Sealed in heraldry

PUBLISHED: 05:28 08 December 2014

A seal ring

A seal ring

Archant norfolk

A seal (a matrix or die) is a device for making an impression or embossment in wax, clay or paper.

A seal ringA seal ring

A seal (a matrix or die) is a device for making an impression or embossment in wax, clay or paper. The original purpose was to authenticate a document, a wrapper for one such as a modern envelope, or the cover of a container or package holding valuables or other objects.

In most traditional forms of dry seal the design on the seal matrix is in intaglio (cut below the flat surface). Seals were used in the earliest civilisations. Ancient hieroglyphics Egyptian seals have been discovered containing the names of kings dating from the third millennium BC. Various expeditionary excavations have unearthed many great seals of emperors, kings and ruling dynasties from the Aegean islands and mainland Greece to the great Roman Empire and beyond. In East Asia seals from the Qin Dynasty (221-210 BC) have been displayed as part of several major exhibitions.

Throughout the Middle Ages using wax seals became increasingly popular and by the end of the 10th century most royal chanceries had adopted the practice of using seals impressed in sealing wax.

In England, few wax seals have survived of earlier date than the Norman Conquest, although some earlier matrices are known. The earliest is a gold double-sided matrix found near Postwick and Witton, just east of Norwich, which dates to the late 7th century.

When King James II of England was dethroned in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688/9, he is supposed to have thrown the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. The story goes it was recovered by James’ successors, William III and Mary, and the same Great Seal matrix appears on many historical documents.

The wearing of signet rings (from the Latin “signum”, meaning to sign) dates back to ancient Egypt. By the beginning of the Merovingian dynasty and the reign of King Clovis I, the practice of wax seals being used by men of wealth was common and spread throughout Christendom. In recent times the design is generally a coat of arms or family crest made by engraving, either in metal or engraved gems (generally semi-precious) or agate.

Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. After the death of a pope, the destruction of his signet ring is a prescribed act clearing the way for the “Sede Vacante” and subsequent election of a new pope.

Signet rings are also attributed to various organisations to identify membership. One may also have their initials engraved as a sign of their personal stature, however historically monogrammed rings were for the less noble classes.

For all inquiries or further information and free valuations, call James at the Gold Shop Diss.

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