Reconsidering the Silent Majority: Non-heraldic personal seals, identity and cultural meaning

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Writing in 1906, John Bloom noted that the “seals of simple gentry, merchants and yeomen have not yet had justice done to them.” Ninety years later, in their Guide to British Medieval Seals, Paul Harvey and Andrew McGuinness pointed out that, while non-heraldic personal seals constitute approximately four-fifths of those surviving from medieval Britain they “have been far less studied than the other one-fifth”; while in 2015 Phillipp Schofield commented that “thousands upon thousands of ... personal seals have ... been offered little attention,” but noted most of the papers in the collection he was introducing were still about “elites, their power and the nature of seal usage amongst those of higher status.” Why is this so? Do the majority of surviving impressions and matrices really have so little to tell us that they are unworthy of close attention? This essay proposes that non-heraldic personal seals from medieval Britain do in fact provide valuable evidence which has significant cultural meaning, and should be integrated into investigations of socio-economic, administrative, legal, political, and cultural history, and the construction and expression of identity, especially in relation to those below the highest levels in society.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Companion to Seals in the Middle Ages
EditorsLaura Whatley
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9789004391444
ISBN (Print)9789004380646, 9004380647
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2019

Publication series

NameReading Medieval Sources


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