Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Slit patterns on dependant parchement seal tags

Having seen a few dependant or separate parchment seal tags, it's probably time to analyse the variety of slit patterns through which the seal tag was inserted. There are a number of variations, but while searching for these examples, I actually found that just two patterns of slits accounted for nearly all of the documents, and the few other slit patterns are rare differences.

One slit
The simplest slit pattern is to create a single slit in the parchment. The slit is standardly made in the folded up section (where the parchment is doubled), near the top of the folded section. That is the knife runs across the parchment once, but cuts both pieces of doubled parchment, ie one pair of slits. This is likely to be the strongest location for the slit, giving the most wear resistance. The example below shows both front and rear of a document, showing how simple the single slit is.

Feoffment by Thomas Stoteville and John Aston to William Cotton and others of lands in Saxton, Wood Ditton and elsewhere in Cambridgeshire.
Saxton, Wood Ditton, 1453
Seals: Red wax impression on front only
Tags: single piece of parchment passed through one pair of slits in doubled parchment
(McMaster University British Legal Instruments Collection No. 16)

Here's another example of the same slit pattern, this time with the tag removed and the paper unfolded, and laid flat. We see two slits as this single slit was made through two layers of parchment at once.

Quitclaim by John Judd to John Knight of the property of Motynnescroft in Tonbridge, Kent.
Seal & Tag: missing
(McMaster University British Legal Instruments Collection No. 3)

In the final example of this pattern, the folded parchment has unfolded under the tag on the right (front - left on the back), and can be compared to the other tag which is threaded through the folded parchment. This shows the simple arrangement of tag and parchment and that there is no fixative or other fancy folding happening.

Instrument of sasine with charter by Robert Levingstoune to John Bog and Cristine Anderson of an annual rent of 12 merks. 1580/81.
Seals: Red wax impression on front only
Tags: single piece of parchment passed through one pair of slits in doubled parchment
McMaster University British Legal Instruments Collection No. 43)

You may have noticed in the previous example, the tag on the left (front left) was not pulled down as low as it could be, but rather had been pushed up like a pop up book. Both this and the unfolding of the parchment might have been encouragement for high class scribes to develop more complex slit patterns that would better hold all portions of the document in place, as discussed in the next section.

Three slits
A pattern of 3 slits (3 sets when folded) is the other most commonly used way of threading a dependant parchment seal. The example below shows the near ubiquitous arrangement - as in the one slit, the first slit is made in the folded section, as close to the top of it as possible, cutting through both layers of parchment. The second slit is made in the centre of the folded section, also through both layers. The final slit is made through one layer, located on the fold of the document.

Confirmation of grant
Before 1204
Richard II du Hommet confirms the grant at Langrune-sur-Mer made by his father William du Hommet, the constable of the king of England, to the monks of Aunay.
Slits: 3 slits, 2 through doubled parchment and one through fold
Tag: single piece of parchment
(Caen, AD Calvados, H 912)

While different threading patterns could be constructed with these slits, where the backs of the document can be seen, or details of where the rear portion of the tag emerges from the slits, the evidence I've seen all points to one pattern being in use. The tag begins inside the document at the top, threads out through both front and rear holes, then back in through the middle holes in front and rear, then emerges from the document through the slit on the fold. This sounds rather complicated, so I'll post a set of photos of how to do this soon. An example showing front and rear of a document in this folding pattern is below.

Quitclaim by Margery Addington to John Addington of the manors of Harlow and Alderbrook, Essex and other lands in Essex and London.
Essex, 1557/58
Tag: Folded tag passes through two slits in folded portion and one slit on fold of parchment
Seal: red wax seal, depicting a (woman's?) portrait, facing to the right.
(McMaster University British Legal Instruments Collection No. 49)

While this isn't as easy to construct as other possible patterns, this is much more resistant to tag movement, holding the tag more firmly in place, with the two sides of the document providing double reinforcement for the document.

3 slit variants
I mentioned at the start that a few variations on the slit patterns exist. The first is to move the top slit to above the fold in the parchment. This can be done with a single slit or a 3 slit pattern, examples of both below. I expect this to be weaker than passing through both layers of parchment, which probably accounts for the rarity of this variation.

July1374 - 1375
Tags: two remnants of tags passing through a slit above the fold in parchment, a slit in the middle of the folded section of the parchment and a slit in the fold of the parchment.
(Swedish Archives DS8799)

Another stranger variation to the 3 slits is shown below - the top slit is made above the fold and two slits are made in the folded section - none on the fold. It seems to have worked fine as an attachment method.

Confirmation of cathedral chapter of episcopal grant,
1149 ?-1154
(DCM, 1.6.Spec.20)

Finally an example where the back is not symmetrical with the front - the back of the tag was not passed through either slits -right hand side of first picture (front), left hand side of second picture (back):

July1374 - 1375
Tags: three seal tags on the front of parchment pass through 2 slits in the doubled parchment and one on the fold of the parchment and on hte back 2 pass through 3 slits while on passes through only one slit
Seals: 2 seals green or dark wax front and natural wax backing, one seal obscured by a seal bag
(Swedish archives DS8829)

Given that this is just one of 3 tags done this way on this document, lets assume it was a mistake, and the tag was intended to pass through all the slits.

The mythical 2 slit pattern
In theory various combinations with two pairs of slits (or simply two slits in an un-doubled parchment) ought to be possible. The example below at first looks like 2 slits , but look carefully - the doubled parchment has been smoothed down. Turn it back up again, in such a way that it ends just a nice distance below the words and this example is actually a single slit pattern.

Account of the commons of North Shorwell, Isle of Wight.
North Shorwell, Isle of Wight, 6 Oct. 1501
Manuscript: In Latin
Tag: passes through two slits
Seal: red wax seal, depicting a crown?
(McMaster University British Legal Instruments Collection No. 18)

Another 13th C example of this phenomenon can be found on the 13th century private charter of Alan de Witcherche (British Library, add. charter 20592) on the medieval writing site.

While I think a pattern with 2 pairs of slits should be possible, I still haven't found any examples yet, so I wouldn't be sealing any documents this way.

Other slit patterns
I'm yet to find any good evidence for any slit patterns not mentioned above. I'm sure if I find enough examples of sealed documents, something out of the ordinary, or some regional variant like the clever variations the Swedish made on integral tags will turn up, but the above certainly seems to cover the majority of examples. If you spot anything you think might be different, please let me know.