Gold seal ring with Baker arms, England, 1580-1600
Diameter: 2.8 cm estimated
British Galleries, room 58b
Coats of arms were used as a personal signature not just by the very powerful but by many members of the gentry, including women, and by holders of various offices. After about 1550 it became common for gentlemen to wear a signet ring with their family arms. The revolving seal ring was made for a member of the Throckmorton family and shows their Falcon crest. It also bears the coat of arms of the more powerful Carew family, because of the alliance through marriage of the two families. The large seal would have been used to authorise important documents. [27/03/2003]
A seal ring was to used to apply the wearer's personal mark to the sealing wax on a document. The seal then denoted the legality of the document and the identification of the issuing authority or individual.
Ownership & Use
The practice of wearing a seal ring engraved with a heraldic crest became common in England in the 15th century. At first the ring was only engraved with the crest (the top part of a complete coat of arms). However, after the mid-16th century it became usual for a gentleman to wear a 'seal of arms' like this ring, which has a complete shield.
The image of a gentleman wearing a signet ring appears in Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's life of the ancient Persian king Artaxerxes II. The translation appeared in 1579. In it, North describes the Spartan officer Clearchus drawing a 'seale of arms' from his finger, though he went on to say that the ring was engraved with a classical subject not a coat of arms.
There was a Christopher Baker at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, from1559 to 1564, but there is no known link between him and this ring.