The Heralds' Visitations part 4

Henry VIIIWith the creation of the College of Arms and it’s consolidation in London under the eye of successive monarchs, the college went from strength to strength. It was from  this strengthened and revived College of Arms that the Heralds went out to hold the Heralds’ Visitations in the 16th and 17th centuries. What exactly were these Visitations? They were a new departure in the recording of arms, for they combined almost from the start the recording of pedigrees with that of arms, and the Heralds acquired a genealogical function which they have kept to the present day. The Visitations were a continuation of the old Rolls of Arms and a new form of recording armorial matters. They were also crucially a part of the Tudor scheme of government. The Tudors had a centralized monarchy and it was natural for them to try to bring the control of arms completely under the royal sway. The Visitations began in the reign of Henry VIII when in 1530 the royal commission was first given under the great seal authorizing the officers of arms to visit particular counties of England, to register arms and pedigrees of the nobility and gentry and to censure and control those who laid claim to arms which they had no right to use according to the rules of arms.

The Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by the Heralds throughout England at various periods between 1530 and 1688. After the abdication of King James II in 1688 no further commissions were issued for Visitations. There is a period of about 160 years during which the Heralds covered the counties of England. There was no apparent system in these Visitations. Kent was visited in 1552, 1558, 1570, 1612, 1634, and 1644-8. In contrast the county of Westmorland in the north of the country was visited in 1530 and not again until 1615. Durham, also in the north, had four visitations, in each case by Norroy King of Arms, in 1530, 1575, 1615, and 1666. Cumberland and Cornwall received only three visitations each with wide intervals between the second and third. The journeys to the more distant parts of the country were rendered difficult by the bad state of the roads and the danger posed by highwaymen.

Thomas More coat of arms




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