The end of medieval heraldry

Battle of AgincourtOne of the first European instances of Sovereigns attempting to gain control of Heraldry occurred in England in 1418, when Henry V, about to set out for France issued a writ to various sheriff’s of counties in his domain. The translation of this writ from Latin is as follows.

Whereas as we are informed of diverse men , who on our journeys heretofore made, assumed, unto themselves arms and coats of arms called coat armour, in cases where neither they nor their ancestors in times gone by used such arms and coats of arms, and proposed to make use of them in our present journey, now, God willing, just about to be made; and although the Almighty distributes his favours in nature according to his will, equally to the rich man and to the poor; nevertheless we, willing that each of our lieges aforesaid should be held and considered as his rank demand charge you to cause to be publicly proclaimed on our behalf, in all places within your Bailiwick, whereby our writ we have lately commanded proclamations to be made for the holding of musters, that no one, of whatsoever rank, degree or condition he may be, shall assume such arms or coats of arms, unless he possesses or ought to possess the same in right of his ancestors, or by the gift of some person, having adequate power for that purpose. And that he shall plainly show forth, on the day of his mustering, by whose gift he holds these arms or coats of arms, to the persons for this purpose by us assigned or to be assigned those excepted who bore arms with us at the battle of Agincourt, under pain of not being admitted to take part in the journey aforesaid in the train of him by whom he may have been retained and of the loss of wages received by him on the said account, together with the stripping off and breaking up of the arms and coats called coat armours aforesaid, on his mustering aforesaid, if they shall have been displayed or found on him. And this you are in no wise to omit. Witness the King at the city of New Sarum ( Salisbury), 2 June “

The case of those who claim that the granting of arms rested always and solely with the Crown depends on this writ from Henry V. It is worth noting that arms which have been granted by a sufficient personage or which are inherited from an ancestor who may have assumed them for himself are not barred. The real purpose of the writ is to prevent the use of self-assumed arms in the counties to which this writ is addressed ( the south of England), and in the upcoming expedition to France. Even so, those who had fought at the battle of Agincourt ( where the English defeated the French in northern France in 1415) are purposely excepted and are to be allowed what arms they pleased. The writ is the only document from this era which specifically lays down a direction from the crown on the subject of arms, even if it was of limited and local application.


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