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Red silk velvet, silk embroidery, goldwork, pearls, black beads, sequins, pendant tassels
Overall: 78 x 50 x 5 cm (30 11/16 x 19 11/16 x 1 15/16 in.)
Weight: 2.2 kg (4.85 lbs.)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Wade 1916.1366
A richly decorated burse (purse) to hold the monarch's Great Seal of the Realm has a traditional role in the opening of parliament. The safekeeping of the seal was the responsibility of the Keeper of the Great Seal, an office later incorporated into the role of Lord Chancellor. Because the Great Seal was attached to all major documents of state, it was the ultimate symbol of royal authority. The use of a special burse to hold the seal can be traced back to the end of the 13th century. By the end of the 16th century, the burse had evolved into the highly decorated, professional work of embroidery seen in this object. It includes the lion and unicorn surrounding the royal crest and is made from crimson velvet. Burses were replaced annually; it being a "perk" of office that the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal was allowed to keep the fragments of the old seal and accompanying burse. Portraits of Lord Chancellors, from the Tudor period onward, depict them with their burse. Cleveland’s collection includes one such portrait by American artist Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) of Irish Lord Chancellor John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare (1748–1802) who was Lord Chancellor from 1789 to 1802. Baron FitzGibbon’s portrait (1919.910) is on view in gallery 204.
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