THE GREAT SEALS OF ENGLAND.* CONSIDERING that some member of
the Wyon family has filled the post of "Chief Engraver of her [or hisi Majesty's Seals" during the greater part of the century, it is not surprising that one of the series of able artists should have formed the plan of collecting in one volume the counterfeit presentments of all the Great Seals of England. It was the late Alfred Benjamin Wyon who conceived and worked out the happy idea, and it is Allan Wyon, his successor in the office, who, at the request of his brother's widow, has completed the great work. That it was a labour of love to both the brothers, is mani- fest in the care bestowed on every line and page; and as now published, it forms a superb monument to the memory of Mr. Alfred Wyon, as well as to his known and un- known predecessors in the craft, and it is at the same time a valuable contribution to the history of the Realm. When we remember that these beautifully executed autotypes have been obtained from waxen impressions of the original seals, many of them hundreds, one more than a thousand years old, scattered far and wide within the Kingdom and beyond the Channel, we shall have some conception of the persistent industry and cease- less care by which alone the task could have been accomplished. None could have done the work as it has been done, unless sustained by an abiding love for his subject, and gifted with a great capacity for taking pains. Mr. Allan Wyon bestows on his brother the larger share of praise ; but he also deserves credit for his part in the noble toil, and the admirable form in which he has presented the beautiful as well as the massive result to the public.
Nor was it merely a pride in his art which made Mr. Alfred Wyon resolve to publish the results of the family labours. An incident occurred which showed that they would serve useful practical purposes, and it was this which led to the happy resolve. The State of New Jersey had a dispute with the State of Pennsylvania respecting riparian rights on the River Delaware. Each had, by charter, exclusive right, an1 the question at issue was upon which was the right first conferred. The date in one charter had become obliterated, but by consulting the fragments of the seals Mr. Wyon was able to solve the problem and establish the priority of the charter, for he knew the seal and the period when it was in use. That incident was evidence that the public might benefit by a knowledge of the Great Seals, and thus we have a volume interesting to the student of history, useful to the lawyer and his clients, and itself an acceptable work of art.
The use of the Great Seal, so far as is known, begins with Edward the Confessor ; but there are set down in this book three examples of seals employed by preceding English Kings. The earliest extant is the seal of Offa, King of Mercia, affixed to a charter, dated Tamworth, 790, preserved in the National Archives at Paris. This seal bears a portrait of the King, but although the shadowy face does impress the observer, and indi- cate a nobility of mind, still, we fancy, none save the seeing eye
of the antiquarian will easily discern features of a "somewhat pensive and melancholy cast." Imagination, we admit, can inform the effigy, and find it not unworthy of the friend of Karl the Great and Alcuin. The other two seals are one of Coenwnlf, King of Mercia at the beginning of the ninth century, and another of Eadgar, King of England, also preserved in Paris. It is made out of "an antique oval intaglio Roman gem," but its surroundings in the way of ornament and legend have vanished. These examples are held to prove the use of seals in England before Edward the Confessor, and probably Offa was by no means the first to adopt some such method of giving authenticity to documents. Although they are now mere shows of what they were, these rude yet venerable relics of our remote ancestors are not the least interesting in the book.
With Edward the Confessor begins an unbroken series,—a line of Great Seals having, with two exceptions, common and fixed characteristics which are illustrations of that devotion to
• The Great Seals of England, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. Arranged and illustrated, with Descriptive and Historical Notes, by the late Alfred Benjamin Wyon and Allan Wyon. London : Elliot Stock.
precedent which has had so marked a restraining and moderating influence on our history. Edward sits on a throne which, having no back, can hardly be called a chair, and is, in fact, a stool of state. His artist did not flatter him,—in fact, his visage has a confused, comic, not to say common expression, which suggests the rustic enthroned. What Mr. Wyon calls the "counter-seal" is nearly the same as the seal; and we may remark that this monarch styled himself " Edwardi Anglorura Basilei." But when we come to the next seal, that of William, the character of the seals changes. The Conqueror appears on horseback, armed, and in fall career. He puts his Norman title first, calling himself " Patron," or " Protector," of the Normans ; and on the counter-seal, where he sits on the Royal stool, bearing a sword and an orb, he styles himself King of England. From this period to our own day, the Sovereign has been represented as enthroned on the seal, and riding a horse on the counter-seal, the only exception to that rule being one Great Seal in the reign of Anne. For nearly all the monarchs have had more than one seal, Edward the Confessor setting the example of making a new one whenever he had a new Chancellor. The change to be noted in the seal of William Rufus is that he called himself King of the English, after the manner of Edward, and Duke, not Patron, of the Normans. He also introduced the words " Dei Gratia," which one might have expected to find on the legend of the pious Confessor. Another point which may here be noted, is that until Henry VIII., no King numbered himself. His name appears as Henry, or Edward, or Richard, so that without some collateral evidence there would be no knowing to which of the series the seal belonged. Evidently these gracious potentates did not give a thought to posterity. And these Kings continue to be "Kings of the English" until the advent of John, who calls himself King of England. The additional title of "Lord of Ireland" comes in not with Henry II., as might be supposed, but with John, which reminds us that Richelieu used to contend that Charles I. could not properly be described as King, since he was only "Lord" of Ireland, a somewhat arrogant contention, King having been substituted for Lord by the masterful Henry VIII. It is characteristic that a cushion should first figure on the stool of the luxurious John, and that Henry III. should appear seated on a throne with a carved back. Thence- forward the ornamentation of the throne becomes elaborate and rick and marks the growth of art. The approaches towards portraiture also become more evident, and the seals, until the reign of the British Solomon, have much merit. Always, except in the case of Queens, the monarch on the counter-seal rides armed, and sometimes furiously, the ultra pacific and timid James showing, of course, as a singularly fierce warrior. The Queens, Mary, Elizabeth, and Anne, it may be observed, are seated on the old-fashioned side-saddle, both legs on the same plane ; and this is the more remarkable as Catherine de Medicis, a daring and tireless horsewoman, had, in the reign of Francis I., set an example of the new fashion,—" Ayant estC," says Brantoine, " la premiere qui avoit mis la jambe sur l'arcon," which he thought a more graceful way of riding than " sur la planchette." One seal of Elizabeth would imply that she had slightly improved on the antique and uncomfortable seat square to the side ; but Queen Anne sits exactly like Queen Mary, painfully sideways. Among the more remarkable seals, that of Philip II. and Mary Tudor, seated on a throne side by side on the seal, and riding on horseback on the counter-seal, is impressive, and a startling reminder of an anomaly in English history. The engraver, who had some skill in portraiture, has taken care to put the horse of his Queen a little in advance of the King of Spain. Altogether, they are a grim pair, and an astonishing spectacle in the wonderful series. After we leave the Commonwealth seals, which are most original and admirably executed, until we reach the nineteenth century, the seals are poor, not to say vulgar and mean; but with Mr. Marchant's work, and still more that of the Wyon family, the art revives, and Queen Victoria's seals are among the best in the book. Besides the autotypes, the volume includes excellent descrip- tions of the seals, extracts from the records of the Privy Council, a list of seals which have been examined, and works consulted ; some notes on the seal-engravers, an account of the officers attending the Great Seal "in the olden time," a list of Lord
Chancellors and Lord Keepers, and copious indexes. The Lord Keeper seems somewhat of a puzzle. What did he do P It was declared that the authority of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Keeper was one and the same, yet the offices were frequently held by two persons, and in that case the Keeper was certainly inferior. Among the French, in the first half of the seventeenth century, the Chancellor could not be removed, unless he were tried and executed. So, when he was intractable or out of favour, they took the seals from him and appointed a Keeper, who was empowered to use them. That device did not obtain in England, but we have had Lord Keepers who were not Lord Chancellors ; and while in France the office of Chancellor is extinct, in England it is that of Keeper which has disap- peared. Not long ago, Lord Salisbury frankly said that if he had lived in the time of Charles I., he should have been a Cavalier. Oddly enough, his ancestor who did live then was not so minded, for in the list of "Parliamentary Keepers," 1646, we read the entry,—" William Cecil, Earl of Salisbury." The last name in the list of Keepers is "Sir John Bernard Bosanquet, 183:5." Since that date the Lord Chancellor has kept and used the Great Seal, and his labours have been diminished by the device of the Great Wafer Seal, which saves wax and valuable time. The whole of Mr. Wyou's magnificent and well-made work abounds in curious and suggestive information, and deserves to rank as a worthy and lasting memorial of the Great Seals of England.