools at Clacton-on-Sea. These tools were seen to be different from others of a similar date and thus the term “Clactonian” was used to refer to objects of this type. Clactonian tools have been found as far as the river Nile in Egypt!

(4,000-2,500BC)In the Neolithic period (later stone age) people started to settle down and start farming. At places such as Springfield Lyons, these early settlements have been identified. It was also at this time when stone tools, which up until this point had been purely functional, started to take on a more symbolic meaning. Polished stone axes and other tools that were never used have been found across the county, showing changes in social hierarchy and possibly even the development of religion. The stone for the example below (ESS-3CD931) came all the way from Cornwall!

ESS-3CD931 Neolithic greenstone axe
ESS-3CD931 Neolithic greenstone axe. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museums. License: CC-BY

(2350-800BC) Essex saw increased activity in the Bronze Age.  There is evidence of changing burial traditions with the arrival of Urnfield and barrow complexes  and also developing agricultural practices. Many incredible Bronze Age hoards have been found scattered across the landscape, providing insight into the development of metallurgy and ritual practice in Britain at this time. It is not certain whether these objects were simply the resources of a metalworker who had buried them in the ground never to return (whether intentionally or otherwise). Fortunately it means we have objects such as ESS-DEF947, that was found as part of the Burnham-on-Crouch hoard in 2010.

ESS-A22698 gold stater of Cunobelin, minted at Colchester
ESS-A22698 Gold stater of Cunobelin, minted at Colchester. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. License: CC-BY
ESS-DEF947 BA axehead
ESS-DEF947 Late Bronze Age socketed axehead. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. License: CC-BY.

(800BC – AD43) During the Iron Age, the population continued to expand and is reflected in the ever increasing number of settlements found across the county. Notably the fort, such as at Shoeburyness, show the move to a more defensive form of settlement. Of course Iron production was on the increase, as well as the extraction of salt from sea water evidenced by the Red hills that litter the Essex coastline.

(20BC-AD43) The first recorded town in Britain was at Colchester.  Pliny mentioned it in AD79, but coins with CA MV appear much earlier, during the reigns of Tasciovanus (20BC-AD9) and Cunobelinus (AD 9-43). Traces of Camulodunum and it’s Iron Age surroundings can still be seen around Colchester today, at Gosbecks and Lexden. The coin pictured above (ESS-A22698) was produced in the town of Camulodunum before the Romans arrived in Britain, with many of its type found across southern Britain.

(AD43-410) In the Roman period Essex, like much of the rest of Britain, was revolutionised. Major towns sprung up at Colchester and Chelmsford, as well as many smaller settlements. Temples were built for the worship of new Gods and Goddesses, such as the complex at Harlow and the temple of Claudius at Colchester. Furthermore, an intricate road network was put in place to connect all of these new settlements together.

(AD450-1066) In the Early Medieval period, Essex suffered regular and violent shifts in power. There is evidence to suggest that, as in many other places, life continued as normal after the Romans withdrew in AD410. At Mucking, there was very early Saxon occupation in the 5th century, marking the start of a new cultural shift in Essex. The kingdom of the East Saxons then spread to cover the region between the river Stour and the Thames, making  London its capital. In AD 825 the Kingdom was given to Egbert of Wessex, though not long after the Vikings incorporated much of the kingdom into the Danelaw. Traces of the Viking presence in Essex can be seen in objects such as the sword below (ESS-D45534), now on display in Colchester Castle Museum.

ESS-0144A4 Elizabethan gold pendant with diamonds and a ruby.
ESS-0144A4 Elizabethan gold pendant with diamonds and a ruby. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. License: CC-BY
ESS-D45534 Viking sword
ESS-D45534 Viking sword. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. License: CC-BY.

(AD1066-1509) After the Norman conquest, several castles were built in Essex, such as at Colchester, Heddingham and Rayleigh. The abbots of Waltham abbey and the nuns of Barking abbey were also granted large amounts of land in the county, leading to the construction of numerous hunting lodges at places like Upminster and other manorial sites such as Ingatestone Hall. Monastic sites were established at places like Southend-on-Sea (Prittlewell), Colchester (St Botolph’s) and St Osyth’s, the remains of which can still be seen today. Furthermore, PAS data has allowed us to identify an ever increasing number of Medieval market sites across the county, developing our understanding of trade and commerce in this period.

(AD1509-1900) The Tudor period saw the dissolution of many of the monasteries that had been established in the county during the previous era. Many manor sites were taken out of the hands of the church and ended up belong to the nobility. At places like Ingatestone Hall, the manors were completely redeveloped to fit in with changing fashions of the day. With this fashionable lifestyle came fashionable jewellery such as the fantastic pendant pictured above (ESS-0144A4). Thanks to contact with the New World, precious stones and metals flooded the English markets and those high up in society benefited greatly from it.

During the English Civil War, Essex was not only at the centre of the conflict between the royalists and parliamentarians, but also was a hotbed for witches. Matthew Hopkins (Witchfinder general) lived in Manningtree for much of his life, perhaps explaining why Essex had the highest number of witches executed in the country.

It is clear that Essex has had a rich and varied past, which explains why so many objects of historical significance have been found in the county. Since early humans arrived in Britain around 800,000 years ago to the modern day, objects have played an integral part in everyday life and it is through their study that we can learn much more about our past.