National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Privy Seal Records

Privy Seal Records

The privy seal was originally the king's own personal or private seal. Alexander III is known to have had a privy seal by 1272, but there is no evidence that one was in regular use before Robert I's reign (1306-29), when it was called the privatum sigillum or 'privy' seal as in England. During his reign it was used for financial and household matters, though not to the exclusion of the great seal, and it was probably during this reign that it came to be used for mandates to the chancellor requiring him to issue charters under that seal, the origin of the procedure known as 'passing the seals' Writs passing under the Privy Seal were recorded in the Register of the Privy Council. The earliest register begins in 1488 by which time the seal had been affected by the growing use of the signet and sign manual for authenticating the sovereign's written commands. There are no surviving registers for the period of the Cromwellian administration. 

Grants under the Privy Seal fall into two main groups:

  1. Those passed on the strength of a warrant under the signet ('per signetum' ) comprised those precepts or warrants for documents which were to pass the Great Seal, mainly charters, remissions, and legitimations. In Latin.
  2. Those passed on the authority of a warrant under the sign manual ( 'per signaturam' ) where the Privy Seal alone was sufficient authority, including grants of pensions, leases of crown lands, respites, gifts of moveable property which had fallen to the crown by escheat, 'ultimus haeres', suicide or otherwise, appointments to minor offices in central and local government, university chairs and presentations to benefices, passports, licences to travel overseas and licences to print. Generally in the vernacular.

A great many precepts in the Privy Seal Register are not in the Great Seal Register. The order of documents in the register also relates to the date of sealing, which could be several years after the issue of the original warrant for the grant, rather than the date of the grant. Some grants were never recorded at all, but are documented by surviving warrants.

The Privy Seal of Scotland was last used in 1898.

The Records

The Register of the Privy Seal, 1488- 1584 (Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum or RSS for short) has been published in 8 volumes. They are fully indexed by person, place and office with the addition of a subject index in volume 8.

Privy Seal records in National Records of Scotland
NRS reference Description Dates Notes
PS1 Register of the Privy Seal, old series 1488-1651 td>
PS2 Latin Register, new series 1661-1788, 1795-1810 A few of the volumes have indexes. See also PS7/2-3.
PS3 English Register, new series 1661-1898 Some of the volumes have indexes. A gap in the register between 1789 and 1795 partly filled by surviving warrants. See also PS7/3.
PS4 Register of Precepts of Remissions under the Great Seal 1611-22  
PS5 Register of Precepts for Charters under the Great Seal to Baronets of Nova Scotia 1625-38  
PS6 Minute Books 1499-1745 See also PS7/3.The earlier minute books list the contents of the registers, though the entries are undated. After 1661 the minute books are in chronological order of sealing which does not distinguish between Latin and English writs and bears no direct relation to the contents of the two registers.
PS7 Indexes 1499-1811 Index to apprisings and offices, 1499-1651.
Latin Register, index of persons, 1661-1705.
'Index' (minute book) to Latin Register, 1744-73, and to English Register, 1745-1811.
PS8 Responde Books 1752-1791, 1795-1847 Fees due for writs passing the privy seal.
PS9 Account Books of Privy Seal fees 1763-97, 1808-98  
PS10-13 Warrants 1571-1898 Including warrants for the English and Latin registers
PS14 Not allocated    
PS15 Registers of Precepts for Charters to Baronets of Nova Scotia 1627-37 Typescript list of patents of baronetcies of Nova Scotia, 1625-1707. The institution of baronetcies in England by King James VI dates from 1611. In 1625 King Charles I instituted Scottish baronetcies of Nova Scotia in an attempt to encourage settlement in that colony. Since the Union of 1707, all baronetcies are of the United Kingdom.
PS16 Miscellaneous papers pre-1600 - 1898 These are mostly 19th century papers and relate to the business and procedures of the Privy Seal Office


Indexes to Privy Seal records
NRS reference Description Date Notes Format
PS1 Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland 1488-1584 Index of persons, places and offices in each volume Published in 8 volumes
PS1 Presentations to Benefices under Privy Seal 1567-1587 Persons and places Typescript
PS1 Presentations to Benefices under Privy Seal 1587-1600 Persons and places Typescript
PS3 and PS13 Privy Seal English Record 1660-1782 Persons and offices Typescript

Using the records

The records of the Privy Council are available at the Historical Search Room in General Register House.

Further reading

'Guide to the National Archives of Scotland', (Stationery Office, 1996) pages 19-27.

'The Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia, The Laws of Scotland, volume 7' (1995), pages 592-4.