Is the Collar of Esses in official use currently?

When one thinks of a “chain of office” the prime example is the Collar of Esses, which can be seen depicted in the portait of Thomas More. Does this collar still have official significance? Is it ever worn today? By whom?

I think various English city mayors still have one as part of their official costume, but I’m sure they don’t wear it around the house or anything.

You could have bought one from Christies in 2008 for just £313,250

Thomas More wore it as Lord Chancellor – I don’t think the current Lord Chancellor wears it to the office.

I don’t think it at all certain that More did wear one as Lord Chancellor. The fact that he wears one in the two Holbein paintings proves nothing as those were painted before he became Lord Chancellor. The Frick’s view is that he wasn’t wearing it in their portrait as the insignia of any particular office. Livery collars weren’t necessarily associated with specific offices.

But there are a number of officials who do continue to wear Collars of Esses (in various different styles) as part of their ceremonial dress, including the Lord Mayor of London, the Lord Chief Justice, Black Rod and the Serjeants-at-Arms.

Thanks for that link. The description was fascinating, and you can really zoom into the picture to get a good look at the chain.

So it has no specific significance?

Depends. And what it depends on is mostly how one wants to interpret the word ‘has’.

There is the question of what significance it originally had. Which no one really knows, despite endless arguments by historians over the centuries.

Then there is the question of what significance it had in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During that period it was being used by some English monarchs as a livery collar and, as such, it was awarded as a mark of loyalty to favoured servants and courtiers.

Finally, there is the question of what significance it now has. In some cases, it has become traditional for particular officeholders to wear one, either an original (the Lord Mayor of London) or a copy based on an original (the Lord Chief Justice). But the ‘S’ links have also joined roses, portcullises, garters, knots etc. as little more than generic royal symbols which look good as chains.

If you’d like to get a replica for yourself:

Here’s a Lord Mayor wearing the chains of office for a ceremonial occasion. pic.

There is a small historical note about the tradition here.

When a mate of mine was a lord Mayor (not of London) he wore a gold chain on official duties, but it was kept back at the guildhall, not at his house.

Interesting. In the movie a Man for All Seasons Scofield, as More, wore an exact replica of that precisely as a chain of office, and his taking it off was a key scene. (The scene is in the play, too, but i have to admit I don’t recall if the chain looked the same when I saw it onstage). I’ve seen the one at the Frick, but wasn’t aware this is how they felt about it.

Well, it’s very many years since I last saw the film version of A Man for All Seasons, but my recollection is that the chain had previously been established as a recurring motif, first as a symbol of Wolsey’s power and later, with its removal by Norfolk, as a symbol of Wolsey’s fall. But that doesn’t mean that this was anything more than a theatrical/cinematic conceit.

Nor is it too difficult to work out the inspiration behind it. What Norfolk actually removed from Wolsey was the Great Seal, an incident famously recorded (and illustrated) in George Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey. But More’s chain, copied from the Frick portrait, was doubtless thought less confusing for a modern audience.

For what it’s worth (which may not be much as none of them are indisputably contemporary), none of Wolsey’s portraits show him wearing such a chain.