The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: February 2014

Today’s crocodile mystery comes from the manuscript collection. What is it? What does it depict? Why might it be interesting or significant? Answers to any or all of these questions most welcome.

crocodile mystery
What am I? Click to enlarge.


  • This is a watermark depicting the Royal Arms of England, surrounded by the circlet of the Order of the Garter. This version of the arms with “France Modern” (i.e. three fleurs de lis) in the first and fourth quarters, was used for most of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The use of the royal crown as the crest (i.e. above the shield) dates it to the reign of Henry VIII or later. Given the date of 1583 in the last line of the text, we might speculate that the paper was made for the use of Elizabeth I, or alternatively the Royal Household, or Government.

  • Indeed, it is a watermark of the royal arms encircled by the Garter! If anyone else has further details, please chime in. And stay tuned for next week’s post for more information. Oh, and the upside down date in the text is actually 1588.

  • Yes, I wasn’t entirely confident of my reading of the year, but the decade was sufficient to date the document to the reign of Elizabeth I.

    Using the correct date, the Gravell Watermark Archive ( ) reveals an apparently identical watermark from manuscripts in the Folger’s holdings – the papers of the Bagot family of Staffordshire.

    The Hamnet record for the Bagot papers ( shows that the collection has been digitised and can be viewed on Luna ( )

    Scrolling down the “When” section of the “Narrow Search” pane on Luna I found a single entry for February 22, 1588/89. Unfortunately clicking on this returned zero results. Since Luna uses the / character to separate parts of the URL it treated the second year as a separate search term: “Search Results: Call_number equal to ‘L.a.*’ and When equal to ‘February 22, 1588′ and When equal to ’89’ ”

    Fortunately the Hamnet record also lists an online finding aid to the collection ( ) Using this I was able to ascertain that the document in question had the call number L.a.935. Clicking on the convenient link to Luna in that section of the finding aid brings up a document which matches the upside-down text in the image ( )

    The document is a letter from Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Elizabeth I, to to Thomas Gresley and Richard Bagot, concerning some accusations made by the bailiff of the Manor of Burton. The Hamnet record helpfully provides the additional context that Richard Bagot was steward to several royal manors.

    The Gravell database entry shows that the paper was apparently made by John Spilman (or Spielman) who in 1588 was granted a Crown Lease on two mills in Dartford, which he used to produce the first commercially available good quality white paper in England (another reason why it was important to use the correct year in my searching!). In 1589 he was granted letters patent giving him a monopoly on the production of such paper. He was also jeweller to Elizabeth I and James I & VI. (Source: ) These royal connections may explain the use of the royal arms as a watermark. However given that Walsingham was the author of the letter, my original speculation that the paper was made for the Queen or her court could still be correct.

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