Matthew’s seal, pressed into a red matrix. Photo: Deborah Harkness.

“This small disk must have been Matthew’s private seal. The power of such seals was so great that they were usually destroyed when someone died or left office so no one else could use them to commit fraud.”

Seals were once an important part of legal and literary culture. They were privacy locks, symbols of authenticity, and marks of power. Used to put an image into soft wax, as depicted here, a seal was something unique to the owner, and was preciously guarded. In England, even today, there is a political officer called “Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal” who is a member of the cabinet and the fifth ranked Great Officer of State.