Great Royal Seal Bag of Henry III (1207-1272)

Fragments of embroidered cloth, used  for a Great Seal bag of King Henry III (1207-1272). Fragments of embroidered cloth, used for a Great Seal bag of King Henry III (1207-1272). Copyright Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. 1856,0819.1.

Fragments are kept in the British Museum, London (acc. no. 1856,0819.1), of a linen bag decorated with appliqué and silk embroidery. They are all that is left of a Great Seal bag of King Henry III, who reigned in England from 1216 to 1272.

The cloth for the bag probably originally came from a surcoat, or possibly a horse trapping or blanket of some kind, which was decorated with embroidered heraldic motifs. The original cloth is believed to date from 1248-1260. The background cloth is a simple tabby weave, while the emblems are embroidered in blue, red and yellow silk thread using couching and split stitch.

The heraldic design includes a blue lion rampant (standing on its hind legs) on a yellow ground. The lion is outlined in red. The lion is set between two blue crosses (potence crosses) with wavy white stripes. There are also the remains of a black border on two sides. The heraldic design is believed to be based on the arms of William de Forz (also known as Fortibus or Deforce), Fourth Earl of Albemarle (d. 1260) and his wife, Isabella de Redvers (Rivers; 1237–1293).

At some point the cloth was cut down to make a Great Seal bag. The Great Seal of England (later known as the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, or Great Seal of the Realm) was a double sided wax seal used to symbolise a king or queen's approval of state documents. To make the seal, wax is melted into a silver mould (matrix) and thus a double-sided wax seal is made with the figure and inscription of the matrix. The seal was then attached by a cord or ribbon to a document in order to make it official. A bag was used to cover and protect the wax seal hanging from the bottom of a document.

See also the seal bag of King Edward I of England.


  • CHRISTIE, Mrs. Archibald (1938). English Medieval Embroidery, Oxford: OUP.
  • PRITCHARD, Frances (1989). 'Two royal seal bags from Westminster Abbey', Textile History, 20, no. 2, pp. 225-134.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 12 August 2020).


Last modified on Wednesday, 12 August 2020 10:33