Elizabeth, by the Grace of God Queen of England

The England ruled over by Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603, Queen from 1558) was a triumphant military power and culturally very rich. The burr under her crown was that Catholics considered her to be illegitimate and so ineligible for this enviable throne. Travels through England with her Court, appearing before her subjects with charm and in majesty, allowed her to consolidate power, establish the support of her subjects, and assert her right to rule. It was one of those travels that brought her to Cambridge in August, 1564.

Elizabeth dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina fidei defensor etc, OMNIBUS ad quos presentes littere peruenerint Salutem.
Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland, and defender of the realm, TO ALL WHO SEE THIS, Greetings.

So begins a grant of Sampford Courtenay manor from the Queen to King’s College, shown below.

Note the symbols for royal power in England (lion, rose and crown), Wales (dragon), France (fleur de lys) and Ireland (harp) at the top of the charter. The first line is formulaic and can be found on any ancient royal charter, though the specifics change from time to time. The lovely decorated lettering is more ornate than strictly necessary, indicating a document of great importance.

Other evidence that this is an important document are the use of Latin and of the Great Seal.

The Great Seal on this charter is larger than that of previous monarchs, 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. It follows the usual pattern for Great Seals, depicting the ruler enthroned on one side and on horseback on the other. The horseback side usually depicts a king in battle dress, but for this Queen, who could be head of the armed forces in name only, both sides show her with the orb and sceptre. She would not let England forget that she was Queen.

For less important documents she could use the privy seal, which is comparable in size to the Great Seals of her predecessors. The privy seal has her enthroned with orb and sceptre on one side, and the royal crest on the other. It is almost 4 inches (9.7 cm) in diameter. In this case the seal is attached to a 1591 exemplification (certified copy) of the fine (right to collect certain fees) for Sampford Courtenay.


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