Treasures of London – Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I…

Held in the National Archives at Kew, this great seal was used during the second half of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign – from 1586 to 1603.

The seal, which replaced an earlier one used by Queen Elizabeth I, was used by the Chancery to prove the document it was attached to was issued in the Queen’s name. The seal also acted as a security device, ensuring the document couldn’t be read before reaching the intended recipient. Made of wax, it was created using a metal pattern or matrix.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I. PICTURE: Courtesy of The National Archives, Kew.

The metal pattern for this seal was created by court miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard.

The obverse or front side of the seal, which is made of resin and beeswax which turns brown with age, shows Queen Elizabeth I on her throne, her hands holding a sceptre and an orb – royal insignia – and accompanied by the Royal Coat of Arms. The reverse (pictured) shows Queen Elizabeth I mounted on a horse and surrounded by symbols including the Tudor Rose, a harp representing Ireland and fleur de lys representing France. The inscription around the seal reads: Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor (‘Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith’).

The seal was traditionally carried before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal in a purse or burse. One used to carry Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix is in the collection of the British Museum.

The matrix used to create the second seal was surrendered to King James I on his accession to the throne on 3rd May, 1603. James then used it for the next 11 weeks until his own was ready (at which time Queen Elizabeth I’s matrix was defaced).

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