Following the loss of Continental Normandy during King John's reign one of the measures which was necessary in the Channel Islands was the ability to execute documents authentically in a form signifying Crown approval.
In order to circumvent the need to transmit documents to England for execution or repeatedly to transmit a seal to Guernsey a single seal was provided by Edward I in 1279 for joint use in Guernsey and Jersey.
The seal comprised 3 leopards (or lions). They originated from the original arms of the Duchy of Normandy. At first in Normandy there had been 2 leopards but a third had been added during Henry III's reign when he added the single lion of Anjou to the other 2 following his marriage to Matilda of Anjou.
There is a certain difference between English and French heraldry in the definition of a lion and a leopard but the shape of the beast in heraldry in both countries is largely the same.
Unsurprisingly although there were benefits in having a Channel Islands based seal there were still problems in transporting the seal between Guernsey and Jersey, particularly in bad weather. No doubt occasionally a seal was needed urgently in one Island when it was located in the other.
In or about 1304 separate seals were provided for each of the Bailiwicks. The precise year is uncertain. It is beyond doubt that a separate seal existed in 1304. The provision of separate seals is one of the early indications of the separate identity and personality of the two Bailiwicks.
To this day when a Bailiff is installed he is formally presented with the Seal of the Bailiwick which is held in custody to his order and that of the Royal Court. It is symbolic of Guernsey's separate identity.
The seal has changed little since 1279 except for the addition of words in the 1304 seal around the raised band of the rim stating that it is a Bailiwick of Guernsey seal. Furthermore the shape of the sprig or "Rameau" on the top of the seal has changed from time to time over the centuries.
Sadly when Bailiff Daniel de L'Isle Brock commissioned a replacement seal in 1832 the lions or leopards became a caricature of true heraldic beasts. The head of the beasts took on a shape approximating to that of a shield, the main was virtually non- existent, the body was somewhat extended and the legs were so thin they could not carry an animal. Bailiff Sir Edgar McCulloch in 1884 reverted to the traditional heraldic representation.
In 1938 a new Seal was ordered by the Royal Court and the execution of it was entrusted to the engraver at the Royal Mint. The sprig was reduced to the pattern of 1472 and the legend stating that it is the seal of the Bailiwick is not carried on a band around the rim but springs direct from the background.
There is an interesting article on the subject of the Bailiwick Seals written by S. Carey Curtis published in volume 13 of the Transactions of La Societe Guernesiaise, 1939.