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The Heralds’ Visitations Part 6

In some of the early Visitation records the narrative form of pedigree is used, but this soon gave way to the more familiar tabular style. In the Visitations of Berkshire, that of 1623 contains tabular pedigrees, but the earlier Visitations of 1532 and 1566 give the pedigrees in narrative form. A look through the records of the Visitations reveal a growth in the number of families who applied for Coats of Arms or had a confirmation of arms where some doubt had arisen. In the days of slow travel and difficult communication many families would never have visited London to apply for a grant of arms, the arrival of the Heralds in their district gave them the opportunity to register existing arms or apply for new ones.

The majority of the Coats of Arms recorded in this period are registered simply as borne and as not infringing the rights of any other person. The fact that grants are quoted where they occur proves that in most cases no grant existed, but the arms were simply in use and were then recorded by the Heralds. In the commissions to the Officers of Arms powers were granted to them to deface and mutilate monuments that bore arms used without authority, to proclaim publicly that that persons to whom the Heralds confirmed no authority to bear arms were not entitled to them and to require disclaimers of the use of arms from such persons. The use of these powers does not seem to have been widespread however and we note the sympathetic attitude taken by the Heralds to Coats of Arms that were already in use. In the Visitation of Rutland 1681-2 a list of disclaimers is given: These persons have agreed that “ not being able to show any good proof or right to either of these titles ( Esquire or Gentleman), nor knowing at present of any arms belonging to us, do hereby disclaim all such attributes and arms and do promise henceforth to forbear to make use of either, until such times as we can by lawful authority do the same”

A clue as to the reasons for the disclaimers may be found by looking through the list of them and seeing the notes attached by the visiting officers. George Austin, for example, was described by the bailiff “ to be a good farmer but no pretender to arms”. A schoolmaster and an attorney or not allowed, likewise a draper and a wealthy yeoman. Richard Cheseldyne who was a captain in the territorial army renounced arms but the herald adds “ Yet I am informed he uses the arms of Cheseldyne”.


The Heralds’ Visitations Part 5

In the period of the Visitations from 1530 to 1688 the visiting Herald upon arriving in the county would take up residence at the home of the principal gentleman of the area. His presence was proclaimed to the locals and all local gentry were requested or required to come to the residence for registration. This task took a long time to carry out correctly and the process was sometimes not carried out correctly and some details were skimped on. Following this the next step was registration and this also presented difficulties. All recording was done by hand and in recording the pedigrees the heralds experienced the same issues facing a modern editor when he asks for exact dates of birth, marriage and death. Most people are unable to accurately give these dates for their ancestors without consulting documents or other people; consequently few of the pedigrees recorded in the first Visitations go back beyond the great-grandfather of the man giving the information. The first Visitation of Kent in 1530-1, a slim volume of only 22 pages, gives very few dates in its pedigrees. The pedigrees in the early Visitations rarely extend beyond three generations and are often limited to a statement of paternity alone. The genealogical function was new to the Heralds but they adopted it with growing skill. The primary concern was with coats of arms but genealogy was playing a growing role in Heraldry and vice versa.

In some counties, during the course of the Visitations, it became the practice for the Heralds to combine the records of different inspections in the same document. The 1530 Visitation of Sussex is continued and enlarged by the combination of the Visitation of the same county in 1633. This practice implies continuity in the work and shows how its genealogical aspect was becoming more and more prominent. In most of the Visitations manuscripts the  Coat of Arms is sketched at the head of the pedigree. The illustrations are usually in black and white, see above, and show the quarterings of the family’s marriage alliances. Generally a lady’s family arms would be incorporated with her husband’s arms if she came from a great family or occasionally if she had no brothers, thius allowing the arms to live on incorporated into those of her husband. Usually the combination was through quartering, with the shield divided in four quarters containing the husbands arms in the first and fourth quarter and the wife’s arms in the second and third quarter. As an example see the Hely-Hutchinson arms below.

The Heralds’ Visitations Part 4

Henry VIII

With the creation of the College of Arms and it’s consolidation in London under the eye of successive monarchs, the college went from strength to strength. It was from  this strengthened and revived College of Arms that the Heralds went out to hold the Heralds’ Visitations in the 16th and 17th centuries. What exactly were these Visitations? They were a new departure in the recording of arms, for they combined almost from the start the recording of pedigrees with that of arms, and the Heralds acquired a genealogical function which they have kept to the present day. The Visitations were a continuation of the old Rolls of Arms and a new form of recording armorial matters. They were also crucially a part of the Tudor scheme of government. The Tudors had a centralized monarchy and it was natural for them to try to bring the control of arms completely under the royal sway. The Visitations began in the reign of Henry VIII when in 1530 the royal commission was first given under the great seal authorizing the officers of arms to visit particular counties of England, to register arms and pedigrees of the nobility and gentry and to censure and control those who laid claim to arms which they had no right to use according to the rules of arms.

The Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by the Heralds throughout England at various periods between 1530 and 1688. After the abdication of King James II in 1688 no further commissions were issued for Visitations. There is a period of about 160 years during which the Heralds covered the counties of England. There was no apparent system in these Visitations. Kent was visited in 1552, 1558, 1570, 1612, 1634, and 1644-8. In contrast the county of Westmorland in the north of the country was visited in 1530 and not again until 1615. Durham, also in the north, had four visitations, in each case by Norroy King of Arms, in 1530, 1575, 1615, and 1666. Cumberland and Cornwall received only three visitations each with wide intervals between the second and third. The journeys to the more distant parts of the country were rendered difficult by the bad state of the roads and the danger posed by highwaymen.

St. Thomas More Arms

The Heralds’ Visitations Part 3

A Pursuivant, or more correctly a pursuivant of arms, is a junior officer of arms. Most pursuivants are a attached to the official heraldic authorities.There are  four Pursuivants; Rouge Croix, Blue Mantle, Rouge Dragon and Portcullis. Of the four Pursuivants, Rouge Croix probably derives his title from the red cross of St. George. He was instituted by Henry V. Henry V and Edward III have both been credited with the creation of the Blue Mantle. , the origin of the name coming from the description of the royal arms of France, azure semee de lis ( blue background with a sprinkling of lilies or fleur de lis). Edward III assumed the arms of France in right of his mother as heiress to the French throne. He placed them in the first and fourth quarters of his shield, having precedence over England, and this position was maintained for 460 years until the reign of George III (1800). Henry VII created rouge Dragon and Portcullis, The latter being named after the portcullis badge used by Henry. A portcullis is a gate to a Medieval Castle. Roge Dragon is an allusion to the dragon device used by the Welsh princes from whom the new King derived his lineage.

Arms of Edward III

The charter of King Richard III which incorporated the College of Arms in 1484 assigned for the use of the Heralds a building called Cold Harbour, formerly called Poultney’s Inn, in the parish of All Saints the Little in the City of London. Wwhen Richard fell at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, the heralds lost their chief, the Duke of Norfolk being killed also. The grant of Cold Harbour was declared void, and it was not until the Heralds obtained a new charter from Edward VI reaffirming their privileges that they were granted a property called Derby House situated in the parish of St. Benedict and St. Peter within the City of London. Derby House was destroyed  in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and until the College of Arms was rebuilt, the Heralds had temporary rooms in Whitehall and later in the palace at Westminster. The new college was finished in 1683. Thus the College of Arms has for over three centuries continued to occupy a site which has come to be dominated more and more by the buildings of modern commerce. The College of Arms along with the ancient city churches forms one of the few relics of the old City of London.

Chaucer at the Court of Edward III

The Heralds’ Visitations Part 2

Katherine Swynford Payne de Roet

Of the six Herald’s, Windsor, Chester, Lancaster, Richmond, Somerset and York; all except Windsor, who has his dominion from the royal castle or palace, take their titles from counties and shires which have been honors or appendages of the younger sons of the crown. Windsor Herald was created by Edward III when he was in France. Edward had been born at Windsor and was known as Edward of Windsor. He was very fond of his birthplace, he greatly enlarged the Castle at Windsor during his reign, and it was at Windsor that the festivities in connection with the institution of the Order of the Garter were held, just as they were in 1948 on the 600th anniversary of the Order’s foundation. It was natural therefore for the King to name his new Herald after Windsor, the place of his birth.

Lancaster Herald is mentioned as early as 1347, and was probably connected with the title of the King’s fourth son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Chester is also said to have been instituted by Edward, but the office of this Herald can be traced with certainty only from the reign of Richard II ( 1377 – 1399 ). Edward III was himself Earl of Chester when he was Prince of Wales, before ascending to the throne in 1327, and the title is usually borne by the Sovereign’s eldest son. Yet another heraldic creation ascribed to Edward III is that of York Herald in honor of his fifth son Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. So much heraldic activity of the part of Edward III is attributable to  the fact that the eyes of Christendom were fixed upon the English Sovereign and his people. English soldiers proved their courage on the battlefield with success in France, Scotland, Spain, the Low Countries and on the sea.

The institution of Somerset Herald is ascribed to Henry VIII, in honor of his son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset; the office of Richmond Herald occurs in the reign of Edward IV (1461 – 1470). Various other titles have been borne by English heralds from time to time and from different circumstances connected to the Sovereigns. For example Guienne King of Arms, an office held by Sir Payne Roet, a native of Hainaut, Belgium, whose daughter Katherine Swynford (the name of her first husband) became the mistress and eventual wife of John of Gaunt, the “time-honored Lancaster” of Shakespeare  and the mother of several children from one of whom descended the Tudor dynasty. This office of Guienne bore relation to the extensive territories in the south-west of France held by the English crown for 300 years from the time of Henry II  to that of Richard II. The latter was always known as Richard of Bordeaux. On the capture of these territories by the French the reason for this office ceased to exist.

John of Gaunt

The Heralds’ Visitations Part 1

The head of the College of Arms is the Duke of Norfolk by virtue of his hereditary office of Earl Marshal. This office has been in the family of Howard, of which the Duke is the head, since 1677. An Act of Parliament made this hereditary function after the Howard family had held the Marshalship intermittently since 1483. Under the Duke are three kings of Arms – Garter, Clarenceux, and Norroy; six Heralds – Windsor, Chester, Lancaster, Richmond, Somerset and York; four Pursuivants or followers, the lowest of the Heralds who were originally attendants upon the Heralds as they in their turn were upon the nobility and the Sovereign. The four Pursuivants are Rouge Croix, Blue Mantle, Rouge Dragon and Portcullis. Kings, Heralds and Pursuivants are all loosely included under the general term of Herald today. Most of these picturesque titles are English and derive from geographical sources, unlike the majority of  heraldic terms which are French.

The Garter office was instituted by Henry V for the service of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Garter King was on this account given precedence over, and  control of, the remaining Heralds. In his patent Garter was called the principal King of English Arms. Clarenceux and Norroy are older than Garter, having been instituted respectively by the Duke of Clarence ( from which comes Clarenceux ), third son of Edward III, and by Edward II. The jurisdiction of the Garter King is concerned with the Arms of peers and baronets, and he is also the secretary of the Earl Marshal and as such it is his business to deal with all manner of issues that arise. There are many tasks that Garter may be called upon to do, among them is the question whether arms can be granted for eample to a corporate institution which is engaged in making profits. The jurisdiction of the other two Kings is provincial, Clarenceux having control over matters in the South, East amd West of England, while Norroy ( from north roi (king)) controls the Northern part of England above the river Trent, in the Midlands.

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Establishment of the College of Arms

England, in the Middle Ages, was prone to imitate many of the diplomatic customs of France. In 1406 Charles VI of France had made the heralds of his household into a close body, giving them a charter of incorporation. Perhaps Henry V was influenced by the action of the French King. Possibly, if there had not been such troubled times in the 15th century, the French example would have been followed earlier in England. It was not until 1484 that Richard III incorporated the heralds of his court. They were given a charter with privileges and duties. They were also given a building in Cold Harbour, London, though on the accession to the throne of Henry VII a year later in 1485 they had to leave it and reside at a monastic establishment near Charing Cross until the reign of Edward VI in the mid 16th century. They then moved into a building on the site of the College of Arms  in Queen Victoria Street , and the present building dates from after the great fire of London in 1666.

In the charter of Richard III which incorporated the College of Arms, reference is made to John Writh, Garter King of Arms of the English, Thomas Holme, Clarenceux King of Arms for the southern part of England, John More, Norroy King of Arms for the northern parts, and Richard Champney, Gloucester King of Arms for Wales. Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy are the titles borne by the three Kings of Arms at the College to this day. William Berry the registering clerk to the College of Arms for 15 years in the early 19th century wrote in his Encyclopedia Heraldica “ That intimate connexion with France, which was occasioned by the claims of the English princes to the Crown of that country, seems to have led to the establishment of heraldic officers, with the names and capacities which they still possess; at least, such establishment is contemporaneous with the invasions of France. Edward III appointed four of the six heralds who form a part of the present constituted body: his successor Richard II appointed other officers and these were collected into a college and acted together by order of Henry V, and by Richard III were granted a charter and very extensive privileges.”

College of Arms Grant

The blows dealt to the nobility of the country by the Wars of the Roses accelerated the growth in the power of the royal heralds. Many nobles lost their lives, many were convicted and imprisoned and deprived of their titles. Accordingly the status of the private herald became precarious and very soon it was only in the royal court that heralds flourished.  To this day the officers of the College of Arms, thirteen in all, are members of Her Majesty’s household and not civil servants, or government appointees.

Peter Le Neve (1661-1729), Richmond Herald and Norroy King of Arms

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