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Hansons sell rare bishop’s seal matrix

A medieval bishop’s seal from William the Conqueror’s reign was sold by Hansons for £1,800 in their “Single Owner Historica Auction” on 30 January 2024. The “Single owner” was a detectorist from Thetford, who has sadly passed away. It’s part of a collection of more than 1,000 objects.

Part of the collection. Photo © Hansons

Before the auction, Hansons said ” It’s taken months to sort through and catalogue hundreds of items packed in numerous boxes.  The collection is so vast it is being offered in a single-owner sale.

His passions in life were nature, wildlife and metal detecting. Apparently, he loved anything ancient. He had a particular interest in the Saxon era and medieval seals. He enjoyed researching the objects he uncovered and developed a deep historical knowledge.

The seal must have been one of his most prized possessions.

Seal of William Beaufoe, Bishop of Thetford

The seal shows a bull being attacked by a lion and bears the inscription WILLEMI DE MARTHAM (William of Martham). Martham is a village near the coast on the Norfolk Broads and once sat on an island, the Isle of Flegg.

There was a Bishop of Thetford called William Beaufoe. Both Martham, in Norfolk and Gunton, in Suffolk, were granted to Beaufoe by William the Conqueror. He was the son of Robert Sire de Belfou who fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. When Beaufoe died in about 1091 he left Martham, with many other manors, to his priory at Thetford.

The auctioneer says “The connections to Norfolk run deep. The surname Beaufoe originates from the county. William de Beaufou, a Norman Baron, Bishop of Thetford and Chancellor to the Conqueror was recorded in the Domesday Book census of 1086. It’s a scarce historical treasure and we owe its discovery to one man’s historical passion

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