The Lord Keeper's seal cup
- Place of origin:
London, England (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Silver gilt, chased and embossed
- Credit Line:
Offered in Lieu of Tax by the Croome Estate Trust on behalf of the Earls of Coventry
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Temporary Exhibition, room 38, case WNW, shelf CA13
A highly ornamented standing cup would have been on display during a meal rather than used. This example was made from one of the Great Seals of James I held by Sir Thomas Coventry. The tradition that allowed the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal to retain it and have it made into a piece of plate began with Nicholas Bacon, Keeper from 1558 to1579. It was referred to as a perquisite, hence our modern word 'perk'.
The cup shows both the decorative and the symbolic importance of heraldry. It features the rose for England, the fleur-de-lis for France, the thistle for Scotland and the harp for Ireland, all crowned with the Stuart crown. The lion and unicorn supporting the stem are part of the royal coat of arms.
Sir Thomas Coventry (1578-1640) was a lawyer who held several important political positions. In 1625 he became Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The seal was used on documents issued by Chancery, such as grants of land or money and appointments to public posts. Thomas Coventry intended the cup to be an heirloom and bequeathed it to his son. He had made another similar cup, again from a Great Seal, which is now at Longleat House, Wiltshire. The maker of the V&A cup is not known, but from the quality of his surviving work, he was obviously one of the best of his day.
A Charles 1 silver-gilt standing seal cup and cover made of James 1's Great Seal. It stands on a spreading circular base stamped with a narrow band of foliage and with a bell-shaped plinth. The banded stem is supplied with the Royal supporters above a fluted knop. The vase shaped bowl is detachable and chased diagonally with the badges of England - the rose, of France - the fleur de lis, of Scotland - the thistle and Ireland, - the harp, all are crowned with the Royal Stuart crown. The waisted and beaded finial supporting the detachable Royal Coat of Arms is a replacement.
Place of Origin
London, England (made)
Materials and Techniques
Silver gilt, chased and embossed
Marks and inscriptions
London hallmarks for 1626-27
Mark; RB with a mullet below
Below the rim of the cup are engraved the words, "NUNCA PRIUATA DONY CLAUDIT AMORE CALIX : PUBLICA QUD NUPER FIRMABAT IURA SIGLLUM.
Height: 70 cm, Diameter: 21.9 cm, Diameter: 17.5 cm foot, Weight: 3826.2 g Cup and cover, Weight: 123.1 troy Cup and cover
Object history note
This cup is the earlier of a pair of standing seal cups and covers commissioned by Thomas Coventry (1578-1640). The other is in the collections of the Earl of Bath at Longleat House. It is made from one of the obsolete Great Seals of James 1 and commemorates Thomas Coventry's term as Charles 1's Keeper of the Great Seal. The cup has since descended in his family. It is an extremely rare example of royal silversmithing of the period; the only other survivors are a small group of pieces in the Kremlin Armoury which were given as diplomatic gifts by Charles 1 to the Russian Crown and which therefore escaped the Cromwellian melting pot. The chasing illustrates the decorative and symbolic importance of heraldry with its badges representing the early Stuart crown; England - the rose, Scotland - the thistle, France - the fleur-de-lis and Ireland, the harp, each with the royal crown above. The domed cover belongs to the standing cup at Longleat and the finial is a late replacement.
This cup was commissioned by the Keeper of the great Seal, Thomas Coventry and has since descended through his family. As such he was entitled to keep the obsolete seal and convert it into a commemorative piece of silver, a tradition which appears to have begun with Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Phillip and Mary Tudor. In Thomas Coventry's will of March 1638, two cups are recorded. The first is the one hallmarked 1626-7 (this cup now in the V&A) - "I will give to my said son Thomas Coventry, as heirloom, my gilt basin and ewer...which were given to me by the King's Majesty when he was Prince of Wales and my first Great Silver Cup, made from the late Great Seal of England..." The second standing cup and cover, London hallmarks for 1627-8 and now at Longleat House, has the Royal badges running in the opposite direction. The will tells us that it too was made from a Great Seal, "I give and bequeath to my said wife my second great silver cup made of another Great Seal of England and my desire is that she leave the same after her death to remain as an heirloom so my sons and issue male...as the other is intended to mine eldest son and posterity by my first wife."
James 1's Great Seal depicted the King seated on a canopied throne with shields charged with the emblems of England, France, Scotland and Ireland. The counter seal depicts the King on horseback and the arms of Scotland and Ireland are introduced for the first time. The Royal style in the engraved Latin legend also reflects the union of England and Scotland as well as Ireland. This seal was in use from July 1603 until May 1605 when it was altered, the King's warrant giving the reason , "For as much as in our Great Seal lately made of the realm of England, the canope over the picture of our face is so low imbossed that thereby the same Seal in that place therof doth easily bruise and take disgrace." The altered seal was apparently then in use again from June 1605 until the end of King James's reign in 1625 and unusually, also for a few months following the accession of Charles 1. As late as 1626 it is found in the Charter of New College Oxford.
Both cups and covers were made by an unknown goldsmith, his mark being RB with a mullet below. From surviving pieces he is obviously one of the foremost goldsmiths of the day. Several commissions by this maker are recorded, each of outstanding design and quality and include a gourd cup of 1611-12, presented by the Royal embroiderer, Edmund Harrison to the Broderers' Company in 1628 and the St. Johns Hampstead steeple cup of 1629.
Thomas Coventry came from a long line of distinguished public servants. He was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Coventry , one of the Justices of the Court of the Common Pleas and a descendant of Thomas Coventrie, co-sheriff of London with the celebrated Richard (Dick) Whittington in 1416. He was born at Croome d'Abitot in Worcestershire in 1578 and after a private education and a brief period at Ballliol College, Oxford, he entered the Inner Temple in 1594. In his legal career he developed a reputation for honesty and sound judgement and in 1616 he was appointed Recorder of London by James 1. On the 14th of March the following year he was appointed Solicitor-General and was knighted two days later at Theobald's, James 1's favourite hunting lodge in Essex. In 1621 he was made Attorney General, an office he retained after james's death in March 1625. On the 1st of November 1625, on the recommendation of the Duke of Buckingham, Coventry was appointed Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England by Charles 1.
As Lord Keeper, Coventry opened the second parliament of Charles 1's reign in 1626, when he had to deliver the King's reprimand to the Commons. He also opened the third parliament in March 1628, announcing the Royal prerogative to circumvent parliament if necessary. The following month he was created Baron Coventry of Aylesborough in the county of Worcestershire. Thereafter he steadily supported the King. When parliament collapsed in March 1629 it did not reconvene for the remaining eleven years of Coventry's life.
Coventry was active in parliament and showed an independence unusual in contemporary officers of the Crown. In 1628 he opposed Buckingham's application for the office of Lord High Constable. He was accused of advising some of Charles 1's most arbitrary acts, but in the Star Chamber Coventry was usually on the side of clemency. Always more of a lawyer than a politician, his political opinions although not extreme, coincided in the main with the King's supporters. His royalist sympathies mellowed in his later years and he resisted Charles's attempts to enforce payment of a loan by the City of London in June 1639, though he himself lent to the King (£10,000 in December that year). Writs surrounding the "Short Parliament" had now been issued, but before it could convene, Coventry died, on 14th January 1640 at Durham House. His body was interred in the family vault in the church at Croome d'Abitot on the 1st of March.
The Lord Keeper's Cup
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Philippa Glanville and Sophie Lee, eds., The Art of Drinking, V&A Publications, London, 2007, p. 65
Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars (Victoria and Albert Museum)
The Golden Age of the English Court: From Henry VIII to Charles I (Moscow Kremlin Museums 24 Oct 2012-27 Jan 2013)
Treasures of Croome Revealed (Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum 07/05/2005-09/07/2005)
Labels and date
This covered cup was made from one of the obsolete Great Seals of James I. It was commissioned by Sir Thomas Coventry to commemorate his appointment by Charles I as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The crowned royal badges of England, France, Scotland and Ireland are copied from the Stuart arms. [27/03/2003]
Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars label text:
The Lord Keeper’s seal cup
This cup commemorated Sir Thomas Coventry’s role as Lord Keeper in the reign of James I. It is made from silver recycled from his ‘Great Seal of Office’.It is surmounted by the royal coat of arms, decorated with royal badges, and has the lion and unicorn supporters on the stem. The cup was made as a family heirloom.
Gilded silver, chased and embossed
Unidentified maker’s mark ‘RB’ with a mullet below
Gilding; Chasing; Embossing; Raising
Coat of arms