Seal-die of Isabella of Hainault

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Medieval, AD 1180-90
From Paris, France

The seal-die of a medieval king or queen was usually destroyed on their death. Consequently very few have survived to the present day. The seal-die of Isabella is exceptional for this reason, and also for the extremely high quality of its craftsmanship.

The seal-die depicts a queen, crowned and holding a sceptre and a fleur-de-lis. The Latin inscription reads 'Elizabez Dei Gracia Francorum Regina' ('Isabella, by grace of God, queen of France').

Isabella of Hainault was the wife of Philip II of France (reigned 1179-1223). Their marriage took place in 1180. It was a political union - Isabella was only eleven years of age and Philip was fifteen. In 1187 Isabella gave birth to Philip's heir, Louis, and in 1190 she died in childbirth. She was buried in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

During building works in 1858 Isabella's coffin had to be moved. It was opened and the seal-die was found along with a ring and a roundel depicting the Lamb of God. They were removed to the cathedral treasury along with other items discovered during the works. In 1860 the treasury was burgled, and, although many of the treasures were recovered, the seal-die had disappeared without trace. Not until 1957 did it appear in London where it was discovered by Captain R. Johnes before being acquired by The British Museum in 1970.

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More information

Bibliography

J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)

Captain R. Johnes, 'The seal matrix of Queen Isabel of Hainault and some contemporary seals', Archaeologia-2, 40 (1960)

Dimensions

Height: 9.600 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1970,9-4,1

MCM594

Location

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