Catherine Wordsworth

Catherine Wordsworth memorial ring

This is not a mourning ring for a member of royalty or a person of fame, but a poignant and intimate memento for a little girl who died at the age of three. Catherine Wordsworth, daughter of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, died in 1812. Catherine probably had what is now described as Down’s Syndrome. A loveable and delightful child, she was said by Dorothy Wordsworth to have ‘not the least atom of beauty, but a wonderful sense of humour and something irresistibly comic in her face and movements’. Down’s Syndrome was not identified as a medical condition until 1866, so the Wordsworth’s and their circle simply saw Catherine as a lovely and somewhat unusual child. Wordsworth’s  sonnet ‘Surprised by Joy’ was written after the death of two of his children and its most likely subject is Catherine, who was especially dear to her father.

This ring for Catherine depicts in watercolour a miniature of an angel reading from a book of poetry, set under crystal. The tapering gold shank is inscribed to interior : Catherine Wordsworth Obt. 4 June 1812. The ring is size L and 1/2 [US 5 and 7/8] and the head of the ring measures 1 and 1/4 inches by 3/4 of an inch. As Catherine’s death would not have been in the public domain, this ring was no doubt commissioned for a member of the Wordsworth family or their intimate circle. The miniature is finely executed and the whole ring is immaculate. It comes from the late David Lavender portrait miniature collection. David was a gentlemanly dealer in objects of art with a wealth of knowledge and the most wonderful collection of portrait miniatures. I do miss going to see him to admire his latest treasures.


Okay it’s well nigh impossible to photograph this tiny inscription on the inside of the shank, so sorry.

A portrait of Thomas and Catherine Wordsworth in the Wordsworth Museum