It is well known that Henry VIII was not fond of paperwork. In 1519, he admitted to Thomas Wolsey that he found writing ‘somewhat tedius and paynefull’. Yet throughout his reign he was required to sign off financial accounts, grants, letters, and official orders. Shortly after Henry’s accession to the English throne in 1509 an expedient solution for the more mundane of these duties was found: the creation of a stamp to imprint a facsimile of the king’s signature. The stamp itself does not survive, but there are many extant examples of its usage.
Within the first decade of his reign, Henry and his councillors used it to authorise circulars, including musters for the campaign in France in 1513 and routine legal documents issued from the conciliar courts. The stamp was redesigned at least twice, emulating the evolution of Henry’s signature from its initial large, cramped form to the neater version (pictured). These early wooden stamps were likely kept by a member of the royal Council, for use only in the king’s presence, while he continued to sign more important, personal documentation. The stamp was therefore apparently accepted as a sanctioned forgery, retaining a sense of personal royal input whilst giving the young king distance from the quotidian business of administration.
Later, the illnesses of Henry’s final years brought about another, ‘dry’ stamp for the same purpose. As the king lay on his deathbed it was controversially applied to his last will and testament, fuelling suspicions of factionalism at the mid-Tudor court for centuries thereafter.
Image: Henry VIII’s ‘wet-stamped’ sign manual on a Court of Requests commission write from June 1523. The National Archives REQ3/5. Author’s own image.