What exactly is the "state of the art" of Heraldry today?
But first, for those with an urgent need to check their Surname History or Coat of Arms, go to our Name Trace then return here for an in-depth discussion about the whole subject of : Heraldry
In all fairness, if you want the most recent "straight official goods", the present thinking of the College of Arms in England as offered by the late G D Squibb, the Norfolk Herald Extraordinary, then click to Merrie Olde England at the end of the text.
After reading The Law of Arms in England you may reach your own conclusions about the history of Coat of Arms, be reinforced in your beliefs and go happily on your way. If you would like some additional commentary, stay tuned.
You may have read read the Squibb opinion and now we would offer some additional thoughts, perhaps more in support of Oswald Barron, the Maltravers Herald Extraordinary in 1937, rather than the now conventional line, which is a reversal, back to the rigid Fox Davies approach..
Determing the origin and
history of Coat of Arms is not a hip shoot. We can discount fanciful tales,
the hand me downs, such as the claim of the first mention of Coat of Arms
being in the 7000 word creative poem of Cretien de Troyes in 1170.This
poet was the imaginative weaver of the legends of Lancelot, Percival, Charlemagne,
Roland of the Marches, who would later give substance to the romance of
King Arthur by Mallory, Mort d' Arthur. He, Cretien, was not exactly an
authority on actual history. He had a different agenda. It was to save
the 'fair' sex from the ravages of the not so chivalrous knights
of his time. In these comments we will consider the subject not so much
from the legal aspects as the late and traditional Mr Squibb did, but more
from the historic development of Coat of Arms, a dark and murky subject
shrouded liberally with the sometimes highly emotionally charged convictions
of yesteryear, of the wannabees, of the traditionalists who recreate history
to suit their particular convictions.
This Court statement supports and reinforces the claim that the rightful grant of a Coat of Arms can only be executed by the reigning English Monarch, presumably beginning with Duke William of Normandy. This must obviously nullify any heritable rights of European families before that time, i.e. the Norman Conquest of 1066, and, similarly,sincethat time. Importantly, it also precludes any other authority such as the Chief Herald of Ireland, the American College of Arms and the many continental European organizations. Further, the objective of this ancient regulatory body was to ensure that each Coat of Arms must be 'one up', or suitably differenced for branches of the same family. Only one person could claim those Arms, essentially inherited by primogeniture, or latitudes departed therefrom by the regulatory body.
Whilst this premise had noble and far reaching objectives, it was not very practical except by consenting families within the very narrow court and aristocratic circles, or business magnates, the emerging nouveau riche pervenu class within England itself. Up to the year 1530 few people had been granted their Coat of Arms by any official body or monarch. 90% of Arms had been assumed by individuals as an heritable right without question.
Firstly, we must establish a reasonable starting date in history rather than a political one. Coat of Arms, as we know them today, must be acknoweledged to be a Norman invention Wealth, title, domain, government and crown for almost 300 years after the conquest was in the hands of Normans or their successors, this despite the claims of Scottish Highland Chiefs, or the so-called bearded Irish savages, ( 'savages' who, incidentally, were the mentors and missionaries of the ancient Saxons 400 years before the Conquest). Whether Arms were invented before or after the Norman Conquest seems to be the main sticking point.
There seems to be a viable connection between seals and heraldry. Seals of the legal variety, that is, not the watery kind. It was the custom in Normandy for the Lord to read his charters at the gates of his castle to publicly prove and enforce his rights to his title and lands, claiming allegiance and loyalty from all in his domains. Since the Norman influence of Europe in the mid 11th century was immense, almost omnipotent, extending all the way down to the tip of Sicily, to Spain, southern France and Germany, we must assume the formality of reading the charter over the domain to be standard practice or custom in the Norman culture. At this time, about 1050, Norman baron Robert Guiscard was rampaging his way down Italy, eventually taking Sicily after seeding Italy with Norman knights and magnates who would play such an important role in the first crusade. He also had the papal court in his back pocket. Meanwhile, Duke William in Normandy was planning his destiny to acquire the throne of England. He was a three decade host to exiled and friendly Edward the Confessor of England, himself part Norman.
These charters were impressed with the Lord's private seal, and endorsed by granting parties or witnesses, possibly even the monarch's seal. Some of the few surviving examples of these seals are the Ragman Rolls representing 'signatories' in 1291 and 1296 of almost 2500 Scottish magnates, mostly of Norman descent, who proclaimed and reaffirmed their allegiance to the English crown when they swore fealty to King Edward 1st of England in his brief conquest of Scotland. He, Edward, being the one who stole the Stone of Scone so the Scots could never again crown their own king, The practice of 'sealing' was apparently widespread at this time, almost universal. Since "seals" have an heraldic significance, in many cases, there seems to be strong evidence of a connection, as we shall explore.
The question of common usage seal "relics" enters the picture.Where did all these seals go? Where is all this historic evidence? Mystified historians have previously placed spotty usage in the late 12th century. Archaeologists and antiquaries have often despaired at the lack of personal remains of families who held the castles and estates of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, particularly in England. The castles were wiped clean. The only feasible explanation is "Would you leave your seal under the doormat?" The key to your domain, your worldly wealth. You may carve your Coat of Arms over the mantlepiece, just like modern lovers on a park bench or tree, but you wouldn't leave your key hanging around. When the monarchy changed, it was your only proof of previous grants (or attainders) and sometimes proved a history of family allegiances, depending on who was then in power in a highly volatile Norman nation of empire builders who might even have invented the seven deadly sins. Or, at least, applied a new meaning to them. Perhaps the seals were kept in monasteries with the rest of their valuables. In 1215, King John kept all his crown jewels in a monastry when under duress at the time of the Magna Carta. Evidentially, in 1154, it was reported with some disgust by the Justicair of all England, Robert de Lucy, that 'every little knight' had his own seal. Perhaps there was a dismay that the proliferation even by that time was way out of control.
Meanwhile, back to Edward's conquest north of the border, it was unlikely that these subjugated Scottish Norman magnates, who were scattered throughout the lowlands, south west coast and eastern coastal regions of Scotland. These Normans who held most of the land. We are to believe they suddenly panicked, and, all with one resolute mind, organized a new and consistent art form of heraldic images, mottos, lettering and otherwise, a dynamically new legal procedure, all as a result of this brief conquest of Scotland. This would call for 2500 landholders, or their tacksmen, leaping on their horses, zig zagging, scurrying back and forth over 500 hundred square miles to confirm their sasine, and ensure that no other identical seal was being used throughout the land. The notion seems a little absurd. The craft of seal making was obviously not learnt in five nminutes. And craftsmen were probably licensed. This legal identification tag, if you will, imprinting a traditional sealing wax over a tassel attached to a deed, charter or contract had to be quite unique and distinctive to its owner. It had to prove singular royal or baronial rights to grants of estates, titles, and positions, and was the evidential basis of all legal transactions. This had been so, at least since the Conquest. It is inconceivable that this sudden invasion of Scotland by Edward 1st initiated this practice which required their legal commitment to fealty at Perth or Berwick in 1291 and again in 1296 of both person, position and estates to their new sovereign and instantly 'created' the universal and ancient use of the "seal". These Ragman charters, pledges of fealty, were well guarded, collated and secreted off to London, where they remain.
Concomitantly, we must conjecture that had a similar emergency occasion arisen south of the border in England at that time, a similar need for a mass declaration of allegiance by charter, most of the Norman nobility of England, by comparative ratio somewhere in excess of 10,000 magnates, Norman nobles, knights or freemen who still held most of the land of England, could also have produced their own seals as evidence of their identity and title to their ancient posterities, rights and estates, all at the drop of a hat, at least, according to De Lucy.
If we can agree that the signet seal was not an overnight phenomena of the times, the end of the 13th century, that legal transactions to entitlement must have emerged over centuries of usage, recognizing that the simple "x" for identity was totally inadequate, then we can proceed. We can also assume the unique identification was as organized as their Coat of Arms or crest with which the seal sometimes bore resemblance. Similarly, forgery of 'seals' was no small problem and many complex devices were introduced to protect the integrity of the owner's rights and his unique identity.
It is claimed in English history that King Edward the Confessor invented the "seal" somewhere around 1050. But considering the time he spent, thirty years of his formative life exiled from England at the Norman Court, he may have acquired the practice from that source. Certainly, DukeWilliam held a seal before his conquest of England. It is claimed the court of Charlemagne used seals. Even Coat of Arms have been mentioned in Norman history prior to the Conquest. Understandably, most anciently surviving seals are religious. Whether those devices in common use in a secular environment could be classified as part of the Coat of Arms, or a secondary part of the family emblazon, is not proven, although, in some cases, the complete family Arms was reproduced on the seal. William de Bohun, Earl of Northampton in 1337 carried such a seal, as did the wife of Edward 1st in 1299 and many of the Kings and Queens of England. The earliest complete Coat of Arms on a surviving seal we know was that of Seigneur de Chateauceaux of Normandy in 1189. A similar Coat of Arms was also found in England.
Early post Conquest references to Norman family name Coat of Arms do not, in general, record a crest, i.e the device above the helmet, an image which was most likely to have been converted to a seal, or vice versa. Not that we are down playing the significance of the crest. It was probably the earliest known heraldic device in history. It was symbolic regalia worn on the head and cloaking the arms of tribal chieftains in central Europe as adornment in ritualistic parades of power, frequently depicting the ferocity and fearlessness of the clan. Many icon crests depicted fierce animals or birds with mouths and claws which dripped with the blood of their would be victims, hence the origin of 'armed and langued' in heraldic terms. However, many early Coat of Arms records simply record the emblazon of the shield itself, omitting the crest. Establishing the continuity from pre-conquest Normandy is difficult. On the other hand, the post conquest Arms recorded in England links many of the dispersed branches of the noble Breton, Flemish and Norman elite and consistently trace continuance of armorial images and ordinaries of their "house" Coat of Arms back in their home domains. However, even to hint at such an admission might diminish the royal prerogative that Coat of Arms were an English(Norman) post Conquest invention, undermine the supreme authority of the reigning monarch and the challenge the very soul of the chivalrous knightly orders which were to follow after the Crusades.
Side tracking in history for a moment, the trace of family relationship between Norman, French or Flemish elite houses in their homeland to settlers who were granted holdings after the Conquest is rendered more difficult by a very elaborate and complex Norman surnaming protocol worthy of serious scholastic endeavour. It was rendered even more difficult by the assumption of temporary surnames. And after all, surnames and heraldry are inextricably bound together.
For instance, Roger de Montgomery of Lissieux, a very powerful seignior closely entwined by blood or marriage with the Duchy of Normandy, held large domains in Normandy. At the Conquest he commanded a whole wing of the Duke's army. He was suitably rewarded with many lordships throughout England and Wales. But he was commanded by William to return to Normandy and was appointed head of Duke William's governing council there after Hastings. Fortunately, Roger had five sons and a few daughters. A prolific lot, as most of the Normans were. The eldest son, Robert, presumptive heir, stayed in Normandy and eventually inherited his father's title and estates in 1096. He also inherited his surname, Montgomery. For the first part of his life he had been known as the count Alencon, seignior de Belesme, his mother's surname. Hugh, the second son, held his father's newly acquired domains in England, and became the Earl of Arundel, Chichester and Shrewsbury, although, since they were his father's grants he was apparently also known as Earl Roger. Here, there is some confusion as to whether he eventually adopted the surname Montgomery II. The third son, Roger de Poitou, had custody of Lordships in Yorkshire and Lancashire. He became the Earl of Lancaster. The fourth son, Philip, also stayed home and finally died in 1094 in the first Crusade to the Holy Land. Arnoul, the fifth son, married Lafracta, daughter of the King of Ireland, and became known as the Earl of Pembroke. The daughters were equally well placed. One became an Abbess, one married the count of Mortain, Earl of Cornwall, and Mabel became wife of FitzHamon, a powerful Lord in Normandy.
The Norman surnaming protocal was difficult to follow in history even though there was a tight discipline. In essence, the sons were not allowed to use the surname of the father during his lifetime. This made adoptive surnames compulsory, and most usually they assumed the name of their chief domain. Normally, the eldest would eventually succeed to the father's surname. But rarely did the younger sons. Younger sons could also use the name Fitz, as in, Robert FitzHugh, Hugh being the father's font name. They were not necessarily only 'natural' sons who used the Fitz prefix, although this idea prevailed in history for many years. Most younger sons adopted their domain name, but this again was not passed on to all their progeny, only the eldest son. The rules relating to numeric appendages are vague but they did exist. Sometimes the father in Normandy would allow the eldest son in England to use his own surname followed by the number I. This practice was picked up in the U.S of A in more recent history with names such as Robert Montgomery I, II, and III. Seemingly complex compared to surnaming protocol of today, it may be assumed that the Normans invented surnames sometime before the Conquest and imported them into Britain. For instance, Robert Guiscard, the Norman who pillaged Italy, had used that surname from about 1145. Nor did he use the customary locative name (of) (de) Guiscard found in early English records in history.
The official claim contends that Coat of Arms did not exist in history before Hastings and is based on the Bayeux Tapestry, a pictorial of events before, during and after the Conquest, produced by a bevy of sewing ladies under the direction of Bishop Odo. the King's half brother. This contention is supported by the fact that the many knight's shields woven into the tapestry did not show heraldically proper Coat of Arms. A reasonable explanation would be that these ladies probably didn't even know the particular Arms of any given knight with any consistency or accuracy. These nobles and knights at the Conquest were from many different lands and domains such as the Netherlands, Freisland, Picardy, Lorrain, Brittany, Normandy, a few even from southern France. A trained herald at a Melee might not even give recognition to all the Coat of Arms within a local county, and could not even attempt the impossible task of going beyond to foreigners from distant lands, the armigerous who were now dispersed throughout England. Alternatively, there was no written 'Roll Call' of the time, apart from the Monks of Battel Abbey in what is known as the Battel Abbey Roll, destroyed by fire, and of which there are many versions. The ladies were not exactly a "College of Arms", and in any case, had such a complex record been available, had it been feasible, the tapestry would have taken on a whole new political meaning in history. It would have been a proof positive roll call of participants who had been promised rewards for their contribution to the Hastings invasion and add further confusion to the many Battell Abbey Rolls, the Wace and other rolls. This Bayeux Tapestry evidence, if it had been complete and accurate, would have given Duke William a severe headache in later history, many unnecessary complications in his defence of his distribution of grants, even more problems than the troublesome and succeeding Baron's Rebellion in 1069 and later uprisings.
On a closing note, relevant
to the "seal", anyone familiar with the terms of the Magna Carta, signed
by the Duke of Normandy, King John of England, in response to his rebellious
Norman Barons in later history in 1215, would realize that the complex
revisionary laws handed down called for much legal documentation and event/timing
records. John's intention was to establish title deeds and writs to cover
his absence while he was out of the country, crusadewise, or in his domains
in Normandy. The "seal" is mentioned only briefly in this document. Nevertheless,
one must conclude that established practice over the previous 160 years
of history the use of seals was standard practice otherwise it would have
been written into the Magna Carta with compelling force, a new innovation
requiring evidential "sealed" proof of all the many transactions allowed
or disallowed in this negotiated restatement of royal and baronial rights.
Generally, the first official records of "grants" or confirmation of grant of Coat of Arms were from 1672(Act of Parliament, Scotland) and 1673(England and Ulster). Therefore it must be concluded the vast majority of all families in other English counties other than those mentioned above in Henry V's edict, and possibly some token grants by Edward V and Richard III, all families had assumed and used, bore or displayed their arms before 1530, used them without "authority", and, until challenged, were happy with the system, whatever it was at that time, and all during the first 5 or 6 centuries of their existence. The notable exceptions were the few highlighted challenges for unique and prior entitlement brought before the Court of Chivalry from 1385 onward such as Scrope v Grosvenor, Lovell v Morley, Grey v Hastings, Carmino v Scope, etc. These representative cases were disproportionate to the general mass use of assumed Arms, and these swallows hardly a spring make. The trial cases pointed toward a spirit, rather than law. In the latter case,Carmino and Scope, the court itself dismantled one of the basic tenets of English Heraldry by granting both parties equal rights to the same Coat of Arms, thereby abandoning the prime purpose of the Court, arbitration of singular entitlement. This decision was a redundancy within itself. Hardly an example for the populace at large. We can only consider that the Court of Chivalry at the time was "political"and 'flexible' in its interpretation of the objective for the singularity of a grant of Arms, not true to its own mandate.
We can conclude that, with the small exception of the four counties noted above, that before 1530, (probably more like 1650, depending on the slow progress of the visitations) it was the custom of all families, not only in England but also on the continent of Europe, to assume their own Arms without official grant, let or hindrance. It is not known how duplications were avoided, and this obviously happened, hence the representative appeals to the Courtof Chivalry when duplications became known and challenged. On the continent nobody apparently bothered. The popular black eagle displayed on white or silver appears to be claimed at various times in history by at least 60 families according to our data records.
This ancient, massive database of assumed Coat of Arms, from 1066?? to about 1650, forms the foundation of most heritable Arms today in England, Scotland and Ireland, and on the European Continent. It also developed, perpetuated, refined and continued the heraldic language, the recognized art form and the disciplines of the art form we recognize today. Since these heraldic laws, terms, images, ordinaries, were adopted and proliferated all over Europe, particularly in Italy, at about the same time, the communication channels must have included methodology which we are missing in our official history and discoveries. The art form appears earliest in history, signifcantly, in two different countries, England and Italy, both profoundly seeded with Norman influence.
If it was the custom to assume Arms, borne out even by the late G.D Squibb reference, Quote, "Not all English writers followed their continental predecessors, (assumption of Arms)", this would seem to indicate that England was out of step with European Heraldry in general when it spearheaded the only known mass grant of Arms in history commencing with the visitations in 1530. As we have mentioned the only serious previous attempt was by King Henry V in 1417 after his great victory at Agincourt. This general grant responded to a reciprocal loyalty reward to families of those four southern counties mentioned above who fully supported his French cause. But it was also a considered slight to the nobles of the north, Wales and the eastern counties by Henry, those who had given only token assistance and not responded well to his 'call to arms' in a generally unpopular invasion of France. History does not reveal the basis of the heritable authority of these 'four county' grants of assumed arms to the families of the time, data collected by the county Sheriffs. However, it should be remembered that many of the reluctant nobles in England, most in fee service as defined by the Magna Carta of a century before, were themselves still kinsmen and allied to their Norman and French ancestors, some of whom still related to their ancient family seat, and wanted no part of Henry's attempt to regain his lost French domains because of conflict with their own ancestral domains. This is made abundantly clear by the relative ease with which the French recruited the Norman nobility in Scotland to their cause. This was further complicated by their relationship to their kinsmen in England. Some of these Norman Scottish magnates were present at Agincourt, but on the other unfortunate French side, which was almost annihilated.
Thus, leaving most English families without an official grant of Arms for well over 500, probably closer to 600 years of history until the visitation of the Heralds and pursuivants which started in 1530, we can safely say the vast majority of the English Arms were self assumed either by the family tradition of the claimants themselves, or by reference to previous assumptions in the family records of their pedigrees, sometimes, as it is claimed by Court of Chivalry definition, from time immemorial (1066??).
The question of motive for the identification of armigerous families in the Heralds visitations in 1530 must now be considered. Was it a hidden tax? A year's income for the privilege. There is some evidence. The author has an ancestor was offered a Coat of Arms in the 17th century for 40 pounds, equivalent to a present day annualyield from an upper class income. He refused the honour. He was fined 40 pounds for an offence against the crown. Catch 22. Or was it an attempt to satisfy the Royal court by identifying allies? Was it an attempt to establish a middle class of lower rank than nobility? Maybe it was a recruitment exercise, following Henry V's example? Was it a restatement of the social importance of the Chivalric orders? Or was it simply an honest attempt to regulate a practice gone wild with the pretensions of assumption. Maybe all of the above. Coat of Arms registration and regulation was unlikely to have been a pomp and circumstance for its own intrinsic 'art for art'sake without supporting funds.
The compulsion of the Heralds visitations persisted over many years.And to historians it was also frustratingly incomplete despite the long effort put into the survey. We would have to question why this visitations took 150 years to complete and only included somewhat over 20,000 families in England (Ireland was a comparative write off) when the more complex Domesday Survey took just over, some claim under, a year, in 1086. Students of the Heralds visitations would undoubtedly find the answer in the severe public resistance to the visitation venture, for one reason or another. The political and economic reasons are far too complex to go into here. But it may be mentioned, that such was the exasperation of the heralds, that an edict was proclaimed that unless Coat of Arms were registered by 1672 they would be disallowed. In Ireland, even this encouraged only a few to register. In Scotland many lowland names registered, but the threat was generally ignored by Highland Clans still not very friendly toward the monarch and governement in Edinburgh. Some very impressive, obviously armigerous families are absent from the roll calls. Some of the rules of the grants seemed a little mysterious, not to say arbitrary.Preclusion of family dinnerware heirlooms which were not acceptable evidence of a self assumed Coat of Arms, yet a church stained glass window was.Yet from early history the 14th century, it was the practice to establish one's church pew with one's Arms, usually ceramic, real, assumed or imagined. Dugdale's comments relating to laxity should be noted, along with the Court of Chivalry's own 'flexibility'.
Contemporary attempts to achieve a measure of control are also not unanimous in their methodology. Whilst we have only dealt with English practices in history, even in the British Isles we have three distinctly different approaches. In Scotland, whilst the armorial emblazon is held as the exclusive property of the clan chief, clansmen are permitted to display and wear the clan badge, usually the crest of the Chief's Coat of Arms. This makes for great confusion when a new Chief is elected. He/she (the Chief) may elect to continue with the shield of his ancestors, but he/she is entitled to assume his own crest, hence clansmen must sometimes now acquire the new clan badge of their new Chief. This calls for you (a clansman/woman) to determine whether you are now a Scot, an Irishman or an Englishman, and in what point in history did your ancestors declare their loyalty. In Scotland, the clansman's badge or crest approach, may have been a hand-me-down from those 2500 ancient Norman magnates who used their seals, as mentioned in our previous comments. In Ireland, (again, if you're really anciently native Irish with ancient roots in the great history of Ireland before 1600 and not a planter family name) the Chief Herald of Ireland regulates, and it is still possible to obtain a personal grant of Arms for about $600 and up from this Irish source, (the cheapest grant is from the American College of Arms at about $200 but can, by various claimed authorities, exceed many thousands of dollars). There was a tacit admission by the late Dr McLysaght, Chief Herald, that such a thing as a family name Coat of Arms does exist, and is applicable to all members of the sept. Commonality of application of Coat of Arms is almost impossible. Japanese have a completely different application. Chinese another. Europe is almost as diverse as the many ethnic groups which abound.
On the other hand, it would be a tragedy to allow all this bickering to diminish the joy of an ancient heraldic relationship with one's ancestors in history, whether genealogically proven or not. While we would all like to enjoy provable genealogical relationships, it simply is not possible in the vastmajority of cases. Even worse, is to make the assumption of genealogical relationships to defend the proprietary right to a Coat of Arms. The art form for its own sake, is a vital part of our history which should be cherished and enjoyed by all.
There is, however, in Coat of Arms, an element of commercialism. There has been for centuries. There is even an element of commercialism amongst many 'official' agencies purporting to grant Arms. To the tyro in heraldry.there are, and probably always has been in recent history, what is known as the "Bucketshop Heraldry" merchants. These people are usually of skimpy knowledge, a few basic books, and a reasonaable ability to interpret heraldic language. You may, or may not, get a Coat of Arms which relates to your name. We are not our brother's keeper. One final message to the genealogists. Most ancient genealogical records were researched by family historians anxious to support their links to their posterities to justify assumed Coat of Arms and other entitlements. Fortunately, since the grants of heritable Coat of Arms nominally called for a form of proof, they also inspired and provided a vehicle, perhaps the largest known vehicle of ancient genealogical records for the researcher of older Anglo family records.
It is our policy to conduct extensive and intensive research in history of the most ancient Coat of Arms applicable to a surname. Hence, we use these detailed references from our surname histories to guide us in pre-research of its origin. Joining with Herald Oswald Barron, in our opinion, you cannot claim the Coat of Arms to be "yours" but you may "assume" it to be yours, just as those claimants assumedtheir Coat of Arms for the first 500 or 600 years of their recorded existence, in Britain anyway, maybe earlier on the European continent.