Memento Mori ring of Penelope Clevland

Photo: The Portable Antiquities Scheme CC By SA2.0
Object type: Ring
Period: Post Medieval
Primary material: Gold
Date found: 22/01/2024
Location: Sutcombe, Devon


This gold “memento mori” ring is considered to be a Find of Note of County Importance. It is unusual because it bears the deceased name in full. This usually indicates that it is a person of note or influence.

Therefore, it should be reasonably easy to identify the person. The ring reads “PENELOPE CLEVLAND OB 3 DEC 1746 AE 26”. So we’re looking for someone of note of that name who was born in December 1719 or in 1720. However, the PAS record does not suggest a possible owner and an initial quick search for a Penelope Clevland didn’t produce any results.

Clevland family of Tapeley

Captain William Clevland (1664-1734) purchased the estate of Tapeley Park in Westleigh, North Devon in 1704. It is still owned and occupied by his descendants. It is about 15 miles from the find site.

Mural monument to William Clevland

William Clevland was a commander in the Royal Navy. This memorial to him was commissioned by his only surviving son John in St Peter Church, Westleigh, the local parish church.

The nature of the memorial confirms the standing of the family in the area and their propensity to mark the death of a family member. Therefore, this family is a likely candidate.

William had a daughter called Penelope, who married an Admiral John Towry. I couldn’t find any dates for this Penelope but did find a reference to John Towry’s will of 1 March 1757 in which he left his whole estate to his wife Penelope.1 And so that rules her out.

John Clevland

As William’s only surviving son, John’s marriages might provide a Penelope. In Burkes2 he is shown as marrying twice, first to Elizabeth Child and then Sarah Shuckburgh. However, on his wikipedia page3, is a third marriage, between these two, to a Penelope Davie, daughter of Joseph Davie. There isn’t a good reference supporting this assertion but it is worth a look at Penelope Davie.

Penelope Davie

A Pennellopye Davie was the one of five children of Joseph Davie and Juliana Pryce. Joseph Davie was the son of John Davie a prominent tobacco merchant based in Bideford, which was one of the main ports in the tobacco trade. The family home was at Orleigh Court, about 10 miles from the find site.

Pennellopye was baptised on 6 October 1720. Her mother died of small pox on 3 February 1720, as shown by this memorial to her in the Church of St Mary & St Benedict in Buckland Brewer, Devon.

Therefore, this Pennellopye was probably born in the right date range for this ring.

Pennellopye’s had a tragic start to her life as not only did her mother die in her first few months but her father died when when she was only three. It is not clear who brought her up but, with both her parents gone, her name may well have been simplified to Penelope.

I can’t find another source to confirm Penelope’s marriage to John Clevland and her baptised name is spelt differently. It is always tempting to ignore the evidence that contradicts a theory but in this case I’m fairly confident this is the Penelope who is remembered on the ring.


  1. History of Northumberland in Three Parts by John Hodgson 1832, Part II Vol II Page 331
  2. Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire by Bernard Burke.
  3. John Clevland – wikipedia