The Heralds' Visitations part 6

In some of the early Visitation records the narrative form of pedigree is used, but this soon gave way to the more familiar tabular style. In the Visitations of Berkshire, that of 1623 contains tabular pedigrees, but the earlier Visitations of 1532 and 1566 give the pedigrees in narrative form. A look through the records of the Visitations reveal a growth in the number of families who applied for Coats of Arms or had a confirmation of arms where some doubt had arisen. In the days of slow travel and difficult communication many families would never have visited London to apply for a grant of arms, the arrival of the Heralds in their district gave them the opportunity to register existing arms or apply for new ones.

The majority of the Coats of Arms recorded in this period are registered simply as borne and as not infringing the rights of any other person. The fact that grants are quoted where they occur proves that in most cases no grant existed, but the arms were simply in use and were then recorded by the Heralds. In the commissions to the Officers of Arms powers were granted to them to deface and mutilate monuments that bore arms used without authority, to proclaim publicly that that persons to whom the Heralds confirmed no authority to bear arms were not entitled to them and to require disclaimers of the use of arms from such persons. The use of these powers does not seem to have been widespread however and we note the sympathetic attitude taken by the Heralds to Coats of Arms that were already in use. In the Visitation of Rutland 1681-2 a list of disclaimers is given: These persons have agreed that “ not being able to show any good proof or right to either of these titles ( Esquire or Gentleman), nor knowing at present of any arms belonging to us, do hereby disclaim all such attributes and arms and do promise henceforth to forbear to make use of either, until such times as we can by lawful authority do the same”

A clue as to the reasons for the disclaimers may be found by looking through the list of them and seeing the notes attached by the visiting officers. George Austin, for example, was described by the bailiff “ to be a good farmer but no pretender to arms”. A schoolmaster and an attorney or not allowed, likewise a draper and a wealthy yeoman. Richard Cheseldyne who was a captain in the territorial army renounced arms but the herald adds “ Yet I am informed he uses the arms of Cheseldyne”.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published