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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Bags: Inside Out, Room 40

Burse

1558-1603 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.

Royalty
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.
read Burse for Queen Elizabeth I's Great Seal Throughout history, bags have been made both for practical use and also valued as symbolic devices. Their design or decoration can often reveal something about the wearer, whether it be their profession, their aspirations or social status. Like many bags today, such as backpacks or briefca...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Velvet and satin with linen canvas embroidered with metal thread, silk thread, spangles and beads
Brief Description
Burse for the State Seal of embroidered velvet and satin, made in England, 1558-1603.
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.
Dimensions
  • Height: 36.5cm
  • Width: 33.5cm
Dimensions checked: measured; 26/01/1999 by DW
Marks and Inscriptions
Shield of arms and initials 'E R' (English (Elizabeth) and Latin (Regina))
Gallery Label
  • This densely embroidered panel is from the burse (ceremonial pouch) that protected the silver matrix of Queen Elizabeth I’s Great Seal of England. A matrix was used to make an impression in melted wax to authenticate official documents. An original Elizabethan wax seal is seen on the land ownership licence displayed here. The burse was possibly used by Sir Christopher Hatton, the Queen’s Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord Chancellor from 1587 to 1591. The portrait miniature depicts Hatton proudly displaying a similar burse, on the table to his right [P.138-1910]. V&A, Room 40, Bags: Inside Out. (12/2020)
  • 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)
Object history
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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.

Royalty
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.
Bibliographic Reference
Bags V&A Exhibition (Project)Bags: Inside Out (2020) Lucia Savi, V&A Publishing, pg 80
Collection
Accession Number
T.40-1986

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record createdApril 6, 1999
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