Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 195-197. British History Online [accessed 25 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 195-197. British History Online, accessed May 25, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 195-197. British History Online. Web. 25 May 2024,


The town arms represent the situation of Beverley near water by wavy bars and the supposed derivation of the name by a beaver. (fn. 1) The arms and tinctures were recorded in 1584 (fn. 2) and those were evidently the usual arms by the 18th century, when they were used on the market cross and in the guildhall. The arms have, however, been quartered with others: or, an eagle displayed azure. The eagle, probably for John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the minster, may have appeared on the 16th-century town seal and the quartered arms were seen on another seal in 1584-5; (fn. 3) they were used later on a seal and on the waits' and mayor's chains. It was probably from the Beverley arms that the eagle was taken as a device by the former East Riding county council. (fn. 4)

Borough of Beverley.

Argent, three bars wavy azure; on a chief azure, a beaver with its head turned and biting at its fur, or.

Another coat of arms recorded in 1584 was or, an eagle displayed with the head and tail of a beast, presumably a beaver, argent. (fn. 5) It was not otherwise recorded. No evidence has been found for yet another coat attributed to Beverley. (fn. 6)

The town's earliest known common seal is believed to have dated from the 13th century. Impressions of 1345 and 1425 and a cast survive. The seal was round, 2½ in., and depicted an archbishop, presumably St. John of Beverley, archbishop of York, seated on a throne, his left hand holding a crozier, his right raised in blessing, and under his feet a dormant animal, presumably intended to represent a beaver. On each side of the figure was a tree and overhead a crescent on the left and a star on the right. Legend, lombardic: SIGILLVM COMMVNITATIS BVRG[ENCIU]M BEUERLACI. (fn. 7) The seal was altered in the early 16th century by the addition of a shield of arms on either side of the figure. The right-hand shield is believed to show the then arms of the see of York (fn. 8) and those of Thomas Savage, archbishop 1501-7, that on the left possibly an eagle. The seal as altered is known from an impression of 1533 and a cast (fn. 9) and was perhaps that seen by Leland and described as showing a beaver. (fn. 10)

A second seal, referred to as the 'lesser leaf' (minor folium) of the common seal, existed by the mid 14th century, when its use was ordered for non-returnable documents, like testimonials and the release made to the keepers in connexion with their accounts. The 'whole seal' (sigillum integrum), evidently comprising the greater seal and the lesser used as a counter-seal, was then ordered to be used for the keepers' commission which was to be surrendered at the end of their year of office. (fn. 11) Such a commission of 1345 bears a fragmentary impression of the whole seal; the counter-seal was evidently round, smaller than the seal, and depicted foliage and possibly a beast. Legend, lombardic: [. . .]GIENSI[. . .]. (fn. 12) Fifteenth-century references to the 'greater leaf' (major folium) of the common seal imply the continued existence of a counter-seal. (fn. 13) A later seal was apparently based on the medieval counter-seal: a similar design executed more delicately appears on a fragmentary impression of 1585. Legend, humanistic: [. . .]M BVR[. . .]. (fn. 14) It was perhaps the lesser seal of silver bought just before incorporation in 1573 (fn. 15) and possibly the matrix inspected in 1584-5. The latter was round, and depicted a beast, probably a beaver, against foliage. Legend, humanistic: SIGILLVM BVRGENSIVM BEVERLACI. (fn. 16)

The medieval common seal had evidently been replaced by the 17th century. The new seal, known from impressions of 1647 (fn. 17) onwards, was round, 2¼ in, and depicted a shield bearing the town arms against foliage. Legend, within decorative borders, humanistic: SIGILlum MAIORis GVBERNATorum ET BVRGENSium VILLAE DE [BEV]ERL[A]ci. (fn. 18) It was used at least until the mid 18th century (fn. 19) and was probably the 'old seal' which was recast c. 1805. (fn. 20) The new seal was an identical copy except for minor decorative changes. The matrix has been lost but the seal is represented by several impressions of the mid 19th century and a cast. (fn. 21) It was said to have been used 'until recently' in 1895. (fn. 22)

A round seal without a legend, inspected in 1584-5, bore a shield with the quartered version of the town arms. (fn. 23) A similar common seal was apparently reserved for the issuing of certificates by the mayor in 1730. It was also round, 1¼ in., and depicted the quartered coat but bore the legend, humanistic: THE SEALE OF THE T[OWN OF] BEVERLEY. (fn. 24)

Another seal recorded in 1584-5 was round and showed a shield with the town arms. Legend, humanistic: BEVERLAE. (fn. 25) Of a similar design was a signet used in the 1680s as the seal of the mayoralty and both then and in 1702 for the court of record. It was also round, ¾ in., and bore the arms and a legend, humanistic: BEVERLEY. It is known from the impressions and a cast. (fn. 26) A new seal for the court was evidently made later. It was kept c. 1830 by Thomas Shepherd, registrar of the court, (fn. 27) and was probably the seal used by him the same year. The resultant impressions show it to have been an octagonal signet, ½ in. wide by 5/8 in. long, depicting a shield with the town arms surmounted by a decorative knot. (fn. 28)

A round common seal, 1¼ in., is believed to date from the 18th century, but is represented only by impressions of 1847 and a cast. It depicted a shield with the town arms and bore the legend, humanistic: THE SEALE OF THE TOWN OF BEVERLEY. (fn. 29) It was perhaps the silver pocket seal which was recorded in the late 18th and earlier 19th century. (fn. 30)

The seal of the corporation as a board of health, presumably used from 1851, survived in 1986. It was oval, 1 in. by ¾ in., and bore the town arms inside a belt bearing the legend, humanistic: BOARD OF HEALTH BEVERLEY. (fn. 31)

Nothing more is known of a brass seal made c. 1805 and then ordered to be used during the recasting of the common seal. (fn. 32) A seal presented by the outgoing mayor in 1865 has not survived.

It bore the legend: THE MAYOR OF BEVERLEY. (fn. 33)

The insignia consist of a large gilt mace and two serjeants' maces of silver; a gold chain for the mayor; a double and a single chain, comprising the former three waits' chains, and a snuff box, all of silver; and a silver-headed staff. (fn. 34)

Beverley may have had a mace before its incorporation in 1573, when a 'lesser mace' of silver was bought in York for just over £1. (fn. 35) A macebearer was recorded from 1575-6 and in 1576 the mayor was ordered to be preceded by his mace. (fn. 36) Another silver mace was made in York for nearly £6 in 1578 and it was perhaps that which was described as the great mace from 1596. (fn. 37) The mace ordered in 1630 to be taken from the serjeants on Sundays to prevent legal proceedings belonging to the mayor from being held on that day was probably the great mace. (fn. 38) It was among the corporation plate taken to York by a royalist mayor in 1644 but soon afterwards restored to the town. (fn. 39) It was altered c. 1650, presumably by the substitution of the commonwealth for the royal arms, and its repair was ordered in 1691. (fn. 40) The present great mace was given in 1705 by John Moyser, prospective M.P. for the town. (fn. 41) Measuring 2 ft. 11 in. long, it was evidently made c. 1700 and bears the arms of William III. (fn. 42) The old mace was sold in 17245 and the present one was regilded and restored in 1890. (fn. 43)

It is not known whether the serjeant's mace ordered to be bought in 1646 was in fact obtained. (fn. 44) The present serjeants' maces are a pair carrying the same maker's mark. They are 1 ft. 1½ in. long and bear the arms and cipher of Charles 1 or 11, besides the town arms.

The town waits were provided with chains or collars. A shield-shaped badge displaying the town arms was evidently then, as later, suspended from each chain and the whole was usually called a shield in the 15th century. Two chains made of silver in 1424 were remade with some gold in 1433-4 (fn. 45) and by 1440 there were three. (fn. 46) They may have been refashioned again by 1452, when they were described as newly made, (fn. 47) and in the 1460s each chain had some 40 links. (fn. 48) The chains were repaired in 15023. (fn. 49) The three chains were again recorded in 1577 (fn. 50) but only two remained in 1674. It is not known whether a third chain ordered to be bought then or a new one directed to be made in 1683 (fn. 51) were obtained. Two of the badges were apparently remade in the reigns of William III and George I (fn. 52) and by the late 18th century there were once again three chains. (fn. 53) They were sold in 1836. (fn. 54) Two were restored to the town by C. F. Hotham in 1883 (fn. 55) and were joined to form a double collar, which was worn by the mayor in the late 19th century and later by the mayoress. (fn. 56) The third chain was bought back by the corporation in 1910 and was later worn by the deputy mayor. (fn. 57) Each chain has c. 40 links, alternately in the form of eagles and beavers, both of which also figure in the quartered coat of arms displayed on the pendant shield, 1⅜ in. deep by 1¼ in. wide. The single, third chain may be that bought in the 17th or 18th century, for it differs from the others in the size of its links and in the less worn condition of the badge. (fn. 58)

The mayor's chain was subscribed for in 1862. (fn. 59) An enamelled pendant bearing the same quartered coat of arms as the waits' badges was added in 1891. (fn. 60)

The oval snuff box, 5½ in. long, was given by John Jackson, a former macebearer and chamber clerk, in 1709 (fn. 61) and the worn hallmarks are apparently of London, 1709-10.

The 6 ft. 9 in. long staff comprises a black cane with a globular silver head, 7½ in. deep and bearing worn hallmarks, apparently of London, 1819-20.

Most of the corporation plate was sold in 1836. (fn. 62) Many items, mostly of pewter (fn. 63) and marked with a beaver, were, however, later returned or bought back. (fn. 64) The corporation also received modern plate from various donors.


  • 1. Para. based on C. W. Scott-Giles, Civic Heraldry (1953), 30, 37, 408-9.
  • 2. B.L. Harl. MS. 1394, p. 3; Add. MS. 18011, ff. 255, 261v.; below (this chapter). The letters A and B, evidently intended for argent and blue (azure), may have led to these tinctures being mistakenly described later as argent and sable (black): Oliver, Beverley, 380.
  • 3. Below (this chapter).
  • 4. Scott-Giles, Civic Heraldry, 397.
  • 5. B.L. Harl. MS. 1394, p. 3; Add. MS. 18011, ff. 255, 261v.
  • 6. Cat. of Seals in B.M. ii, no. 4631.
  • 7. Lacuna in B.L. Add. Ch. 15888 supplied from cast (B.L. Lxxiv. 13); H.R.O., BC/II/1, no. 1; BC/III/18; illus. in Cat. of Seals in B.M. ii, pl. 1; Poulson, Beverlac, pl. facing p. 771.
  • 8. C. Boutell, Heraldry (1864), 357-8, pl. XIV.
  • 9. H.R.O., BC/I/53; Cat. of Seals in B.M. ii, no. 4626; illus. in F. Drake, Eboracum, App. p. cii and fig. xxv.
  • 10. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, v. 39.
  • 11. H.R.O., BC/II/3, f. 6. The date 1306 is given but may be a copying error. The keepers named served in 1347-8 and 1354: below, Lists of Officers.
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/1, no. 1.
  • 13. Corp. MSS. 113, 126.
  • 14. H.R.O., DDBC/15/3.
  • 15. Ibid. BC/II/6/29; BC/II/7/3, f. 47v.
  • 16. B.L. Harl. MS. 1394, p. 3 which shows the beast as dog-like. The seal is illus. differently, and apparently less correctly, in ibid. Add. MS. 18011, f. 45v. (print. in Visit. Yorks. 1584-5 and 1612, 49). Neither illus. corresponds very closely to the med. and 16th-cent. fragments but that in the Harl. MS. is the closer.
  • 17. H.R.O., BC/III/39.
  • 18. B.L. Add. Ch. 5820, 5823. Legend verified from modern copy: B.L. Lxxiv. 16.
  • 19. H.U.L., DDCV/15/295.
  • 20. H.R.O., BC/IV/1/3, s.v. 1806-7; Min. Bks. 89.
  • 21. H.R.O., DDBC/15/73, 231; H.U.L., DDCV/15/215; DDGE/1/23; P.R.O., FO 58/53; B.L. Lxxiv. 16; illus. in Poulson, Beverlac, 410.
  • 22. Ll. Jewitt and W. H. St. John Hope, Corp. Plate, ii. 502.
  • 23. B.L. Harl. MS. 1394, p. 3; illus. in Visit. Yorks. 1584-5 and 1612, 49.
  • 24. H.R.O., BC/III/40.
  • 25. B.L. Harl. MS. 1394, p. 3; illus. in Visit. Yorks. 1584-5 and 1612, 49.
  • 26. P.R.O., C 219/73; H.R.O., DDBC/5/1, f. 19; DDBC/6/5, f. 194; B.L. Lxxiv. 15.
  • 27. H.R.O., DDBC/1/16; ibid. BC/II/7/11, pp. 70-1.
  • 28. H.U.L., DDCV/15/215.
  • 29. H.R.O., DDBC/15/168, 170; Cat. of Seals in B.M. ii, no. 4630. Poulson, Beverlac, 409 illustrates it as 'an old seal' with the legend modernized.
  • 30. H.R.O., DDBC/1/16, 24, p. 164; DDBC/19/9.
  • 31. In possession of E. Yorks. Boro. of Beverley Counc.
  • 32. Min. Bks. 89.
  • 33. Beverley Guardian, 11 Nov. 1865.
  • 34. Acct. of insignia and plate based on Jewitt and Hope, Corp. Plate, ii. 498-501; for illus. see Sketches of Beverley and Neighbourhood, facing pp. 10, 24.
  • 35. Corp. MSS. 183.
  • 36. H.R.O., BC/II/6/33; Jewitt and Hope, Corp. Plate, ii. 502-3; Boro. Rec. 38-9, 97.
  • 37. H.R.O., BC/II/6/35; Boro. Rec. 38-9.
  • 38. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 53v.
  • 39. Above, Beverley in 17th Cent. (Military and Political Affairs, 1642-60).
  • 40. Boro. Rec. 182; Poulson, Beverlac, 375, apparently citing the missing acct. for 1650-1.
  • 41. Boro. Rec. 193.
  • 42. The worn hallmarks have been mistakenly read for 1713-14: Jewitt and Hope, Corp. Plate, ii. 499.
  • 43. H.R.O., BC/II/6/122; BC/II/7/20, p. 383; Min. Bks. 10.
  • 44. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 86v.
  • 45. Ibid. BC/II/6/8-9.
  • 46. Corp. MSS. 124.
  • 47. H.R.O., BC/II/7/1, f. 119.
  • 48. Ibid. f. 169AV.; Corp. MSS. 141-2.
  • 49. H.R.O., BC/II/6/16.
  • 50. Boro. Rec. 16.
  • 51. Ibid. 159, 170.
  • 52. W and G I and the initials of the makers appear on their backs.
  • 53. H.R.O., DDBC/19/9.
  • 54. Below (this chapter).
  • 55. Ibid. BC/II/7/19, pp. 136-9; Sketches of Beverley, 9.
  • 56. Beverley Corp. Mins. 1911, 276. Photographs of 1880s in guildhall: inf. from Mr. A. Coates, Beverley, 1987.
  • 57. Beverley Corp. Mins. 1910, 514-15, 525; inf. from Mr. Coates.
  • 58. The badge bears a maker's mark.
  • 59. H.R.O., BC/II/7/15, p. 150.
  • 60. Ibid. BC/II/7/20, pp. 580, 616.
  • 61. Min. Bks. 2.
  • 62. H.R.O., BC/II/7/11, pp. 50-1, 70; ibid. DDBC/27, no. 188; an earlier acct. of it is at ibid. DDBC/1/24, p. 164.
  • 63. Min. Bks. 10.
  • 64. Beverley Corp. Mins. 1910, 613.