Seals, Sealing Wax and Henry VIII

Seals & Sealing wax“We wrap orders in tissue & ribbon. A gift for yourself or others!”

So reads a note on the home page of letterseals.com. And indeed, unwrapping my little order when it came did feel like a gift — of elegance and a more gracious age when people had the time (or made the time) to pen letters and seal them with a blob of glistening wax.

DivorceLetter2Of course, wax seals originated from both the necessity of closing documents and as a mark of authenticity. Kings, nobility, church officials and government bureaucrats affixed seals to mark their authority and the document’s legality.

King Henry VIII sent a letter to Pope Clement VII in 1530, requesting the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Dangling from the parchment were about a dozen cords holding 83 wax seals. But even a request that official (or officious) failed to persuade the Catholic church, precipitating Henry’s break from their authority and his subsequent formation of his own Church of England.

The Vatican recently pulled the document from its Secret Archives and authorized the sale of a limited run of 199 facsimile versions at $68,000 each, or over $800 per wax seal. I hope the recipients of my embellished letters value them that highly.

Celtic sealThe practice of sealing letters with wax faded quickly after the introduction of envelopes in the mid 1800s. Soon the envelopes came with adhesive on the flap that one merely had to moisten to seal.

Nowadays, when letter writing is itself a conscious choice over faster and more convenient methods of communication, adding wax to an already sealed envelope is a second conscious choice, a small gift from a past age. And like the seal and the glossy sticks of wax that came gift-wrapped even though I bought them for myself, the very process of affixing seals is a gift to me as well as the recipient.

2 thoughts on “Seals, Sealing Wax and Henry VIII

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