Quite early on, a name emerged which remains one of our stronger prospects – one Philip Williams, the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
The way it worked at the time was that the Queen (Elizabeth I) appointed a Lord Lieutenant to govern Ireland for her and the Lord Lieutenant appointed a Chief Secretary to do whatever needed to be done. Of course the Chief Secretary had sufficient power to also do what he, the Chief Secretary, wanted done.
Any particular Chief Secretary was very much linked to the relevant Lord Lieutenant; driven by the Lord Lieutenant’s power or lack of it they rose and fell together. It was most unusual (and require a high level of resourcefulness) for a Chief Secretary to serve under more than one Lord Lieutenant; this Chief Secretary, Philip Williams, between 1571 and 1597 served under three(!) – Sir William Fitzwilliam (in two different periods), Sir John Perrot and Lord Burghley. To have manoeuvred himself into alignment with three different lord lieutenants in a 25-year period (it’s hard to understand how he could have aligned himself with Sir William, then another Lord Lieutenant, then back to Sir William again!) must have taken some doing. But he did it!
But how come the ring was lost in south Wales?
All three of these lord lieutenants would have levied their armies in Ireland from, particularly, nearby Wales so there would be every reason for Philip Williams to visit the various land-owners around Wales (and the bordering areas of England) to ensure that the land-owners levy commitments were being met. The Druidstone Ring was found on what would have been a direct route along the few miles between Tredegar House (the seat of Lord Tredegar, a massive south Walian land-owner) and Druidstone House – presumably at that time a grand house nearby on the Tredegar estate, ideal for the accommodation of important visitors. Such as Mr Williams.
With this suggestion in mind, looking again at the imagery on the bezel of the Druidstone Ring it is easy to see how the flower and leaves, lightly dismissed in the Museum’s report as “floral sprigs” (of decoration), are perhaps not by accident positioned over and surrounding the harp; they may actually represent the English rose – thus creating a visual representation of England’s domination over Ireland. The five-petalled flowers on the shoulders of the ring – also mentioned in the Museum’s report – may now appear to be even more recognisable as representations of the Tudor rose.
Should this suggestion become proven, and that the Druidstone Ring was a tool of government, it is difficult to grasp the enormity of this find’s importance, particularly as it relates to the history of Britain’s relationship with Ireland, and also in terms of Britain’s relationship to the rest of the world. Now that would be a back-story!
Of course there will be documents written by Philip Williams, bearing his seal, stored in various places. (There is apparently at least one letter written by him to Queen Elizabeth I.) The briefest of visual comparisons of the seal used on those documents against the seal which we’ve found may be conclusively informative.
It has been suggested that the Chief Secretary would have used the Lord Lieutenant’s seal, rather than one of his own. We have seen a letter written by Philip Williams to Lord Cecil bearing Philip Williams’ own seal as the Chief Secretary. It is frustrating that the seal on the ‘Cecil’ letter does not match the ‘found’ seal. But of course, they could easily not match – he’d lost his first seal (we’ve found it!) and was using a second. Equally, given that theft was rife at the time in Wales, he may have carried with him his ‘reserve’ seal.
We are hoping that more examples of letters bearing Philip Williams seal will come to light.
In relation to his position as Chief Secretary of Ireland it would appear that Philip Williams was recommended to Sir John Perrot by Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (for whom Philip Williams and his brother John were servants). The Raglan Ring is claimed to have been the property of Lord Herbert. The style of engraving of The Druidstone Ring and the Raglan Ring are so similar that they could be the product of the same hand. Intriguing…