12

In the "New Yer's Guiftes giuen to The Quene's Maiestie" we find

two handkerchives of Hollande, wroughte with blacke worke, and edged with a smale bone lace of golde and siluer; and an asse of golde enamuled.

I can imagine a piece of jewelry shaped as a donkey but this seems rather odd. The other kind of ass is not very much suitable as a royal gift, even when of golde enamuled. Is there some other meaning? I cannot find any.

Edit: this can be found in The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth

  • This intrigues me... asse is italian for 'plank' or even extended to seat or scaffold; yet in French it's a pick-axe. I really do want it to be an axe, or a cross, heraldic-style or religious/iconic, which was my very first thought as I read this, but I can't find a solid link anywhere to support that. 'Donkey' just feels so wrong. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/asse is tantalising... – Tetsujin Apr 20 at 14:04
17

Although I can't vouch for that particular gift, the concept of a Golden Ass is ancient and would be well-known to any educated person in England at the time. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, commonly known as The Golden Ass, is notable as the only surviving Roman novel.

The Ass of the title is the character Lucius, who is transformed into a donkey and undergoes a series of misadventures involving the gods.

  • 1
    I'm not an educated person but I happen to know about The Golden Ass too :) A piece of jewelry could be made to remind of Lucius, nothing wrong with that, but why isn't the gift listed as a pendant, or a brooch, or whatever it is? – n.m. Apr 19 at 13:41
  • 7
    @n.m. Where does it say it's a piece of wearable jewelry? It could just as well be a figurine, statuette, tchotchke, etc. – Mark Beadles Apr 19 at 13:58
  • 1
    Um, I'm not sure Elizabethan English had the word tchotchke :) But whatever kind of thing it was I think it is strange for a list like this to omit the kind and just mention the shape. – n.m. Apr 19 at 17:18
  • 5
    It would be normal for such a list to say "a ship of gold" rather than "a gold model of a ship". Since the word "donkey" either did not exist at the time or was too childish/colloquial for the OED to find any example before 1785, your phrase would be the normal description for a golden sculpture. Why somebody thought such a thing a suitable present for the Queen would be an interesting question for History.SE. – TimLymington Apr 19 at 21:44
3

The OED defines asse as a Roman copper coin originally of 12 ounces, and cites several references to it in British literature from the 17th century. In view of the fondness for medals at the time, surely a gold coin or medal makes sense in the context.

  • An as (so spelled) was specifically a copper coin of small value: Roman gold coins ranged from the aureus to the talent. It seems likely that this is just one of the coincidences inevitable given a finite set of letters and sounds. – TimLymington Apr 25 at 9:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.