Cost: Free

Seals, Sedition and Sacheverell

Seals, Sedition and Sacheverell

Lecture by Professor William Gibson FSA 


IMG 0193 

This illustrated lecture will seek to draw attention to the use of seals as a historical source by using the seals that were produced during the trial of Revd Dr Henry Sacheverell in 1710. Henry Sacheverell, a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, was tried on a charge of sedition for preaching a controversial Tory High Church sermon. The trial was a sensational moment and led to such heightened political feeling in London that there was widespread rioting and unrest.

In the wake of the conviction but light punishment of Sacheverell, a Tory landslide took place at the following general election in November 1710. During the trial and the election, the supporters and opponents of Sacheverell produced all sorts of items to promote his cause and to signal their views, including fans, handkerchiefs, playing cards and portraits. Fob seals were also produced which featured the image of Sacheverell, of which two are known to exist [one in the British Museum, the other in a private collection]. One of these is a seal which supported Sacheverell, the other vilified him. The seals were used on legal and other documents, indicating that these were not simply decorative or partisan symbols.

The purpose of the lecture is to explore the nature of the seals in the early eighteenth century and the ways in which they were used to identify with Sacheverell. It will also argue that seals were one way in which the Sacheverell case was kept alive and commemorated. Fob seals permitted the owner to keep the seal close and show it to friends and allies, but also hide it in a pocket. By making a comparison with medals and coins, it will also be clear that the same intaglio-makers were supplying both sides of the debate.

The significance of the lecture is that material culture in the period of the ‘rage of parties’ was strongly political and theological –an element which is usually absent from discussions of material items in this period.