Arthur Charles Fox-Davies

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Fox-Davies' coat of arms, as illustrated in his Complete Guide to Heraldry[nb 1]

Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (28 February 1871 – 19 May 1928) was a British author on heraldry.[1] By profession, he was a barrister but he also worked as a journalist and novelist.[2][3]

Born in Bristol, he was the second son of Thomas Edmond Davies (later Fox-Davies) of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.[4]

Heraldic writings[edit]

Fox-Davies's writing on heraldry is characterised by a passionate attachment to heraldry as art, history and also as law. He was something of a polemicist, and issued one of his most controversial works, The Right to Bear Arms, under the pseudonym X. However, he always supported his arguments with specific historical and manuscript evidence.

He was the editor of the Genealogical Magazine from 1895–1906.[4]

He conducted a lifelong campaign against the bearing of coats of arms without lawful authority in accordance with the Law of Arms, whether that authority was a right recognised at the Visitations conducted by heralds between the 16th to 18th centuries or, more commonly, a right deriving from a specific grant entered in the records of the College of Arms. In support of this campaign, he produced a directory which attempted to list all living bearers of arms in England and Wales who could prove such authority, under the title Armorial Families. This served as an incentive to families who had not got such authority to regularise their position at the College of Arms and the size of the work increased considerably until its final edition in 1929, which remains the most comprehensive published record (the records of the College of Arms being largely unpublished) of post-Victorian heraldry in Britain. Many of the arms were illustrated with specially commissioned heraldic drawings, and Fox-Davies drew on this large resource when illustrating his more systematic treatises on heraldry.

The most lavish of these was The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopædia of Armory, which was originally conceived as an English translation of a German publication (Ströhl's Heraldischer Atlas) but which was transformed, in Fox-Davies's hands, into a largely original work specifically directed to the history, theory and practice of English heraldry, with illustrations in black and white and in colour throughout. This large 500-page book was first published in 1904 and was re-issued in black and white only in 1976 by an American publisher and in 1986 in colour by a London publisher. Much of the material in this book was re-used in a shorter, cheaper and more popular exposition of contemporary English heraldic practice, Complete Guide to Heraldry, which proved very successful and influential. This too has been reprinted several times. Another even shorter guide was Heraldry Explained, but even this balanced a clear and didactic text with plentiful illustration.

Fox-Davies's emphasis on practical and officially authorised heraldry caused him to showcase mostly recent grants of arms. This was in contrast to the medieval emphasis of other scholars, of whom his most prominent critics were Oswald Barron, author of the celebrated article on heraldry in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and Horace Round.

Round, in an essay called "Heraldry and the Gent" (eventually published in his collection Peerage and Pedigree), ridiculed another thesis with which Fox-Davies was particularly associated, namely, that an English grant of arms was equivalent to a continental patent of nobility, and that, not only were all English armigers to that extent noblemen as well as gentlemen (if male), but that no one without an official right to bear a coat of arms could claim to be a gentleman at all.

Fox-Davies's influence on English heraldry continued long after his death in 1928, not least because of his lawyerly insistence on backing his opinions with solid evidence, and because of the continuing popularity of his books with the general public and with expert heraldists alike. One of his admirers in the next generation was John Brooke-Little, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and founder of the Heraldry Society, who edited a new edition of The Complete Guide to Heraldry and in many ways propagated similar, albeit somewhat less aggressively expressed, ideas.

Fox-Davies did not become a herald or pursuivant at the College of Arms, but he was one of the 250 Gold Staff Officers who assisted at the Coronation of George V.[3]

Name and arms of Fox-Davies[edit]

Fox-Davies added his mother's maiden name to his own by deed poll on his nineteenth birthday in 1890, thereby changing his own surname from Davies to Fox-Davies. In 1894, his father took the same course for himself and the rest of the family, assuming the additional surname of Fox (hence Fox-Davies) by Royal Licence.[4]

Neither the Davies nor the Fox families were entitled to bear a coat of arms. In 1905, when Fox-Davies was 34 and already well-advanced in his career as a writer on heraldic and genealogical subjects, he organised grants of arms to his father and in respect of the family of his mother. The arms granted to his father on 26 December 1905 were a plain (not quartered) coat for all the descendants of the grantee's own father Charles Davies (Fox-Davies's paternal grandfather).[4] One day later, on 27 December 1905, arms were granted for the family of his maternal grandfather John Fox (who had died in 1893) which consisted only of two daughters, one of whom was Fox-Davies's mother.[4]

The paternal arms of Fox-Davies (formerly Davies) granted in 1905 were: "Sable, a demi sun in splendour issuant in base or, a chief dancetee of the last" with, for crest, "on a wreath of the colours, a demi dragon rampant gules collared or, holding in the dexter claw a hammer proper". The motto, in Welsh, was "Da Fydd" (meaning "Good Faith", and punning on "Davies")[4]

The arms granted in 1905 to the maternal family of Fox were: "Per pale argent and gules, three foxes sejeant counterchanged" with, for crest, "on a wreath of the colours a demi stag winged gules collared argent."[4]

In a letter to his father shortly after the grants of arms, Fox-Davies explained that he had deliberately avoided grant of a quartered shield for Fox-Davies, preferring to establish separate shields for the families of his father and of his mother.[4] However, since his mother Maria Jane Fox-Davies outlived him (dying in 1937), the result was that Fox-Davies never displayed a shield quarterly of Fox and Fox-Davies, but only his father's plain coat.[4] The same letter also shows that Fox-Davies was considering one day obtaining grants of arms for his wife's families of Crookes and Proctor, so that his children might bear these coats as additional quarterings. He said: "These things are a case of little by little."[4] His wife, Mary Ellen Blanche Crookes, was the daughter of Septimus Wilkinson Crookes and his wife Anne Blanche Harriet Proctor, daughter of Richard Fellowes Proctor. The letter shows that Fox-Davies did not have enough money to obtain further grants of arms at that point, however.[4]

In 1921, Fox-Davies obtained the grant of a heraldic badge, which was "a crown vallery gules".[4]

Non-heraldic career[edit]

Fox-Davies was called by his family and friends "Charlie".[4]

He was born in Bristol and brought up at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire. His paternal family (Davies) was of Welsh origin.[4] His paternal grandfather, Charles Davies of Cardigan, was an ironmonger. His father, Thomas Davies of Coalbrookdale, worked for the Coalbrookdale Iron Company.[4] His maternal grandfather was Alderman John Fox JP of Coalbrookdale.

Fox-Davies was educated at Ackworth School, Yorkshire, but left at the age of fourteen in 1885 after hitting one of the schoolmasters.[4] He received no further formal education, but was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1901 and called to the bar in 1906.[3]

As a barrister, he practised on the South Eastern Circuit, at the Old Bailey, and at the Surrey and South London Sessions.[3] He also prepared printed cases for peerage cases in the House of Lords.

In addition to his writings on heraldry, he published a number of works of fiction, including detective stories such as The Dangerville Inheritance (1907), The Manleverer Murders (1907) and The Duplicate Death (1910).[5]

A Conservative in politics, Fox-Davies unsuccessfully stood for election as a member of parliament for Merthyr Tydfil in 1910, 1923, and 1924.[3] He was, however, elected as a member of Holborn Borough Council in London.[2][3]

He married in 1901 Mary Ellen Blanche Crookes,[4] by whom he had one son and one daughter. His wife worked as an heraldic artist, often for her husband's publications, under the pseudonym "C. Helard.".[4]

He lived at Warwick Gardens, Kensington, London, and had chambers at 23, Old Buildings, Lincoln's Inn.

He died of portal hypertension and cirrhosis of the liver.[4] He was buried in the parish churchyard at Coalbrookdale.[5]



  1. ^ This illustration shows the undifferenced arms of the family; Arthur used the arms with a small crescent on the chief, as the cadency mark of a second son.
  1. ^ "Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles". The International Who's Who in the World: pp. 474–475. 1912. 
  2. ^ a b "Obituary: Mr. A. C. Fox-Davies, Expert in Pedigrees and Heraldry". The Times. 21 May 1928.  Quoted in Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles, ed. (1929). Armorial Families: A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat-Armour 1 (7th ed.). London: Hurst and Blackett. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "FOX-DAVIES, Arthur Charles". Who Was Who. Oxford University Press. December 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Lattimore, Colin (2012). The Bookplates of Miss C. Helard. London: The Bookplate Society. ISBN 9780955542824. 
  5. ^ a b Dickins, Gordon (1987). An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire. Shropshire Libraries. p. 32. 
  6. ^ "Review: The Average Man by A. C. Fox-Davies". The Outlook 20: 215. 1907. 
  7. ^ "REAL THING IN THE MURDER MYSTERY LINE. The Mauleverer Murders. By A. C. Fox-Davies". NY Times. 7 Sep 1907. 


  • 'Fox-Davies, A. C.', in Who Was Who s.v.
  • Lattimore, Colin, The Bookplates of Miss C. Helard (London: The Bookplate Society, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9555428-2-4), which includes a detailed biography and profile of Fox-Davies in Section 2, and Fox-Davies's own unpublished biographical notes about himself and his family in Appendix 3.

External links[edit]