L-M BRIC News No. 9                                06/01/2006  ©


Braided seal strings on a document from 1590

in the Danish National Archives

Indipendent Researcher Joy Boutrup


General description

The document is a ratification of the marriage contract from 1589 between Jacob VI of Scotland (1566-1625) and princess Anne of Denmark (the daughter of Frederik II of Denmark). Jacob VI of Scotland later became James I of England (1603-1625) when he inherited the English throne.

The ratification is signed on May 17 in 1590 and sealed by 30 Scottish Peers and representatives of the towns Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling, Irvine, Ayr and Linlithgow. The seals are hanging and fastened with braided silk strings. Most braids are fastened in a cross through 4 holes in plica, two braids are fastened through only two holes.

document cover
(The ratification document of the marriage contract between Jacob VI of Scotland and princess Anne of Denmark)

The document is 58,5 cm wide and 69 cm high.@ Plica in the left side is 4,5 cm, on the bottom 4,2 cm and in the left side 3,8 cm

The braids are very well preserved and the colours only faded very little. The few deteriorated braids all contain some black threads. Where the black threads are combined with white both materials are very damaged and only fragments of the braids are left. On the other hand the black threads seem not to have contributed to a general deterioration in combination with red or blue. In these braids only the black threads are damaged.

All braids seem to be of spun silk (this assumption is not based on a microscopic analysis) and all yarns are two ply, plied in S direction. The material is relatively uniform in relation to colour; exactly the same colours appear in several braids, which could indicate that many of them have been made in the same workshop.



The investigation of the braids on this document is part of a larger, still ongoing, investigation of braids on documents and relic purses. The purpose of this is to collect evidence of braids that can be compared with the written sources with the aim of creating a general picture of braiding techniques applied in Europe during the middle age and the renaissance.

Braid structures on the document

It would take up too much space to describe the individual braids.  In the following they are grouped according to structure with pictures of typical features.

4-ridge tubular braidTubular braids

1. Four-ridge tubular braids with 4 elements

4-ridge 4-element tubularFourteen of the braids are braided with four elements. This type of braid is normally produced with open ends, sometimes using weighted bobbins (Ref. 1, 9). They are all made in a colour distribution which gives a spiral pattern but each have a different colour combination and thickness. The spiral pattern is made by having two colours in each opposite pair i.e. on each track.

To this group can the following braids be counted: 1, 4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 25, 27, 28, 34, and 36. Braid no. 12 is made with already braided strings of the same structure and is called a double 4-end tubular braid.

Photo at right: from left the braids 13, 12, 11 and 10 at the document

2. Tubular braids with a square cross-section

Fourteen of the braids are tubular with a square cross section. They are probably braided with loops, as they all have floats on the four ridges in accordance with the characteristics of loop braided square braids. This does not exclude the possibility of another method of production, but several of these braids have still the loops in one or both ends of the string, and some of the loops show signs of having been used for manipulation.

Four-ridge tubular braid with 8 elements

4-ridge 8-element tubularbraid #22Braid no. 22 is made with 8 elements and has 2,3,2,1 on the respective ridges and has loops in both ends. The loops show signs of having been used for manipulation.  With a multiply of four elements it is natural to make all four ridges of the same size. This is possible with free ends but not with loops. This braid is thus probably loop braided.

@(Photo at right: Braid #22 with loops in both ends)

Four-ridge tubular braid with 10 elements

4-ridge 10-element tubularBraids #31 and #32The braids #5, 6, 7, 9, 23, 24, 29, 31, 32, 33, 35 are all made with 10 elements. Most of the known written sources contain instructions for square braids with 5 loops, i.e. 10 elements.

The ridges will always be of different size regardless of production methods, free ends or loops. The existence of the two other four-ridge tubular braids with the characteristic ridges, however, makes it plausible that this type, independent of the presence of loops on the braids, also was braided with loops.

(Photo at right: From left  Braids number 31 and 32)

This braid is always one of the first in all the collections of loop braiding recipes. There are instructions for this braid in Tollemache, braid no.3 (ref. 2. Speiser, p.46), Harley, braid no.2 (Ref. 3. transcription, p. 96), Serene, braid no.2 (Ref. 5, p. 421) and Donauschingen braid no.1 (Ref. 9).

Four ridge tubular braid with 12 elements.

The braids 21, 30 are made with 12 elements and have 2,3,4,3 on the respective ridges.

With 12 elements it is probable to make the braid with even sized ridges if using open ends, while loops invariably will give the shown unevenness. In this case braid no. 21 has loops in both ends preserved, while no. 30 is too deteriorated to tell.

3. Eight-ridge tubular braid with 14 elements.

Braid number 8 is an eight-ridge tubular braid with 14 elements.

braids 8 and 7
This braid was made with loops; the loops are still present in both ends of the string. There are 8 ridges with the following floats: 3, 1, 1, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2. The braid corresponds exactly to the instructions for the making of hollow braids with 7 loops found in Tollemache,
braid no. 19 (Ref. 2. Speiser, p.62) and Harley, braid no. 12 (Ref. 3. transcription, p. 99)@ and is certainly braided with 3 yellow and 4 blue loops.

Photo at right:  from left, Braids number 8 and 7

Citing Harley 12:

For to make an lace hollow of vij bowys: Set ij bowes on B and C of thy ryght hand and ij sunder bowes on A lyft hond, and ij on B lift, and on C lyft. Then schal A right take thorow B, C of the same hond the forme bowe of B lyft reuersed; and B ryght schal take the forme bowe of A lyft vnreuersed ; and A ryght schal take thorow the same thatwas on A lyft the bowe C of the lyft hond vnreuersed. Then lowe thy lyft bowes. Then schal A lyft take thorowout B, C lyft the forme bowe of B ryght reuersed, and B lyft schal take the forme bowe of A ryght vnreuersed, and A lyft schal take thorowout the bowe that was on A ryght the bow C ryght vnreuersed. Then lowe thy ryght bowys, and begin agen.

Compact braids

8-ridge compact braid1. Eight ridge compact round braid with 16 elements: Braid number 2

Similar structures are known from several countries, for example, Japan, Germany and France and is found on a sudary in V&A from the 14th century original from the cathedral in Halberstadt, Germany (Ref. 2. Speiser, p. 66).

It is easy to make for one person with 8 loops having two loops on each two fingers of both hands (Ref. 2. Speiser, p. 66) and is probably produced in this way. There are two structural possibilities with the actual colour distribution.@ Taking the loops either open or crossed make the two structures. (Note 1)@ The clearly seen grooves on the braid show that the loops were taken open and that the structure is as shown on the track-plan.

Top: Two parallel figure eight tracks cross another pair of parallel figure eight tracks

Bottom: Four oval tracks intersecting at middle section or a combination of two square braids.

Braid #2
One end of the braid is braided with a different colour distribution and is very uneven and full of mistakes. This part seems to have been made later, maybe as a repair.

Photo at left:  the two ends of braid no. 2 with one end showing  colour distribution differentf from the other and many mistakes.

2. Solid round braid with 8 elements

Braid number 26 is a round braid with 8 elements.@

8-element solid round braidThis structure corresponds exactly both in colour distribution and structure with recipe no. 5 in the Karlsruhe Document where only four loops are used. (Ref. 9)@ The text describes the use of 4 loops, two of each colour, each hand one colour and crosswise exchange of loops.@ The same structure, but with other colour distributions were found on two relic purses from the 15.th century in the basilica in Tongeren, Belgium (Ref. 8).
(Photo at right: Braid no. 26)

The structure and colour distribution of the above braid is similar to the instructions in Tollemache, braid no. 25 (Ref. 2. Speiser, p. 63), Harley braid no. 25, (Ref. 3, p. 100), Serene, braid no. 33 (Ref. 5, p. 429), but in all these 8 loops are used.@

Citing the Karlruhe document "Codex Donauschingen 793g:

Item wildu ein synebelle gewuntne snur slahn von zwain varben so nim yeder varb zwo zwischt, dass ist vir zwischt dan so nim allbeg den obern vaden an dem unteren vinger und leg albeg den vaden dadurch du greifest an die stat da du den vaden genommen hast. Also das das albeg der vaden an den obern vinger an ain hant gelegt werd an dem unteren vinger der anderen hant. Und greif nit durch paid zwischt als an den anderen snuNren sonder nur durch den obern. Item aber gedenkch dass du ain varb nemest an ain hant dij andere varb an dij ander hant dass musstu merkchen


Flat twill braids

Braid #20Five are flat braids in twill and none of them could easily have been produced with loops.

It is not known how these braids have been made. They are all without mistakes and very firm and even. They could have been made on a braiding stand with the open ends wound onto small bobbins as in bobbin lace making, but no evidence either supports or contradicts this conjecture.

(Photo at right:  Braid #20 with King Jacob VIfs seal in a gilded silver capsule)

1. The braids 3, 10, 16 are regular 2/2 twill with 21 elements, 10 ridges@

@2. Braid no.18 is irregular twill, with 20 elements, 10 ridges

3. Braid no. 20 with the king's seal, is irregular twill with 25 elements, 14 rose and 11 gold, 12 ridges. The irregularity of this braid is very strange as the number of elements could give a perfectly regular 2/2 twill.


It is remarkable that no unorthodox structures were found among the loop manipulated braids.@ Other examples of braids in Denmark from approximately the same period show examples of unorthodox structures (Ref. 6) the same is the case with strings on relic purses from Switzerland (Ref. 7).@ On the other hand no unorthodox structures were found in the recent analysis by NoeLmi Speiser of braids on Bridgetine church textiles (not yet published).


I would like to thank Nils Bartholdi, Senior Researcher at the Danish National Archives for his help, for giving me access to the actual document and for allowing me to photograph the braids.

Joy Boutrup, March 2006

All photos are credited to Joy Boutrup © 2005