Heraldry and Titles

Heraldry and TitlesThe Sovereign of Britain is known as the Fountain of Honour, dispensing titles and honours at his or her pleasure. The King or Queen alone has the power to dispense these honours. This concept is not found throughout Europe. In Poland for example the representatives of the great families always contested very strongly the power of the Crown to create titles. In Poland a kind of aristocratic anarchy or self government prevailed. The nobles prided themselves on being noble  from the beginning, as if they were descended from aristocratic cavemen, and they therefore refused to accept any new nobility created by the king. New nobles could only come in through adoption gradually through generations. Now in England titles were at one time to a certain extent not entirely dependent on the Sovereign. Instances occur of knighthoods conferred upon persons by great nobles or churchmen. However, in the usage of titles the conferring of them soon came to be reserved to the king’s hands or at least was at the most delegated by him.

With coats of arms the position was very different. It is quite clear that coats of arms originated at the pleasure of the persons concerned. There are many cases in which we find that in a particular area families bearing arms used the charges on the arms of a great family in the region on their own coats of arms. In Cheshire, southern England, for example the families of knights such as the Grosvenors used charges from the arms of the old Earls of Chester; so too in more modern times have many of the Cheshire boroughs.  Coats of arms, unlike titles, were matters of utilitarian purpose and helpful in warfare. They came gradually to have the quality of honour which was eventually to disassociate them from the utilitarian constraints of warfare and to render talk of shields, crests, and helmets a matter of formality only. Whereas titles are in essence matters pertaining to the crown, the warlike usages of heraldry were not at first a matter for it’s recognition; it was only when families began to be proud of their arms and to look down on others that might be using them that the Crown was called in to decide.

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