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Privy Seal of King Rama IX of Thailand

A privy seal is the personal seal of a reigning monarch, used to authenticate official documents of a personal nature, in contrast to a 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, the Privy Seal took on a broader function and was replaced by the Signet as the king's personal seal. The Great Seal Act 1884 effectively ended the use of the Privy Seal in England by providing that it was no longer necessary for any instrument to be passed under the Privy Seal.

Privy Seal of Scotland

There is also a separate Privy Seal of Scotland, which existed from at least the reign of Alexander III.

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 Ireland

The "signet or privy seal" of the Kingdom of Ireland was a single seal, whereas in England and Scotland the signet was a separate seal kept by the Clerk of the Signet and Keeper of the Signet respectively. Fiants were issued under the privy seal or signet seal by the Keeper of the Signet or Privy Seal to authorise the issue of letters patent by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland under the Great Seal of Ireland.[1]

Keeper of the Signet or Privy Seal of Ireland[1]
Dates Holder Notes
1560–1795 Secretary of State for Ireland Held by as a separate office from the Secretaryship under the same letters patent.
22 June 1795 – 1797 Edmund Pery, Lord Glentworth While Thomas Pelham was Secretary of State
24 July 1797–1801 Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh Appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in November 1798.
12 June 1801–8 May 1829 Charles Abbot, latterly 1st Baron Colchester Appointed Chief Secretary in February 1801 and Secretary of State on 12 June 1801. Vacated both when appointed Speaker of the UK Commons in 1802 but remained Keeper until his death.
8 May 1829–19 October 1922 Chief Secretary for Ireland The Chief Secretary was ex officio the Keeper under the Public Offices (Ireland) Act 1817 (57 Geo. 3. c. 62).[2]

Privy Seal of Japan

Privy seal of Japan (天皇御璽)

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.


  1. ^ a b Wood, Herbert (1928). "The Offices of Secretary of State for Ireland and Keeper of the Signet or Privy Seal". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature. 38: 51–68. ISSN 0035-8991. JSTOR 25515934.
  2. ^ Act 57 Geo. 3. c. 62 s. 11

17 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link


PRIVY SEAL, a seal of the United Kingdom, next in importance to the great seal, and occupying an intermediate position between it and the signet. The authority of the privy seal was principally of a two-fold nature. It was a warrant to the lord chancellor to affix the ‘great seal to such patents, charters, &c., as must necessarily pass the great seal (more particularly letters patent (q.v.). It was also the authority required for the issue of money from the exchequer, and was appended to documents of minor importance which did not require the great seal. Previous to the Great Seal Act 1884, all letters patent conferring any dignity, office, monopoly, franchise or other privilege were always passed under the privy seal before passing under the great seal.

Lord Privy Seal is the title of the officer who had the custody of the privy seal. He was originally known as the “keeper of the privy seal.” The importance of the office was due to the desire of the privy council and the parliament in the I4th and 15th centuries to place some check on the issue of public money, as well as to prevent the use of the great seal by the sovereign without any intermediary except the lord chancellor. The lord privy seal first appears as a minister of state in the reign of Edward III. Until 1537 he was always an ecclesiastic, but is now more usually a temporal lord. He is the fifth great officer of state, and takes rank next after the president of the council and before all dukes.

vincent  •  Link

men in charge :
Baron, Hartgill 1660-1673
Castle, John 1638-[1646]; 1660-1664
Montagu, Edward (created Earl of Sandwich 12 July 1660) 1660-1672
Watkins, William 1643-[1646]; 1660-1662… of the Privy Seal c. 1537-1851
"The four Clerks of the Privy Seal were appointed by the crown by letters patent under the great seal from 1537. the Tenure was for life until 1814 ...."

Paul Brewster  •  Link

According to an L&M footnote “the clerks of the Privy Seal took duty for a month at a time.” SP describes the first such changeover in the entry for 31 July 1660.…
The L&M companion says that the clerkship “called for Pepys’s attendance only one month in each quarter and then only at sealing days and for a few hours during the work week.” The phrase one month in each quarter may be in error. With 4 clerks it would seem that it would be one month in every four.

vincent  •  Link

It appears the Actual Signet Ring is held by the Lord Chancellor: see Hyde for reference:

dirk  •  Link

The 4 Royal Seals

"The *signet* was the smallest of the four royal seals, and being smallest, was used for the most routine business. The *Great Seal* would be used for charters, treaties, grants of land, commissions to high officers of the Crown and other major state documents; the *privy or secret seal* was originally used for royal orders or brieves, but later came to be used for such things as grants of moveable property and grants of minor officer the *quarter seal* was used for more routine administrative documents and warrants for the use of the Great Seal, in fact for much the same purposes as the privy seal had been originally used, and the *signet* was used simply for the private letters and order by the king to his "sheriffs in that pairt" ordering them to carry out a specific function; it was thus used to authenticate orders by the king's court to its functionaries for the administration of the law, in summoning people to court or in carrying out one of the legal diligences against them. Such letters were prepared by writers to the signet."

Susanne M. Stewart  •  Link

I have a privy seal and can't seem to find out information as to it's age or value. I can supply a picture if anyone is interested in this item.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

Privy Seal Office, Whitehall. An office under the government of the Lord Privy Seal, a great officer, next in dignity to the Lord President of the Council, who keeps the King's privy seal, which is set to such grants as pass the great seal of England. The Lord Privy Seal has a salary of 3000l. per annum. Under him are three Deputies, a Secretary, and three Clerks; but these Clerks have no salaries; they have however considerable fees, and 30l. a year board wages.
---London and Its Environs Described. R. Dodsley, 1761.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

I'm confused:

Clerks of the Privy Seal:
Baron, Hartgill 1660-1673
Castle, John 1638-[1646]; 1660-1664
Montagu, Edward (created Earl of Sandwich 12 July 1660) 1660-1672
Watkins, William 1643-[1646]; 1660-1662

SEE… Clerks of the Privy Seal c. 1537-1851 The four Clerks of the Privy Seal were appointed by the crown by letters patent under the great seal from 1537. The Tenure was for life until 1814 ...."

So was Lord Privy Seal The Lord Robartes (or John, Lord Roberts) their "boss" ... I've Googled this and not come up with a clear delineation of responsibilities.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

On August 1, 1660 (!) Mountain Man directs us to Thomas Frederick Tout's massive "Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England" (1920-1933), now online.

Reviewer: Mercedes Rochelle - September 22, 2017
Subject: This comes in 5 Volumes
"This is a book reserved for the deepest layer of research. I keep finding Tout listed in the footnotes of history book after history book. Who is this guy?
It's wrong to say I’m finished. I read Volume 1 out of 5.
Tout apparently made English administrative history his life’s work, and subsequent modern “rewrites” rely on his exhaustive research. I found him surprisingly readable.
My immediate concerns are related to Richard II’s reign, but I concluded I would be remiss if I didn’t go to the beginning. As expected, Tout began with the Normans, although things started to heat up in the reign of Henry III, when the administration as we would recognize it began to take shape.
It was interesting to see how the king’s household — or his chamber — established itself for his convenience, then started forming subgroups like the chancery, the exchequer, and the wardrobe; all of them initially answered to the king. Eventually they broke free and functioned on their own.
Each department developed its own officers; sometimes they were clerics, sometimes they were laymen. These positions were often stepping-stones to greater appointments, all the way up to archbishop.
The great seal of the chancery was soon supplemented by a privy — or small — seal (often, but not always, held by the exchequer) which was frequently used when the king was absent.
I wish things were tidy and linear so I could get my hands around them, but there was much back-and-forth between which department worked for whom — sometimes being reabsorbed into the king’s chamber, and sometimes duplicating their efforts (especially between the exchequer and the wardrobe).
This went on for generations.
But overall, I’m beginning to see just how critical these departments were to defining the king’s role in his government (and how much control he had).
Interestingly, Tout refused to describe any major political upsets of each reign; he insisted that this was outside the scope of his study. So, although we have what amounted to a civil war in Henry III’s reign, he only spoke of the changes in the administrative structure. It was as though the household ran as usual, even with catastrophes erupting all around it. Maybe that’s the way it was?
With this as a firm foundation, I’m skipping forward to the end of Edward III (volume 3). With luck, I’ll be able to discover why the nobles and commons were so intent on “cleaning house” during the Merciless Parliament of Richard II. What was going on behind the scenes?"

I think the 5 volumes i are accessible through…

Otherwise JSTOR has it, but you need to belong and log in -- costs money.

Mountain Man  •  Link

SDS is indeed a saint by sacrificing herself reading so much Tout. As she says, he's a surprisingly good writer, in the style of a century ago and more, but his granular survey of the royal administration is still very heavy lifting. Indeed, Tout himself didn't finish reading the work, since he died before it was completed and the last volume was assembled from his papers by someone else. Anyone else aspiring to a quick read of Tout should be aware that he stops with the year 1399 (I believe) and has little to say about the Privy Seal in Pepys' time. If I remember correctly, the late medieval theory of the issuing of many royal documents was that they were drafted directly from the king's mouth by his clerks of the Signet Seal, these were then put into a polished form by the clerks of the Privy Seal, and then finally passed to the clerks of the chancery, who literally put on the final seal of approval by affixing the Great Seal, under the command of the Chancellor. Henry V personally annotated a petition for his Signet Seal clerks, writing "do hit as hit is axed," thereby anticipating the regional dialect of my native Appalachian mountains.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

No saint, Mountain Man, just an unabashed student of other people's scholarship. The above is a quote from Mercedes Rochelle's review of Tout's massive "Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England" which I came across via Google after you mentioned him on the Privy Seal encyclopedia page.…

Since I rarely think about the origin of footnotes, while thinking they are often interesting, I was happy not to have to read the entire 5 volumes.

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