The eye could hardly avoid it as Lady Brenda Hale, president of the UK supreme court, delivered the verdict that British prime minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in proroguing, or suspending, Parliament for five weeks. On her right shoulder, catching the light against her dark top, was a large, crystal-covered spider.
The brooch was so prominent in the footage from Parliament TV, and the image of the spider so potent as she called Johnson’s parliamentary suspension “void and of no effect,” that it sparked speculation of a hidden meaning—the obvious one being that she’s the spider and he’s her prey. People online jumped in with comments. A t-shirt company quickly mocked up an homage that it’s selling on eBay, and the spider brooch now has a Twitter account.
In the short time since appearing on TV I've had non-stop interview requests, been offered a place on next year's celebrity bake-off, and been given an honorary degree in Government and International affairs from @durham_uni
— Lady Hale's Spider Brooch (@HaleBrooch) September 24, 2019
Hale has a well-documented fondness for brooches. In the past they’ve taken the form of a centipede, a frog, a gingerbread man, a fox, a spider’s web, and more. According to the Telegraph, in the past week she’s also worn a “lifelike” butterfly brooch and two different ones in the shape of dragonflies.
This particular spider may have just been another in her collection, though it’s not the first time an ornamental pin has roused theories about deeper symbolism. Last year people noticed that Queen Elizabeth, who also has a taste for brooches, wore one given her by the Obamas, the former US first family, during a visit by current president Donald Trump. The queen regularly receives the jewelry pieces as gifts and has been known to choose them for the occasion. Some read it as a snub of Trump.
Madeline Albright, the former US secretary of state, was known for using her collection of decorative pins to suit her mood or situation. “Most of the pins are costume jewelry and are supposed to be reflective of whatever issue we’re dealing with or what I’m feeling like on a given day or where I’m going,” she told Smithsonian Magazine in 2010, in connection with an exhibition of more than 200 of her brooches on display at the institution. Mostly, though, she said they were just fun.
Maybe Hale was having some fun with her crystal spider. What’s certain is Boris Johnson was having no fun at all.
Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.
More stories from Quartz: