The main aim of attaching a seal to a document is to prove the authenticity of a document by proving a relationship between the document and the seal itself. Seals can either be an Applied Seal, where the seal is applied directly to the paper or a Pendent Seals, this means that they dangle below the document by some form of attached tag, often either made from a piece of ribbon or a strip from the parchment itself. They often contain an image, such as the owner’s portrait or heraldic badge, surrounded by text or the ‘legend’ running around the perimeter. Both of the seals on display are Pendent Seals which have become detached from their original document.
Originally, Pendent Seals were attached ‘Sur Simple Queue’ or ‘on a simple tail’. This meant that they were attached by cutting along the bottom edge of the document so an attached strip was created to which the seal was fixed. These had the problem that they easily detached from the document due to the weight of the seal.
A more secure way to attach the seal to the document was ‘Sur double queue’ or ‘on a double tail’. This involved folding up the bottom edge of the document, cutting horizontal slits and then passing a double strip of parchment or material through the slits to which the seal was attached. This, though not completely fool proof, was a much more effective way of preventing the seal from detaching.
Resin or beeswax?
Historically, seals were impressed in a wax made from two-thirds beeswax to one-third resin. By the period that these seals are from, resin had become the main document material to impress in order to create the seal. The natural colour of these seals were a yellow or brown colour but they could be dyed vibrant colours. In fact, in mediaeval chanceries, seals were often dyed different colours to reflect their different function or the department of state that was using it.
This article is March’s Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office. Further articles can be found on their website.