« ZurückWeiter »
clamation, dated the 2nd day of June, 1417, to the effect that no man, of what estate, degree, or condition soever, should assume arms, unless he held them by right of inheritance or by the donation of some person who had suff1cient power to give them; and that all persons should make it appear to officers, to be appointed by the King for that purpose, by whose gift they enjoyed such arms as they respectively bore, excepting those who had borne arms with the King at the battle of Agincourt.
In the year 1420 the first regular chapter of the heralds, in their collective capacity, was held at the siege of Rouen (Dallaway), but it was not until sixty-five years afterwards—on the 2nd day of March, 1484-5—that King Richard III. granted to them a charter of incorporation. Further privileges were conferred upon the heralds, in the year 1549, by King Edward VI., and, in 1555, Queen Mary granted to the College of Heralds a house called Derby House, in the Parish of St. Benedict, Paul's 'Wharf, London, the precursor of the present College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street.
Although there had been heralds acting, to some extent, as officers of arms in England from the thirteenth century, it was not until the reign of King Henry VIII. that any really systematic plan of recording armorial bearings and pedigrees was commenced by them. Before that time there had existed merely rolls of arms, such as the Roll of Carlaverock,5 and certain collections of arms and pedigrees, very limited in their scope. In 1528, however, some of the officers of arms were commissioned by the Crown to make Visitations of, or in other words to visit, certain counties of England, for the purpose of preparing an official record of the armorial bearings and pedigrees of all such persons as were entitled, by their position in life, to what is sometimes called "visitation rank." Visitations were, in due course, periodically made at intervals for every county in England, and, after being neglected under the Commonwealth, were afterwards revived and continued until the year 1686, when they finally ceased. The pedigrees and arms recorded at these Visitations were carefully entered in manuscript volumes, still preserved at the College of Arms, which form the basis of heraldic and genealogical authority and contain an immense amount of information relating to the arms, quarterings and descents of some thousands of the ancient families of England.
2 A poem written in Norman French in the reign of Edward I., and containing an accurate blazon of the arms of 105 knights, who were present at the siege of Carlaverock Castle, in Dumfries-shire, with the King, in the year 1300.
In this way Lancashire was visited by the heralds in the years 1533,1564,1613 and 1664, and Cheshire in the years 1533, 1566, 1580, 1613 and 1663. The Lancashire Visitations have all been printed by the Chetham Society, and a volume containing much of the Cheshire Visitations of 1533, 1566, and 1580 has been issued by the Harleian Society.
The Commission, under the Great Seal of England, issued to Thomas Benolte, Clarenceux King of Arms, in the 20th year of the reign of King Henry VIII., for the first of the Heralds' Visitations, empowered him to convene and call before him or his deputy, at such time and place as he .should appoint, "all persons that do pretend to "bear arms, or are styled Esquires and Gentlemen," and to require them to "produce and show forth "by what authority they do challenge and claim "the same." Full authority was given to the heralds to pull down or deface all arms wrongfully usurped, and to "make infamous by proclamation" at the assizes, or any general sessions, or elsewhere, all those who used arms without any right, or assumed without authority the titles of Esquire and Gentleman.
In pursuance of the like commission the King of Arms, or Herald, issued a warrant directed to the High Constable or Bailiff of the Hundred, or to the Mayor or other chief officer of the place where he intended to hold his Visitation, commanding him to warn the several knights, esquires, and gentlemen within his jurisdiction, to appear before him atthe house and on the day specified in the warrant, and to bring with them their escutcheons and pedigrees, with such evidences and writings as might justify the same, in order to their being duly registered. A warrant of this kind will be found in Mr. H. S. Grazebrook's Visitation of Staffordshire, 1583, published by the William Salt Archaeological Society, and the same warrant is reprinted in the introduction to my little work on Disclaimers.
Some of the local gentry who were summoned to appear before the heralds, especially at the later visitations, did not show that alacrity in obeying the summons that the officers of arms had a right to expect, and we find that persuasion, in some cases, was attempted to induce their attendance. Thus, in a letter dated the 4th February, 1663, written by Sir William Dugdale,3 Norroy King of Arms, to Mr. John Crew of Utkinton, he says:— "I shall speedily send away my Warrants to sum"mon those who appeared not when I was there, "resolving to be at Chester on Saturday the i9th "of March. If you have opportunity of discourse "with any who came not to me, I shall desire that "you will represent to them how fitt it is for them "to enter their descents, and to submitt to such "regularity in the bearing of their armes, as may "be for the honour of the1r familyes, and restraint "of inferior persons from usurping what they ought "not to have."4 .
3 At this lime Dugdale was an esquire; he was knighted in 1677, on his appointment as Garter King of Arms.
In Lancashire Dugdale's summons was not treated with the respect due to an officer of the Crown, for a warrant was issued by him5 to the Bailiff of the Hundred of Salford, dated the 2nd day of February, 1664-5, in the schedule to which seventy-three of the Lancashire gentry are named, as having neglected to appear before Sir William at the sign of the King's Head in Salford on the 9th day of September, 1664, "as well for the registringe their "descents and justifying their titles of Esquires "and Gentlemen as their right to such Coats of "Armes and Crests which they usually show forth "and bear"; and the bailiff is commanded to summon them at the King's Head on Saturday the 11th day of March, 1664-5. Then the warrant goes on to say that in case they refuse to attend, Sir William will be "enforced to adjorne them to attend "ye Lords Commissioners for the office of Earle "Marshall of England to answer yr disobedience "and contempt of His Majesties commission."
Those of the gentry whose disposition and education inclined them to take a proper pride in their arms and descents and to obey the summons of the officer of their sovereign, came before the heralds at the time and place appointed, bringing with them whatever seemed likely to be useful in substantiating the arms and pedigrees which they wished to have entered in the Visitation Book. We can well picture to ourselves the interesting and often beautiful evidences that would be produced by well descended knights and esquires on such occasions: large vellum pedigrees with arms and effigies emblazoned in gold and colours, early charters in quaintly written characters with beautifully engraved pendent seals, grants and confirmations of arms, surrounded with elegantly illuminated scroll-work, and boldly painted panels, such as we have seen exhibited at the meetings of our Society.
4 Chetham Society, vol. xxiv. Chetham Miscellanies, vol. i.
If the evidence produced satisfied the heralds, the pedigree and arms were duly entered and were signed by the person who proved them, generally the head of the family. If, on the other hand, the whole of the descent was not satisfactorily established, the officers of arms frequently entered a short pedigree, the facts of which were within the personal knowledge of the applicant; a custom which rightly survives to the present day, in entering a pedigree in the College of Arms, in the rule that an applicant may enter his pedigree from his grandparents downwards without producing corroborative evidence, but all earlier generations are required to be strictly proved by certificates and other documents.
If there was any doubt about the arms displayed, the pedigree was entered without them, and respite was often given by the heralds to allow an opportunity of verifying such arms, which, when satisfactorily proved at a later date, were "allowed" and duly entered in the Visitation Book.6 If, however, no proper proof was forthcoming, the user of the arms was compelled to petition for and obtain a grant from the Crown, or to suffer the ignominy of being publicly branded by proclamation as an usurper of arms and no gentleman. Thus, in the
6 There is a case on record in Harl. MS. 1470, in which a certificate was given to Stephen Longsdon of Longsdon, co. Derby, to bear certain arms, although he had at the Visitation "disclaimed the title of a gentleman under "his hand as not knowing how he might justifie the same," and was proceeded against according to the Commission, but had afterwards found that his
"ancestors had been of long time reputed gentlemen and borne arms
"which he is able to prove by evidence and other good record." From this it is clear that the heralds were willing to restore the arms of which a man had deprived himself, if he conformed to the laws of arms and made proper proof of his right to armorial bearings.—(Introduction to Visitation of Salop,