Diameter: 162.000 mm
Diameter: 162.000 mm (matrix)
Room 47: Europe 1800-1900
Great Seal of England of King William IV, engraved by Benjamin Wyon
London, England, AD 1831
A potent symbol of the Sovereign's authority
The obverse, or front, depicts the King
(reigned 1831-37) on horseback, with war ships in the background.
The reverse shows the King enthroned, with symbolic figures of
The Great Seal is one of the most potent symbols of the Sovereign's authority, and the ultimate authentication of an official document. The silver matrices, or dies, are kept by the Lord Chancellor. When one sovereign died, followed by the issuing of a new seal for the next sovereign, the old seal traditionally passed to the Lord Chancellor as part of his 'perks'. Up to the eighteenth century, Lords Chancellor usually melted the seal down and had a cup made from the silver. Consequently, these matrices of William IV are the earliest surviving examples of the Great Seal. The Lord High Chancellor at the time was Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham (1781-1851). George IV's Great Seal for use in Scotland is also in The British Museum.
A.L. Murray and C.J. Burnett, 'The seals of the Scottish Court of Exchequer', Proceedings of the Society o-2, 123 (1993), pp. 439-52
A. Wyon, The great seals of England (London, Chiswick, 1887)