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Plates 3.26-3.30: Scottish Seals—Plate 3.26
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 3.26. Commentary by Rachel Meredith Davis.
Click here to access the introduction and overview for Plates 3.26-3.30.
The plates in this series were engraved by the heraldic engravers Barak Longmate, senior, and his son, Barak Longmate, junior. Longmate, senior, died in 1793, leaving most of the task to his son, who produced all the final preparatory drawings for these plates, as well as the engraving for at least one. The drawings of the five plates of Scottish seals were signed by Longmate, junior. Plate 3.27 is the only plate to carry a date and it has a unique signature on the lower right: B. Longmate Junr del et sculp 1792. All the other plates are signed thus: B. Longmate Junr del (on the left) and B. Longmate sculp (on the right). All but one of the plates carry the signature of Longmate, senior, as engraver. However, the Longmates did not produce the initial drawings of these Scottish Seals. The first set of drawings were made by Jacob Schnebbelie, who produced images for Vetusta Monumenta between 1788 and 1791. Thomas Astle, who wrote the explanatory account published with the engravings, first mentioned this project in a letter to Schnebbelie in 1788. Astle chaired the committee charged with selecting seals for engraving and reported on Schnebbelie’s progress to the Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London. The Longmates may have corrected some heraldic details when they took over the project for engraving.
1. Seal of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland
2. Seal of David II, King of Scotland
3. Privy seal of David II
4. Privy seal of Edward Balliol, King of Scotland
5. The seal of Robert II, King of Scotland
6. Seal of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland
7. Seal of Mary Queen of Scots
8. Another seal of Mary Queen of Scots
Commentary by Rachel Meredith Davis:
No. 1 The seal of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland
Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, was inaugurated in 1306 at Scone (Bower 1991, 317). He is well-known for his leadership of the Scots following his assumption of the Scottish throne against English forces during the first War of Scottish Independence. His paternal grandfather Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick and lord of Annandale, was one of the competitors for the crown during the succession crisis that followed the untimely deaths of Alexander III in 1286 and then the king’s only heir, Margaret Maid of Norway, in 1290 (Penman 2014, 21-23). Thomas Astle included the seals of Robert Bruce’s grandfather and father in Plate 3.28 (Nos. 5, 21). He also gave a brief discussion of the events of Robert I’s early years as king, noting that the seal illustrated in Plate 3.26, No. 1 was from the "Harleian Collection of Charters" and likely dated to 1318 (Astle 1792, 6). The National Archives, Kew, holds an extant seal of Robert I (The National Archives, Special Collections, 13/K52G/1). Durham Cathedral Archives also holds a seal belonging to Robert I (GB-0033-DCD, Misc.Ch. 633, 634).
The seal, illustrated here, shows the obverse and reverse images of Robert I as king. The Great Seal is large, measuring about four inches in diameter. In both the obverse and reverse images, we see the idealized manhood of kingship represented, in which the king is depicted as the source of justice and military leadership (Neville 2017, 102). The obverse image shows the king enthroned, with loose vestments and a crown of three leaves or fleurs. In the dexter [right] hand the figure holds a long scepter with two knops and a foliated top. The sinister [left] hand is held at the breast, with the index and middle finger extended. The throne has two curving necks of possibly dragons on either side, with the feet at the bottom. Over the throne is a diapered cloth with folds. The foot bed is carved. The legend reads “ROBERTVS : DEO : RECTORE : REX SCOTTORV[M]” [Robert, God-guided, King of Scots]. It is worth noting that Robert’s seal legend breaks with patterns of seal legends of kings from previous (Neville 2017, 105-15). The legend is the same as the obverse. This legend might have been a deliberate effort to create continuity and gloss over the contested nature of Robert’s kingship, which was not always recognized, as well as his troubled relationship with the Church, as he was excommunicated in 1306 following the murder of John Comyn in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries, and again in 1317 for not heeding the pope’s call for truce between England and Scotland (Penman 2014, 90, 175). The use of the phrase ‘guided by God’ [Deo rectore] rather than the usual phrasing of Scottish king’s legend ‘king of Scots by the grace of God’ [Dei gracia rex Scottorum], which appeared in early and later royal seals, some of which are illustrated here, might address the issue of excommunication. Referencing the king as ‘guided by God’ glossed over any conflict between the Scottish king and the Church. It also reinforced the king’s personal piety and devotion, seemingly at odds with his status as excommunicant at various times during his reign (Penman 2013, 1035). The reverse image shows the king as mounted warrior crowned with a crown of three leaves or fleurs. In the dexter hand, the figure holds a sword, in the sinister, a shield bearing the arms of Scotland, a lion rampant within a double tressure. In Astle’s plate, this is depicted as a flory and counterflory. The horse’s housings are also charged with these arms.
The seal is well-catalogued, but the sources for later cataloguers differ from the source used by Astle. Henry Laing cites the Melrose Charters (now National Records of Scotland GD/55) as his source for two impressions of Robert I’s Great Seal. The first catalogue entry was taken from a 1317 charter (Laing 1850, 6 [nos. 21-22]). Laing noted the similarities between Robert I’s seal and the Great Seal of John Balliol taken from an instrument dated 1292 (Laing 1850, 6 [nos. 19-20]; Stevenson & Wood, 1.6 [nos. 20-21]; NRS, RH17/1/Drw2; NMS K.1999.740; K.1999.741). Laing also included an entry of a “very much broken” impression of Robert I’s Great Seal from a 1320 charter in the same collection (Laing 1850, 7 [nos. 23-4]). Walter de Gray Birch used the Cotton Charters (British Library) for his descriptions (Birch 1887, 10-2 [nos. 14,798-14,802]). In addition, he referenced a sulphur seal cast made from the Melrose Charters, which is now held by the British Library (BL, Seal XLVII.38, 39; Birch 1887, 12 [no. 14,804]). The National Records of Scotland holds casts of the obverse and reverse of the seal and National Museums Scotland hold a cast of the reverse image (NRS, RH17/1/Drw 3; NMS K.1999.743). A description of the seal can also be found in the first volume of John Horne Stevenson and Marguerite Wood’s 1940 catalogue (1.6 [nos. 25-6]).
No. 2 The seal of David II, king of Scotland
David II was the only surviving son of Robert I, King of Scotland (No. 1), and he succeeded his father to the throne in 1329 at the age of five (Penman 2004, 34-37). Thomas Astle noted that the charter to which this seal was attached was dated 2 June 1330 and held by the Chapter House at Westminster at the time of Astle’s writing (Astle 1792, 6). David II’s age at the time of the charter’s issuance raised questions for Astle as to the authenticity of this charter and others in the same collection (Astle 1792, 6-8). He noted the ‘singularity’ of the seal and the elements of it that suggested it had a later provenance than the fourteenth century (Astle 1792, 6). He concluded the instrument to be a forgery, owing to its rehearsal of English superiority over Scotland, which would have been a moot point after the Treaty of Edinburgh Northampton in 1328 (Astle 1792, 8). He concluded further that it was a forgery based on a number of ‘singularities’ within the seal, which were inconsistent with Scottish royal seals, as well as the lack of any mention of Scotland’s regent, given that David II was still in his minority (Astle 1792, 8). Despite his careful attention to detail in determining that the impression was a forgery, he did not compare it directly to other seals belonging to David II, rather relying on context and the document and seal’s ‘singularities’ (Astle 1792, 8). From the engraving, there is obvious repair work that had been carried out on the seal.
Given the issues of authenticity of the document which Astle examined, it is worthwhile comparing the seal of David II illustrated here with other extant examples of the king’s seal. The seal, as illustrated in No. 2 shows, in the obverse, a king enthroned and crowned, in loose robes. The figure has a beard. In the dexter [right] hand, the figure holds a sceptre with foliated ornament. The sinister [left] hand rests in the king’s lap. The figure sits within a gothic canopy. The reverse of the image bears the royal arms of Scotland, a lion rampant within a double tressure, flory counterflory, within lobed tracery. Astle noted the bearded king as problematic, given the fact that the David was a child at the time of the charter’s supposed sealing. However, the image of the king would have been an idealized representation of the king, rather than a likeness. Thus, it should not be read as unusual here that David II’s sigillographic image does not necessarily represent him realistically, but rather symbolizing royal power embodied by the king. Instead, the lack of an equestrian seal in the reverse and the text of the document support Astle’s assumption that the seal was not authentic, as both are inconsistent with other royal examples from the previous centuries, as well as David II’s successor, also depicted in this plate (Neville 2017, 105-15). The legend in the seal illustrated here reads “SIGILLVM : DAVID : DEI : GRACIA • REGIS : SCOTTOR[UM]” [Seal of David, by the Grace of God, King of Scotland], although the phrasing is only slightly different from the usual legend "dei gracia rex Scottorum", this was not deployed by Scottish kings in the fourteenth century. Walter de Gray Birch includes a description of this seal in his catalogue; however, he refers to it as an “uncertain seal” rather than a seal attributed to David II (Birch 1887, 13 [no. 14,808]).
Both Henry Laing and Birch drew on later extant impressions, which differ from the engraving included in Astle’s plate. Laing's description came from a 1359 charter among the Melrose Charters (NRS, GD55), noting the similarity between David II and his father’s seal (Laing 1850, 7 [nos. 27, 28]). Birch used a charter among the Cotton Charters (BL, Cotton Ch XIX 1) and also commented on the similarities between David II’s seal and the seal of Robert Bruce, his father (Birch 1887, 12-13 [no. 14,805]. The British Library seal measures four inches in diameter. The obverse seal bears the king enthroned, with many similar aspects to the seal of Robert I (No. 1). The feet of the king rest on two wyverns [bi-pedal dragon] addorsed reguardant [facing away from each other, with head up], which is not illustrated in the seal included here, giving further credence to Astle’s conclusions that the seal was a forgery. On the sinister side of the visual field by the king’s head, there is the initial “D.” The reverse image shows the king as mounted warrior, also similar to the reverse seal of his father (No. 1). The legend reads: “DAVID : D[E]I : GRACIA : REX : SCOTTORUM:”, with a wyvern at the end of the legend, which is similar to the legend of Robert II, also in this plate (No. 5).
There are two additional extant seals belonging to David II held by the National Archives (TNA, SC 13/I31; TNA, SC 13/F133). The British Library holds sulphur casts of the obverse and reverse seals (BL, Seal XLVII 42, 43). In addition, the National Records of Scotland holds casts produced by Laing (NRS, RH17/1/Drw3). Astle’s interest in this seal and its authenticity explains its inclusion amongst the plates here, but it is important to note that this illustration is not representative of surviving impressions of David II’s Great Seal.
No. 3 The privy seal of David II
This is one of the privy seals of David II. Thomas Astle’s inclusion of this privy seal rather than the other one is likely owing to access. This privy seal, taken from a document relating to the ransom of David II, would have been accessible to Astle in London. The National Archives holds an extant impression of David II’s privy seal (TNA, SC 13/D70). Durham Cathedral Archives also holds a fragmented copy of this seal (GB-0033-DCD, Misc.Ch. 639).
The privy seal is small and the original, from which this illustration was made, is in red wax. Within a carved oval panel, it bears a lion couchant guardant [lying down with head raised]. The tail passes under the hind leg and reflexes erect over the back. Above the lion are the initials “M B.” The legend reads: “SECRETVM REGIS SCOCIE” [Privy (seal) of the King of Scotland]. The engraving also includes ‘Le Roy’ [The King], inscribed on the parchment tag. Walter de Gray Birch included a description of this privy seal of David II in his catalogue (Birch 1887, 655 [no. 17,230]). Henry Laing’s source material reflected Scottish archival holdings. As such, his description is of another privy seal of David II, extant amongst the Melrose Charters (NRS, GD55). This privy seal bears the arms of Scotland, supported by two arms issuing from clouds, which Laing glossed as an allusion to Divine support (Laing 1850, 8 [no. 29]). Birch also described this seal, which he took from a Sulphur cast of the Melrose seal, now held by the British Library (BL, Seal XLVII 46; Birch 1887, 29 [no. 14,857]). The National Records of Scotland holds a castoff of this seal as well (NRS, RH17/1/Drw3). The legend of this privy seal reads: “SIGILLU : SE[CR]ETU’ : DAUID : DEI :GR’A : REG’ : SCOTTOR” [The privy seal of David, by the grace of God, King of Scots].
Astle did not offer much commentary on the privy seal itself, rather he provided a discussion of points of interest from David II’s reign. He notes David II’s lineage and the early years of his reign, which saw the regency of the earl of Moray and then the earl of Mar (Astle 1792, 9). He also briefly comments on David’s conflict with his uncle, Robert the Steward, who would later succeed him as king of Scotland as Robert II (Astle 1792, 9). Astle’s discussion of David reveals his interests in dynastic histories, as well as the genealogy of Scottish kings.
No. 4 The privy seal of Edward Balliol, king of Scotland
The privy seal of Edward Balliol, as depicted in this illustration, came from a charter of Edward Balliol to Edward III of England, dated 27 May 1363, in which Balliol granted the English king the castle and town of Hélicourt, in Vimeu, Picardy. The seal and charter to which it was attached are currently held by the National Archives (Astle 1792, 9; TNA, E 39/95/9). Edward Balliol was a claimant to the Scottish throne during the Second War of Scottish Independence (1332-1357). Balliol ruled parts of Scotland during the time, with the support of the English king (MacInnes 2016, 11-59; Brown 2004, 233-54). He had surrendered the kingdom of Scotland to Edward III on 26 January 1356 in exchange for an English pension (TNA, SP 58/1/10). The grant to which this seal is attached reflects his relatively obscure career in Wheatley, Doncaster, until his death in 1364. In this document from 1363, he alienated his French Balliol property to the English king.
The seal, as illustrated here, is a privy seal, and quite small. It bears the arms of Scotland, a lion rampant within a tressure. The legend reads “* EDWARDVS • DEI • GRACIA • REX • SCOTORVM” [Edward, by the grace of God, King of Scots]. The overall design of Balliol’s seal might be compared to his father, John Balliol’s seal, which may have been a model for his own sigillographic representations (Laing 1850, 6 [nos. 19, 20]; Stevenson & Wood, 1.6 [nos. 20-1]; NMS K.1999.740; NMS, K.1999.741).
The privy seal of Edward Balliol is described by Henry Laing in his 1850 catalogue (Laing, 8 [no. 32]). Walter de Gray Birch also included a description of the privy seal in his catalogue, noting Laing and Astle as his source material (Birch 1887, 30-31 [nos. 14,859-61]). In addition, it was included in John Horne Stevenson and Marguerite Wood’s 1940 Scottish seal catalogue (Stevenson & Wood, 1.26 [no. 11]). Durham Cathedral Archives holds an extant impression of this seal (GB-0033-DCD, Misc.Ch. 3716). The British Library and National Records of Scotland hold a cast of the seal (BL, Seal XLVII 49; NRS, RH17/1/Drw4). National Museums Scotland collections has a cast of it as well (NMS, K.1999.783).
Astle’s interest in the privy seal of Edward Balliol, as well as the document to which it was attached, stemmed from his general interest in this period of Scotland’s history. He gave a succinct discussion of Balliol’s campaign in the Second War of Scottish Independence. He also noted the obscurity in which Balliol’s career ended, and the fact his death was not commented on by contemporary writers (Astle 1792, 10). Current historiography on Balliol often considers him Scotland’s “forgotten” king, a characterization of his kingship picked up on by Astle (Hammond 2019). Interestingly, Astle does not mention Edward Balliol’s relationship to Dervorguilla of Galloway, who’s seal is included in Plate 3.28 (No. 2). Her son, John Balliol, was a rival claimant to the Scottish throne in 1292, a right he claimed through his mother’s lineage. The seal of John Balliol appears in Plate 3.28 (No. 6) as well, among the other competitors to the Scottish crown.
No. 5 The seal of Robert II, king of Scotland
There are several extant seals of Robert II (TNA, SC 13/K470/2; SC 13/K50F/2; SC 13/K52G/3). Astle’s source for the king’s seal was a charter in his own collection (Astle 1792, 10). Before ascending the throne as king of Scotland, Robert had a long political career, serving as Steward of Scotland during the reign of his nephew, David II. The seal of Robert as Steward was also included by Astle in Plate 3.29 (No. 17). The document to which his Great Seal, illustrated here, was attached was a charter dated 4 February 1381, in which the king confirmed a charter of his son David Stewart, earl palatine of Strathearn and Caithness (Astle 1792, 10). The context of this charter, in which he confirms his son’s activities in the north of Scotland, demonstrates the royal expansionist policies north of the Forth of Robert II during his reign, which he achieved via marriage alliances with the local aristocracy as well as strategically placing his sons in vacant titles in the region (Boardman 1996, 71).
As can be seen from Astle’s plate, the seal impression was damaged. Based on the catalogue entries of Henry Laing and Walter de Gray Birch, there might be a better impression of the seal amongst the Melrose Charters (NRS, GD55). The National Records of Scotland also holds a cast of the seal (RH17/1/Drw 5). The obverse seal depicts the king enthroned with a crown fleury of five leaves. While it is not depicted in this illustration, other versions of the seal show the figure bearded. The omission of that detail here may owe to the damage of this seal in particular rather than an error on the part of the engravers. In the dexter [right] hand, the figure holds a scepter with a foliated ornament. The sinister [left] hand rests on the figure’s breast. The figure sits within a carved triple gothic canopy. In each of the side canopies stands a figure, possibly a man at arms, displaying a shield. Other depictions of the seal give the supporters as grotesque figures, rather than what is shown here. Both the dexter and sinister shields bear the royal arms of Scotland, a lion rampant within a double tressure, flory counterflory. The legend is severely damaged in the illustration, with only “RTVS•DEI GR” discernable. The legend from the other impression reads in full: “ROBERTVS : DEI GRACIA • REX : SCOTTORVM” [Robert, by the grace of God, King of Scots]. At the end of this legend, there is a wyvern [bipedal dragon] with tail curled. The reverse image is also damaged but shows the king as mounted warrior. In the dexter hand, the figure holds a raised sword, and in the left hand, a shield, bearing the arms of Scotland. The figure wears a helmet with a crest of a lion statant guardant [at gaze]. The horse’s housings are also charged with the royal arms of Scotland. The legend is damaged, as it is in the obverse, and only “REX SCOTTORVM” remains visible. The legend from an intact impression reads, in full: “ROBERTVS : DEI : GRACIA : REX : SCOTTORVM” [Robert, by the grace of God, King of Scots].
The seal is well catalogued. Henry Laing described the seal in his volume and included an illustration of the obverse and reverse images taken from a 1386 charter (Laing 1850, 8-9 [nos. 33, 34]). Walter de Gray Birch also describes the seal examined by Astle and the seal described by Laing (Birch 1887, 14-15 [nos. 14,810-11]). Additionally, the seal is described in the first volume of John Horne Stevenson and Marguerite Wood’s 1940 catalogue (1.8 [nos. 34), The British Library holds casts of the 1386 impression (BL, Seal XLVII 51, 52). National Museums Scotland holds Sulphur casts from the reverse of a Great Seal dated to c.1371 (NMS, K.1999.751 ).
Robert II was the first Stewart king of Scotland, and later inherited the crown from his childless nephew, David II. As already mentioned, Astle interest in Scottish seals seems to link to his interest in dynasty and genealogy. Astle provided a discussion of Robert’s two marriages: first to Elizabeth Mure, who died in 1358, and then to Euphemia Ross. He discussed the descent of the crown to his eldest son by his first marriage rather than the sons from his second marriage. This issue of succession is something that has been picked up in recent historiography. Amy Hayes has noted that the inauguration of Euphemia as Queen of Scotland was delayed by two years. While Robert II was crowned in 1371, Euphemia was not crowned until 1373, owing to the issue with succession, as her elevation to the status of queen would have elevated the status of her sons above that of her stepsons. The succession to Scottish kingship was settled on Robert II’s son from his first marriage (Hayes 2018, 18-22).
No. 6 The seal of Margaret Tudor, queen of Scotland
The seal of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland, as depicted in this plate, is an impression on a letter from Margaret to her brother, Henry VIII, dated 11 April 1513. Thomas Astle noted its location as the “Cottonian library” (Astle 1792, 11; Newsome, pers comm), which was a collection of manuscripts owned by the antiquarian Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631), later maintained and expanded by his son and grandson. His grandson, Sir John Cotton, donated the library to Great Britain on his death in 1702 (Handley 2018). The Cottonian Library was housed in several places before the British Museum acquired it in 1753, making it one of the Museum’s core collections (Raithby 1820, 642-43). Astle would have seen this seal in the British Museum, though it has been held by the British Library since 1973 (BL, Cotton MS Caligula B VI, f.83r-83v).
This is one of three of the seals used by Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland, and seems to be the least well-known or used of the three. The engravers show the seal en placard, which conveys a sense of materiality, but also indicates how the seal had been used in the original document, compared to the other seals in the plate. The engraving shows a seated and crowned female figure, with a hound leaping up in her lap. In the background, on either side of the figure, a rose branch. Walter de Gray Birch suggested the roses were allusions to the roses of York and Lancaster in his catalogue description of the seal (Birch 1887, 39 [no. 14,899]). In addition, Margaret had a signet seal, which featured a shield of arms bearing the arms of Scotland in the dexter [right] position and the quartered arms of England and France in the sinister [left] position. The shield is ensigned with the queen’s crown of three flowers, two crosses, and four intermediary pearls. A motto features on a label between the crown, reading “IN: GOD·IS·MI·TRAIST:” [In God Is My Trust] within a curved border (Birch 1887, 39 [no. 14,900]). Birch further identified another small signet attributed to the queen, but only recorded that the cast was from an “indistinct impression” (Birch 1887, 39 [no. 14,991]). Scottish seal catalogues only identify two seals belonging to Margaret (Laing 1866, 4 [nos. 14-15]). Further to this, Laing described the hound within her letter seal as a “unicorn,” which seems to be an inaccurate reading of the image, as Birch pointed out in his catalogue (Birch 1887, 39). Astle incorrectly read this image, as a unicorn in her lap, assuming that it was an allusion to the James IV (r.1488-1513), given the association of the unicorn with Scottish kings since James III (r.1460-1488) (Astle 1792, 11). The incorrect interpretation by Astle likely explains Laing’s catalogue, as this engraving was the source for his description. This might owe to the scale in the plate and the fold in the figure’s dress, which may look like a horn to the naked eye. Rather than a unicorn, it is a hound, as Birch noted, which is corroborated by the visual evidence. The original impression from the 1513 letter is well represented in the plate. As for her signet seal bearing the impaled royal arms of Scotland and England, a damaged impression is extant on a 1539 ratification held in the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh (NRS, AD1/97). There are casts of her signet seal(s) and the seal illustrated here deposited at the British Library (BL, Seal XLVII. 82-84).
The imagery of this seal depicts the status and position of Margaret Tudor as a royal woman. The rose branches on either side of her figure allude to her Tudor lineage and the crown represents her position as queen consort. As Michelle L. Beer has observed, Margaret Tudor used clothing to emphasize her status and authority (Beer 2018, 46). This argument can likewise be traced in her sigillographic representation here. The seated figure with a small hound in her lap further denotes her elite status. As Kathleen Walker-Meikle has argued, images of women and their pets was a status symbol, as these animals were for leisure, rather than utility (Walker-Meikle 2012, 78). Further to this, the closeness of the female figure and the dog in the design further delineates the intimacy, affection, and emotional attachment between the two (Walker-Meikle 2012, 79-80).
Astle’s interest in the seal of Margaret Tudor stemmed from the significance of her marriage, diplomatically and dynastically, for Scotland and England. He noted that her marriage to the Scottish king “preceded the union of the two crowns, an event which her father foresaw might happen” (Astle 1792, 11). He is further interested in giving the descent via Margaret to Henry, lord Darnley, who would marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and father James VI and I of Scotland and England, which did bring about the union of the crowns in 1603. In addition to the significance of her offspring, he also notes the tumultuous period of her life immediately following the death of James IV at the Battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513 (Astle 1792, 11; Barrow 2016, 23). Her time as regent was short, with the duke of Albany assuming the regency after her remarriage in 1515 (Emond 2018, 36). In addition, her loyalties as regent were not above suspicion, given her sibling relationship to the English king (Barrow 2016, 36). The tranquil and leisurely image evoked by the seal attached to her letter to Henry VIII in the months before James IV’s death in pitched battle contrasts the political context in which this letter is situated, as Margaret’s attempts to act as intermediary between her brother and her husband was doing little to quell rising animosities between the two polities.
No. 7 A seal of Mary Queen of Scots
This is an early seal Thomas Astle attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose impression would have been made from a signet ring. Astle noted that the seal was used by Mary during her widowhood following the death of her husband, Francis II of France, in 1560. While he stated that the ring that made this seal was in “the French king’s collection in Paris,” the present location of this ring is not known (Astle 1792, 12; Groundwater & Forsyth, pers comm). The illustration of the seal impression from this ring, as presented on the plate, bears similarities to the intaglios of later rings, which suggests that the depiction is accurate. This suggestion cannot be confirmed, however, since we do not know of an extant ring belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots. The later rings bear a crowned, quartered shield. Reading the seal from right to left, we see 1st quarter: quartered arms of three lion passant (England), three fleur de lis (France); 2nd quarter: a lion rampant within a double tressure (the arms of Scotland); 3rd quarter: a harp (the arms of Ireland), 4th quarter: same as the first, quartered arms depicting the royal arms of England and France. On either side of the seal, “M R” can be seen, presumably abbreviating “Maria Regina” [Mary, Queen]. These arms were used by her son, James VI and I, King of Scotland and England, after he succeeded Elizabeth I of England in 1603. The arms feature on a gold coin dating from 1604/5, asserting James’s right as king to Britain, France, and Ireland (BM, E.5109). These arms also feature in the Great Seal of King James, which is deposited in the National Records of Scotland, attached to a 1616 document (NRS, GD124/10/116). The arms, as they are seen in this illustration, are not found in later seals belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, which suggests that if this ring was used by her in France, while married to Francis II, it was not used in later life.
There are early modern rings that feature the heraldry described above, produced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Royal Collection Trust holds a signet ring commissioned by Charles I for his wife Henrietta Maria. Gem-cutter Francis Walwyn carved the intaglio into a lozenge shaped diamond, completing the ring with a cypher of HMR for Henrietta Maria Regina [Henrietta Maria, Queen] (RCIN 65409). The ring is further decorated with enameled rose, thistle, and fleur de lis. Eighteenth-century copies were made of this ring commissioned by Charles I. One such copy is now held by the British Museum (BM, AF.845). This imitation ring is gold, with a white topaz stone. There is some debate around whether or not we can attribute these copies to an original ring belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots.
There are a number of seals attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots. Henry Laing included descriptions of six seals and counterseals belonging to the Scottish queen (Laing 1850, 14-16 [nos. 58-66]). This impression is not included amongst the descriptions of seals attributed to Mary, even though Laing had consulted Astle’s text in the compilation of his own antiquarian volume (Laing 1850, 16). The seals are described in John Horne Stevenson and Marguerite Wood’s 1940 catalogue (Stevenson & Wood 1940, 13 [nos. 53, 58]; 15 [nos. 64, 65]; and 28 [no.21]). Again, the impression from this seal does not seem to be included in the catalogue. The seals of Mary are also described in Birch’s catalogue (Birch, 1887, 19-22 [nos. 14,830-35]. The impression illustrated in Astle is not included among these descriptions either. Thus, the attribution of this seal impression to Mary, Queen of Scots, is unique to this plate. It raises questions whether or not this can be attributed to Mary. Astle’s vague on where the ring was held during his own time, indicating only that it was held in the French king’s collections (Astle 1792, 12). His commentary on the engraving does not make it clear whether or not he had viewed the ring himself.
The National Museum of Scotland collections holds a number of casts taken from impressions of the Scottish queen’s seals. The legends on these seals further elucidate the period of time in which Mary, Queen of Scots was claiming rulership of England. A cast taken from her 1542 seal only asserts Mary’s claim as queen of Scotland, which is further corroborated by the presence of the Scottish royal arms, a lion rampant within a double tressure in the counterseal (NMS K.1999.764; K.1999.765). In a 1554 privy seal, Mary also makes the claim only as queen of Scotland, the legend reads “SIGILLUM SECRETUM MARIE DEI GRATIA REGINA SCOTTORUM” [Private seal of Mary, Queen of Scots, by the grace of God] (NMS K.1999.787). Her claim to the English throne was linked with her marriage to Francis II of France. In her 1559 Great Seal, Mary and Francis are depicted enthroned and the legend reads “FRANCISCUS ET MARIA D[EI] G[RACIA] R[EX] · R[EGINA] FRANCOR[UM] · SCOT[TORUM] · ANGL[ORUM] ET HYBER[NIUM]” [Francis and Mary, King and Queen of France, Scotland, England, and Ireland, by the grace of God] (NMS K.1999.766). She did not uphold a claim to the throne of England long after the death of Francis II. In her 1564 Great Seal, her legend reads “MARIA DEI GRACIA REGINA SOCTTORUM DOTARIA FRANCIE” [Mary, queen of Scots, by the grace of God, dowager of France].
The claim to the English throne during her marriage to Francis II would have been influenced by her father-in-law’s machinations for the English throne (Wormald 2017, 13; Goodare 2007). The date of the 1559 Great Seal claiming sovereignty over England aligns with what Julian Goodare and Jenny Wormald have noted as an association of the English arms with the iconography and pageantry around Mary, following the death of the English queen, Mary Tudor in 1558. Mary Tudor’s death opened the way for Mary, Queen of Scots’s claim to England by way of her Tudor blood (Wormald 2017, 13; Goodare 2007). Astle’s assertion that the illustration here comes from a ring used in France by Mary, following the death of her husband, Francis II, is supported by the fact that the arms of England were adapted into her iconography around this time in France and corroborated in her 1559 seal legend. It is important to note that the use of these arms, as seen in the engraving, seem to have occurred solely in France and for a finite amount of time, as her 1564 Great Seal shows no evidence of a continued claim to the English throne either in the heraldry or in the legend. Furthermore, Astle noted that the ring was in the French king’s collection at the time of his writing in 1792, which might suggest that the ring never left France. Given the events that followed in 1793, we might assume the ring to have been melted down at the time of the French Revolution, if it did exist. The subsequent use of the arms by her son, James VI and I, as well as later English monarchs, brings into question whether this is a seal belonging to Mary, queen of Scots, or whether it was attributed to her only by way of later associations of the heraldry with her son, following his ascent to the English throne.
No. 8 Another seal of Mary Queen of Scots
This is a seal belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose impression would have been made from a signet ring. Astle’s own commentary on this seal is brief, merely noting that this seems to be the royal seal that Mary used upon her return to Scotland (Astle 1792, 12). The signet ring is made of gold, dating between 1548 and 1558, when the Scottish queen resided in France. The shoulders of the ring are ornamented with flowers and leaves. The intaglio is made of chalcedony. It is currently held in the British Museum collections, having been acquired via auction in 1856 (BM, 1856, 1015.1). The ring shows signs of wear, with effacement of some of the engraved details.
The illustration present in this plate provides an accurate rendering of impressions that have been made from the ring. Like the illustration here, the ring bears the shield of Scotland [a lion rampant within a double tressure] surrounded by a collar of thistle, supported by two unicorns. The shield is crested with a lion sejant affronté holding a sword. The dexter banner [right, from the perspective of the bearer of arms] shows a banner depicting the arms of Scotland. The sinister [left] banner bears three bars over a saltire. The bezel is further inscribed “IN DEFENS M R.” “In defens” is a shortened form of the motto “In My Defens God Me Defend,” which became associated with the royal arms of Scotland during the reign of James IV (1488-1513). The illustration here does not capture the Greek inscription on the back of the bezel, “Ø [phi] M” surrounded by a ring and crown; this was a cipher of the initials F M, referring to Mary and her first husband, Francis II.
As mentioned with No. 7, there are several seals attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mention of this particular impression can be found in Scottish seal catalogues (Laing 1850, 16 [no.66]; Stevenson & Wood 1940, 1.13 [no. 54]). Astle does not seem interested in this signet seal of the Scottish queen. He gives a very brief discussion about when the ring was likely used before moving to a general discussion of Scottish royal seals as depicted in the plate as a whole. He does suggest that the seal was used after her return to Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland holds a c.1567 cast from an impression of this signet ring, which attests to Astle’s comments on its use (Astle 1792, 12; NMS, K.1999.770). Astle's general discussion touches on the larger set of seals belonging to Scottish royals and he then specifically compares the images of kingship on the royal seals depicted on this plate. His discussion also notes two great seals belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, which he comments on as engraved in James Anderson’s earlier volume Diplomata Scotiae, which may explain why Astle chose not to include the great seals of the Scottish queen in this plate set. Rather, his illustrations of Scottish queens’ seals reflect their more personal identities, insomuch as we can think of seals as personal representations, rather than their identities as regent and queen via their public-facing, and better known, seals.
No. 1: My thanks to Dr. Laura Harrison, Historic Environment Scotland, for her thoughts on the seal legend and the wider context of Bruce’s kingship.
No. 6: My thanks to Dr. Helen Newsome for her insights into the current location of this seal, as well as her knowledge of its use along with the other seals belonging to Margaret Tudor.
No. 7: My thanks to Dr. Anna Groundwater, senior curator, and David Forsyth, curator, of National Museums Scotland for their insight into the whereabouts of the original ring.
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