Out of the Archives: William de Rumare's seal

Here’s the seal of earl William de Rumare, earl of Lincoln. It’s c.1140s, and shows a typical equestrian figure… Most great men of the realm would show themselves on horseback in this way as a sign of their high status and the knightly qualities they sought to convey. In this depiction, which is not intended to be an accurate personal portrait of William, he is riding into battle with his sword drawn and shield raised. He is dressed grandly in full armour, and with a cloak.

As letters were written by scribes, there was no question of recognising or authenticating a document by the handwriting. Letters that were dictated may well have been authenticated by the syntax and vocabulary – as in, “Yeah that sounds like something so-and-so would say”, but seals were the best means of authenticating letters. If the seal was well-known and widely recognised, the letter was therefore known to be genuine.

A man (or woman) was recognised by the image they chose to project onto their seal. They would be recognised by this image, which represented their presence and authority, even if the recipient had not even met them in the flesh before.

What do you think William was trying to say?

What might the emotional and psychological reaction have been as far as the recipients of the seal were concerned?

What would your image be like?

– – – Hope you have some fun with that! Going to be doing a basic 30min workshop with some school children on heraldry and castles on the 13th June. Will keep you posted.

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