Seal tags were a way to attach a seal to documents in a more secure way. That required that the seal was still firmly attached to the document (so that seals couldn't be swapped between documents), but would not be subjected to as bad a stresses as seals attached directly to the page were.
Today's aim is to introduce different varieties of seal tags. In later posts I'll give more examples of these, show you how to construct your own, and explore intricacies of construction.
In earliest form of seal tag, the spare parchment at base of the document was slit to form a long thin strip (like tearing up a minties wrapper), which the wax and seal was applied to. An example is shown below (click on the image to see it large, the links in the text for more provenance details). Like many other examples, there is a second strip of parchment, cut just like the seal tag, with which to tie the document closed when folded up. (which does suggest a possible origin for this method if it can be dated to before seal tags)
Charter with Seal of King Edward the Confessor
Seal in use 1042-1066, charter c1050. Diameter 70mm.
(London British Library, Campbell charter XXI.5)
The most common form of seal tag by the 12th C is a strip of parchment which is a separate piece from the document. Any remaining parchment on the charter is folded up towards the writing so the edge of the parchment sits just below the end of the writing, permitting no space for additional words to be added. This turn-up is generally only a couple of cm wide - If large amounts of parchment remain at the end of writing a scribe could be expected to cut this off for other documents, and smaller portions for use as seal tags. One or three horizontal slits were cut in this doubled parchment, the width of the strip of parchment used as a seal tag. The seal tag was inserted through the slits with ends dangling below the parchment for the seal to attach to. The example below shows both front and rear of the document.
Tag with red wax seal, depicting a coat-of-arms (cracked, lacking portions).
Tag made from waste material, bearing inscription on inward side.
(McMaster University, British Legal Instruments Collection Ms. 51)
The conceptually simplest forms of fibre seal tags (although often most decorated) are woven strips which replace the parchment seal tag in the same manner. Although the simplest seal tag to attach, these wider tags provide more space for more elaborate textile techniques, as seen in the example below.
William de Brus to Durham cathedral priory
c1194x1215. Double faced tabletweaving.
(Durham Dean and Chapter Muniments 4.8 Spec 2)
Mandate of Pope Martin IV for a case to be heard
Charter of Richard I, confirming to Alexander de Barentin, butler to Henry II, all his property fairly purchased or confirmed to him by Henry II.
(London, Westminster Abbey Muniments no. 657).