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A privy seal refers to the personal seal of a reigning monarch, used for the purpose of authenticating official documents of a much more personal nature. This is in contrast with that of the Great Seal, which is used for documents of greater importance.
Privy Seal of England
The Privy Seal of England can be traced back to the reign of King John. It has been suggested that it was originally the seal that accompanied the person of the Sovereign, while the Great Seal was required to remain in the Chancery. Eventually it became a requirement that almost no non-judicial document could pass under the Great Seal without a warrant from the Privy Seal. The Barons wrested control of the Privy Seal away from the King by 1312 and it was replaced by the signet as the King's personal seal. The Privy Seal became the heart of a second writing office and clearing house, with warrants being sent to the Chancery and Exchequer under orders made with the Signet. (By 1400 the Signet was in the custody of the King's Secretary, and as such it is the precursor to the seals of office held by today's Secretaries of State.)
The Great Seal Act 1884 effectively ended the use of the Privy Seal by providing that it was no longer necessary for any instrument to be passed under the Privy Seal.
Keepers of the Privy Seal
The Privy Seal of England was originally overseen by the Clerks of the King's Chamber, but soon came to be kept by the controller of the wardrobe; by 1323, however, the distinct office of Keeper of the Privy Seal had emerged (the first Keeper, who was not also Controller, having been appointed in 1307). The present-day title of this office, Lord Privy Seal, is first recorded in 1539.
Its loss in battle
Prior to its adoption as the Privy Seal of the United Kingdom after the Act of Union 1707, its most notable appearance in Scottish history was its alleged capture by the Scots in the aftermath of the Battle of Old Byland in 1322, when the Scots led by Robert the Bruce almost captured Edward II, who was forced to flee, leaving behind many personal possessions including the Privy Seal.
Privy Seal of Scotland
Article XXIV of the Treaty of Union provided that
the Privy Seal ... now used in Scotland be continued But that the said Seals be altered and adapted to the State of the Union as Her Majesty shall think fit And the said Seals and all of them and the Keepers of them shall be subject to such regulations as the Parliament of Great Britain shall hereafter make...
The Seal was last used in 1898 to execute the commission appointing the Rev. James Cooper to a Regius Chair at the University of Glasgow, but has never been abolished. The office of Keeper of the Privy Seal has not been filled since the death of the Marquess of Breadalbane in 1922.
Privy Seal of Japan
The Privy Seal of Japan is the official seal of the Emperor of Japan. While it is printed on many state documents, it is separate from the State Seal of Japan. The Privy Seal was made from copper beginning in the Nara period. After the Meiji Restoration, a new seal was made from stone in 1868. The present seal was made from gold in 1874.
The Seal has been kept by the Chamberlain of Japan since 1945, when the office of Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal was abolished. The Lord Keeper was a personal adviser to the Emperor, a position adapted in 1885 from the earlier post of Naidaijin.
- JE Sayers The English Royal Chancery:Structure and Productions
- "Sigillography: Royal and Official Seals". www.britannica.com.
- Tout, T. F. (1920). Chapters in Medieval Administrative History. Volume 2. Manchester University Press.