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Lleision ap Morgan Makes an Impression: Seals and the Study of Medieval Wales
By Elizabeth A. New
The Welsh History Review, Volume 26, Number 3 (2013)
Abstract: Seals are a very important source of evidence for the social, political, economic and religious history of medieval Wales, but generally have received little attention from scholars. Drawing on the work of the recent Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Seals in Medieval Wales project, this article highlights their potential, and explores in detail the seals used by one Welsh noble family in Glamorgan in the context of the adoption of the seal as a means of documentary validation in medieval Wales and sealing practices amongst the native rulers and Anglo-Norman settlers of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In particular, it demonstrates that, when considered in conjunction with a range of associated material, the principal motifs employed on seals can reveal fascinating and important insights into a rapidly changing society.
Introduction: The phrase sigillum meum apposui is familiar to medieval scholars, but apart from noting whether a seal is still attached to the document this rarely prompts further thought. Yet seals offer valuable, sometimes crucial, evidence for the study of the Middle Ages. Indeed, to paraphrase Michel Pastoureau, seals are one of the most important sources of information for a study of pre- modern Europe. 2 The basis for such a claim is that, unlike many other sources, we usually know when, where, for what reason and by whom a seal was used. Furthermore, as objects with both a legal application and a personal resonance, they offer crucial evidence for medievalists related to, among other things, legal and administrative practices, familial, social and political networks, religious allegiances, costume, buildings and developing technologies. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they allow glimpses into the mindset of their owners by being vehicles for expressing identity. For Wales in the Middle Ages, where sources are far from abundant, seals offer perhaps especial potential. In order to highlight some of the ways in which this material can be utilized to further the study of medieval Wales, this article will explore in detail the seals used by a Welsh noble family in Glamorgan in the context of sealing practices amongst the native rulers and Anglo-Norman settlers of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries.