Chancery: Warrants for the Great Seal, Series III
The final series of three containing warrants for the great seal. Most of these warrants are pretexts for the engrossment of letters patent; the rest portend commissions and proclamations. Most of the letters patent relate to appointments to office.
From 1714 until 1837 the pieces in this series represent monthly instalments of warrants. Most are sub-divided into parts, usually six or seven.
After the abandonment of the monthly instalment system from 1837 the parts multiply. Often there are clusters of warrants for the same purpose, such as ecclesiastical appointments. The easiest documents to locate are proclamations. From 1886-7 they begin to be clustered as the last part for each regnal year.
Nineteenth-century reforms reduced the usage of the great seal and simplified the process of obtaining it. It was usually applied to letters patent, commissions and proclamations. In 1851 the signet and in 1884 the privy seal were removed from their roles in procuring the great seal, ensuring the triumph of the warrant under the royal sign manual, countersigned by a secretary of state or the lord chancellor, to whom the warrants were addressed, or two Treasury commissioners.
There was already a reduction in the use of the great seal by 1851. In 1833, for example, sheriffs ceased to be appointed by warrant under the great seal but by warrant signed by the clerk of the Privy Council instead. Writs of subpoena no longer required the great seal. From 1852 letters patent for inventions were no longer validated by the great seal and ceased to be entered on the patent rolls.
Since 1878 royal proclamations, commissions of royal assent, writs of summons to Parliament and for election thereto, writs of summons to Convocation, commissions of the peace, letters patent, and other such instruments have been authenticated by an impression of the great seal which is embossed on a wafer. Since 1916 the great seal has no longer been used to authenticate patents of appointment below the standing of peers, baronets, judges and law officers, nor for congés d'elire for bishops (though it has continued for royal assent to their election).
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