A Medieval Hawking Ring (Vervel) from Surrey

A silver medieval vervel from Surrey
A silver medieval vervel from Surrey. Image Copyright: Surrey County Council. Licence: CC-BY

A rare example of an inscribed silver medieval hawking ring or vervel has recently been recorded from Surrey. This little object (SUR-44916D) was tied to the legs of a hawk and used to connect the bird to a leash which tethered it to a perch. During the medieval and post medieval periods, falconry was a ubiquitous pursuit of the nobility and the exact species of hawk used by any individual was socially regulated and dependent on their rank. As a hawk was a highly expensive badge of status, this object had a doubly important function in both securing the valuable bird and identifying the owner.

What makes this example highly unusual is the lombardic script used in the inscribed lettering which suggests a 14th – 15th century date for the object. Most examples which are found and recorded by the PAS are much later and date to the 16th – 17th century.

The name inscribed on the vervel reads RAVEnEShOLmE, which may be a personal or place name – and most likely is both. A John de Ravenesholme, identified as the “king’s yeoman” of Edward III (1327-1377), is recorded as holding the manor of Pury in Bentley parish, a few miles across the border into Hampshire in 1344. This same individual and other members of his family also held estates in Northamptonshire as well as Lancashire in the latter half of the 14th century, including a messuage called Ravensholme in Downham, Lancashire, which may well be the origin of the name. Whilst speculative, this association makes sense in terms of the earliest conceivable date for the vervel.

The loss of this type of object would most likely have occurred accidentally whilst people were out in the countryside, far from a settlement, busy hawking and hunting. As a result it is not a type of find which would ever likely be made from a conventional archaeological excavation. The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is vital to record such socially charged and significant little objects, which would be otherwise invisible to the archaeological and historical record.