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great seal

great seal. The seal originated in the reign of Edward the Confessor as an imitation of the emperor's seal and was about 3 inches in diameter. The king is depicted in majesty, bearing sceptre and orb. The Norman rulers continued its use and the custody of the seal was given to the chancellor. William the Lion's seal in Scotland seems to have been based on the English one. The seal is broken at the start of a new reign and a fresh one made. Since the great seal was heavy, the practice developed of employing a privy seal and later a signet. In the Tudor period, the great seal was in the hands of the chancellor or the lord keeper but from the accession of George III the office of lord keeper has disappeared. The possession of the great seal was a matter of political importance. It was a charge against Cardinal Wolsey at his downfall that he had illegally taken the great seal out of the kingdom to Calais in 1521. When Charles I left for York in 1642 at the start of the Civil War, Parliament had its own great seal made, and another had to be produced for the Republic in 1649. James II flung the great seal into the Thames when he fled in 1688, hoping to bring government to a standstill, but it was retrieved by a fisherman. Burglars stole the great seal from the home of Lord Chancellor Thurlow in 1784. Since an election was imminent, craftsmen worked all night to make a new seal and jokes passed at the expense of the Foxite opposition. The great seal is used for proclamations, writs, letters patent, and treaties. A separate seal for Scotland, authorized by the Act of Union in 1707, is in the custody of the secretary of state for Scotland.

J. A. Cannon

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