Early Heraldic Literature, part 1

Heraldic literatureThe earliest compositions on the subject of coats of arms are 200 years later than the first appearance of heraldic devices and 100 years after the early Rolls of Arms. John of Guildford, in the late 14th century asks the question “ Who can grant arms ?  “ which he answers “ I say it is a king, a Prince, a King of Arms, or a Herald”. Another early writer on the subject was Nicholas Upton who wrote De Studio Militari. This composition and that of John of Guildford were printed in 1654 by Sir Edward Bysshe, Garter King of Arms, together with the Aspilogia of Sir Henry Spelmann written at the end of the 16th century. The whole document was in Latin and no version of Nicholas Upton’s work has been published in English, although John Blount, an Oxford student, made a manuscript translation in about 1500.  Nicholas Upton was a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, and his book is dedicated to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who died in 1447, and the book may therefore be dated about 50 years later than that of John of Guildford. There is a chapter on the assumption of arms which is important, and from which the following quotation is taken.

“ We come now to the question lately raised, whether arms bestowed by the favour of princes or of some other lord are better or of such dignity as arms taken by a man’s own authority. It has been said above that it has been committed to each noble to take arms and ensigns to himself as he pleased. I have said something on this question in my book on the feudal lord. In understanding this question it must be noted that there are four ways in which we may have arms. (i)     We have arms which we bear from our ancestors, a manner well  known and frequent.   (ii)   We have arms by our own merits. (iii)      We have arms which we bear from the favour of a prince or other lords, and note here, that arms which we receive from grant of a prince, are not queried since a prince does not desire this, unless someone shall have borne these arms before. ( iv)     We have arms which we bear taken by our own authority as we see openly in these days as many poor men who have toiled in the French war have been ennobled, some by prudence, some by force of character, some by courage, some by other qualities. These men as I have said above, are ennobled, many of whom assume arms of their own authority, to be borne by themselves and their heirs. The names of these there is no need to recount here. I will confess, however, that though arms thus assumed  are freely and lawfully borne, they have not as much dignity and authority as those which are granted by the authority of princes and lords. But arms assumed by one’s own authority are valid enough, provided they have not been borne by anyone else before. Nor would I dare to approve the opinion of those who say that heralds can grant arms, but I say if arms are borne which are granted by a herald those arms are of no greater authority than arms taken by a man’s own authority.”

Early heraldry books

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published