User:Dr pda/English heraldry

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Heraldry developed in England, as in the rest of Western Europe, in the mid twelfth century.[1] This is attested by the use on documents of armorial seals, such as those of Waleran, Count of Meulan and Earl of Worcester (1136–8) and Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford (1146).[2] The first colour evidence for the inheritance of armorial bearings on a shield comes from Geoffrey of Anjou and William Longespee. According to historian John of Marmontier, when Henry I of England knighted his son-in-law Geoffrey of Anjou in 1127–8, he hung around his neck a blue shield decorated with gold lions. An enamel plate from Geoffrey's tomb depicts the shield. The effigy in Salisbury Cathedral of William Longespee, Geoffrey's illegitimate grandson, bears a shield of the same design.[3]

Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries professionals in the art of recognising, recording and eventually granting arms arose—Kings of arms, heralds and pursuivants, collectively known as officers of arms.[4] They belonged to the households of the king, the nobility and even of rich knights. England in the medieval period had fewer officers of arms than France and Germany, where there were hundreds;[5] nevertheless over a hundred different English titles of office are known.[6] The royal heralds were incorporated as a body, the College of Arms, in 1484, though many of the individual offices date from well before this.[4] The office of Norroy King of Arms dates from at least 1276, Clarenceux King of Arms from 1334 and Richmond and Windsor Heralds from the mid-fourteenth century.[7]

Arms were originally self-assumed, but by the mid-fourteenth century they were considered a mark of distinction conferrable by a royal grant. The earliest known English grant is by Edward III, dating from before 1373. Richard II of England took an interest in heraldry and is known to have made several grants during his reign, however English monarchs have not usually made grants directly, instead delegating authority to the Kings of Arms. This is in contrast to Continental practice.[8] From the early fifteenth century the English Crown began to take action against those who bore self-assumed arms. In 1417 Henry V issued writs to the Sherrifs of Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, and Wiltshire to instruct them to announce that no one could use armorial bearings on the upcoming expedition to France except those who had been granted or had inherited them.[9] Beginning in 1530 the Kings of Arms were commissioned to carry out heraldic visitations—county-by-county surveys in which they were to "reform all false armory" and to "deface and take away" unlawful arms. These visitations ceased in 1688.[8]

The early 18th century is often considered the nadir of English heraldry.[10][11][12] The heraldic establishment was not held in high regard by the public; the visitations had become increasingly unpopular,[10] the authority of the Court of Chivalry (though not its armorial jurisdiction) was challenged,[13]and an increasing number of 'new men' simply assumed arms, without any authority.[10] This attitude is evident even in the appointment of the heralds themselves—Sir John Vanbrugh, a prominent dramatist and architect who knew nothing of heraldry, was appointed to the office of Clarenceux King of Arms, the second-highest office in the College of Arms.[14] The end of the visitations in effect restricted new grants of arms to people living in London or the vicinity, with a consequent reduction in the number of grants.[12] This, coupled with internal difficulties in the College of Arms, resulted in no new grants being made between between November 1704 and June 1707.[15]

The situation slowly improved throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with the number of new grants per year slowly rising—14 in 1747,[12] 40 in 1784 and 82 in 1884.[16] These numbers reflect an increasing geographical spread in grantees, due to a general increase of interest in heraldry. This was caused by a number of factors, including the creation of the Order of the Bath in 1725, and grants of arms to its members, augmentations of honour granted to successful military commanders in the Peninsular and Napoleonic wars, and the rise in popularity of name and arms clauses.[17] The medieval period, and with it heraldry, also became popular as a result of the Romantic movement and Gothic revival.[18]

The heraldic design of the 18th and 19th centuries, however, has been criticised by later writers. Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones (Rouge Croix Pursuivant and Lancaster Herald, repectively) wrote of grants made in 1784 that "the arms manifest the use of dissimilar charges scattered with Ordinaries and Sub-Ordinaries with little sense of design"[19], and further that "the importance attached to the meaning of charges during this period [was] at the apparent expense of design and good composition."[19] Sir Isaac Heard's tenure as Garter King of Arms is notorious as the heyday of landscape heraldry, according to Sir Anthony Wagner, a later holder of that office.[20] Woodcock and Robertson (Somerset Herald and Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary) say that "Victorian designs tended to be cluttered", though Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones disagree, contending that, by 1884 at least, Victorian heraldry is "simple, neat and interesting, with a unity in its design and none of the segmented clutter with which this period is so often wrongly credited."[21]

Heraldry continued to flourish in the 20th century.[22] The practice of granting heraldic badges was revived in 1906 after a hiatus of almost 400 years. This influenced heraldic design by stimulating the creation of new charges which were not restricted by the shape of the shield; the often-symmetric nature of these charges subsequently influenced the traditional practice of making charges face the top or left-hand side of the shield. A greater freedom in heraldic design was also shown by increased use of the less common Ordinaries and Sub-Ordinaries, for example the flaunch; variations of traditional charges, however, predominated over completely new charges, with the exception of indigenous flora and fauna. The latter occur particularly in grants made by the English Kings of Arms to overseas subjects of the Crown, i.e. in countries such as Australia and New Zealand where the Queen is the head of state.[23][24] The number of such grants increased during the 20th century, though they were not unknown in the preceding one.[25]




(incl Heraldic heiress, Marital impalement)

Royal Arms[edit]

Corporate arms[edit]

(incl Towns and cities)


College of Arms[edit]

Court of Chivalry[edit]


Armorial bearings duty[edit]

Characteristic features[edit]








Orders of chivalry[edit]


  1. ^ Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, p1
  2. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, p12
  3. ^ Slater, The Complete Book of Heraldry, p12, who also points out that both the account and Geoffrey's tomb-plate date from up to 30 years after the investiture.
  4. ^ a b Slater, Complete Book of Heraldry, p36–8
  5. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, p26
  6. ^ London, The College of Arms
  7. ^ London, The College of Arms
  8. ^ a b Bedingfeld, Heraldry, p35
  9. ^ Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, p34
  10. ^ a b c Bedingfeld, Heraldry, p67
  11. ^ Wagner, Heralds of England, p318
  12. ^ a b c Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, p43
  13. ^ Wagner, Heralds of England, pp315–6
  14. ^ Wagner, Heralds of England, pp329–30
  15. ^ Wagner, Heralds of England, p342
  16. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, pp68–71
  17. ^ Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, pp44–6
  18. ^ Wagner, Heraldry in England, p23
  19. ^ a b Bedingfeld, Heraldry, pp68–9
  20. ^ Wagner, Heralds of England, p427
  21. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, pp72–3
  22. ^ Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, p140
  23. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, pp74–5
  24. ^ Bedingfeld, Heraldry, pp147–8
  25. ^ Woodcock, Oxford Guide to Heraldry, pp48–9


  • Bedingfeld, Henry (1993). Heraldry. Leicester: Magna Books. ISBN 1-85422-433-6.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Slater, Stephen (2002). The Complete Book of Heraldry. London: Anness. ISBN 0-7548-1062-3. 
  • Wagner, Anthony R. (1967). Heralds of England: a History of the Office and College of Arms. London: HMSO. OCLC 1178344. 
  • Wagner, Anthony R. (1946). Heraldry in England. London: Penguin. OCLC 20557263. 
  • Woodcock, Thomas (1988). The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-211658-4.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)