The Great Seal of the Realm or Great Seal of the United Kingdom (known prior to the Treaty of Union of 1707 as the Great Seal of England; and from then until the Union of 1801 as the Great Seal of Great Britain) is a seal that is used to symbolise the Sovereign's approval of state documents.
Scotland has had its own great seal since the 14th century. The Acts of Union 1707, joining the kingdoms of Scotland and England, provided for the use of a single Great Seal for the new Kingdom of Great Britain.However, it also provided for the continued use of a separate Scottish seal to be used there, and this seal continues to be called the Great Seal of Scotland, although it is not technically one. A new Welsh Seal was introduced in 2011.
Sealing wax is melted in a metal mould or matrix and impressed into a wax figure that is attached by cord or ribbon to documents that the Monarch wishes to seal officially.
The formal keeper of the seal is the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.
At some time before the year 1066 Edward the Confessor began to use a "Great Seal", which created a casting in wax of his own face, to signify that a document carried the force of his will. With some exceptions, each subsequent monarch up to 1603, when the king of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England, chose his or her own design for the Great Seal.
Levina Teerlinc is believed to have designed the seal of Queen Mary I, and also the earliest seal used by her successor Elizabeth I, in the 1540s.
When opening Parliament on 3 September 1654, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was escorted by the three "Commissioners of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of England", who were Whitelock, Lisle, and Widdrington. This Seal was inscribed with 'The Great Seal of England, 1648', displaying a map of England, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey on one side, with the Arms of England and Ireland. On the other side was shown the interior of the House of Commons, the Speaker in his chair, with the inscription, 'In the first year of Freedom, by God's blessing restored, 1648.' In 1655, Cromwell appointed three Commissioners of the Great Seal of Ireland, Richard Pepys, Chief Justice of the Upper Bench, Sir Gerard Lowther, Chief Justice of the Common Bench; and Miles Corbet, Chief Baron of the Exchequer. But they held the seal only until 1656, when Cromwell nominated William Steele, Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in England, Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
In 1688, while attempting to flee to France during the Glorious Revolution, James II allegedly attempted to destroy his Great Seal by throwing it into the River Thames, in the hope that the machinery of government would cease to function. James's successors, William III and Mary II, used the same seal matrix in their new Great Seal. This may have been a deliberate choice, in order to imply the continuity of government. A new obverse was created, but the reverse was crudely adapted by inserting a female figure beside the male figure. When Mary died, the obverse returned to the design used by James II, while the female figure was deleted from the reverse. Thus, William III used a seal that was identical to James II's, except for changes to the legend and coat of arms.
Edward VIII, who abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson only a few months after succeeding to the throne, never selected a design for his own seal and continued to use that of his predecessor, George V. Only one matrix of the Great Seal exists at a time, and since the wax used for the Great Seal has a high melting point, the silver plates that cast the seal eventually wear out. The longer-lived British monarchs have had several Great Seals during their reigns, and Queen Victoria had to select four different Great Seal designs during her sixty-three years on the throne.
The current seal matrix was authorised by the Privy Council in July 2001. ELIZABETH . II . D . G . BRITT . REGNORVMQVE . SVORVM . CETER . REGINA . CONSORTIONIS . POPVLORVM . PRINCEPS . F . D . is the abbreviated Latin form of the royal title. On the reverse are the full royal arms, including crest, mantling and supporters. This is the first time that the royal arms have provided the main design for one side of the English or British Great Seal. The obverse of the 1953 version depicted the Queen on horseback, dressed in uniform and riding sidesaddle, as she used to attend the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony for many years until the late 1980s. The seal's diameter is 6 inches (150 mm), and the combined weight of both sides of the seal matrix exceeds 275 troy ounces (302 oz ; 8,600 g ).It was designed by James Butler and replaced that of 1953, designed by Gilbert Ledward. The obverse shows a middle-aged Elizabeth II enthroned and robed, holding in her right hand a sceptre and in her left the orb. The circumscription
The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorisation of the monarch to implement the advice of Her Majesty's Government.
Under today's usage of the Great Seal, seals of dark green wax are affixed to letters patent elevating individuals to the peerage, blue seals authorise actions relating to the Royal family, and scarlet seals appoint bishops and implement various other affairs of state. In some cases the seal is replaced by a wafer version,a smaller representation of the obverse of the Great Seal embossed on coloured paper attached to the document being sealed. This simpler version is used for royal proclamations, letters patent granting royal assent to legislation, writs of summons to Parliament, licences for the election of bishops, commissions of the peace, and many other documents. It formerly constituted treason to forge the Great Seal.
The Great Seal of the Realm is in the custody of and is administered by the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. This office has been held jointly with that of Lord Chancellor since 1761. The current Lord Chancellor is Brandon Lewis. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 reiterates that the Lord Chancellor continues to be the custodian of the Great Seal.Though, in the past, the Great Seal has been delivered to and remained in the custody of the Sovereign when it has been used to seal instruments that related to or granted gifts or emoluments to the Lord Chancellor.
The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, who is also Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, heads Her Majesty's Crown Office, and is responsible for the affixing of the Great Seal. He is assisted by the Deputy Clerk of the Crown. Day-to-day custody is entrusted to the Clerk of the Chamber, and subordinate staff include a Sealer and two Scribes to Her Majesty's Crown Office.
Section 2 of the Great Seal Act 1884 governs the use of the Great Seal of the Realm:
2 - (1) A warrant under Her Majesty’s Royal Sign Manual, countersigned by the Lord Chancellor, or by one of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, or by the Lord High Treasurer, or two of the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury, shall be a necessary and sufficient authority for passing any instrument under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, according to the tenor of such warrant; Provided that any instrument which may now be passed under the Great Seal by the fiat or under the authority or directions of the Lord Chancellor or otherwise without passing through any other office may continue to be passed as heretofore.
(2) The Lord Chancellor may from time to time make, and when made revoke and vary, regulations respecting the passing of instruments under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, and respecting the warrants for that purpose, and the preparation of such instruments and warrants, and every such warrant shall be prepared by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery.
(3) No person shall make or prepare any warrant for passing any instrument under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, or procure any instrument to be passed under that Seal otherwise than in manner provided by this Act or the Crown Office Act 1877; and any person who acts in contravention of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.
The Great Seal for each successive monarch is inscribed with the monarch's style (in Latin) on both sides of the seal. Some of those used in the past are shown below.Where the inscriptions on both sides of the seal are identical, only one is given. Where they are the same except for the use of abbreviations, the one with the fuller forms is given. Where they are different, they are shown separated by a slash.
The penny of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from 1714 to 1901, the period in which the House of Hanover reigned, saw the transformation of the penny from a little-used small silver coin to the bronze piece recognisable to modern-day Britons. All bear the portrait of the monarch on the obverse; copper and bronze pennies have a depiction of Britannia, the female personification of Britain, on the reverse.
The British penny, a large, pre-decimal coin which continued the series of pennies which began in about the year 700, was struck intermittently during the 20th century until its withdrawal from circulation after 1970. From 1901 to 1970, the obverse of the bronze coin depicted the monarch who was reigning at the start of the year. The reverse, which featured an image of Britannia seated with shield, trident, and helm, was created by Leonard Charles Wyon based on an earlier design by his father, William Wyon. The coins were also used in British colonies and dominions that had not issued their own coins.
The British florin, or two-shilling piece was a coin worth 1/10 of one pound, or 24 pence. It was issued from 1849 until 1967, with a final issue for collectors dated 1970. It was the last coin circulating immediately prior to decimalisation to be demonetised, in 1993, having for a quarter of a century circulated alongside the ten-pence piece, identical in specifications and value.
The British farthing historically abbreviated qua., was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/960 of one pound, 1/48 of one shilling, or 1/4 of one penny. It was minted in copper and later in bronze, and replaced the earlier English farthings.
The Five Guinea was a machine-struck gold coin produced from 1668–1753. Measuring 37 millimetres in diameter and weighing between 41 and 42 grams, it was the largest regularly produced gold coin in Britain. Although the coin is commonly known as the "Five guinea" piece, during the 17th and 18th centuries it was also known as a Five-pound piece, as the guinea was originally worth twenty shillings — until its value was fixed at twenty-one shillings by a Royal Proclamation in 1717 the value fluctuated rather in the way that bullion coins do today.
The two guinea piece was a gold coin first minted in England in 1664 with a face value of forty shillings. The source of the gold used, also provided the coin its name - the "guinea", with the regular addition of an elephant or castle symbol on the earliest issues to denote bullion supplied by the Royal African Company. For most of its period of production, the coin weighed between 16.7 and 16.8 grams and was 31-32 millimetres in diameter, although the earliest coins of Charles II were about 0.1 grams lighter and 1 millimetre smaller.
The guinea was a coin, minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814, that contained approximately one-quarter of an ounce of gold. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, from where much of the gold used to make the coins was sourced. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally representing a value of 20 shillings in sterling specie, equal to one pound, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.
The seven shilling piece was introduced in Great Britain by a proclamation of 29 November 1797. It has been called a third guinea, a guinea being worth 21 shillings in sterling specie. The gold coin was minted only in the reign of George III.
The Quarter guinea was a British coin minted only in the years 1718 and 1762. As the name implies, it was valued at one-fourth of a guinea, which at that time was worth twenty-one shillings (£1.05). The quarter guinea therefore was valued at five shillings and threepence in sterling specie.
The half guinea gold coin of the Kingdom of England and later of Great Britain was first produced in 1669, some years after the Guinea entered circulation. It was officially eliminated in the Great Recoinage of 1816, although, like the guinea, it was used in quoting prices until decimalisation.
From 1896 known as the Clergy Endowments (Canada) Act 1791, the statute passed at Westminster in the 31st year of George III, and itemised as chapter 31, was commonly known as the Constitutional Act 1791. It was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain.
The unite was the second English gold coin first produced during the reign of King James I. It was named after the legends on the coin indicating the king's intention of uniting his two kingdoms of England and Scotland. The unite was valued at twenty shillings until 1612 when the increase in the value of gold throughout Europe caused it to be raised to twenty-two shillings. The coin was produced during James I's second coinage (1604–1619), and it was replaced in the third coinage by the Laurel worth twenty shillings. All the coins were produced at the Tower Mint in London.
Defender of the Faith is a phrase that has been used as part of the full style of many English and later British monarchs since the early 16th century. It has also been used by some other monarchs and heads of state.
In the Commonwealth realms, a Royal Style and Titles Act or a Royal Titles Act is an Act of Parliament passed in the relevant jurisdiction which defines the sovereign's formal title in that jurisdiction. The most significant of these acts is the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 of the United Kingdom, which recognised the creation of the Irish Free State, a development that necessitated a change in King George V's title.
The precise style of British sovereigns has varied over the years. The present style is officially proclaimed in two languages:
The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 was an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that authorised the alteration of the British monarch's royal style and titles, and altered the formal name of the British Parliament, in recognition of most of Ireland separating from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State. It received Royal Assent on 12 April 1927.
Dei Gratia Regina is a Latin title meaning By the Grace of God, Queen. The male equivalent is Dei Gratia Rex meaning By the Grace of God, King.
The British farthing was a British coin worth a quarter of an old penny. It ceased to be struck after 1956 and was demonetised from 1 January 1961.
A Crown of the Rose is an extremely rare gold coin of the Kingdom of England introduced in 1526 during the reign of Henry VIII, in an attempt to compete with the French écu au soleil. The coin was not a success and just a few months later it was replaced by the Crown of the Double-Rose.
The Great Seal of Newfoundland is a seal used to authenticate documents issued by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador that are released in the name of the Queen in Right of Newfoundland and Labrador, including the appointment of the Executive Council and Ministers.