Belfast Royal Academy - founded 1785


Our School – From the Archives…

Earl Cairns & the Great Seal of the Realm

Former pupil, Ruth Cornett, is a Director, and Heritage and Taxation Advisor, to Christie’s, the world famous art auction house.  She drew our attention to the Cultural Gift & Acceptance in Lieu Scheme of the Arts Council (England), and the connection between the scheme and the 19th century history of the Academy.

First a little legal history.  The Great Seal of the Realm, as Christie’s point out, was a symbol of Royal authority and the indication of ultimate authentication on official documents.  Originally the seal was destroyed on the death of the monarch, but by the 15th century it passed to the Lord Chancellor, and a tradition developed of having the seal melted down and fashioned into a ceremonial goblet.  In the 19th century both halves of the seal passed to the 1st Earl Cairns when he became Lord Chancellor.


Unlike his predecessors, Cairns wished his seal to go to the British Museum.  The other half of the seal, originally gifted to his predecessor as Chancellor, Lord Selborne, was acquired by the museum in 1977.  The kind of transaction covered by the Arts Council Scheme, which allows taxpayers to receive the full market value of the item, will allow Cairns’ half of the seal to be reunited with Selborne’s half.

Photograph of Queen Victoria’s Great Seal (with permission)