Records of the Signet Office

Reference:
SO
Title:
Records of the Signet Office
Description:

Records of the Signet Office relating to the use of the signet seal as an authority for official royal acts.

King's bill's are in SO 7; docquet books containing short summaries of their contents are in SO 3, with indexes in SO 4. Warrants for king's bills are in SO 8 and SO 6. Irish letter books are in SO 1, with indexes in SO 2. Miscellaneous other records of the Signet Office are in SO 5

Date:
1584-1876
Related Material:
Some early warrants under the signet and other small seals are in C 81
See also the records of the Privy Seal Office: PSO
Separated Material:
See also HO 97/11
Held by:
The National Archives, Kew
Legal status:
Public Record
Language:
English
Creator:
Home Office, 1782-
Signet Office, 1444-1851
Physical description:
8 series
Access conditions:
Open
Administrative / biographical background:

The use of the signet as an authority for royal acts is at least as early as the reign of Edward III. In the fifteenth century the clerks of the signet formed a distinct office under the king's principal secretary, in whom the custody of the signet was vested.

From as early as 1444 the use of the signet at an early stage on the passage of grants under the great seal was regulated by the Privy Council and also involved the Privy Seal Office. However, this system of a chain of official responsibility in the making of royal grants was not established by Parliament until the Clerks of the Signet and Privy Seal Act of 1535 laid down that all grants by the King (or in his name) should be brought to the Secretary or one of the clerks of the signet and that a warrant from a Clerk of the Signet to the Keeper of the Privy Seal, to be followed by one from a Clerk of the Privy Seal to the Keeper of the Great Seal, should be the authority in ordinary cases for affixing the great seal to a grant. A scale of fees for the clerks of the Signet and Privy Seal Offices was fixed by the act and provision was made for the payment of these fees in cases where the grant was passed by immediate warrant and did not go through the two offices.

The business of the Signet Office was performed by four clerks acting in person or by deputy. Their primary duty, upon receipt of a warrant under the royal sign manual countersigned by a Secretary of State (or the Treasury commissioners), was to draw out on parchment the king's bill which was sent to the Secretary of State for the royal sign manual. At some period it became necessary for the Attorney General or Solicitor General to prepare the bills in certain cases,such as creations of nobility, charters, commissions and patents for invention. When a king's bill was returned to the Signet Office duly signed, a transcript was made of it. The signet was affixed to this transcript, which was then sent to the Privy Seal Office and was known as the signet bill, being the authority for the writ of privy seal to the Lord Chancellor.

The Signet Office was abolished by the Great Seal Act of 1851 which substituted simpler forms for the passing of grants under the great seal for those previously in use. Such duties of the office as survived were henceforward performed by the Home Office. One such duty was that of entering all letters dispatched under the royal sign manual from the government to the Lord Lieutenant and other authorities in Ireland.

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