Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plates 1.53-1.54: Lancaster Duchy Office Seals, Part A

Plates: Plate 1.53 features depictions of eight medieval seal impressions. A delicate architectonic border with floriated embellishments frames the seals, giving them an enhanced sense of importance and grandeur (compare to Plate 1.5, which has no decorative framework). At the top of the plate, there is a title, “Antient Seals A.” Plate 1.54 features depictions of eight more seal impressions. A double scalloped border frames the seals, and the plate’s title, “Antient Seals B” is contained in a delicate vegetal mount. These are the first two plates in a series that also includes Plates 1.58-1.60. From the signature at the bottom of Plate 1.53, we know that George Vertue (1684–1765) produced these engraved images, and that most of the specimens were held in the Duchy of Lancaster.

Vertue’s accurate renderings of these seals record physical details ranging from the imperfect state of wax or impression to the parchment tags by which they were attached to documents. On a few occasions, labels below seals indicate the type of document to which the seal was attached, e.g. “a deed belonging to James West, Esquire,” or the date of the sealing (twenty-second year of Henry VIII). These labels reinforce the growing importance granted to the documentary function of medieval seals as signatures and authenticators. As noted in the bottom labels, many of these impressions were from stone matrices made with antique intaglios or gems. It was common practice in England to use such gems as both seals and counterseals from the twelfth century onwards. This connection to classical antiquity no doubt accounts for the particular interest of these objects for the Society of Antiquaries of London.


On Plate 1.53, From Top Left to Bottom Right:
1. Seal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester (d. 1153)
2. Counterseal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester, Label A
3. Seal of Thomas Oswy (13th-14th century), Label B
4. Counterseal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1344), Label D
5. Seal of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby (d. 1279), Label C
6. Seal of John Basset (1272-96), Label E
7. Seal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1297)
8. Seal of Ralph de Banbury (before 1288), Label F

On Plate 1.54, From Top Left to Bottom Right:
1. Seal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (c. 1219)
2. Counterseal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (13th century), Label A
3. Seal of Sir Richard Jernyngham (early 16th century), Label B
4. Seal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century)
5. Counterseal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century), Label C
6. Seal of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor (early 16th century), Label D
7. Seal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century)
8. Counterseal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century), Label E


Note: These transcriptions record what was engraved on the plate and are not always accurate. We have used "-" to indicate untranscribable engraved letterforms, which indicate difficulties experienced by Vertue in deciphering the legends. Space constrains also affected the engraving, as he sometimes ran out of space before a legend was complete. For precise scholarly transcriptions of the seal legends, readers should also consult the versions available in Birch 1887-1900 and more recent sources.

Plate 1.53, Top: Antient Seals A

Plate 1.53, Seals:

1. Seal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester (d. 1153):
Label: RICHARD, Constable of CHESTER.
No Legend (incomplete impression).

2. Counterseal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester:
Label: A / The Counter Seal of RICHARD, Constable of CHESTER.

3. Seal of Thomas Oswy (13th-14th century):
Legend unclear: +IT --- --IV--I SCCOIC --- T C -------S-

4. Counterseal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1344):
Label: D / Counterseal of the ABBEY of ABINGDON.
No Legend (incomplete impression).

5. Seal of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby (d. 1279):
Label: C / ROB./T FERRERS Earl of DERBY to EDMUND the Kings Son.

6. Seal of John Basset (1272-96):
Label: E / JOHES fil. Radi: BASSET de Sapcot. H.3.

7. Seal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1297):
Partial legend, letters obscured: S&rsquo . ECCE SCE MARIA AB DON ------ AD : CAS
(Legend is incorrect on plate, see TNA seal E 33/26/)

8. Seal of Ralph de Banbury (before 1288):
Legend as transcribed from an imperfect impression in the National Archives (TNA DL 25/1779/1456): SEL.PRIVE.DEVTETTA?SCEL.

Plate 1.53, Bottom: These Antique Seals are Impress’d in Wax, and appendant to several antient Deeds or Charts preserv’d in the Dutchy Office of Lancaster & in the Augmentation Office, from whence they were delineated and Engrav’d by G.V. for the Society of Antiquarys. London. 1738.

A. B. C. D. E. F. are from Seals cut in Stone.

Plate 1.54, Top: Antient Seals. B

Plate 1.54, Seals:

1. Seal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (c. 1219):
Label: The Seal of St. JOHN the Evangelist in the Castle of PONTEFRACT.}

2. Counterseal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (13th century):
Label: A / On the Reverse of the Counter Seal of ROGER de Lacy.

3. Seal of Sir Richard Jernyngham (early 16th century):
Label: B / S.r RICHARD JERNYNGHAM 18.H.8. / To a Deed belonging to S.r John Evelyn, Bar.t
No Legend.

4. Seal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century):
Label: RICHARD Abbot of SELBY.
Legend (incomplete impression): + SIGILL … RM … NI . SLL … ECL’E

5. Counterseal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century):
Label: C / Counter Seal to RICHARD ABBOT of SELBY.
Around the head: DN.HONORIVS.AVG

6. Seal of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor (early 16th century):
Label: D / a Seal of S. .r Thomas Mores K. t Lord Chancellor An. o22 He. 8. / A Deed belonging to James WEST Esq.r
No Legend.

7. Seal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century):

8. Counterseal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century):
Label: E / Counter Seal of RICHARD ABBOT of SELBY.

Plate 1.54, Bottom: The Reverses of these Seals mark’d A.B.C.D.E. are impress’d from Gems or Intaglias being Antiques cut in Stone. Sumptibus Societat. Antiq: Lond.


Plate 1.53, Seal Legends:

1. Seal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester (d. 1153):
Legend unreadable (damaged, partial impression).

2. Counterseal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester, Label A:
Legend: The secret seal of the Lord. I conceal, carry, unseal.

3. Seal of Thomas Oswy (13th-14th century), Label B:
Legend unclear.

4. Counterseal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1344), Label D:
No legend.

5. Seal of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby (d. 1279), Label C:
Legend: Remember me.

6. Seal of John Basset (1272-96), Label E:
Legend: Seal of John Basset

7. Seal of the Abbey of Abingdon (before 1297):
Legend: Seal of the Abbey of St. Mary at Abingdon . . . subsidiary [ad causus] seal.

8. Seal of Ralph de Banbury (before 1288), Label F:
Legend (imperfect): Private Seal . . .

Plate 1.54 Seal Legends:

1. Seal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (c. 1219):
Legend: Seal of St. John the Evangelist at Pontefract

2. Counterseal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract (13th century), Label A:
Legend: The Virgin is chosen by God.

3. Seal of Sir Richard Jernyngham (early 16th century), Label B:
No legend.

4. Seal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century):
Legend (damaged, partial): Seal of the Church of St. Germanus at Selby

5. Counterseal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby (13th century), Label C:
Legend: Christ is our head.
Around the head: Emperor Honorius.

6. Seal of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor (early 16th century), Label D:
No legend.

7. Seal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century):
Legend: [Seal of] Richard, by the grace of God a most humble servant of the church of St. Germanus at Selby

8. Counterseal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (13th century), Label E:
Legend: In the beginning was the Word.

Commentary by Laura Whatley: The circumstances surrounding the discovery of these seal impressions and the production of Plates 1.53 and 1.54 were recorded in the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) for 1736. On 12 February, “Mr. [Francis] Drake delivered an abstract to the Society on John Anstis”—a nearly complete dissertation, “Aspilogia, a Discourse on Seals in England” (SAL Minutes I.147-48; Pearce 2007). Drake’s presentation brought to the Society’s attention the existence of large collections of extant English seal impressions, many still attached to documents, in the Duchy of Lancaster and several other record offices and repositories(e.g., Westminster Abbey Muniments). The Duchy of Lancaster (also known as the ancient Lancaster inheritance) was formed in 1265 when King Henry III gifted the baronial lands of Simon de Montfort to his son, Edmund. In 1266, Henry added the estate or Robert Ferrers, Earl of Derby, and Edmund received the title of Earl of Lancaster. In 1351, King Edward III conferred the title of Duke of Lancaster on Henry Grosmont, the son of the 3rd Earl of Lancaster, and he elevated Lancaster to a County Palatine. King Henry IV in 1399 decreed that the Lancaster inheritance should be held separately from other Crown possessions and should descend through the monarchy as a private estate. Today, the Duchy of Lancaster is a private estate owned by Her Majesty the Queen, as Duke of Lancaster. Smart Lethieullier (1701-1760), elected to the SAL in June 1724 (SAL Minutes I.124), negotiated with the Duchy of Lancaster on several occasions to gain access to archival materials, including a collection of eight sixteenth-century drawings of castles (see Plates 1.39, 1.40, 1.41, 1.42, 1.44, 1.46, and 2.11, 2.13) and quite possibly this cache of medieval seal impressions. He even requested that prints of the plates of Pomfret, Lancaster, and Knaresborough Castles be presented to his Grace the Duke of Rutland, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, perhaps to make the Chancellor more favorably disposed toward the new request to examine and potentially engrave the seals (I.150). A committee was appointed to visit the Duchy of Lancaster and other record offices, examine the seals discovered by John Anstis (1669-1745), and determine if any were “curious” enough for the SAL to publish as engravings (I.148). Based on a final report, the committee identified a large body of attached seal impressions, most of which were held in the Duchy of Lancaster. George Vertue was dispatched to visit the record office in order to produce sketches. He was instructed to “draw and engrave” the seals and to give to the clerk in each office one guinea for the privilege (I.195).

Engraving remained one of the most important tools in the Society’s mission to preserve the past. As William Stukeley (1687-1765), first secretary of the SAL, noted in the opening of his Itinerarium Curiosum (1724), “Tis evident how proper engravings are to preserve the memory of things and how much better an idea they convey to the mind than written descriptions…” (Stukeley 1724, “Preface”). As the Society’s official engraver, Vertue clearly was interested in providing accurate copies of the seal impressions in their current state. Many of the renderings record breaks, cracks, chips, and other imperfections in the wax or impression. Overall, the physical depiction of the seals conveys a sense of close observation and accuracy.

That being said, many of the engravings also seem to conform to eighteenth-century tastes, especially in regards to the physiognomic features of faces and the styling of hair; a number of the seals engraved on Plates 1.53 and 1.54 have an expressive quality not found on the actual medieval impressions. These renderings highlight a tension between exact representation and art. It is notable that Vertue’s contemporaries viewed him as a great antiquarian, but not as a great artist. From the Reverend William Gilpin: “Vertue was an excellent antiquarian, but no artist. He copied with painful exactness; in a dry, disagreeable manner, without force, or freedom. In his whole collection of heads, we can scarce pick out half a dozen, which are good” (Gilpin 1768, 126-27). Alas, from the perspective of medieval sigillography, Vertue’s “painful exactness” is most appreciated, and his more expressionistic renditions of medieval seal impressions lead to frustration and circumspection. When possible, it is an important exercise to compare Vertue’s engravings with the surviving medieval impressions.

Although Vertue focuses on the seal impressions themselves, including both pictorial content and legends (when preserved), he also indicates that the seals being recorded indeed were attached to documents. Seals were attached to a document by a tag, tongue, or cord (“en pendant”), or they were impressed directly on the face of the document (“en placard”). In the case of medieval English seals (certainly royal and episcopal), the majority were attached to documents as pendent seals (Hoskin 2019, 197). Plates 1.53 and 1.54 include representation of the parchment strip attachments—that is, the tags that were passed through holes or slits in the bottom of medieval charters and folded back for the attachment of a wax seal (Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 19) or the tongues, long strips of parchment cut along the bottom of the document but left attached to it. In some cases, Vertue’s rendering of the tag or tongue even reveals the physical orientation of the seal in relation to the implied document. Overall, the inclusion of the parchment enlivens the plates, as they appear to flutter and emerge toward the viewer, and reinforces the function of medieval seals to validate written records. The SAL perhaps was intrigued by medieval seals as art objects—visual artifacts from the glorious medieval English past—but these plates likewise indicate a growing interest in the utility of seals in relation to medieval documentary culture, an interest of Anstis himself. Indeed, the attachment method of seals was often recorded in Sir Christopher Hatton’s “Book of Seals”—his antiquarian volume that includes 240 drawings of medieval charters. Very little additional information was provided on these plates about the actual documents, however, except for the occasional recording of “to” and “from” above an engraved seal impression. Today, scholars mine the documents for specific information about the sealers and the performance of sealing, but the general suggestion of the role of an attached seal impression to authenticate a document was sufficient for the eighteenth-century antiquarian.

At the bottom of Plate 1.53, a note states that six of the impressions were made from seals cut in stone (i.e., rather than metal), but this likely refers to intaglio gemstones set in metal matrices. Indeed, these seemingly small impressions are consistent with impressions made from antique or medieval intaglio gems. According to the minutes, there were a rather large number of seals from antique gems examined by the committee (the phrase “the seal an antique head” is oft repeated in the report), although not all were worthy of engraving (see SAL Minutes I.192). Similarly, the minutes note that “the committee observed several other impressions of antique seals appendant to deeds in the said office, but either so ill taken off, or greatly defaced, they are not at this time worthy of notice” (I.193). It was common practice in England to use such gems as both seals and counterseals from the twelfth century onwards. It seems quite likely that the SAL committee selected these seals for publication specifically because of their references to Classical antiquity—neoclassicism certainly was thriving in England by the 1730s with the completion of Lord Burlington’s Palladian masterpiece, Chiswick House, and the growing popularity of Augustan literature. It also is important to address the stylistic characteristics of the seals on both plates, which lean towards eighteenth-century academic tastes rather than medieval (especially when compared to the three seals engraved on Plate 1.5). Vertue’s renderings on Plates 1.53-1.54 thus exist somewhere in between exact copy and artistic impression. Interestingly, the minutes record that on 3 February 1737 Vertue was asked to bring several of his finished drawings of the Duchy of Lancaster seals before the committee so that the members could compare his drawings to the original seals—presumably in order to ensure quality and exactitude (I.267). The SAL preserved these drawings (SAL MS 421, fols. 1-43).

In 1868, the bulk of the Duchy of Lancaster archive was deposited at the Public Record Office, now the National Archives, Kew (see: Some 2,500 seals (mostly attached to documents) from the Duchy of Lancaster archive have been digitized and are searchable through the National Archives online catalogue (series DL 25 and 26). Unfortunately, most of the seals discussed in this commentary are not among those already digitized with a few notable exceptions. This is not surprising since the National Archives holds over a quarter of a million seals, most of which are medieval or early modern. Additionally, many documents from the Exchequer (series E) in the National Archives have attached seals and likewise await digitization. Duchy of Lancaster records are also retained in the Duchy office in central London and the Lancaster County Archives in Preston. The committee report in the Minute Book for 1736 notes that a number of the seals (especially those made from antique gems) were held in the Augmentation Office at Westminster (SAL Minutes I.194). Although most records retained at Westminster Abbey Muniments, especially those from the Exchequer, were transferred to the National Archives, it is possible that some of the seals recorded on these plates are in the collection of Westminster Abbey Muniments, which does not currently have an open-source online database.

Individual Seals on Plate 1.53

1. Seal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester: This is the equestrian seal of Richard Fitz Eustace (d. 1163), Lord of Halton and Constable of Chester. The equestrian type—a seal depicting the figure mounted on a horse (often in full armor)—was popular in England for both royal, noble, and knightly seals from the time of the Norman Conquest through the late thirteenth century. For example, the obverse of the seal of William I (1066–1087) features the king on horseback wearing a mail tunic and helmet and holding a shield and banner or gonfanon. The king’s body is twisted out towards the viewer and the horse’s legs suggest a gallop. He is actively leading his men into battle, underscoring his significant military role. This is thought to be the earliest equestrian seal in medieval Europe (Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 27–28). By the beginning of the twelfth century, a growing number of Anglo-Norman noblemen owned seals bearing a mounted knight. No doubt inspired by William I’s equestrian seal, these equestrian seals were powerful visual statements of high social standing and military prowess. Although the iconography on equestrian seals remained stable (variations were few), the seals do display important developments in style, clothing, armor, and heraldry. They also tended to be relatively large in size, again a nod to royal seals of the period. The equestrian seal of Richard, Constable of Chester, represents Richard astride his horse, facing right. He wears a conical helmet and holds both a shield and a striped banner with no clear heraldic point of reference. Below his tunic appears the tail of a second garment, his skirt, with a distinct chevron pattern, but it does not correspond to Richard’s arms (quarterly, or and gules). This sigillographic image was celebrated by antiquarians for its careful depiction of tegulated armor (“scale-mail”)—a type of plate mail in which small, square metal plates overlap in a tile pattern, which is quite distinct from chain or ring mail (cf. Knight 1845). This square plate pattern was also used to decorate the saddlecloth and shield. Vertue’s careful and detailed rendering of the armor and ornament reads as accurate, but an extant medieval impression of the seal is required for verification.

2. Counterseal of Richard Fitz Eustace, Constable of Chester: Based on Vertue’s engraving and label, Richard Fitz Eustace possessed a small secondary seal used for countersealing with an ovoid antique gem set in a versica (metal) matrix. Such a matrix was a small often personal object used to further authenticate written records when impressed on the back of the disc of wax. In the label, Vertue identified the seal as a “counterseal” no doubt because it was an impression made by the same sealer on the back of the main seal impression. In twelfth- and thirteenth-century England, a range of seal types were applied to the back of a larger seal impression in wax as counterseals. As Harvey and McGuinness state, “A counterseal was the more personal seal, usually quite small, impressed at the back of the wax to corroborate the owner’s principle seal on the front” (Harvey & McGuinness 1996, 9). Richard Fitz Eustace’s gem has two main features: a standing nude figure and a plinth. The figure faces right in a strict profile and holds an object in the left hand, perhaps a harp or pan flute (the engraving is unclear). The plinth, a slender column, has a base and capital, possibly with another object on top. The standing nude figure is consistent with Greco-Roman gems depicting a satyr (a sylvan deity in Greek mythology who was fond of Dionysian revelry). The figure stands in a profile pose with his weight fully on the left leg; the right leg is raised to suggest jaunty movement. The figure also seems to have a short, bushy tail, likely a goat’s tail, which partially obscures the figure’s buttocks. In Greco-Roman art, satyrs were usually represented as humans with a goat’s tail and ears. In many antique gems, satyrs were represented either in an active pose to suggest dance or a reclining pose to suggest the hedonistic lifestyle. Also, they usually had additional attributes to signify drinking or drunkenness, such as a kylix or krater, and musical entertainments. A great example is an Italic carnelian stone (Christie’s Sale 15501, Lot 93) with a dancing nude satyr from the second–first century BCE. Like Vertue’s figure, the figure stands in a twisted contrapposto with his back to the viewer. He has a small but noticeable tail and holds two Greek reed pipes (auloi). Behind the figure there is a delicate column or plinth. Another comparable Roman Imperial paste gem in the British Museum features a dancing nude satyr playing the tambourine with a krater at his feet. Likewise, a Roman carnelian gem in the Beazley Archive depicts a nude satyr with a distinct tail seated in a twisted pose and holding a syrinx.

The attributes in Vertue’s engraving of the gem, such as the tail and the objects in the figure’s hand and atop the plinth, are difficult to make out. It is possible that the ambiguity in Vertue’s engraving is a result of the small scale and imperfect impression of the seal—that is, Vertue fudged or obscured details on the seal that were difficult or even impossible for him to discern. The tail could be heavy-handed modeling or misrepresented drapery, for example, and the column or plinth was more common on gems depicting Apollo or Aphrodite. Indeed, Apollo was often represented both nude and holding a musical instrument. In the third volume of the Antiquities of Lincolnshire, Maurice Johnson (1688–1755) published his dissertation—originally presented to the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society 1734—on the seals on Plates 1.53 and 1.54, in which he branded the nude figure as Venus, identifying the item on the plinth as the golden apple from Paris (Nichols 1790, 41–42). Vertue’s nude figure ultimately stands in a less revealing pose than found on these antique gems, the profile stance fully obscuring the genitals. This is not to suggest that Vertue necessarily altered or censored the pose of the figure. Overall, there was quite a lot of variety in Greco-Roman depictions of satyrs on carved gems, in terms of pose and iconography.

The legend declares that the seal was a private seal, a “SECRETVM” or secret seal. As Harvey and McGuinness suggest, the use of the word “secret” in a legend to designate a counterseal was not uncommon, although its meaning could be ambiguous (cf. Harvey & McGuinness 1996, 58-59, 71). The seal specifically is identified as the secret seal of the Lord. Most secret seals do not include the name of the sealer, so this symbolic and hyperbolic legend is not unusual. Indeed, many secret seals used by the laity have enigmatic, personalized (i.e., mottos), or humorous legends. The identification of the seal as the seal of the Lord certainly would have given authority to the document; the Lord did not necessarily author the writ, but he certainly protected and validated it for or through the sealer. Of course, the nude figure on the seal likely was not reinterpreted as the Lord, and the concealing pose of the figure may in fact more closely relate to the second part of the legend. The legend continues “+CELO FERO RESERO”: “conceal, carry, unseal.” This phrase underscores the operating principle of a seal to conceal the contents of a document while the document is en route to its recipient, and it suggests that this seal could be used to authenticate private letters. This is not to suggest that the actual wax was used to close or “seal” the parchment document. Its ability to “conceal” is by virtue of being attached to the document, in this case by a parchment tag or tongue. Similar phrases appear on other private seals, such as another antique gem seal in the National Archives used by Osbert, the chaplain of one William Brewer, from c. 1200. Osbert’s seal features a standing figure wearing a helmet and the legend +LECTA CELA NEC REVELA: “what you read conceal, and do not reveal” (Ellis 1978, P910; Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 88).

3. Seal of Thomas Oswy: According to the label, an impression of the gem matrix was appended to a document from Thomas Oswy to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. This information also was included in the Minute Book, but unfortunately no additional information about the document or seal was recorded (SAL Minutes I.191). It is difficult to historically identify either man with certainty. The surname Oswy is Anglo-Saxon, from King Oswy (Oswiu or Oswig), the king of Bernicia from 642 until his death in 670. At present, I have found no documentation on Thomas Oswy beyond the engraving of his seal on this plate. Between 1200 and 1373, five different Humphrey de Bohuns held the title Earl of Hereford, and it is unclear which Humphrey would have been the recipient of this sealed document. It does seem certain that Thomas Oswy lived and used this seal in either the thirteenth or fourteenth century. It is unfortunate that in Vertue’s engraving the seal’s legend is also unclear; the letterforms were rendered so lightly that most are impossible to transcribe. In his dissertation on seals, Johnson states that “this impression seems from the countenance and coiffure to be the head of Sappho, the Lesbian poetess” (Nichols 1790, 41). Although this identification seems rather fanciful, the image does generally have features that correspond to ancient portraits of Sappho. It depicts a female figure in profile facing right. Her hair is dressed in a distinct wide cap or band, no doubt in the opisthosphendone (a common mode of dressing the hair, in which a plain or ornamented band, broad in the middle and narrow at the ends, supported the mass of hair behind the head and was fastened in front). The portrait type and hairstyle in Vertue’s engraving are analogous to the bust of Sappho on coins minted in Mytilene during the Roman period, as seen on a second-century copper alloy example in the British Museum. Indeed, Greek portraits of women with this headdress are referred to as “Sappho types” or are identified as portraits of Sappho. A great example is a Roman copy of a Greek marble head of a woman from c. 440 BCE, who was identified as Sappho but is more likely a goddess. The woman has her hair elaborately dressed with bands securing her locks.

Interestingly, the “Sappho type” to actually represent the poetess was revived in eighteenth-century England by the artist and noted gem engraver Edward Burch, RA (1730–1814). He was a self-taught miniaturist who specialized in classicizing historical portraits (from Alexander the Great to Sir Isaac Newton) and, notably, he was known to produce engraved gems and seals from plaster casts of actual Greco-Roman gems. It is important to recall that plaster casts were increasingly popular for preserving and documenting both ancient and medieval gems as well as seals throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; these casts often increased the legibility of style and iconography over the original impressions—that is, the casts were easier to read. Instead of seeing the negative image incised into the original gem, the viewer was able to see a cast of the positive image that would have been stamped into the wax. Although it is difficult to determine which of Burch’s engraved gems were from casts and which were invention, his direct use of casts suggests his desire to produce engraved gems that closely corresponded to antique models and traditions. For instance, he may have had access to a plaster cast similar to this example of the “Sappho type” in the Cornell Gem Impressions Collection, which has been fully digitized. He created a number of fine gems featuring the bust of a woman with her hair dressed in the “classical style,” such as his carnelian intaglio with a female figure identified as Sappho from 1786 and now in the collection of the Hermitage (State Hermitage Museum И-12465), and his delicate sard intaglio in the British Museum (BM 1799,0521.73). Vertue’s rendering of the female figure, with her delicate features and distinct hairstyle, certainly has much in common with Burch’s slightly later engraved gems and, in both cases, close engagement with the Classical past was an important part of the artistic process.

4. Counterseal of the Abbey of Abingdon: According to the label, this seal was used to counterseal the ad causus seal of the Abbey of Abingdon also featured on Plate 1.53 (seal number 7 below). A seal ad causus was a seal used by a foundation or corporation for documents of lesser importance, such as letters. Overall, these seals were similar in size and visual complexity to common seals (Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 72–73). An impression of this counterseal is preserved on two documents the National Archives: it appears as counterseal to the abbey’s common seal on a document from 1344 (E 40/14256; Ellis 1986, M007), and it indeed was used as the counterseal of the ad causus seal on a document dated 1504 (E 33/26/1; Ellis 1986, M008). Therefore, this counterseal was employed in different sealing contexts, no doubt to increase the security and validity of documents of varying degrees of importance (e.g., documents sealed with the common seal as well as those sealed with the ad causus seal). It has no legend and, like a common seal, was used as a counterseal for over 150 years. The counterseal impression was made with a very fine antique intaglio gem, which explains Vertue’s inclusion of the seal and counterseal on the plate. Vertue’s rendering of the seal portrays a youthful male figure in profile facing right. The figure has long, curly hair that is curled up and back at the forehead and cascades over the neck and shoulders; additionally, the figure seems to be wearing a fur or animal skin garment. Vertue’s recording of the figure does generally correspond to the extant impressions of the seal. In Vertue’s engraving, the figure has longer and more expressive locks of hair, however, and the physiognomy of the face has been updated. It also is arguable that Vertue omitted or missed a few iconographic features of the seal, although small details on the surviving impressions are difficult to read and thus interpret.

The committee recorded this small impression in the minutes as “a large antique head of fine workmanship resembling the Emperor Trajan” (SAL Minutes I.193). It should be noted that gems depicting Roman emperors were surprisingly rare, and the figure certainly does not correspond to official portraits of Trajan on coins—here, they only seem to be remarking on the seal’s quality. It is a very fine seal. In his catalogue of monastic seals in the National Archives, Ellis identified the figure as a bacchant—that is, a follower of the god Bacchus, such as a satyr. This attribution is based on the figure’s youth and wild curling hair. This is certainly a plausible suggestion. Bacchus and satyrs were very popular figures on antique gems (see seal number 2 above). When scrutinizing the surviving impressions of the seal, however, it appears as though the figure wears a diadem with a long solid strip draped over the shoulder. Vertue incorrectly, I think, rendered this strip as long ringlets. I read this strip either as a tail of the diadem or a snake. It also looks as if the figure has a distinct curved form over his right ear—a horn. This counterseal certainly calls to mind Hellenistic glyptic portraits of Alexander the Great as Zeus Ammon. Indeed, the diadem, horn, and snake were all iconographic features of Alexander the Great in the guise of Zeus. Alexander, like the figure on the seal, was always portrayed youthful and with unruly hair in the anastole (with the hair set wreath-like around the face after brushing the hair up from the forehead).

In March 331 BCE, Alexander journeyed to the Siwa oasis in Libya to visit the oracle shrine of Ammon (a Greek god inspired by the Egyptian god Amun, whom the Greeks also identified as or conflated with Zeus). Alexander ultimately would claim to be the “son of Zeus Ammon,” and he would be represented on Hellenistic coins and gems wearing a diadem with the ram’s horns of Zeus Ammon. For example, the obverse of a tetradrachm from the reign of King Lysimachus (r. 305–281 BCE), one of Alexander’s former military generals and the ruler of Thrace, bears a portrait bust of Alexander wearing the diadem with the ram’s horns of Zeus Ammon, here operating as an image of the deified Alexander as a means of legitimizing Lysimachus’s claim to the throne. Alexander the Great appears in this same guise, certainly an official portrait type, on a unique carved glyptic now in the Beazley Archive in Oxford, dated to around the time of his death in 323 BCE. As for the figure’s garment, it was not a common feature on the extant coins with Alexander wearing the attributes of Zeus Ammon. Vertue depicted the garment as made of fur or animal skin, which is somewhat consistent with the medieval impressions of the seal. The figure on the seal wears a distinct coarsely rendered cloak around his shoulders. Interestingly, this probably was a conflation of the type of loosely draped cloak (chlamys) worn by the Macedonian military and the aegis of Zeus. A silver tetradrachm from the time of Ptolemy I Soter (c. 306 BCE) and minted in Alexandria depicts Alexander the Great wearing a cloak covered in deep-cut scales and tied around his neck by means of a snake, the aegis of Zeus (American Numismatic Society 1980.109.89); likewise, a small bronze statue in the Walters presents a standing depiction of Alexander Aigiochos (“Alexander wearing the aegis”). The aegis again was decorated with deeply incised scales as well as the head of the Gorgon Medusa over the left breast. It also has a number of postholes, likely for the attachment of small snakes. The “scaly aegis” and the Gorgon’s snakes link Alexander to Zeus and Athena as well as the city of Alexandria. Although the identification of the figure on the seal as Alexander the Great requires further consideration, it seems quite possible that Vertue was not simply recording a fine antique gem here but perhaps rendering a powerful carved manifestation of the deified Alexander in its afterlife as a medieval counterseal.

5. Seal of Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby: This figure depicts one of the many private seals of Robert de Ferrers, sixth Earl of Derby (d. 1279). According to the label, it was attached to a document sent to “EDMUND, the Kings Son,” which no doubt refers to Edmund Crouchback (1245–1296), the son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. Robert de Ferrers inherited vast estates from his father William de Ferrers, fifth Earl of Derby, which he took control of in 1260, making him a powerful landowner in England, and he would side with Simon de Montfort in his rebellion against King Henry III in 1263 in what would be called the Second Barons’ War. Ultimately, after a series of attacks on royal lands (specifically, he was targeting the holdings of Prince Edward), Robert de Ferrers would be incarcerated, first in the Tower of London and later at Windsor Castle (Powicke 1962, 199). The Minute Book does not provide much information on the iconography or legend of the seal, but it does note that the correspondence was in regard to the Dictum of Kenilworth, a declaration issued in 1266 to reconcile the rebel barons with the English crown (SAL Minutes I.191). Notably, Robert’s estates were transferred to Edmund Crouchback in 1266, and following his release from prison in 1269, he would spend the remaining years of his life trying to regain them, with little success.

Based on a sampling at the National Archives, Robert de Ferrers generated a large number of sealed writs throughout the 1260s and 1270s, most of which dealt expressly with the lands of Derby. He also possessed at least five different seal matrices based on extant impressions in the National Archives and British Library, which makes sense for someone so deeply engaged in documentary culture. His primary seal likely was the double-sided equestrian seal, which is attached to DL 27/220 from 1261 and BL, Additional Charter 20,459 from c. 1265 (Ellis 1981, P1378; Birch 1892, 2.5908, respectively; it also is appended to BL, Wolley Charters 6.48 and 9.67 and Egerton Charter 443). On the obverse, Robert was portrayed on horseback, galloping to the right, in full mail, a surcoat, and a helmet. He has his sword drawn, ready for combat, and holds a shield with his coat of arms (vairy or and gules). His arms also adorn the caparison of his horse, giving the seal a decorative appearance. The reverse of the seal contains another depiction of his coat of arms; they are displayed on a shield that hangs from an ornamental tree. The legends on both sides of the seal name Robert as the seal’s owner. Interestingly, the compacted legend on the obverse also records that Robert was the son and heir of his father, William de Ferrers, who died in 1254 when Robert was only 15 years old (“+ROBS . FIL’. ET . HERES . DNI : WILL’I : DE : FERRAR’. QODA’. COMITIS . DERBEYE”). Too young to run the estates, wardship of Robert’s inheritance was given to Prince Edward until 1260. It is easy to imagine that this equestrian seal was engraved soon after 1260 when Robert started managing the Derby lands and wanted to emphasize his lineage and underscore his legitimacy. Although a fairly standard equestrian seal of the period, it forcefully represents Robert’s noble and knightly status through the equestrian portrait and recurrent family arms.

The four other extant seals perhaps were used for less important or less official business. Robert had not one but two seals with a shield bearing his coat of arms, one of which was a personal seal (c. 1269; DL 25/2225/1920) and the other a secret seal (c. 1273; DL 25/2266/1964). The personal seal is simple in design: the shield of arms sits in the center of the seal, and the legend records: “*S' ROB'TI FERRARIIS COMIT' DERI.” Based on the legend, this seal potentially could have been used in place of the equestrian seal. The private seal has a more elaborate design. There are curling tendrils or vines in the field surrounding the coat of arms. The legend reads: “*S' SECRETI: ROBERTI DE FERRARIIS.” The final two seals are small in scale and bear portrait busts from intaglio gems, one of which corresponds to the present engraving (cf. DL 25/1664/1365). Attached to a document dated June 1269, this seal features the head of a bearded and draped man, facing right, and wearing a headband (i.e., a diadem, fillet, or crown), and it has an anonymous legend: “TV MEMOR ESTO MEI,” imploring the recipient to “be mindful of mine.” This phrase is more than a motto or security measure; it is literally telling the reader to acknowledge and honor the sigillant’s possessions—that is, Robert’s inheritance, his estates.

The choice of a bearded figure in profile lends the seal an ancient authority. In the engraving, Vertue rendered the diadem or fillet as a cap. Johnson identified the figure in the engraving as King Priam (Nichols 1790, 42); based on the seal impression, the portrait bust could just as easily depict a late Roman emperor, Jupiter, or Hercules (see Henig 2008, 27–28, figs. 3, 4, 6 and 7). Notably, Robert’s fourth seal also was an antique portrait gem set within a medieval matrix. Only a fragment of this seal survives on a document signed May 1273 (DL 25/2298/1993). It features a man’s head, facing right, and his draped shoulder. Unlike the bust recorded by Vertue, this figure has a clean-shaven face and a shock of curly hair set within a fillet; the figure (Apollo?) is certainly more youthful. The seal’s legend is severely damaged, with only the letters of his name visible (“FERRARI”). In sum, Robert de Ferrers understood the importance of written records and the signifying power of medieval seals. He also seemed to have had a taste for portrait-bust seals made from very fine antique gems. It is no surprise that his gem seal with its noble, bearded figure captured Vertue’s attention.

6. Seal of John Basset: The label that accompanies this seal identifies the seal owner, “John, son of Ralph Basset of Sapcot(e),” and dates the seal to the reign of Henry III. There is a fine impression of this personal seal in the National Archives that is dated between 1272 and 1296, during the reign of Edward I. It is attached to charter granting property in Duffield, Derbyshire to Edmund Crouchback (1245–1296), the “son of the late King Henry” (DL 25/1662/1364). This is the second seal on Plate 1.53 that was appended to writ sent to Edmund Crouchback (see above seal number 5). The legend, which begins with a crescent moon shape, likewise declares John Basset as the seal’s owner, but with no reference to his father or landholdings. The Bassets of Sapcot(e) were feudal lords of Drayton and Colston and were knights (Dugdale 1675, 383).

Measuring only 21 x 26 mm, the seal impression was likely made from an intaglio gem. It features a man’s head and draped shoulder facing left. The man is not bearded and could be wearing a cap or helmet, with straight hair visible at the neck. Vertue’s engraving does not indicate a cap; Vertue has given the figure rather curly hair set in a rolled style, much like we find on Early Classical (or “severe style”) sculpture of the early fifth century BCE in Athens. Vertue has also rendered the figure with a fleshier and older face. In the medieval impression, the man has a youthful face, sharp nose, and a strong set jaw; he looks quite heroic or noble. Vertue has not done him justice, which could indicate that he was examining a less fine or legible impression of the seal. Although difficult to interpret, the medieval seal has a distinct line that runs behind the figure’s ear and above the hairline indicating a helmet, cap, or headband. If it were more clearly discernible, the cap could have important implications for the identity of the figure. It looks like a very simple example of a Phrygian cap, a soft conical cap with the apex bent or folded down towards the forehead.

In the Hellenistic period, this cap was associated with the Trojans, and heroes like Paris, Aeneas, and Ganymede were often depicted wearing the cap in art. The Romans continued this visual tradition, although expanding the use of the cap to represent other eastern peoples like the Dacians. The cone of the Phrygian cap took different forms in antiquity, ranging from sharp and upright to soft and compressed. Notably, figures wearing the cap do appear on Greco-Roman intaglio gems. There is a plaster cast in the Cornell Gem Collection with the head of Paris, who wears a compressed version of the cap with long tails, and a fine Roman carnelian intaglio with a young figure in profile wearing the cap (identified as Ganymede) was sold at auction in 2018 (Bertolami Auction 54, Lot 207). Finally, there is an interesting orange carnelian intaglio in the MFA Boston from second-century CE Rome that not only features a figure in profile wearing a Phrygian cap but also includes a crescent moon—the odd form found in the seal’s legend (the crescent moon, usually alongside a star, was a common motif on medieval seals, but not in their legends). In the Roman gem, the youthful figure has a pointed version of the cap and in the left field at the base of his neck is a small crescent shape (MFA 69.1206). The figure has been identified as the god Men, the Phrygian god of the moon. Since the crescent moon was included in the legend and was not a feature of the gem itself, this could indicate that the medieval engraver understood or was directed to identify the figure as the ancient moon god, but this is speculative. Regardless of the figure’s ancient or medieval identity, Vertue’s engraving diminished his divine or heroic quality. He created a portrait bust of a rather ordinary looking man.

7. Seal of the Abbey of Abingdon: This engraving records one of the seals of the Benedictine abbey of Abingdon, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Cissa, a king of the West Saxons, founded the abbey as early as 675, and it developed into one of the wealthiest and most influential monastic houses in England until its surrender to agents of King Henry VIII in February 1538. This is the only monastic seal recorded on this plate. The nearly complete impression of the seal on Plate 1.53 corresponds to a fine wax impression in the National Archives attached to a charter dated 1504 (E 33/26/1; see Ellis 1986, M008). Versions of this seal also are attached to charters in the collection dated 1297 and 1538 (E 210/6845 and E 322/2, respectively). Thus, the matrix responsible for these impressions was used for nearly 250 years. Indeed, the seal’s legend identifies only the deathless corporate body; it does not name a specific abbot as sealer. Based on other extant seals from Abingdon, it is clear that from the thirteenth century on the abbot also had an episcopal seal and possibly a personal seal for validating documents. The iconography of these seals ranged from a standing representation of the abbot to a coat of arms and usually included the abbot’s name in the legend (see Ellis 1986, M010, M011, M012). In the depiction of the seal on Plate 1.53 as well as on extant versions, the seal’s legend clearly ends with “AD CAS,” which indicates that this was the abbey’s ad causus seal. This type of seal—usually a large pointed oval—was established at the end of the thirteenth century and, as noted above, was a subsidiary seal used for slightly less important business than a common seal or seal of dignity (Harvey and McGuiness 1996, 72–73, 97).

The seal features an enthroned image of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin is crowned Queen of Heaven and is seated on a large architectonic throne with a gabled canopy supported by two slender columns (for the development of Marian iconography on seals, see Heslop 1981, 53-62). Her feet rest on a carved corbel. She holds the elongated body of the Christ Child on her left knee, and with her right hand she gives him her breast. The Virgin and Child enthroned was a standard feature on the seals of Abingdon—the eleventh-century common seal bears the seated crowned Virgin, who holds a scepter in the right hand and a ring in the left, with Christ seated on her knees (Birch 1887, 1.2542), and a seal (a later example of the abbey’s common seal) impressed on a document from 1344 features the Virgin in elaborate robes seated on a throne and presenting a frontal Christ Child, who has his hand raised in blessing (E 40/14256; Ellis 1986, M007). Both of these seals portray fairly standard representations of the Throne of Wisdom, in which the enthroned Virgin serves as a throne for the Son of God. The iconography translated into visual form the typological tradition of comparing Mary to the Throne of Solomon, and Christ to his ancestor King Solomon, an embodiment of wisdom and justice.

The Virgin breastfeeding the Christ child, notably, is an iconographic feature only found on the ad causus seal. The image of the Virgo Lactans developed in the twelfth century as a means of underscoring Mary’s role in the Incarnation of Christ. It also reminded the medieval viewer of Mary’s intercessory role in salvation; it was an image of Mary that was both maternal and human to increase her accessibility. As Beth Williamson has noted, “Because the Virgin’s milk was so crucial to the nurturing of the Redeemer, it indeed became a powerful symbol of her ability to intercede for the souls of sinners. Her maternal relationship with Christ meant that he was unable to refuse her anything she asked” (Williamson 1998, 111). Such theological views on the Virgo Lactans certainly made it an increasingly popular image for altarpieces and devotional manuscript illuminations. The appearance of this iconography on a late medieval monastic seal was not exceptional: it was used on the fifteenth-century common seals of the Cistercian abbey of Cleeve in Somerset (c. 1534; Ellis 1986, M207) and the Premonstratensian abbey of Croxton in Leicestershire (c. 1538; Ellis 1986, M270), for instance. The ad causus seal of Abingdon, however, represents a very early use of the imagery in England in a sigillographic context. Recall, there is one extant impression of this seal that dates to 1297.

Overall, the seal does not simply record the patroness of the monastery in a majestic and powerful icon; rather, it presents the Virgin and Christ in a theologically complex devotional image. On one hand, the monastic community may have wanted an ad causus seal distinctly different from both the common seal and the abbot’s personal seal, and an image of the Virgin Mary preparing to suckle Christ certainly would have set the ad causus seal visually apart. On the other hand, the image might have been selected because it reflected the (self-perceived) humility and humanity of the monks of Abingdon. The breastfeeding Virgin was often understood as a facet of the Virgin of Humility. In the surviving impressions of the seal, the breast of the Virgin Mary is a well-defined orb, which she clasps with her right hand directly before Christ’s mouth. Both Christ’s body and head face right towards the Virgin’s body, and he appears to be hungrily grasping the Virgin’s right arm; he is not oriented towards the viewer. In Vertue’s engraving, the Virgin’s exposed breast has been tucked away beneath the folds of her robe. She appears to be holding her hand to her heart rather than preparing to suckle her son. Clearly, the evangelical sensibilities of the period superseded Vertue’s desire to accurately record the seal’s medieval iconography of the breastfeeding Virgin. Vertue likely included this seal on Plate 1.53 due to his interest in antique gem counterseals. As described above (seal number 4), this seal was countersealed with a very fine Greco-Roman intaglio gem.

8. Seal of Ralph de Banbury: According to the label above the engraving, this tiny oval seal of only 23 x 22 mm was attached to a document from Master Ralph de Banbury (Banneburi or Bannebury) to Edmund, Earl of Lancaster—that is, Edmund Crouchback, son of King Henry III (d. 1296). Notably, this is the third seal on Plate 1.53 that was attached to a document sent to Edmund Crouchback (see above seals number 5 and 6). This document survives in the National Archives, and it is dated 2 February 1288 (DL 25/1779/1456). It is a release of the manor of Hinckley (co. Leicester). There are few records that mention Ralph de Banbury, who seems to have been a clerk during the reign of Edward I (1272–1307). In the Close Rolls for 1288, it was recorded that William de Spalding owed Ralph de Banneburi 20 marks, and in the Patent Rolls for 14 November 1302, one Ralph de Bannebury was pardoned for the death of Henry Greyton. The legend identifies the seal as a “private seal,” and indeed it does not include the sealer’s name. The seal certainly was selected for engraving because the impression was from an antique intaglio gem. In Vertue’s depiction, the seal features the bust of a man facing right. He is clean-shaven and has short, thick curly hair. In the impression itself, the figure has a distinctly long neck and seems to be bearded. It is impossible to discern facial features on the wax impression; Vertue thus invented the physiognomic details of the figure’s face, following the conventions of his day. Indeed, the figure exhibits a slight smile much like the figure in his engraving of the counterseal of Selby Abbey (see Plate 1.54, seal number 5, Label C).

Individual Seals on Plate 1.54

As noted above, Plate 1.54 includes impressions of two seals from private collections along with six more from the Duchy of Lancaster. The two seal impressions included on the plate from private collections were both made with antique gems, no doubt the reason for their inclusion alongside the Duchy of Lancaster seals.

1. Seal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract: This is the common seal of the Cluniac Priory of St. John in Yorkshire and had been used since the twelfth century. It features the eagle of St. John the Evangelist with a scroll in its talons. According to both Birch and Ellis, the scroll featured an inscription, although neither was able to decipher it (Birch 1887, 1.3852; Ellis 1986, M687). Vertue did not include even a hint of an inscription in his engraving of the seal. The Minute Book makes no mention of the scroll or an inscription, only recording the eagle and legend (SAL Minute Book I.191). Vertue’s engraving likely was drawn from one of the impressions now in the National Archives and catalogued by Ellis, all of which are still attached to quitclaim documents between the Priory of St. John (under the authority of the prior) and the de Lacy family, who had owned the castle and its lands since the Norman Conquest. Robert de Lacy founded the monastery in 1090. The earliest quitclaim in the National Archives is DL 25/45 from Prior Walter to Roger de Lacy in c. 1219. It is sealed with an impression in light green wax missing some of its legend and border and is attached with a parchment tag. The same pointed-oval seal matrix was used on DL 25/65 and 66, both of which were from Prior Godfrey to Henry de Lacy and dated August 1283. It was not uncommon for a religious foundation to use the same matrix over many decades (even centuries). Indeed, this common seal has a legend that only names the priory and thus could pass from prior to prior indefinitely. Vertue’s rendering of the eagle of St. John is both majestic and naturalistic, with special attention given to the feathered body, powerful talons, and expressive face. Indeed, it is the drawn realism of the face that reveals the image to be of the 1700s and not the 1200s. Importantly, all three versions of the common seal in the National Archives are countersealed with a small antique gem, which Vertue also included on Plate 1.54.

2. Counterseal of the Priory of St. John the Evangelist in the Castle of Pontefract: Vertue’s label identifies this seal as the “Counterseal of Roger de Lacy.” This is incorrect. The matrix used to make this impression certainly was a personal or secret (secretum) seal used by the prior of St. John in Pontefract—that is, it was a personal seal used by the priors to increase security and authenticity of the Priory’s written records. By the thirteenth century, it was common practice for leaders of large monastic foundations with institutional common seals to use more personal counterseals to prevent the improper use of seals within the community (see Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 98–99). In this case, it was a means of verifying that a document was indeed produced by the prior himself. Notably, the counterseal is also anonymous and, based on the extant examples in the National Archives, was used by the priors throughout the thirteenth century. The seal is oval in shape and features a draped portrait bust facing right and a religious legend, almost an invocation: “the Virgin is chosen by God.” The Minute Book identified the figure as a “Roman head” and included a transcription of the legend (SAL Minute Book I.191). In Vertue’s rendering, the figure appears to be wearing a cap or helmet, but this feature is not apparent in surviving medieval impressions; the figure simply has a full head of curly hair (cf. DL 25/45, DL 25/65, and DL 25/66). Both Birch and Ellis identified the figure represented by the portrait bust as St. John the Evangelist, a logical interpretation (Ellis 1986 M688; Birch 1887 1.3853). It was regular practice for medieval sigillants who used gem-set seals depicting historical or mythological figures from antiquity to reinterpret or recast the iconography, often through the inclusion of a clearly Christian legend. That is not to suggest that medieval viewers did not comprehend the Greek or Roman origin and meaning of such a gem, but that they had no issue with giving the gem new, additional, or layered meanings in its second life as a medieval seal. This process—interpretatio Christiana—certainly was practiced in England with regards to both common and personal seals. For example, a high-quality personal seal in the British Museum from c. 1300 identifies Bacchus as Christ (see Henig 2008, 26). This sard gem set in a medieval silver pendant depicts Bacchus, clearly identified by his thyrsus and vine, with a youthful satyr, but the accompanying legend states, “Jesus is my love,” eliding the ancient wine god with Jesus and imbuing the seal with Eucharistic meaning (BM 1923, 0508.1). Like this seal in the British Museum, the matrix used to create the seal impression on Plate 1.54 was likely a Roman intaglio gem that was reset as a medieval seal with the surrounding legend engraved in metal. The priors could have worn such a matrix as a signet ring or pendant necklace (as was the case with the Bacchus seal which has a loop on the back); the latter is more likely for the matrix in question as the wax bears no impression of the shoulders of the ring. The reuse of antique portrait bust intaglios as seals was effective, especially of those bearing Imperial portraits, as these images convey power, authority, and virtue without overt references to paganism (cf. Guasco 1768). A portrait gem of the Emperor Lucius Verus reset as a signet seal, for instance, could easily be interpreted as a portrait of John the Baptist or as a powerful embodiment of the medieval sealer, secular or religious (see Henig 2008, 28, Fig. 4). Vertue rendered the bust itself in a naturalistic style that was more contemporary than Greco-Roman, but it still has the aura of an ancient gem.

3. Seal of Sir Richard Jernyngham: The engraving of this seal is rather enigmatic. It depicts a small oval gem impressed in a large bit of wax. The gem features a portrait bust of a man facing right. The man has thick curly hair and is clean-shaven, but with no other visible identifying elements. The bottom label states that the impression was from an antique gem. The seal certainly was attached to a document as suggested by the parchment tags as well as the label above and below the seal. The top label identifies the sealer, Sir Richard Jernyngham, and includes the date of the sealing in 8.H.8 (the 8th year of Henry VIII’s reign). This seal thus likely belonged to Richard Jernyngham (also Jerningham, Gernyngham, or Garningham) of Suffolk who served Henry VIII as both a soldier and diplomat between 1511 and his death in February or March 1525 (see MacMahon 2004). As a knight who served the king in a number of official positions (e.g., Gentleman of the Chamber, Marshal and Treasurer of Tournai, and Chamberlain of the Exchequer), Jernyngham was entrenched in the documentary culture of the court and needed a personal seal, in this case perhaps a ring seal or signet, which was a common possession in sixteenth-century England. Like many personal ring seals of the period, this seal has no legend, no inscription identifying the sealer. The absence of a legend could correspond to the increasing use of signatures to authenticate deeds. There was a growing use of signatures to sign official documents in the early modern period, arguably in relation to emergent demands for literacy, and the overall decline in seal usage is often attributed to the rise of the signatures (see Higgs 2011, 66). In this case, the pictorial impression could have operated in conjunction with Jernyngham’s actual signature on the document. Below the impression, a label provides information about the owner of the document: “To a Deed belonging to S.r John Evelyn, Bar.t” (Baronet). The first Evelyn baronet in England was established in 1660, and so this label is certainly identifying the owner of the document at the time of the engraving, not the recipient of Sir Richard’s deed. Indeed, this sealed document was most plausibly in the collection of Sir John Evelyn of Wotton (1682-1763) or his son (1706-1767), who was elected FSA in 1725 and was also a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. The seal no doubt was included on Plate 1.54 because it was impressed with a Greco-Roman gem, a leitmotif of both Plates 1.53 and 1.54. In this case, however, the seal was one of the owner’s primary seals rather than a subsidiary seal or counterseal.

4. Seal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby: Four of the eight seals represented on Plate 1.54 are from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre (d. 448), at Selby in Yorkshire. The abbey was founded c. 1070 (with a legend recognizing William the Conqueror as its founder). Again, I would suggest that the seals of the Abbey of Selby were chosen for engraving based on the use of classical intaglio gems and not the fairly standard medieval iconography on the two common seals. Records of this seal and its counterseal appear in the Minute Book, in which the owner, iconography, and legends were recorded (SAL Minutes I.191). In the engraving, the label above the common seal records: “RICHARD Abbot of SELBY.” This gives the impression that the frontal seated figure holding a crosier and giving a blessing is the abbot; rather, the seated figure on the seal is the foundation’s patron saint, Bishop Germanus of Auxerre. He wears vestments for Mass, holds the pastoral bishop’s crook, and seems to be wearing a mitre on his head (though not fully rendered), anchoring this identification. Vertue gave the saint a full beard. The legend also suggests the seal’s function as a common seal, since it does not include the name of the prior. Such a timeless and commanding representation of a patron saint certainly provides a logical image for a monastic common seal. It thus was St. Germanus himself who both authenticated and sanctified the Abbey of Selby’s written records. Two versions of this seal survive, one attached to a thirteenth-century grant of land from Robert de Lacy to Selby Abbey under Abbot Richard (DL 25/55) and the other attached to BL, Harley Charter 44 I. 16 from 1282 (see Ellis 1986, M761; Birch 1887, 1.3981). A perfect impression measures approximately 2 ¾ x 2 inches and both of these extant examples were impressed in green wax on a parchment tag. Vertue’s engraved rendering of this seal could be classified as both loose and impressionistic—it has a rather sketch-like quality that is not found on the next seal on Plate 1.54, Vertue’s very detailed engraving of the Abbey of Selby’s antique gem counterseal. This could underscore the determined focus of these two plates on impressions from antique gems rather than medieval matrices.

5. Counterseal of the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Germanus, Selby: In both surviving versions, the reverse side of the common seal of the Abbey of Selby was impressed with a small pointed oval gem measuring 1 ½ x 1 inches (see Ellis 1986, M762; Birch 1887, 1.3981). The counterseal combines an antique gem and a medieval surrounding legend in metal; it was probably set as a signet ring or pendant matrix and would have functioned as a personal or secret seal of the abbots. The carved gem features both a bust portrait and an inscription in Latin. The inscription fills the field around the figure in the gem and identifies the sitter as the Emperor Honorius (d. 423; DN.HONORIVS.AVG), a fact noted in the Minute Book (SAL Minutes I.191). In the engraving, the figure faces right and wears a simple headband and drapery. Vertue also provided the figure with a bit of stubble and, when compared to the impression preserved in the National Archives (see Ellis 1986, Plate 37, M762), he seems to have given the figure a more closely cropped hairstyle. In the surviving impression of the seal in the National Archives, the figure clearly has longer hair at the neck, a pronounced headband with an (jeweled) imperial diadem, and no discernible facial hair. Interestingly, the portrait on the actual seal is consistent with surviving portraits of Honorius, as seen in a solidus minted c. 405 in Ravenna (Art Institute of Chicago 1922.4906). Vertue certainly took some artistic liberty in his execution of this seal; he even humanized the figure with a slightly upturned mouth, a soft smile! Ultimately, the Roman identity of the figure was exchanged for a Christian identity. The legend declares: “This is the head of Christ our Lord.” While medieval viewers (certainly those with access to sealed documents) would know that the portrait gem was Greco-Roman in origin, they would also accept the image’s new, Christological identity and power.

6. Seal of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor: The seal of Thomas More is the second seal on Plate 1.54 that was not copied from the Duchy of Lancaster office. According to the label below the seal, the sealed document, a deed, belonged to James West, Esquire. This likely was the politician and antiquary who joined the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquarians London, and the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in the 1720s and later served as President of the Royal Society (1768-1772). West became an antiquary at a young age, amassing a large collection of manuscripts, deeds, and charters, many of which perished in a fire at his chambers in the Inner Temple in 1736 (Sedgwick 1970, 1715–54). Like the seal of Sir Richard Jernyngham (seal number 3 above), this seal was likely produced from a signet ring and has no legend. The label above the image, therefore, provides essential information about the owner and date of sealing. On the plate, it is identified as a seal of Sir Thomas More, the King’s Lord Chancellor that was appended to a document from the twenty-second year of the reign of Henry VIII (1531). Interestingly, the seal would have been contemporary with the seal of Sir Richard and also features a Greco-Roman portrait bust. Based on the engraving, the gem appears to have been set in a matrix with a border of decorative spirals. The right facing figure has curly cropped hair and stippling that indicates both modeling and facial hair. The fact that the label refers to the seal as “a seal” of Thomas More suggests knowledge of other seals used by More. Indeed, Birch included two heraldic seals associated with Sir Thomas More in his catalogue, both bearing a shield of arms on a helmet and featuring moor-cocks, a play on the family name (Birch 1894, 3.11,910 and 11,913). Edmund Waterton, Esq., FSA, would exhibit these heraldic seals to the SAL in 1862. The seals were described as metal matrices with handles, one of which was More’s silver seal of office as Sub-Treasurer of the Exchequer from 1521 (Proceedings 1864, 117). As Lord Chancellor, Thomas More was the Keeper of the Great Seal until he resigned it in May 1532 (Campbell 1845, 553), and no doubt he required additional official and personal seals to conduct business and further secure documents during his time in service to the king and beyond. In his famous 1527 portrait of Sir Thomas More, Hans Holbein included a finger ring, possibly a signet. Sir Thomas wears a gold finger ring with a dark bezel-set stone on one hand and holds a folded document in the other (The Frick Collection 1912.1.77).

7. Seal of Richard, Abbot of Selby: This pointed oval seal measures approximately 2 ¾ x 1 ½ inches when perfect and survives attached to two documents in the National Archives (DL 27/214 and 215; see Ellis 1986, Plate 48, M763) from the abbots of St. Mary’s, York and Selby regarding the removal of Fulk as the Prior of Pontefract, as instructed by Pope Innocent III. In both text and image, the seal is markedly different from the common seal of the Abbey of Selby featuring the enthroned image of St. Germanus discussed above. The name and physical presence of Abbot Richard through representation were both included on the seal. The legend includes Richard’s name in the genitive: “[the seal] of Richard,” a most humble and gracious servant of god and St. Germanus of Selby, and the image features not one but two figures. The central enthroned figure, which fills the frame provided by the legend, is St. Germanus, again depicted wearing vestments and mitre and holding a crozier. In this case, Vertue did not represent the saint with a beard, as consistent with the extant impressions of the seal, but he did give the saint a slightly open mouth, as if the saint were speaking to the viewer or the second figure. This detail of human expression is not evident on the medieval impressions and was likely an invention of the artist, as a means of humanizing the figure.

The saint is accompanied by a supplicant figure on his left. Both Birch and Ellis identify this figure as Abbot Richard, as the figure is receiving a second crozier from the patron saint (Birch 1887, 3984; Ellis 1986, M763). In Vertue’s engraving, the figure of Abbot Richard looks out towards the viewer, but in the actual seal impressions, he appears to have his head tilted down facing St. Germanus in piety. This type of seal—a seal of piety—representing a leader of a religious house or corporation kneeling before the patron saint and, in some instances, symbolically receiving authority from the saint was not uncommon in medieval England. Indeed, the legend and pictorial content of the seal work together to identify Abbot Richard as both the leader of the monastery and the one with the express power to generate and authenticate the document to which this seal was attached. In some regards, the use of this type of personalized seal of office rather than a common or institutional seal could have provided more security by verifying the origin of a document in a single person. Also, Abbot Richard could have used this personal seal with more ease than the common seal described above, certainly for less important business. Institutional common seals are often described in medieval records as being kept in locked ironbound chests with several locks and different key holders, which allowed institutions strictly to regulate access to the seals and thus the sealing of documents (Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 98; Clanchy 1993, 317; Heslop 1987, 114). Abbot Richard would have been able to keep this personal seal on his body or in his direct possession.

8. Counterseal of Richard, Abbot of Selby: Both the label above this seal on Plate 1.54 and the minutes clearly record this seal as the counterseal of the seal of Richard, Abbot of Selby (SAL Minutes 190–91). Notably, Birch and Ellis have catalogue entries for all three of the above seals from the Abbey of Selby, but they provide no corresponding entry for this unusual counterseal. If the seal impressions that they were examining were countersealed, then they would have recorded the counterseals. It is clear that Abbot Richard’s personal seals in the National Archives attached to DL 27/214 and 27/215 do not have counterseals. Thus, Vertue must have based his engraving on a currently unknown or un-catalogued version of Abbot Richard’s personal seal. The versica seal features a small round portrait bust facing right. The small size and round shape of the bust are consistent with an antique gem. The figure has thick curly hair and a clean-shaven face. There are no specific iconographic elements that would enable further historical identification of the figure (i.e., a laurel wreath or diadem). The small round gem is framed by two fleurs-de-lis and the legend, both of which would have been elements of the medieval matrix. The fleurs-de-lis could reference the abbey’s first abbot, Benedict, a French monk from Auxerre who brought the relics of St. Germanus to England or, of course, St. Germanus himself. More generally, the bust could have been interpreted as Christ or even John the Baptist, whose head was a common motif on seals (Whatley 2012, 262-265). The Minute Book identifies the figure in the bust as a Roman emperor (SAL Minutes I.191). Of course, the legend imbues the ancient gem and thus the seal with Christian meaning: “In the beginning was the Word.” This legend is particularly intriguing in relation to the seal’s function as a means of authenticating written words, and the seal broadly conflates an ancient image of authority with a powerful Christian message.

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