Mastodon The Writing Desk: The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I

9 September 2018

The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I

Seals were used on most documents in the past, to close them and to prove that the document really was from the person who sent it. Most seals had a picture of the owner and a motto or legend around the edge. It would usually show the type of job the owner did and contain information about their family.

However, a Great Seal was special – it belonged to the monarch and all important business that the monarch did had a Great Seal attached. If a document had this seal on it, it had the monarch’s ‘seal of approval’ as it contained the monarch’s wishes or commands.

The seal was made of a mix of resin and beeswax which turns a brown colour with age and regular use.

The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I was used by the Chancery, the Tudor Civil service, to show that the document attached was ordered in the Queen’s name. Elizabeth had her own personal ‘privy’ (private) seals for documents that she approved herself.

Queen Elizabeth used the first Great Seal from her coronation until 1586, after which she used the 'second seal' produced by the artist Nicholas Hilliard:

The second Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I shows an unusual image the queen on horseback riding across what look like a field of flowering plants. The queen is depicted as a strong, feminine figure, not in military armour. 

The inscription around the edge reads: 
'Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor'
('Elizabeth by the Grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith'). 
This second seal was 'surrendered' to King James Ist on his accession in May 3 1603 - and used by him for eleven weeks until his own seal was ready.

(Source National Archives)

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