by John Ashdown-Hill
At least seven different seals used by Richard III at various stages of his career, either as duke of Gloucester or as king, have survived, six of them as seal impressions on documents and one in matrix form.
The earliest surviving seal used by Richard is one made for him in his capacity as Admiral of England. In this case the seal matrix itself has survived, and is preserved in the British Museum [BM Dept Med & Later Antiquities, Seal-Die no. 27]. An impression from this matrix can be seen at the Britsh Library [BL Doubleday Cast G. 269].
The single-sided circular seal depicts a one-masted ship, the mainsail of which is charged with Richard's ducal arms, namely the royal arms with a label of three points for difference. On the embattled prow of the ship there is a cresset, and on the embattled stern a castle with with Richard's standard (bearing the same arms) held aloft by a greyhound. The background is replenished with foliage. On a scroll is the inscription:
S': RIC'I: DUC': GLOUC': ADMIRALLI: ANGL: &: COM': DORS': &: SOMS'
The use of a greyhound as the standard-bearer is interesting, as this animal has more usually been heraldically associated with Henry VII.
Two examples of Richard's seal as Duke of Gloucester survive on charters granted by him to Queens' College Cambridge. Both date from 1477.
The seal employed on these charters was a single-sided circular seal, displaying Richard's arms as duke of Gloucester: the royal arms with a label of three points for difference, and boar supporters. The shield which bears the arms is surmounted by a coronet. On the reverse, a counterseal has been applied in the form of a small signet, very similar to one used at about the same period by Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk.
Both obverse and reverse of this seal are those used earlier (as his third great seal) by Richard's brother, King Edward IV.
For Richard's use, the name RICARDUS was substituted. The same matrices were probably also used during the short reign of Edward V. As is usual with great seals, the impression is double-sided and show:
Obverse: the king enthroned, robed and crowned, seated in a trefoiled gothic compartment. The royal arms are held by lions to the left and right of the throne, and there is a Yorkist sunburst to the left and right of the king's footstool.
Reverse: the king, mounted, in armour, gallops towards the right over broken ground. There is a diapered background of lozenges enclosing roses, with fleurs-de-lys and lions' head at the knots of reticulation. Both obverse and reverse bear the inscription:
RICARDUS DEI GRA REX FRÂCIE ET ANGLIE ET DOMINUS HIBERNIE.
There is an example of this seal impression in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries (MS. 1008). It appears to be a much earlier seal, probably made originally for Edward III, which has been updated for Richard III by the insertion of his name, and his boar supporters either side of the shield of arms on the reverse.
Obverse: a bearded king (Edward III?) enthroned, holding an orb with a long cross, and a sceptre. The inscription reads:
RICARDVS DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE ET FRANCIE
Reverse: Royal arms, France quartering England (but the arms show France ancient – a field semé fleurs-de-lys, rather than France modern – three fleurs-de-lys, as borne by Richard III), with boar supporters.
The Society of Antiquaries of London holds, in addition to examples of Richard III's great seal, and the court of common pleas seal (above) the impression of a signet of Richard III. There is a reproduction of this at the British Museum. It is is a small single-sided impression from a circular matrix. It bears Richard's arms as king (quarterly France, modern and England) within a collar of roses, beneath an open crown with a circle of crosses and fleurs-de-lys. There is no inscription.
Only one impression of this seal survives, and it is now in poor condition. Engravings made in the nineteenth century show that the seal was then more complete. It is preserved on a charter now in the Glamorgan Record Office (ref D/D C1228) which was issued on 27 February 1484. The seal was plainly made for Richard before his accession, and displays his arms as duke of Gloucester, together with the arms of Beauchamp and Newburgh (Glamorgan came to Richard as part of the Beauchamp inheritance). The seal is double-sided.
Obverse: shows Richard mounted, in armour, and galloping right, bearing a shield of the arms as described. His white boar badge appears beneath the horse. The background is of foliage and there is no inscription.
Reverse: shows a shield with the same arms and boar supporters.
This seal, attached to a charter of 10 April 1484 (Council of the City of Chester, CH/30), was made for Richard as king.
Obverse: shows Richard mounted and galloping right on a background of diaper-work, with five-petalled roses enclosed in the lozenges. His shield bears the royal arms.
Reverse: shows Richard's arms as king impaling the arms of Chester, on a shield with boar supporters, beneath an open crown with a circle of fleurs-de lis only.
It is unusual to find a crown of this design used in England. The marks of four locating rods (used to ensure that the front and back of the seal matched up correctly) can be seen.
TANT LE DESIREE 'I have longed for it so much'
Written in Richard's own hand, together with his name, on a page of the story of Ipomedon, the 'best knight of the world', during his adolescence and probably before 1470. Longleat, MS 257, f. 98v
ILLA TREZTANT DESYRE 'he has longed for it so much'
Found in a small collection of drawings of heraldic beasts and mottoes together with Richard's title. BL, MS Add. 40742
A VOUS ME LY 'I am bound to you'
Found in Richard, Duke of Gloucester's New Testament and appears above his title. New York Public Library, MS De Ricci 67.
A VOTRE PLAISIR 'at your service'
This is can only tentatively be attributed to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. It was found at Middleham Castle, engraved around a metal plaque with a central motif of a linked RA. Although the initials could stand for Richard and Anne the previous owners of the castle were Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp and before them Richard Neville and Alice Montague.
LOYAULTE ME LIE 'loyalty binds me'
First known to be used in 1483, bracketed with his signature, on a scrap paper which also includes the signatures of Edward V and Henry, Duke of Buckingham. BL, MS Cotton Vesp. F xiii, f. 123. It next appears on the charter of incorporation for the Wax Chandlers' Company of London dated 16 February 1484.
The above are taken from Richard III's Books by Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs. Gloucester 1997.