Great Seals of English Monarchy

A Look at Uncommon Royal Seals 


For a millennium, English monarchs have used a Great Seal to represent the Crown on important state documents. In fact, the practice of using this type of seal began in the Middle Ages, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, when a double-sided metal matrix with an image of the sovereign was used to make an impression in wax for attachment by ribbon or cord to royal documents. These seals helped to deter forgery of official documents.     

All these centuries later, collectors seek out the Great Seals, especially coveting those that are intact or still attached to their original manuscript. Raab has a selection of these historical seals currently for sale, including those of Queen Elizabeth I and her half-sister, Queen Mary I, King James I, and Queen Victoria.     

The Great Seals of Queen Elizabeth I 

Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 until 1603, commissioned three different seals over her long reign. 

Second Great Seal of Elizabeth I

The seal pictured above is Elizabeth I’s second Great Seal, attached to a manuscript dating to 1590. The seal was created by Nicholas Hilliard, who had been appointed Court miniaturist and goldsmith by the queen decades earlier. His three-dimensional seal depicts Elizabeth circa 1584 on her Renaissance-era throne, the ruff curving up to support the face, the skirt thick with folds, the crown surmounting her curls, the full hands holding the royal insignia, and the royal coat of arms besides. The verso of the seal illustrates the queen in profile riding on horseback.

Remarkably, this seal remains attached to its original document, one that connects the queen to one of the great figures of the Elizabethan age, Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton. 

Queen Elizabeth I Hilliard’s Great Seal

A second example of the Hilliard seal of Queen Elizabeth can be seen above. Hilliard was considered a master craftsman, and his is the rarest of Gloriana’s three royal seals. 

Elizabeth I Seal Pynner

This is Elizabeth I’s first Great Seal, attached to a document from 1573 that awards her chief Clerk of the Kitchen with land concessions and other assets. In this case, the Great Seal is not only wholly intact, but bears four protruding sections on the upper and lower edges where the original matrix accommodated the screws with which the two halves were pushed together. The manuscript is impressive as well, offering a fascinating glimpse into the queen’s financial transactions.

The Great Seal of Queen Mary 

Like Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII. Also known as Mary Tudor and “Bloody Mary,” Queen Mary’s time on the throne was short-lived, from 1553-1558. 

Queen Mary I Seal

Pictured above is the uncommon original seal of Queen Mary I, displaying on one side the monarch on the throne and the other on horseback. It is attached to a pardon of a partisan of King Edward VI, a document that consolidated her rule, just months after seizing power from Lady Jane Grey in 1553. A true rarity.

The Great Seal of James I

In 1603, James succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch of England and Ireland, who died childless. He ruled Scotland, Ireland, and England for 22 years, a period known as the Jacobean era, until his death in 1625.

James I Great Seal

In this example of James I’s Great Seal from 1613, the complete seal remains attached,  with its original vellum tag, to a document involving London Mayor Stephen Soame, whose name appears in the 1609 Charter of Virginia as a member of the Virginia Company. 

The Great Seal of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 and reigned until her death in 1901. It is from her that the Victorian era takes its name. She too employed the use of a Great Seal, a medieval tradition that had carried over into the modern age and remains in use today as a symbol of the sovereign’s role as head of state.  

Queen Victoria Seal

As with her royal ancestors, Victoria’s Great Seal shows her on the throne on one side, and riding horseback on the other. This remarkable and rare example pictured above is attached to an elaborately illustrated patent from 1856.

Renaissance Manuscripts

If you’re interested in learning more about Renaissance-era manuscripts, visit our page dedicated to Medieval and Renaissance historical documents

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