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 Britannia, Neptune, Peace, Plenty, Justice and Religion. The ships allude to the power of the Royal Navy and to the King's own naval career. The figures continue this theme, referring to the nation and its sea power, and may also refer to the benefits monarchy brings to a nation.

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.

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More information

Bibliography

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)

Dimensions

Diameter: 162.000 mm (matrix)
Diameter: 162.000 mm (matrix)

Museum number

M&ME 1981,7-9,1

MCT5889

Location

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