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Great Seal of the French Republic

The Great Seal of France (French: Grand sceau de la République française) is the official seal of the French Republic.

Contents

Description

The Great Seal features Liberty personnified as a seated Juno wearing a crown with seven arches. She holds a fasces and is supported by a ship's tiller with a cock printed on it. At her feet is a vase with the letters "SU" ("Suffrage Universel", "Universal suffrage"). At her right, in the background, are symbols of the Arts (painter's tools), agriculture (a sheaf of wheat) and industry (a cog wheel). The scene is surrounded by the legend "RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE, DÉMOCRATIQUE, UNE ET INDIVISIBLE" ("French Republic, democratic, one and indivisible") and "24 FEV.1848" (February 24, 1848) at the bottom.

The reverse bears the words "AU NOM DU PEUPLE FRANÇAIS" ("in the name of the French people") surrounded by a crown of oak (symbol of perenity) and laurel (symbol of glory) leaves tied together with weed and grapes (agriculture and wealth), with the circular motto "LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ".

History

The first seals were created by the Merovingian kings to authentify their orders. Merely rings originally, later worn on a necklace, the royal seals grew bigger and bigger under the House of Capet to reach around 12 centimetres. These are the modern dimensions of the seal.

All the seals under the Ancien Régime featured the king sitting on this throne and giving justice, yet every king had his own personal seal, a unique item which passed with him. All edicts, orders, decrees and declarations were then sealed.

After the abolition of Monarchy and installation of the Republic on the 21 September 1792, the end of monarchy was symbolised by the seals of the State being broken and sent to the Monnaie (the place where seals and coins are made and stored). In September 1792, Danton (then minister of Justice) had the first seal of the Republic made: a personified Liberty standing, supported by a fasces and holding a spear with a phrygian cap.

Napoléon, Louis XVIII and Charles X all took back the seal of majesty, Louis-Philippe showing only his bust.

The present seal dates back to the Second Republic, which briefly used the seals of the First Republic before having a new design made by the artist Jacques-Jean Barre on the 8 September 1848.

Usage

Under the Second Republic, usage of the Great Seal of France tended to be reduced to sealing laws, decrees of the National Assembly and diplomatic treaties. The function of Keeper of the seals was officially linked to that of Minister of Justice at that time (the French Minister of Justice is popularly referred to "Le Garde des Sceaux").

After the Second Empire, the practice of applying seals to laws was gradually abandoned and restricted to constitutional acts and diplomatic treaties (for instance, the Treaty of Versailles was sealed in this way).

Under the Fourth Republic, the only document to be sealed was the Constitution of the 27 October 1946.

Since the Fifth Republic, after sealing the Constitution of the 4 October 1958, it became common practice to seal some constitutional modifications.

Sealing ceremonies are always held at the Chancellerie where the Keeper of the Seals, the Minister of Justice, holds a sealing press affixed to a best and the unique matrices of the Seal of the State.

Sealing documents

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Sealing wax

Originally, sealers used a plastic sealing wax which they shaped by hand into generally circular pieces which were definitely shaped by a press.

Nowadays, a liquid wax is fed directly into the inferior part of a shape made of a stamp and a mobile metallic ring; the shape is closed and the wax cools down until it becomes pasty before it is applied.

Usage of the Great Seal having become obsolete between 1920 and 1946, the recipe for the wax was lost. In 1946, trials had to be made by the Sigillographic service of the National Archives.

Colour

The Ancien Régime used a green wax for important documents, and a yellow for less important ones.

The Restoration, the July Monarchy and the Third Republic kept the yellow wax, while the First Republic, the Consulate and the Empire used a red wax.

The Constitution of 1946 has taken back the red colour. The Constitution of 1958 and subsequent documents were sealed with yellow wax, until 2002 when the color turned to be green again.

Ribbons

The Empire sealed on wide yellow and blue silk ribbons; the Republic and the Consulate, on a tricolour braid.

The Third Republic used the same red and green ribbon as the Monarchy. Since 1946 (the Fourth and Fifth Republics), a tricolour ribbon is in use.


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