Jewellery, Watches, Antiquities and Objects of Vertu (17 March 2020)

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Date of Auction: 17th March 2020


Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A Tudor silver gilt hawking whistle, 16th century, constructed with a circular sectioned shaft having two bands of raised decoration, to a spherical sound chamber with engraved decoration including initials, conjoined A and V on one side and N to the opposite side, with applied circular sectioned wire of twisted design, forming a small suspension loop to the underside of the shaft, length 44.5mm. £6,000-£8,000

Condition Report

In excellent, extremely fine condition with most of the gilding intact.


Hawking or falconry whistles from the Medieval and Tudor period are excessively rare with only four other examples in silver listed on the online PAS reports. None are gilded or comparable in refinement to our example. Examples have also been found made of pewter or brass, but silver however gives the best sound. They are also referred to as a short buson-type whistle or as a whistle pendant, (see the portrait of Sir Nicholas Bacon, 1579, by an unknown artist, in the National Portrait Gallery). Being worn as jewellery, sewn onto your garments, they could also be used to summon servants and hounds. In the case of falconry, the bird is whistled off after removing the hood and slipping the jessie that held the bird to the wrist.

Birds of prey were used originally in Medieval times to capture quarry, goshawks were trained to catch hare, rabbits and pheasants, gyrfalcons caught rook and heron. During the reign of Edward III, when at war with France, the King took with him 30 falconers. Gyrfalcons and peregrines were reserved for the nobility with Henry VIII a principal advocate of falconry; there is an important gold hawking whistle in the Victoria and Albert Museum given by Henry VII to Anne Boleyn. Grand hunting parties were hosted by Kings and Lords, and hawking became an essential element of personal and national prestige, with retained falconers accompanied their masters, and the ‘Master of the Mews’ position reserved for the King’s best falconer. Around 1600, falconry reached its zenith and was regarded as the proper sport for a gentleman.

The engraved letters on this whistle have a distinctive disc attached to the centre of the uprights to each side, which can be compared to a silver bowl in the Victoria and Albert Museum with similar style letters, hallmarked from 1504.

This whistle was reputedly discovered in the manor of Smallbridge in Bures St Mary in Suffolk. This was the family home of the Waldegrave family where Elizabeth I was entertained for two days by Sir William Waldegrave in 1561.