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William of Cobham's Seal Matrix

In the Middle Ages seal matrices were created in lead or bronze for sealing in wax legal agreements or letters. Sometimes they bear a motto and a symbol but some are particularly interesting as they bear the name of their owner and often his or her craft or status. Sometimes that owner can be further identified in surviving documents of the period.

William of Cobham's Seal MatrixRecently a bronze seal matrix, pointed oval in shape and measuring 34 x 21.5mm, was found not far from Downside Farm in Cobham and was reported to the Surrey Finds Liaison Officer at the Surrey History Centre. The findspot is in an area which was occupied by several small farmsteads in the medieval period. Downside Farm itself stands on the site of Down Place, a place of some importance in the medieval period. It was once home to William de la Dune, Keeper of the Hanaper, in the reign of Edward I. The Hanaper was the basket in which the Great Seal was kept, and it seems likely that the king made several visits to Down Place during his royal progresses.

The seal bears the inscription S' WILLI DE COVEh'M (The Seal of William of Cobham) as well as the symbol of a lamb with a flag – the Agnus Dei - which is a common device for this period. Coveham is the early spelling for Cobham. The de Coveham name is not particularly well represented in the names of Cobham's medieval population that can be gleaned from taxation documents and the Chertsey cartulary. However, there is a William de Coveham named in the record of the Surrey Eyre of 1255 as an administrator and commissioner, supporting the Eyre justices (the Eyre was a court held in the county by the King's justices to hear local cases, usually as part of a countrywide visitation).

The recently discovered matrix is of thirteenth century date and so it seems quite likely that it once belonged to William de Coveham, the Eyre administrator and commissioner, or a member of his family. It is the first known example of a local personal seal matrix to be discovered in Cobham, and the fact that it carries the old place name makes it of particular local interest.

The seal matrix has been recorded on the database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as SUR-7B3601.