The first of the English “Rolls of Arms” date to about 60 years after the reign of Richard the Lionheart ( 1189 – 1199). Before there was anything resembling a Herald’s college in England or elsewhere in Europe, collections of arms had been written down in various forms, sometimes by heralds who were interested in making such collections, sometimes by scribes and recorders who found their rolls useful in aiding their memories at jousting tournaments and other official gatherings of nobles and knights.
England is especially rich in these early rolls, it was a Scotsman, J. Storer Clouston, who wrote “ The good fortune of England in preserving so much of her past is nowhere more conspicuous than in her great collections of heraldic rolls or lists of nobles, knights , and squires, with the arms the anciently bore, from the middle of the 13th century onwards. Ours in Scotland begin so comparatively late as the 16th century, the earliest records dating to the 1540’s”. Particulars are available of 100 major rolls in England which date from 1250 to the early 1500’s, just before the beginning of the Heralds’ Visitation.
Several of the earliest heraldic rolls are as a result of wars between England and Scotland. The Falkirk Roll gives the arms of those who served under Edward I at the battle of Falkirk in 1298. The arms of 111 people are described in this roll. They are divided into those whose banners were in the vanguard, or in one of the four “battles” into which the army at Falkirk was divided. Thus the arms were borne on the banners of these outstanding persons, and as we see the list of those involved we can picture a scene of great awe as the vanguard and the four succeeding lines of battle approached the narrow plain where the Scots, led by William Wallace, were waiting for them. Many of the most famous names in England at the time appear on this list, among them Percy of Northumberland, Wake of Lincolnshire, Fitzwilliam, Hastings, Moulton, Despenser, Clifford, Basset, and De Vere, Earl of Oxford.