The earliest seals date back to ancient history and were used by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans in particular. Many of these early seals were used to seal such items as wine amphorae.
There is little evidence to suggest the practice of sealing documents in Europe appeared before the 7th century.
Although the seal was in general use in early Medieval Europe, it was not in common use in England until the reign of Henry II.
The chief purpose of seals in Europe was to authenticate. They were the equivalent of the modern signature, at a time when the majority of the people could not read or write.
As well as Royal seals, they became more widely used by many other groups – Barons, Feudal Lords, Ecclesiastical bodies, Monastic houses as well as civic corporations, Universities and merchants.
The act of sealing documents had now become common, although it still carried a great deal of importance. Edward III passed a law stating that forging of the Great Seal was classed as treason, a law that still stands today.
By the 19th century, the official practice of sealing had become restricted to special occasions such as Royal Warrants and Marriages.