The “SS” Collar – Robert, 2nd Lord Hungerford (1406-1459)

Collars” have long been used as insignia to symbolise a rank, a relationship, an award or honour or some other form membership (eg member of a lodge).  They have taken many forms over the centuries and some still exist today, for example mayoral chains and gorgets.

Robert, 2nd Lord Hungerford was buried at Salisbury Cathedral, and his memorial clearly shows an “SS collar” on his effigy.  We have two pieces of information about the collar and they are reproduced below:

  • The first piece comes from a letter from Dennis Martin to Betty Crowley (then HAFS Secretary), originally published in the HAFS Newsletter No 29 Feb 2005, p10
  • the second piece comes from Dennis Martin’s book, The Hungerford Family, p8.

The two pictures of illustrations, below, have been reproduced with the permission of the Wiltshire Museum1.

The “SS” COLLAR – from Dennis Martin, Salisbury Cathedral Guide

Chains made of S shaped links, were personal decorations of honour which were assumed by various royal and noble families, worn by themselves and bestowed on their adherents and partisans.  They were never the insignia of an order of chivalry nor, it appears, bestowed, except in the case of certain judges or other civilians, later than the time of Henry VIII.

There are effigies in cathedrals and parish churches of men, and infrequently ladies, with SS collars.  These memorials range from the closing years of the 14th century to the 16th century.  Three examples of these SS collars can be found in Salisbury Cathedral.  They are:  Sir Robert Hyde, Lord Robert Hungerford and Sir John Cheyney.  Attached to Cheyney’s collar is a double rose and portcullis pendant.

What the “SS” stands for has always been a matter of conjecture.  Possible meanings are as follows:

  • SS – the initials of a Roman senator and martyr Saint Simplicius.
  • SS – Sanctus Spiritus – Holy Spirit.
  • SS – Saint sepulchre, from the former Crusaders quest.
  • S – Signum – a sign of honour.
  • S – Silentium – the need to keep one’s own counsel, or keep silent.
  • SS – the last two in conjunction.

The SS collar, which appears to have been composed of indefinite numbers of the letter S, linked together as a chair or fastened separately on a foundation of metal, velvet or some other materials, was the livery of Henry IV and his descendants.  It is especially connected with Henry VI but it seems probable that it was originated by John of Gaunt.  It is almost certain that John gave a collar of SS to his nephew Richard II, who wore it as a compliment to his uncle.  Afterwards, Henry IV gave collars of SS to his followers during his father’s lifetime.  Henry continued to use the collar after he became King in the same form which he had used for his own badge while he was Earl of Derby or Duke of Lancaster.  This, composed of the letter SS, was continued by his son Henry V and his grandson Henry VI was their chief emblem.

The second year after Henry IV became King a statute was passed regulating apparel.  It ordained:

All the sons of the King, dukes, earls, barons and baronets might use the livery of our Lord the King of his collar as well in his absence as in his presence; and that all other knights and esquires would use it only in the presence of the King and not in his absence.

It is said that Henry IV distributed his own device, or collar, called S or SS amongst his adherents with a liberal hand.  The earliest known description is in the Wardrobe Accounts of Henry IV “a collar of gold with seventeen letters of S made in the shape of feathers with inscriptions on them. “

The use of SS collars by civilians is mostly by Lord Mayors, including those of London, Dublin and Cork.  This tradition generally dates back to Elizabeth I.  Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the collar has been worn by each of the Lord Chief Justices of the King’s Bench, the Common Pleas and the Exchequer.  These, however, appear to be private property and not handed down.  Collars of SS are till worn by Officers of the Herald’s College.

Effigy showing the SS Collar The collar and belt

Robert, 2nd Lord Hungerford (1406-1459)

Died 1459, buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

Second, but eldest surviving son of Walter Lord Hungerford (d 1449).  He (Robert) married Margaret, the wealthy heiress of William Lord Botreaux.  Through his wife’s inheritance he added very largely to his family’s property in Cornwall.  He had five children, Lord Robert ( b 1431), Arnold, William, Catherine and Mary.

Robert served in the French wars.  He was summoned to parliament as Baron Hungerford for the years 1440-1455.  He died on 14 May 1459 (other references say 22 April 1459) and was buried, according to his will, in Salisbury Cathedral.  His wife, Margaret, like many widows, wanted to prepare herself for her salvation and depicted herself kneeling in prayer, with a bible on her lap.  She completed an alms-house in Heytesbury and founded a chantry chapel in Salisbury Cathedral where her husband’s body was placed.  She had been left enormous problems by her husband and an enormous ransom for her son Robert Lord Moleyns (£6000 plus expenses of over £3000, a great deal of money) for his Lancastrian politics, which led to debt and confiscation of the family estates.  She herself was imprisoned three times.  By sheer tenacity she managed to retain most of the estates by fair means or foul.  Paying off her husband’s debts and her religious foundations meant that her expenditure was greater than her income, so she sold lands that should have been her family’s inheritance.

  1. The Jackson Papers, The Hungerford Family, Collections for their Personal History, Vol 1, pp152-153, originally published by CA Stothard, Oxford St, London, 1813. Photographed from the volume held in the Wiltshire Museum, in 2019

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