21 Jan 2017

Three-Lock Chest

There is, in the Archives at the College, an oak box, approximately 300×375×235mm (approx. 12×15×9 inches), around the outside of which three iron bands pass, each secured at the front with a lock.

Each key-hole is a distinctly different shape:

Bishop Fox's Statutes of the College include a section (Chapter 44), "Of the Chests and the Seal", in which we read:
WE have heard very many persons making complaints of negligent custody, but no man of watchful keeping; and no greater vigilance is to be bestowed than in the case of the Common Seal, so many inconveniences are wont to arise. We therefore enact and command, that the Common Seal of our College, the Royal Letters Patent of Licence to found the College, and the original Charter of the Foundation of the College, shall be deposited and shut up in a little chest, locked with three locks.
Thus the College Seal, Letters Patent, and Foundation Charter, were to be kept in a small chest with three locks.

The statutes then describe other similar chests, to be used for storing cash:
There are also to be two caskets, to be called loan-chests, each of which is to be locked with three locks; in one of which we have deposited two hundred marks, and in the other one hundred: out of which the Bursars may, when need is, receive moneys, by way of loan, from the key holders of the casket.
The statute continues:
Also, keys of each of the caskets, different the one from the other, are to be kept, one by the President, second by the Vice-President, and third by the Dean of Divinity; and this latter casket for pleas, and the two others, that is, the one in which we have deposited the seal, and the one belonging to the loan-money, in which we have stored the two hundred marks, shall be inclosed in a single, larger, and strong box, locked with three locks, the keys of which are to be kept by the two Bursars and the Dean of Arts; and the larger chest is to be placed in the upper part of the Tower.
Thus no single person had all three keys to any of the individual chests: it required all three to consent, and be present, to open any of the smaller chests. Furthermore, these smaller chests were themselves to be locked in a larger chest, with a further three locks, and requiring a further three people to unlock them. This larger chest was to be kept in the Tower, in a room whose door had yet another three locks:
the keys of this door of the upper chamber in the Tower, which is locked with three locks of different make, are to be kept by the Vice-President, the Dean of Arts, and the Junior Bursar.
Thus, to gain access to the College Seal, Letters Patent, or Foundation Charter, six people and nine keys were required: the Vice-President, Dean of Arts, and Junior Bursar had to unlock the chamber door in the Tower. Then, the two Bursars and the Dean of Arts had to unlock the large chest. Finally, the President, Vice-President, and Dean of Divinity, had to unlock the small chest.

There is no explicit evidence identifying the small chest shown here has as the one in which the College Seal, Letters Patent, and Foundation Charter were preserved, but it is a very likely identification. The other small chests were used for the storage of cash, and are thus more likely to have been "upgraded" or replaced by more secure strong-boxes over the course of centuries. There would be less need to upgrade or replace a chest that was used for storing documents and the seal, and the fact that this chest ended up in the Archives is also suggestive.

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