The Seal Burse of Elizabeth I
England, around AD 1596
This seal burse (purse) is embroidered with the Royal Arms of England for the Great Seal of Elizabeth I (reigned 1553-1603). The Great Seal was traditionally carried in procession before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Seal in a burse, or purse, originally of white leather or linen. By the end of the sixteenth century the burse was transformed into a magnificent velvet purse, embroidered with the arms of England and elaborately decorated. This example shows the crowned royal cypher and the letters ‘ER' (Elizabeth Regina) for Queen Elizabeth I, and a Tudor rose: the heraldic design is set within a scrolling foliate border. The shimmering surface of this burse, achieved by the use of gold threads and silver sequins, and the elaborate design, is a testament to the lavish display of the Elizabethan court.
The Great Seal of England is of the greatest importance, as it is attached to all major documents of state. It was part of the ‘perquisite' or ‘perk' of office that the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal was allowed to keep the old seal with its accompanying burse. Sir Thomas Egerton was appointed Keeper of the Great Seal on 6 May 1596; he gave this burse to his servant Henry Jones, whose family transformed it into a cushion cover. The strips at the side of the burse panel, decorated with wheat ears, were attached at this time. It is mentioned in the will of Henry's widow, Elizabeth, in 1632: 'a cushion of velvet embroidered with gold which was a seal purse.'
, National Art Collections Fund (, 1997)
J. Arnold, Queen Elizabeths wardrobe unlo (Leeds, Money, 1988)
R. Strong, Artists of the Tudor court: th, exh. cat. (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1983)
A. Wyon, The great seals of England (London, Chiswick, 1887)
Height: 43.000 cm
Width: 48.500 cm
Height: 43.000 cm