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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1558-1603 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Velvet and satin with linen canvas embroidered with metal thread, silk thread, spangles and beads

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
The burse for the Great Seal of England was a very special kind of ceremonial purse made of rich materials and decorated with the current monarch's arms and initials. It was used to contain the Great Seal, which symbolised the majesty of the law in the same way that the crown symbolises the monarchy.

Elizabeth I had five chancellors during her reign (1558-1603), each with a different burse for the Great Seal.

Historical Associations
On 29 April 1587 the Queen appointed the Vice Chamberlain Sir Christopher Hatton as Lord Chancellor. While staying at the Archbishop of Canterbury's Palace at Croydon, she delivered the Seal in its velvet bag to Hatton, asked him to seal a writ of subpoena (a summons) with it and then declared that he was to hold it as Lord Chancellor. He died four years later at his London house, in the area now known as Hatton Garden.

Physical description

Burse for the State Seal, front of a rectangular burse. Dark red velvet with applied motifs of canvas, partly covered with red and blue satin, and embroidered with silver and silver-gilt purl, wire, strip and thread, and with some coloured silk thread, spangles and black beads. Laid and couched work over padding. Additional details in couched metal thread, spangles and purl worked directly onto the velvet ground. Within a narrow border containing stylised flower heads linked by curving leaves, a royal shield of arms for England with the initials 'E R' (Elizabeth Regina) below and a stylised Tudor rose between the two letters. Shield of arms quarterly for France, 1st and 4th azure, 3 fleurs-de-lys or 2nd and 3rd gules, 3 lions passant-gardent or (for England) supported by a lion and a wyvern. Above is a large crown.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1558-1603 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Velvet and satin with linen canvas embroidered with metal thread, silk thread, spangles and beads

Marks and inscriptions

Shield of arms and initials 'E R'
Elizabeth Regina
English (Elizabeth) and Latin (Regina)


Height: 36.5 cm, Width: 33.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased. Registered File number 1986/371.

From its size, the burse is likely to have contained the Great Seal, in which case it must have belonged to one of Elizabeth I's five Lord Chancellors. The most likely is Sir Christopher Hatton (Chancellor 1587-1591). A miniature (c.1588-91) in the V&A by Hilliard (P.138-1910) shows him holding a large burse, which may have the right sort of decoration.

Descriptive line

Burse for the State Seal of embroidered velvet and satin, made in England, 1558-1603.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
A burse was the ceremonial purse in which the Lord Chancellors of England kept the Great Seal, a symbol of the majesty of the law. They were intended to protect the contents from damage. A miniature portrait on display in gallery 57 shows Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591), Chancellor to Elizabeth I with a large burse which, from the decoration, may be the one on display. [27/03/2003]


Silk (textile); Silver-gilt thread; Silk thread; Canvas; Linen; Spangles; Beads; Metal


Embroidery; Applied work; Satin; Velvet; Couching

Subjects depicted

Shield; Leaves; Tudor; Flowers


Ceremonial objects; Textiles; Embroidery; Royalty; Heraldry


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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