James Stewart was the eldest son among at least nine illegitimate children of James V and the half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. This 16th century seal indicates Stewart’s position of commendator of Melrose and Kelso abbeys, bestowed on him by his father.
As commendator of two affluent abbeys during the 1540-50s, Stewart would have had significant status in the Borders region to exert his authority over the lands and income. The role also made him responsible for local defence at a time of Anglo-Scottish hostilities.
The seal features the arms of Stewart (born c.1529) with an altered royal arms of Scotland (debruised with a bendlet to denote illegitimacy) and a crosier to denote his office of Commendator of Kelso and Melrose.
Dr Anna Groundwater, principal curator of Renaissance and Early Modern History at National Museums Scotland, said: “This has a direct connection to the royal Stewart dynasty and moreover shows how James V was prepared to give status and financial security to his illegitimate offspring, while also protecting his regional interests.”
It was purchased at Lyon & Turnbull’s Jewellery, Watches and Silver sale on March 9 for £5000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £1000-2000. It will be added to the Scottish History and Archaeology collections of National Museums Scotland.
The public last had an opportunity to see it in 1901 when it was displayed at the Glasgow International Exhibition of Scottish History & Life, when it was loaned by the Scott Plummer collection (of Sunderland Hall, Selkirkshire). It stayed in this collection and then via descent to the vendor.