John Anstis (29 August 1669 – 4 March 1744) was an English officer of arms and antiquarian. He rose to the highest heraldic office in England and became Garter King of Arms in 1718 after years of political manoeuvring.
Anstis was born at St Neot, Cornwall on 29 August 1669. He was the first son of another John Anstis and his wife Mary, the daughter of George Smith. Anstis matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, on 27 March 1685 and entered the Middle Temple on 31 January 1690. On 23 June 1695 he married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Richard Cudlipp of Tavistock, Devon. They had eight sons and six daughters. Anstis was called to the bar on 19 May 1699.
In March 1701, Anstis received permission from the Earl Marshal, Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk, to collect materials from the College of Arms library to assist in the defence of the jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal, which was under attack. Anstis was also elected to Parliament for St Germans in 1702. When the Garter King of Arms, Sir Thomas St George, died in March 1703 Anstis was in a position to advise Lady Howard on how to protect her son's rights from the threat of a royal nomination of a new Garter on the one hand and the assumption of the nomination by the deputy earl marshal. Sir Henry St George was nominated to be Garter and succeeded his brother in June 1703.
Anstis did not stand for election to Parliament in 1705. In May 1707 Anstis was nominated Carlisle Herald of Arms Extraordinary and Norfolk Herald. This was part of a plan to persuade Garter St George to administer the office jointly with Anstis doing most of the work. In spite of the nomination, Anstis was never appointed to either post. Anstis's main rival to succeed St George was now John Vanbrugh, who had become as Clarenceux King of Arms in March 1704 to strengthen his own claims to the office. In December 1710 Anstis used a change in administration to try again at securing the Gartership. On 20 January 1711 Anstis was re-elected to Parliament and changed his strategy with St George. He continued to secure offices related to public records for himself and he remained loyal to the tory ministry in Parliament. With his influential political friends Anstis was eventually able to obtain promise of an appointment to the office of Garter King of Arms, on 2 April 1714.
Anstis was elected to Parliament again in January 1715 for Launceston. By the time that Sir Henry St George finally died in August 1715, the political situation had shifted away from Anstis's political connections. Vanbrugh was nominated to the office and took measures to secure the passage of his grant. In addition, on 30 September 1715 Anstis was arrested on suspicion of involvement in plotting a Jacobite uprising in Cornwall. A protracted legal battle ensued as Anstis and Vanbrugh both claimed the title of Garter. Anstis eventually emerged victorious in May 1718.
In 1724 he obtained an order for publishing the Register of the Order of the Garter, which was printed at his own expense. In the following year he interested Robert Walpole in a plan for a new order of chivalry based on a revival of the medieval Order of the Bath. This led to his Observations Introductory to an Historical Essay on the Knighthood of the Bath is 1725 and to Anstis's drawing up the statutes for the new order.
Anstis duly presided over the coronation of George II in 1727. In 1728 he embarked on extensive research to prove that his family was related to Archbishop Henry Chichele, the founder of All Souls College, Oxford. This research would have entitled his son, John Anstis, to a fellowship at the college. This was blocked by Archbishop William Wake, although Anstis did have his son made Blanc Coursier Herald in 1727. In 1737 he secured the succession of his office of Garter to John.
Death and legacy
Anstis died on 4 March 1744 at Mortlake, Surrey. He was buried at Duloe in Cornwall on 23 March according to his wishes. Anstis was an indefatigable antiquarian whose correspondence with fellow scholars such as Thomas Hearne and Humfrey Wanley testifies to his wide interests. He left a mass of unpublished papers, including over 8000 pages of notes on English history, Jurisprudence, Chronology, Heraldry, Ecclesiastical and Military Affairs. Many of his papers were sold in 1768 and in 1774 and are now held in the British Library, the Bodleian Library, and All Souls, Oxford.
- John Anstis. The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. (London, 1724).
- Edward Cruickshanks. Anstis, John. Parliament Records (London, 1715–54).
- Walter H. Godfrey and Sir Anthony Wagner, The College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street: being the sixteenth and final monograph of the London Survey Committee. (London, 1963).
- Mark Noble, A History of the College of Arms. (London, 1805).
- Sir Anthony Wagner. A Catalogue of English Mediaeval Rolls of Arms. Harleian Society (London, 1950).
- Sir Anthony Wagner. Heralds of England: a History of the Office and College of Arms. (London, 1967).
- Anthony Wagner and Albert Rowse. John Anstis: Garter King of Arms (London, 1992).
- The College of Arms
- Heraldic List of Officers of Arms
- Archival material relating to John Anstis listed at the UK National Archives
|Parliament of England|
|Member of Parliament for St Germans
with Henry Fleming
|Parliament of Great Britain|
|Member of Parliament for St Mawes
with Richard Onslow
|Member of Parliament for Launceston
with Edward Herle 1713–1721
Alexander Pendarves 1721–1722