Embroiderers’ Seals

Quality control was paramount to the reputation of the Broderers’ Company and the sealing of embroidered goods is detailed in the ordinances as approved by the City of London in 1528 (LMA  Letter Book O COL/AD/01/014).  Every piece of embroidery was to be brought to the wardens of the Broderers Company to be inspected within two days of completion.  “All such works tents with flowers or powdering or garments” that were lawfully made were to be sealed with a lead seal.  The charge for sealing was determined by the value of the goods: for work or garment under the value of 6s 8d the cost was 1d and 2d for anything above.

Because the cloth trade was vital to the English economy, thousands of 16th century cloth seals have been collected and catalogued.  To my knowledge, none have been associated with the embroidered textile trade but there would have been few in comparison to those of the woollen cloth industry.  I have not yet had the opportunity to check the 2017 publication Cloth Seals: An Illustrated Guide to the Identification of Lead Seals Attached to Cloth: From the British Perspective by Stuart Elton. If you happen to have access to this comprehensive guide, perhaps you can have a look.

The seal for approving embroidered goods was to have the arms of the city on one side and on the other side the seal the Broderers’ Company.  The Broderers’ had not yet been granted an official set of arms so it isn’t clear what image the craft may have used at this time, but it is possible that the print may have been the personal seal of one of the wardens.  Thomas Packard was one of the two wardens who submitted the proposed ordinances to the city for approval.  This image from his will is quite fuzzy but it incorporates what may be a quill of gold thread between his initials T and P, surmounted by a dove, the emblem of the Holy Ghost.   It would be a very fitting visual for an imprint of the Broderers’ on a seal in 1528.   

Personal seals belonging to members of the Broderers Company can be found on other extant documents such as the deed for the purchase of the property on Gutter Lane on which Thomas Forster’s seal is firmly attached (NAL MSL/1999/6).  Thomas Forster’s initials flank an arm bent at the elbow with the hand holding a bow and an arrow.  It is very similar to the image on a crest for Thomas FForster of London found in the British Library (Add MS 36354). 

Thomas Forster was a prominent member of the Broderers’ Company and was instrumental in the establishment of the first Broderers’ Company Hall.  His name appears often in the royal accounts for Henry VIII.  In 1516, the office of the revels notes that was paid for creating, amongst other things, “a wreath of green satin, embroidered and wrought like pomegranates… using 8 oz. flat damask gold for the bunch of pomegranates” for the king.  Imagine a young Henry sporting a garland of golden pomegranates, a symbol of his beloved, at that time, Queen Katherine.

Forster was the recipient of Letters Patent from King Henry VIII on 28 April 1524.  The illuminated charter is reputedly the work of Lucas Horenbout a painter of the Ghent-Bruges school who came to work in the royal court.  The decoration includes a miniature portrait of Henry VIII and is very unusual at this early date and possibly the first of its kind.  The property identified on the manuscript is located on Funkes Lane in Cornhill very close to the Merchant Tailors’ Hall.  The document was at one time on display in the British Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum and is illustrated in Illuminated Manuscripts and their Makers, by Watson and Rowan, V&A, 2003 ISBN 185177385. Manuscript. MSL/1999/6

4 thoughts on “Embroiderers’ Seals

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  1. This is fascinating! I’m guessing all guild members lived within the city of London as bringing in their work for approval within two days of completion could be a tight delivery deadline! Would every guild member have also had their own private seal, or mark on their work, too? Lastly Cindy, are you able to conduct your research online? It’s amazing what we finally have access to via digitized libraries and artworks.

    1. Hi Christine, thank you for your questions! Other cities had their own guilds so they would have had similar quality control measures. The City of London was quite compact in the 16th century so delivering the goods would have been fairly easy. I haven’t any information about “signing” or marking their work but I believe the embroiderers on the continent at this time may have. As for each broderer having their own personal seal, most of the wills that are hand written do not have seals, only signatures or “marks” witnessed by others. Finding a sealed will is rare but I managed to find a few but some were so clogged with dust if was impossible to see the image. Finally, I can do a great deal on line but the best stuff has to be seen in person!

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