For anyone wondering how The National Archives [TNA] catalogue works, are unfamiliar with archives and have never used the TNA before, I thought that working off this list in search of seals would be a good way to show you.
I’ve made a rough list of the families I’m going to be looking for in the archives. I’m sure there are more to add to this, but this is the A-Z of the main ones I’ve identified so far. By this, I mean those families who seem to have a significant presence in the shire for a few generations, rather than a quick in-and-out sort of relationship with it!
As I said, I wanted to concentrate on those families who were not earls – hence why some names have been struck out. However, since there’s more administration surviving for the earls, I’m going to use William Comyn in this example.
– Beauchamp – Earls of Warwick
– Beaumont – Earls of Buchanan
– Comyn – Earls of Boghan
– Ferrers – Earls of Derby
– Hastings – Earls of Pembroke
– Quincy – earls of Winton
– Le Scrope
*Note that Ashby, Edrington and Skeffington are place names, and so it may not be the same families bearing the same locative.
Of the families on this list, the highlighted names were still present in the county in 1422, and are named by Eric Acheson in his work on the Leicestershire Gentry. The Portable Antiquities Scheme has 86 seal matrices found in Leicestershire. They need to be looked at, while the seals themselves are held in the National Archives, Kew, in the (non-digital) collection, catalogued A-Z by family name. – – – But at least now I know where to begin.
Let’s take a look at the National Archives catalogue. Clicking on the screenshots takes you directly to that page.
This gets you through to this page:
For medieval records, you are actually going to have to travel to the Archives to look up these documents. Some are available for free download, but these are low-quality black and white scans, and they are not very helpful for close work. They are also very few in number, which means that the majority of documents you’ll need are only available in their original form, rather than digital form.
At this point, we go through to “Advanced Search”, which is easier for setting parameters.
The records pertaining to Leicestershire as a county are probably in the Record Office, and I know that the National Archive seal collection catalogue is not digitized – so I’ll have to go and look up the index cards by hand. What I’m looking for here are the family members known to have held lands in Leicestershire in this time period, and seeing if any of their seals survive on other documents. A gentry family, in order to have any real political significance, usually had more than one power centre through their territorial and personal networks. These families also held lands in multiple shires, and even though they remained in Leicestershire for some time, that does not necessarily mean that it was one of their top priorities.
However – in terms of administration, their seals would have been known in the county, and so I’m happy to look at seals that were attached to documents not directly pertaining to Leicestershire but were nevertheless belonging to the family members in question.
So – – let’s start with the advanced search options for the Comyns – using the keywords, Comyn AND Leicestershire, and narrowing the date range (not very much) to 1000-1400. Yes, I know that they are earls of Buchan and as such are not the gentry I want. But there’s a hit for them having a seal attached to something which references their lands in Leicestershire, and also it’s available for free download as it’s one of those which has been scanned, so I thought it was better to show you that one!
This search provides us with eight options, and there is a handy side menu on the left that enables you to filter your options further (not needed in this case, but very useful for when you have a stupid number of hits to go through!)
You can narrow the search and filter the results by Collection, Subject, and Date.
The record we’re interested in out of this list is the following –
Earl William Comyn of Buchan
Sealed at Tutbury, Staffordshire; Property in Botcheston, Leicestershire / Newton, Leicesershire / Buchan, Aberdeenshire
Design: shield of arms (three garbs) with a lion walking to left above and a lion on each side, Size: 24 mm, Shape: round, Colour: uncoloured, varnished, Legend: [..]WILL’I:COMYN:COMIT[..]:DE:BOVH[…], Personal.
You can click the screenshot above and it will take you straight to that page – you can then download the image for free as a .pdf file from the National Archives, if you’d like to see what that looks like. In this case, it’s extremely disappointing – you don’t get to see the document, and the file is just the blank back of the seal, not the front with the actual legend and image. I’ve got some better examples of seals from TNA which I’ve blogged about previously – Earl William de Roumare’s, for example, and Walter (I) de Cantilupe’s. Again, these are my own photographs which I have taken for my research, but which I have permission to reproduce.
If you make a note of the catalogue reference for later, you can enter it directly into the Search bar once you’ve clicked through to the “Discovery” page, and it will take you directly to the entry. In this case, the reference is DL 25/81/69. Make sure you include the / symbol between the numbers.
DL refers to the collection it’s kept in – in this case, it’s kept with the Duchy of Lancaster documents.
Documents are delivered as .zip files, so make sure your email provider doesn’t filter them out.
I shall be back later with more progress reports and hopefully next time with seals to look at, and I will also be giving a How To tour of the National Library of Wales [NLW] and its online catalogue, which is a little more complicated to navigate. Make sure you read up on the rules and requirements of the archives and record offices you plan to visit before you go, and if you don’t already have a Reader’s Card which will allow you access, you will need to bring ID with you (again, make sure you check the requirements for the particular archive, and be aware that they do not all accept CARN cards, if you have one, and that National Libraries/Archives will require you to have their own cards). They will usually ask for more than one form of ID for you to get your card, and you can start using it from the date of issue.