Heraldic visitation

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The frontispiece of the record of the heraldic visitation of Ulster King of Arms, Daniel Molyneux. This was undertaken in the city of Dublin in February 1607.
Map showing the number of visitations by the King of Arms to England's counties, taken from Burke's Landed Gentry, 1937 edition.

Heraldic visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms (or more often by junior officers of arms, acting as the Kings' deputies) in England, Wales and Ireland. Their purpose was to regulate and register the coats of arms of nobility and gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. They took place from 1530 to 1688, and their records provide important source material for genealogists.

Visitations in England and Wales[edit]

Process of visitations[edit]

By the fifteenth century, the use and abuse of coats of arms was becoming widespread in England. One of the duties conferred on William Bruges, the first Garter Principal King of Arms was to survey and record the armorial bearings and pedigrees of those using coats of arms and correct irregularities. The officers of arms of England made occasional tours of various parts of the country to enquire about matters armorial during the fifteenth century.[1] It was not until the sixteenth century that the process began in earnest.

The first provincial visitations were carried out under warrant granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux King of Arms dated 6 April 1530.[2] He was commissioned to travel throughout his province and was given authority to enter all homes and churches. Upon entering these premises, he was authorized to "put down or otherwise deface at his discretion...those arms unlawfully used".[3] He was also required to enquire into all those using the titles of knight, esquire, or gentleman and decided if they were being lawfully used.

By this writ, Henry VIII also compelled the sheriffs and mayors of each county or city visited by the officers of arms to give aid and assistance in gathering the needed information. When a King of Arms, or his deputy, visited a county, his presence was proclaimed by presenting the Royal Commission and the local gentry and nobility were required to provide evidence of their right to bear arms. The Sheriff would collect from the bailiff of each hundred within his county a list of all people using titles or arms. These were summoned to the visitation and the hope was that none would escape the enquiry. The people that were summoned were to bring their arms, and proof of their right to use the arms. Their ancestry would also be recorded. Where an official grant of arms had been made, this was recorded. Other ancient arms, many of which predated the establishment of the College of Arms, were confirmed. The officer would record the information clearly and make detailed note that could be entered into the records of the College of Arms when the party returned to London. These volumes now make up the Library of Visitation Books at the College, which contain a wealth of information about all armigerous people from the period.[4] If the officers of arms were not presented with sufficient proof of the right to use a coat of arms, they were also empowered to deface monuments which bore these arms and to force persons bearing such arms to sign a disclaimer that they would cease using them. The visitations were not always popular with members of the landed gentry, who were required to present proof of their gentility.

Following the accession of William III in 1689, no further commissions to carry out visitations were issued. The reasons behind this cessation of the programme have been a matter of debate among historians. Philip Styles, for example, related it to a declining willingness of members of the gentry to attend visitations, which he traced to a growing proportion of "newly risen" families, who lacked long pedigrees and were therefore apathetic about registering them.[5] However, Janet Verasano has challenged this interpretation, finding that (in Staffordshire, at least) gentry enthusiasm for coats of arms as an enhancement to social standing persisted to the end of the 17th century.[6] The end of the visitations did not have much effect on those counties far removed from London, some of which had only been rarely visited over the entire period of the visitations.

There was never a systematic visitation of Wales. There were four visitations in the principality, and on 9 June 1551, Fulk ap Hywel, Lancaster Herald of Arms in Ordinary was given a commission to visit all of Wales. This was not carried out, however, as he was degraded and executed for counterfeiting the seal of Clarenceux King of Arms. This is regrettable, since no visitation of all Wales was ever made by the officers of arms.[7]

Surviving records[edit]

Thomas Hawley, Clarenceux King of Arms, wearing a tabard displaying the Royal arms of England. The manuscripts from his first tour of London are the earliest existing records of an English visitation

The original notebooks of the heralds during the visitations were retained by the College of Arms and have been used as the basis for other manuscript copies which have been published by various groups. The only definitive records of the visitations are difficult to examine as they form part of the library of the College of Arms. These published sources do provide a great amount of detail on the subject. Many have been published by the Harleian Society, some by county record societies, and a few have been printed privately. Many of the manuscripts on which these published copies are based are held in the British Library (particularly in the Harleian Collection).

Lists of visitations[edit]

Visitations were conducted by or in the name of the two provincial Kings of Arms, Clarenceux and Norroy, within their respective provinces. In the following lists, the Deputies are the officers of arms who actually carried out the visitations. Where no Deputy is named, the visitation was conducted by the King of Arms in person.

Southern Province[edit]

The Southern Province, the jurisdiction of Clarenceux King of Arms, comprised that part of England south of the River Trent, i.e. the counties of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Monmouthshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and the City of London; and South Wales.[8]

Year County or area visited Clarenceux King of Arms Deputy or Deputies Notes
1530 Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire Thomas Benolt
1530 London churches Thomas Benolt Thomas Hawley, Carlisle Herald
1531 Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Thomas Benolt
early 1530s Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Hampshire, Somerset, Isle of Wight, and London Companies Thomas Benolt
early 1530s Devon and Cornwall Thomas Benolt
early 1530s South Wales and Herefordshire Thomas Benolt William Fellow, Lancaster Herald
1558 Essex William Harvey Of uncertain status: perhaps not completed, or possibly not even begun.
1561 Suffolk William Harvey
1563 Norfolk William Harvey
1563 Warwickshire William Harvey Robert Cooke, Chester Herald
1563–4 Leicestershire William Harvey Robert Cooke, Chester Herald
1563–4 Lincolnshire William Harvey
1564 Northamptonshire William Harvey
1564 Huntingdonshire William Harvey
1564 Devon William Harvey
1565 Wiltshire William Harvey
1565 Dorset William Harvey
1566 Bedfordshire William Harvey
1566 Buckinghamshire William Harvey
1566 Oxfordshire William Harvey Robert Cooke, Chester Herald
1566 Berkshire William Harvey Robert Cooke, Chester Herald
1568 London Robert Cooke
1569 Worcestershire Robert Cooke
1569 Herefordshire Robert Cooke
1569 Gloucestershire Robert Cooke
1569 Shropshire Robert Cooke
1570 Essex Robert Cooke
1570 Sussex Robert Cooke
1571–3 Hertfordshire Robert Cooke
1571–3 Middlesex Robert Cooke
1572–3 Surrey Robert Cooke
1573 Cornwall Robert Cooke
1573 Somerset Robert Cooke
1574 Kent Robert Cooke
1574–5 Oxfordshire Robert Cooke Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant
1574–5 Buckinghamshire Robert Cooke Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant
1574 Oxford University Robert Cooke Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant
1575 Cambridgeshire Robert Cooke
1575–6 Hampshire Robert Cooke
1577 Suffolk Robert Cooke
1584 Shropshire Robert Cooke Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant
1589 Norfolk Robert Cooke
1591 Somerset Robert Cooke Ralph Brooke, Rouge Croix Pursuivant
1591–2 Kent Robert Cooke
1592 Lincolnshire Robert Cooke Richard Lee, Richmond Herald
1612 Suffolk William Camden John Raven, Richmond Herald
1613 Norfolk William Camden John Raven, Richmond Herald
1613 Huntingdonshire William Camden Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald
1614 Essex William Camden John Raven, Richmond Herald
1618–19 Northamptonshire and Rutland William Camden Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1619 Warwickshire William Camden Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1619 Leicestershire William Camden Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1619 Cambridgeshire William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald
1619 Kent William Camden John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1620 Devon William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1620 Cornwall William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1622–3 Hampshire William Camden John Philipot, Somerset Herald
1623 Surrey William Camden Samuel Thompson, Windsor Herald, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant
1623 Gloucestershire William Camden Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1623 Berkshire William Camden Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1623 Shropshire William Camden Robert Tresswell, Somerset Herald, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant
1623 Wiltshire William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1623 Dorset William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1623 Somerset William Camden Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1634 Hampshire Sir Richard St George John Philipot, Somerset Herald
1634 Essex Sir Richard St George George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1634 Lincolnshire Sir Richard St George Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and Thomas Thompson, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1633–5 London Sir Richard St George Sir Henry St George, Richmond Herald
1634 London Companies Sir Richard St George
1634 Herefordshire Sir Richard St George
1634 Buckinghamshire Sir Richard St George John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and William Ryley, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1633–4 Sussex Sir Richard St George John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and George Owen, York Herald
1634 Hertfordshire Sir Richard St George
1634 Middlesex Sir Richard St George
1634 Oxfordshire Sir Richard St George John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and William Ryley, Bluemantle Pursuivant
1634 Worcestershire Sir Richard St George George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1634 Bedfordshire Sir Richard St George George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary
1662–4 Shropshire Sir Edward Bysshe William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms
1662–8 Surrey Sir Edward Bysshe
1662-8 Sussex Sir Edward Bysshe
1663 Middlesex Sir Edward Bysshe William Ryley, Lancaster Herald, and Henry Dethick, Rouge Croix Pursuivant
1663 Kent Sir Edward Bysshe
1664 London Sir Edward Bysshe Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, and Thomas Holford, Portcullis Pursuivant
1664–6 Berkshire Sir Edward Bysshe Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald
1664–8 Norfolk Sir Edward Bysshe
1664–8 Essex Sir Edward Bysshe
1664–8 Suffolk Sir Edward Bysshe
1666 Lincolnshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1669 Bedfordshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1669 Hertfordshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1669–75 Buckinghamshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1668–75 Oxfordshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1672 Somerset Sir Edward Bysshe
1677 Wiltshire Sir Edward Bysshe
1677 Dorset Sir Edward Bysshe
1681–2 Northamptonshire Sir Henry St George Francis Burghill, Somerset Herald, Thomas May, Chester Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1681–2 Rutland Sir Henry St George Francis Burghill, Somerset Herald, Thomas May, Chester Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1681–3 Leicestershire Sir Henry St George Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1683 Warwickshire Sir Henry St George Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1682–3 Worcestershire Sir Henry St George Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1682–3 Gloucestershire Sir Henry St George Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1683 Herefordshire Sir Henry St George Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1683 Monmouthshire Sir Henry St George Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
1684 Cambridgeshire Sir Henry St George
1684 Huntingdonshire Sir Henry St George
1686 Hampshire Sir Henry St George
1687–1700 London Sir Henry St George

Northern Province[edit]

The Northern Province, the jurisdiction of Norroy King of Arms, comprised that part of England north of the River Trent, i.e. the counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire, Westmorland and Yorkshire; and North Wales. The Trent ran through Staffordshire, and the county was therefore technically divided between the two provinces; but for the purposes of visitation it was generally treated (sometimes through a process of deputation) as falling under the jurisdiction of Norroy.[9]

Year County or area visited Norroy King of Arms Deputy or Deputies Notes
1530 Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Lancashire Thomas Tonge
1532 Lancashire and part of Cheshire Thomas Tonge William Fellow, Lancaster Herald
1552 Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Cumberland William Harvey
1558 Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland and Cheshire Lawrence Dalton Conducted by Dalton in person, accompanied by William Colbarne, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, probably his nephew. Of uncertain authority, as Dalton had not yet been formally created Norroy
1563 Yorkshire William Flower
1566 Staffordshire William Flower
1566 Cheshire William Flower
1567 Lancashire William Flower
1569 Derbyshire William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1569 Nottinghamshire William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1575 County Durham William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1575 Yorkshire and Northumberland William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1580 Cheshire William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1583 Staffordshire William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1584–5 Yorkshire William Flower Robert Glover, Somerset Herald Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy
1611 Derbyshire Sir Richard St George Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald, and Henry St George, Rouge Rose Pursuivant-Extraordinary (Sir Richard's son)
1612 Yorkshire Sir Richard St George
1613 Lancashire Sir Richard St George
1614 Cheshire Sir Richard St George Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Henry St George, Bluemantle Pursuivant, his son
1614 Nottinghamshire Sir Richard St George
1614 Staffordshire Sir Richard St George
1615 County Durham Sir Richard St George
1615 Northumberland Sir Richard St George Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Henry St George, Bluemantle Pursuivant, his son
1634 Derbyshire [Sir William le Neve] Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and Thomas Thompson, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant Although undertaken during le Neve's kingship, this visitation was conducted under a joint commission granted in 1633 to Sir John Borough, Norroy 1623–33 and Garter King of Arms 1633–43, and Sir Richard St George, Clarenceux King of Arms 1623–35
1662–4 Derbyshire William Dugdale
1662–4 Nottinghamshire William Dugdale
1662–4 [Shropshire] William Dugdale Conducted by Dugdale as deputy to Sir Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux, as the county lay within the Southern Province.
1663–4 Staffordshire William Dugdale
1663–4 Cheshire William Dugdale
1664–5 Westmorland William Dugdale
1664–5 Cumberland William Dugdale
1664–5 Lancashire William Dugdale
1665–6 Yorkshire William Dugdale
1666 County Durham William Dugdale
1666 Northumberland William Dugdale
1670 Flintshire William Dugdale Robert Chaloner, Lancaster Herald, and Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant Conducted under a deputation to visit North Wales, granted in 1670

Published editions[edit]

England[edit]

Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumberland
Derbyshire
Devon
  • Colby, F.T., ed. (1881). The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier Visitation of 1531. Exeter. 
  • Colby, F.T., ed. (1872). The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1620. Harleian Society, 1st ser. 6. London. 
  • Vivian, J.L., ed. (1895). The Visitation of the County of Devon: comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620. Exeter.  (see also: Devon heraldry)
  • Listing of Devonshire "Ignobile Omnes", deemed by William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms in 1620 (through his 2 deputies) "all ignoble", unable to prove their pedigrees to satisfy the heralds that they were entitled to be called armigerous or gentleman. To be classed as "ignobiles" was to be publicly shamed. (Published in Worthy, Charles, (Principal Assistant to Somerset Herald in Ordinary), "Devonshire Wills", London, 1896, derived from MS.Harl.1080,fo.342)
Dorset
County Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Huntingdonshire
Kent
  • Bannerman, W.B., ed. (1923). The Visitations of Kent: Part I: Taken in the years 1530-1 by Thomas Benolte, Clarenceux, and 1754 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux. Harleian Society, 1st ser. 74. London. 
  • Bannerman, W.B., ed. (1924). The Visitations of Kent: Part II: Taken in the years 1574 and 1592 by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux. Harleian Society, 1st ser. 75. London. 
  • Hovenden R., ed. (1898). The Visitation of Kent, taken in the years 1619-1621 by John Philipot, Rouge Dragon, marshal and deputy to William Camden, Clarenceux. Harleian Society, 1st ser. 42. London. 
  • Armytage, Sir George J., ed. (1906). A Visitation of the County of Kent, begun Anno Dni 1663, finished Anno Dni 1668. Harleian Society, 1st ser. 54. London. 
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
London
Middlesex
Norfolk
Northamptonshire
Northumberland
  • Marshall, George W., ed. (1878). The Visitation of Northumberland in 1615. London: Mitchell and Hughes. 
  • Foster, Joseph, ed. (1891). Pedigrees recorded at the Heralds' Visitations of the County of Northumberland, made by Richard St George, Norroy King of Arms in 1615, and by William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms in 1666. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Browne and Browne. 
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutland
Shropshire
Somerset
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Sussex
Warwickshire
Westmorland
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire

Wales[edit]

Visitations in Ireland[edit]

Since the practices of Ulster King of Arms so closely followed those of the English College of Arms, it is hardly surprising that the Irish officers of arms undertook heraldic visitations in their province. The purpose behind these visitations was twofold: to prevent the assumption of arms by unqualified people, and to record the arms of the gentry that were unknown to Ulster office. The first visitation was held by Nicholas Narbon, the second Ulster King of Arms, in 1569. He was authorized to reform practices which were contrary to good armorial practice. He conducted six visitations (Dublin in 1568–1573, Drogheda and Ardee in 1570, Dublin in 1572, Swords in 1572, Cork in 1574, and Limerick in 1574). One of his successors, Daniel Molyneux had the commission renewed, and mounted several visitations. Although Molyneux's last visitation–of Wexford–was the last proper visitation, two other expeditions occurred after 1618 by subsequent Ulster Kings of Arms. The visitations were not very extensive. The officers would not often be found in the disturbed countryside. Thus the visitations are confined to areas under firm control of the Dublin administration.

Today, the original visitation and related manuscripts are in the custody of the Chief Herald of Ireland. Copies are also deposited at the College of Arms in London.

Visitations in Scotland[edit]

The 1672 Act of Parliament that created the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland gave Lord Lyon King of Arms the authority to visit any part of Scotland to execute his statutory duties. Such visits have been made in the past, however these visits are not organized information-gathering exercises in specific regions. Scottish heraldry, with its compulsory matriculations, is much more regulated and each generation must lodge an updated genealogy with Lyon Court in order to lawfully bear arms. Therefore the control of heraldry in Scotland is such that periodic inspections have never been necessary.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stephen Friar, Ed. A Dictionary of Heraldry. (Harmony Books, New York: 1987).
  2. ^ Julian Franklyn. Shield and Crest: An Account of the Art and Science of Heraldry. (MacGibbon & Kee, London: 1960), 386.
  3. ^ J.L. Vivian, Ed. The Visitations of Cornwall, Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1530, 1573, &1620. (William Pollard and Co., Exeter: 1887), 248.
  4. ^ Wagner 1952, p. 24.
  5. ^ Styles 1953.
  6. ^ Verasano 2001.
  7. ^ Michael Powell Siddons. Visitations by the Heralds in Wales. (The Harleian Society, London: 1996), v.
  8. ^ Listings are based on Wagner 1952, pp. 66–77.
  9. ^ Listings are based on Wagner 1952, pp. 77–84.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ailes, Adrian (2009). "The Development of the Heralds' Visitations in England and Wales 1450–1600". Coat of Arms. 3rd ser. 5: 7–23. 
  • Squibb, G.D., ed. (1985). Munimenta Heraldica, MCCCCLXXXIV to MCMLXXXIV. Harleian Society, new ser. 4. London. ISBN 0-9500207-6-1.  (contains texts of visitation patents of aid, commissions, appointments of deputies etc.)
  • Styles, Philip (1953). "The Heralds' Visitation of Warwickshire, 1682–3". Transactions and Proceedings of the Birmingham Archaeological Society 71: 96–134. 
  • Verasano, Janet (2001). "The Staffordshire Heraldic Visitations: their nature and function". Midland History 26: 128–43. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  • Wagner, Anthony (1952). The Records and Collections of the College of Arms. London: Burke's Peerage. 
  • Wagner, A.R. (1956). Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]