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Pearls were Queen Elizabeth’s favourite and she literally dripped with pearls. She had six or more long ropes of pearls and one containing twenty-five nutmeg sized ones, as well as many other smaller ropes that were attached to her elaborate gowns and head-ware. None of her subjects could compete with her although that other formidable woman of the time, Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury( Bess of Hardwick), did her best with four large, matched pearl ropes, coming to below her waist. The Duchess of Somerset also had a rope of more than a thousand seed pearls and two, more than two metres in length.
Many of the courtiers, ladies in waiting, noblemen and their wives, spent vast sums of money on clothes and jewellery. The gulf between the rich and the p[poor, was even greater than today. In an era when the average wage was five pounds per year, keeping up with the Joneses of the court could run in to thousands of pounds.
While diamonds were worn and prized, they were not the cut and faceted jewels of today. It was not until 1590 that diamond cutters developed the skills to turn the dull medieval gleam into the brilliant coruscating gems we know today. Other gems to be found at court were rubies, sapphires, emeralds, garnets and Jacinthe (red zircon). There were also a few Murano glass bead necklaces, Elizabeth herself had one, but only the wealthy owned them. Elizabeth’s necklace is featured in Blood-Red Goblet and there are details of how the necklaces are made.