Over at Got Medieval Carl provides a link the to the famous Baldhild ring on the feast of St Balthild this month. This is the first time I’ve had a good look at the famous ‘erotic’ ring found in Norfolk, East Anglia. If you click on the picture it will take you to the museum website where you can zoom and see the reverse. Supposedly this ring shows Bathild and the king “having sex”. Hmmm… takes some imagination even with the zoom. This ring is less than a centimeter in diameter, so the impression it would have left would have been quite small. For all we know they are holding hands (or were intended to be holding hands). This would make much more sense. This scene could represent a wedding especially with the cross over them.
For the obverse, it only says Baldhildis. I’m not sure why it is assumed that this is a queen’s ring. Click on the photo to the left and you can zoom in on the photo. The museum comments on the long straight nose but really it looks to me like they struck the long arm of the cross down over the face.
At only 1 cm in diameter, the detail can’t be great because its just too small, about half the diameter of a dime. ( A dime is 1.79 cm.) They were carving this without the use of a magnifying glass. Its a amazing they got this much detail on a tiny disk with half the diameter of a dime and only 4mm deep. High magnification photography makes it look deceptively primitive and deeply carved until you realize how small the entire object is. It looks like the bodies and heads were made with a square ended metal spike and all three heads with a rounded ended spike. These heads are only 2-3 mm in size for the couple and only a little bigger for the obverse. It would have taken a great deal of skill to get them to look this good and ingraving two sides doubly hard.
I don’t see why this couldn’t be the ring of a noble woman from that time or later. Given how few names we have for English queens and even fewer noblewomen, it could be for a woman other than Frankish Queen Balthild. Given that Queen Balthild was an East Anglian slave, presumably former royalty sold after her family was defeated, it is possible that Baldhild/Balthild was a common name among local royal women. The scene of the couple may not have been as rare as we assume given that there are no names or other identifiers, and no crown or royal sign. If it was a rarity it would have been because of the skill required to produce it.
As for how it was used, this is a pretty tiny seal ring. First if they are holding hands under a cross (possibly representing a wedding) it could have been used on messages sent to anyone. Second, given the small size of the seal, both sides could have been used on the same seal, side-by-side. Using both sides would still produce a fairly small wax seal to hold a heavy parchment roll.