Great Seal of the Realm

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An impression in wax of the Great Seal of the Realm (1953)

The "Great Seal of the Realm" or "Great Seal of the United Kingdom" (prior to the Treaty of Union of 1707 (unifying the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland); the Great Seal of England, then until the Acts of Union 1800/Union of 1801 the "Great Seal of Great Britain and Ireland") is a seal that is used to symbolise the Sovereign's approval of important state documents. Sealing wax is melted in a metal mould or matrix and impressed into a wax figure that is attached by cord or ribbon to documents that the Monarch wishes to make official. As centuries have gone by, most nations, whether a kingdom, empire, sultanate, emirate, republic, Islamic republic, state, commonwealth, confederation, federation, union, or whatever form of government usually has some form of national emblem to go along with its other symbols of sovereignty, independence and nationality, such as its flag, national anthem or even a variety of official symbols such as a designated color, bird, flower, stone, etc.

History

Edward the Confessor sometime before A.D. 1066 started using a "Great Seal" casting in wax of his own visage to signify that a document carried the force of his will. With some exceptions, each subsequent British monarch has chosen his or her own design for the Great Seal.

When opening Parliament, on 3 September 1654, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was escorted by the three "Commissioners of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of England", who were Whitelock, Lisle, and Widdrington. This Seal was inscribed with 'The Great Seal of England, 1648', displaying the map of England, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey on one side, with the Arms of England and Ireland. On the other side was shown the interior of the House of Commons, the Speaker in the chair, with the inscription, 'In the first year of Freedom, by God's blessing restored, 1648.' In 1655, Cromwell appointed three Commissioners of the Great Seal of Ireland, Richard Pepys, Chief Justice of the Upper Bench, Sir Gerard Lowther, Chief Justice of the Common Bench; and Miles Corbet, Chief Baron of the Exchequer. But they held the seal only until 1656, when Cromwell nominated William Steele, Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in England, Lord Chancellor of Ireland.1

In 1688, before attempting to flee to France, James II is said to have thrown his Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames in the hope that the machinery of government would cease to function. The story is of dubious authority, but if the seal was thrown into the river, it was certainly recovered soon afterwards, as James's successors, William III and Mary used the same seal matrix, fairly crudely adapted to represent their dual monarchy. This may have been a quite deliberate choice, in order to imply the continuity of government.2

Edward VIII, who abdicated in order to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson only a few months after succeeding to the throne, never selected a design for his own seal and continued to use that of his predecessor, George V. On the other hand, the longer-lived British monarchs have had several Great Seals during their reigns. Only one matrix of the Great Seal exists at a time, and since the wax used for the Great Seal has a high melting point, the silver plates that cast the Seal eventually wear out. Queen Victoria had to select four different Great Seal designs during the sixty-three years of her reign.3

The current seal matrix was authorised by the Privy Council in July 2001.4 It was designed by James Butler and replaced that of 1953, designed by Gilbert Ledward. The obverse shows a middle-aged Elizabeth II enthroned and robed, holding in her right hand a sceptre and in her left the orb. The circumscription ELIZABETH . II . D . G . BRITT . REGNORVMQVE . SVORVM . CETER . REGINA . CONSORTIONIS . POPVLORVM . PRINCEPS . F . D . is the abbreviated Latin form of the royal title.5 On the reverse are the full royal arms, including crest, mantling and supporters. This is the first time that the royal arms have provided the main design for one side of the British Great Seal. The reverse of the 1953 version depicted the Queen on horseback, dressed in uniform and riding sidesaddle, as she used to attend the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony for many years until the late 1980s. The seal's diameter is 6 inches (150 mm) and the combined weight of both sides of the seal matrix exceeds 275 troy ounces (302 oz; 8,600 g).

Usage

The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorisation of the monarch to implement the advice of the Government.

Under today's usage of the Great Seal, seals of dark green wax are affixed to letters patent elevating individuals to the peerage, blue seals authorise actions relating to the Royal family, and scarlet seals appoint bishops and implement various other affairs of state. In some cases the seal is replaced by a wafer version, a smaller representation of the obverse of the Great Seal embossed on coloured paper attached to the document being sealed. This simpler version is used for royal proclamations, letters-patent granting the royal assent, writs of summons to Parliament and for licences for the election of bishops and commissions of the peace. It formerly constituted treason to forge the Great Seal.

The Great Seal of the Realm is in the custody of and administered by the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. This office has been held jointly with that of Lord Chancellor since 1761. The current Lord Chancellor is Chris Grayling. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 reiterates that the Lord Chancellor continues to be the custodian of the Great Seal.

The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, who is also Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice (formerly the Department of Constitutional Affairs), heads Her Majesty's Crown Office, and is responsible for the affixing of the Great Seal. He is assisted by the Deputy Clerk of the Crown. Day-to-day custody is entrusted to the Clerk of the Chamber, and subordinate staff include a Sealer, and two Scribes to Her Majesty's Crown Office.

Section 2 of the Great Seal Act 1884 governs the use of the Great Seal of the Realm:

2 - (1) A warrant under Her Majesty’s Royal Sign Manual, countersigned by the Lord Chancellor, or by one of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, or by the Lord High Treasurer, or two of the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury, shall be a necessary and sufficient authority for passing any instrument under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, according to the tenor of such warrant; Provided that any instrument which may now be passed under the Great Seal by the fiat or under the authority or directions of the Lord Chancellor or otherwise without passing through any other office may continue to be passed as heretofore.

(2) The Lord Chancellor may from time to time make, and when made revoke and vary, regulations respecting the passing of instruments under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, and respecting the warrants for that purpose, and the preparation of such instruments and warrants, and every such warrant shall be prepared by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.

(3) No person shall make or prepare any warrant for passing any instrument under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, or procure any instrument to be passed under that Seal otherwise than in manner provided by this Act or the Crown Office Act 1877; and any person who acts in contravention of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.

Inscriptions on the Great Seal

The Great Seal for each successive monarch is inscribed with the monarch's names and titles on both sides of the seal. Some of those used in the past are shown below. Where the inscriptions on both sides of the seal are identical, only one is given. Where they are the same except for the use of abbreviations, the one with the fuller forms is given. Where they are different, they are shown separated by a slash.

Kingdom of England

  • Edward the Confessor. SIGILLVM EADVVARDI ANGLORVM BASILEI
    • Seal of Edward, Sovereign of the English.
  • William II of England. WILLELMVS DEI GRATIA REX ANGLORVM
    • William, by the grace of God, King of the English.
  • Henry I of England. HENRICVS DEI GRATIA REX ANGLORVM / HENRICVS DEI GRATIA DVX NORMANNORVM
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of the English / Henry, by the grace of God, Duke of the Normans.
  • Stephen of England. STEPHANVS DEI GRATIA REX ANGLORVM
    • Stephen, by the grace of God, King of the English.
  • Henry II of England. HENRICVS DEI GRATIA REX ANGLORVM / HENR[ICVS] DEI GRA[TIA] DVX NORMANNORVM ET AQUIT[ANORVM] ET COM[ES] ANDEG[AVORVM]
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of the English / Henry, by the grace of God, Duke of the Normans and of the Aquitanians and Count of the Angevins.
  • Richard I of England. RICARDVS DEI GRATIA REX ANGLORVM / RICARDVS DEI GRATIA DVX NORMANNORVM ET AQUITANORVM ET COMES ANDEGAVORVM
    • Richard, by the grace of God, King of the English / Richard, by the grace of God, Duke of the Normans and of the Aquitanians and Count of the Angevins.
  • John of England. IOHANNES DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE ET DOMINVS HIBERNIE / IOH[ANNE]S DVX NORMANNIE ET AQUITANIE COMES ANDEGAVIE
    • John, by the grace of God, King of England and Lord of Ireland / John, Duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, Count of Anjou.
  • Henry III of England. HENRICVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE DOMINVS HIBERNIE DVX AQUITANIE
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine.
  • Edward I of England. EDWARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE DOMINVS HYBERNIE DVX AQUITANIE
    • Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine.
  • Edward II of England. EDWARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE DOMINVS HYBERNIE DVX AQUITANIE
    • Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine.
  • Edward III of England. EDWARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE D[OMI]N[V]S HIBERNIE ET AQUITANIE
    • Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland and of Aquitaine.
  • Richard II of England. RICARDVS DEI GRACIA REX FRANCIE ET ANGLIE ET D[OMI]N[V]S HIBERNIE
    • Richard, by the grace of God, King of France and England and Lord of Ireland.
  • Henry IV of England. HENRICVS DEI GRACIA REX FRANCIE ET ANGLIE ET D[OMI]N[V]S HIBERNIE
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of France and England and Lord of Ireland.
  • Henry V of England. HENRICVS DEI GRACIA REX FRANCIE ET ANGLIE ET D[OMI]N[V]S HIBERNIE / HENRICVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE ET FRANCIE ET DOMINUS HIBERNIE
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of France and England and Lord of Ireland / Henry, by the grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.
  • Henry VI of England. HENRICVS DEI GRACIA FRANCORVM ET ANGLIE REX
    • Henry, by the grace of God, of the French and of England, King.
  • Edward IV of England. EDWARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE & FRANCIE ET DOMINVS HIBERNIE
    • Edward, by the grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.
  • Richard III of England. RICARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE ET FRANCIE ET DOMINVS HIBERNIE
    • Richard, by the grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.
  • Henry VII of England. HENRICVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE ET FRANCIE ET DOMINVS HIBERNIE
    • Henry, by the grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland.
  • Henry VIII of England. HENRICVS OCTAV[V]S DEI GRATIA ANGLIE ET FRANCIE ET HIBERNIE REX FIDEI DEFE[N]SOR ET [IN] TER[R]A ECCLESIA[E] A[N]GLICANE ET HIBERNICE SVPREM[VM] CA[PVT]
    • Henry the Eighth, by the grace of God, of England and France and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, and on Earth, of the England and Irish Church, Supreme Head.
  • Edward VI of England. ... EDWARDI SEXTI DEI GRATIA ANGLIE FRANCIE / ET HIBERNIE REX FIDEI DEFE[N]SOR ET IN TERRA ECCLESIE ANGLICANE ET HIBERNICE SVPREMVM CAPVT
    • ... of Edward the Sixth, by the grace of God of England, France / and of Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, and on Earth, of the English and Irish Church, Supreme Head.
  • Mary I of England. MARIA D[EI] G[RATIA] ANGLIE FRANCIE ET HIBERNIE REGINA EIVS NOMINIS PRIMA FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Mary, by the grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, Queen, first of her name, Defender of the Faith.
  • Elizabeth I of England. ELIZABETHA DEI GRACIA ANGLIE FRANCIE ET HIBERNIE REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Elizabeth, by the grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith.

Union of the Crowns

  • James I of England. IACOBVS DEI GRACIA ANGLIÆ SCOTIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • James, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.
  • Charles I of England. CAROLVS DEI GRATIA ANGLIÆ SCOTIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Charles, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.
  • Charles II of England. CAROLVS II DEI GRA[TIA] MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Charles II, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.

Commonwealth

  • Commonwealth of England. THE GREAT SEAL OF ENGLAND / IN THE THIRD YEARE OF FREEDOME BY GODS BLESSING RESTORED
  • Oliver Cromwell. OLIVARIVS DEI GRA[TIA] REIP[VBLICÆ] ANGLIÆ SCOTIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ &C PROTECTOR
    • Oliver, by the grace of God, of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, etc., Protector.
  • Richard Cromwell. RICHARDVS DEI GRA[TIA] REIP[VBLICÆ] ANGLIÆ SCOTIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ &C PROTECTOR
    • Richard, by the grace of God, of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, etc., Protector.

Kingdom of England (Restored)

  • James II of England. IACOBVS SECVNDVS DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • James the Second, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.
  • William and Mary. GVLIELMVS III ET MARIA II DEI GRA[TIA] ANG[LIÆ] FRA[NCIÆ] ET HIB[ERNIÆ] REX ET REGINA FIDEI DEFENSATORES / AUREA FLORIGERIS SUCCRESCUNT POMA ROSETIS : SECURITAS BRITANNIÆ RESTITUTA
    • William III and Mary II, by the grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King and Queen, Defenders of the Faith / Golden apples grow in flowering rosebushes : The security of Britain restored.
  • William III of England. GVLIELMVS III DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • William III, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.
  • Anne, Queen of Great Britain. ANNA DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REGINA FID[EI] DEFENSOR
    • Anne, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith.

Kingdom of Great Britain

  • Anne, Queen of Great Britain. ANNA DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REGINA FID[EI] DEFENSOR / BRITANNIA ANNO REGNI ANNÆ REGINÆ SEXTO
    • Anne, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith / Britain in the sixth year of the reign of Queen Anne.
  • George I of Great Britain. GEORGIVS DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR / BRVNSWICEN[SIS] ET LVNENBVRGEN[SIS] DVX SACRI ROMANI IMPERII ARCHITESAVRARIVS ET PRINCEPS ELECTOR
    • George, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith / Of Brunswick and Lüneburg, Duke, of the Holy Roman Empire, Arch-treasurer and Prince-Elector.
  • George II of Great Britain. GEORGIVS II DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR / BRVNSWICE[NSIS] ET LVNEBVRGEN[SIS] DVX SACRI ROMANI IMPERII ARCHITHESAVRARIVS ET PRINCEPS ELECTOR
    • George II, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith / Of Brunswick and Lüneburg, Duke, of the Holy Roman Empire, Arch-treasurer and Prince-Elector.
  • George III of Great Britain. GEORGIVS III DEI GRATIA MAGNÆ BRITANNIÆ FRANCIÆ ET HIBERNIÆ REX FIDEI DEFENSOR6
    • George III, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.

United Kingdom

  • George III of the United Kingdom. GEORGIUS TERTIUS DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR7
    • George the Third, by the grace of God, King of the Britains, Defender of the Faith.
  • George IV of the United Kingdom. GEORGIUS QUARTUS DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR8
    • George the Fourth, by the grace of God, King of the Britains, Defender of the Faith.
  • William IV of the United Kingdom. GULIELMUS QUARTUS DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REX FIDEI DEFENSOR9
    • William the Fourth, by the grace of God, King of the Britains, Defender of the Faith.
  • Victoria of the United Kingdom. VICTORIA DEI GRATIA BRITANNIARUM REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR
    • Victoria, by the grace of God, Queen of the Britains, Defender of the Faith.
  • Edward VII of the United Kingdom. EDWARDVS VII D:G: BRITT: ET TERRARUM TRANSMAR: QVÆ IN DIT: SVNT BRIT: REX F:D: IND:IMP:10 (To be read: Edwardus Septimus Dei gratiâ Britanniarum et terrarum transmarinarum quae in Ditione sunt Britannicâ, Rex, Fidei Defensor, Indiae Imperator)
    • Edward VII, by the grace of God, of the Britains and of the lands across the sea which are in the British Dominion, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
  • George V of the United Kingdom. GEORGIVS V D G MAG BR HIB ET TERR TRANSMAR QVAE IN DIT SVNT BRIT REX F D IND IMP (To be read: Georgius Quintus Dei gratiâ Magnae Britanniae, Hiberniae, et terrarum transmarinarum quae in Ditione sunt Britannicâ, Rex, Fidei Defensor, Indiae Imperator)
    • George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Lands across the sea which are in the British Dominion, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
  • George VI of the United Kingdom. GEORGIUS VI D G MAG BR HIB ET TERR TRANSMAR QUAE IN DIT SUNT BRIT REX F D IND IMP (To be read: Georgius Sextus Dei gratiâ Magnae Britanniae, Hiberniae, et terrarum transmarinarum quae in Ditione sunt Britannicâ, Rex, Fidei Defensor, Indiae Imperator)
    • George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Lands across the sea which are in the British Dominion, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
  • Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. ELIZABETH II D G BRITT REGNORVMQVE SVORVM CETER REGINA CONSORTIONIS POPVLORVM PRINCEPS F D (To be read: Elizabeth Secunda Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regnorumque Suorum Ceterorum Regina Consortionis Populorum Princeps Fidei Defensor)
    • Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the Britains and her other realms Queen, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, Defender of the Faith

See also

Notes

  1. ^ James Roderick O'Flanagan, The lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland, from the earliest times to the reign of Queen Victoria, (1870), Chapter XXV. Custody Of The Great Seal During The Commonwealth.
  2. ^ Hilary Jenkinson, "What happened to the Great Seal of James II?", Antiquaries Journal, vol. 23 (1943), pp. 1-13.
  3. ^ Davies, Caroline (16 February 2001). "New seal of approval for Queen". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  4. ^ "Great Seal of the Realm". The Royal Household. 2009. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  5. ^ In full: Elizabeth Secunda Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regnorumque Suorum Ceterorum Regina Consortionis Populorum Princeps Fidei Defensor. This is the official Latin form of the royal title: Elizabeth II by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
  6. ^ Silver Imprint of the Royal Seal of George III. Live Auctioneers
  7. ^ Impression from the seal of George III, Caernarfon, 1816 - 1837 Gathering the Jewels
  8. ^ "The University's Original Charter". University of Toronto. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  9. ^ Great Seal of England of King William IV, British Museum, engraved by Benjamin Wyon
  10. ^ W. H. Boulton; The Romance of the British Museum - The Story of Its Origins, Growth and Purpose and Some of Its Contents, Horney Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4437-5922-9

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