21. The Seal of Robert Fitzwalter

By Savannah Pine (@savannah_pine)

Robert Fitzwalter’s seal-matrix is a typical early-thirteenth-century seal-matrix. Its imagery proclaims his identity through an equestrian figure brandishing a sword, which represents that he was a part of the elite warrior class, and through a shield displaying his coat-of-arms (a fess between two chevrons), which signifies his membership within a familial group.[1] However, in contrast to other elite laymen’s seal-matrices, Fitzwalter placed another man’s coat-of-arms on his seal-matrix – the mascles arms depicted on the shield which is underneath the horse’s neck. That heraldic device belonged to his ritual brother, Saer de Quincy, earl of Winchester.

Ritual brotherhood was when two men solemnized their intimate friendship by becoming each other’s ritual kin. Fitzwalter and Quincy had met when they were joint custodians of the English fortress of Le Vaudreuil, had been imprisoned together by the king of France, and fought together against the tyrant King John.[2] While we do not know exactly when they became ritual brothers, it is clear that they were intimate friends who decided to publicly declare their bond of fraternal affection by putting both of their heraldic devices on their seal-matrices. Even though this blog post focuses solely on Fitzwalter’s seal-matrix, Quincy had three seal-matrices which depicted both his and Fitzwalter’s coats-of-arms.[3] In this way, Fitzwalter and Quincy demonstrate an appropriate way for knights to display their ritual brotherhood.


[1] On seals as signs of nobleman’s identity, see B.M. Bedos-Rezak, When ego was imago: signs of identity in the middle ages (Leiden, 2011), p. 30, and B.M. Bedos-rezak, ‘Medieval identity: a sign and a concept’, The American Historical Review 105, no. 5 (December 2000), p. 1491.

[2] Ralph of Coggeshall, Radulphi de Coggeshall chronicon anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (London, 1875), pp. 143-144; Matthew Paris, ‘Ut magnates Angliae regem Johannem in Normannia deseruerint’, in Matthaei Parisiensis, monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica majora, ed. H.R. Luard (7 vols., London, 1872-1873), ii, p. 482.

[3] On Quincy’s seal-matrices, see N. Vincent, ‘The seal(s) of Robert fitz Walter: heraldry, kinship and display among the Magna Carta barons’, in J. Cherry, J. Berenbeim, and L. de Beer, eds., Seals and status: the power of objects (London, 2018), fig. 82 on p. 86, fig. 85 on p. 86, and figs. 86 and 87 on p. 87 (The last of Quincy’s seals is broken and I think that Fitzwalter’s coat-of-arms was displayed on the now-missing section).

Image: British Museum 1841,0624.1. Used under Creative Commons.

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