The Heralds' Visitations part 7

Sir William DugdaleThere is considerable evidence in the Visitations of Rutland as to how reasonable the Heralds were in dealing with persons who had some claim to gentility. The Busbys of Barlithorpe used arms which had been described and entered in the Visitation in 1618. they are entered again in the Visitation of 1681 with a note to the effect that they were so very near the arms of Sir John Busby of Addington in Buckinghamshire that there was hardly “
a sufficient difference between them, especially no relation appearing between the families.”  In the case of the Matthews of Oakham only a red wax seal was produced by the family as proof of the Coat of Arms and the Herald was unable to find justification for their use. Nevertheless they were entered with the Matthews’ pedigree and there is no note that they were exempted from proving the arms legitimacy. When this latter entry appears in a Visitation it means that a period of six months was allowed for the family to find proof of their right to bear arms. When no proof was forthcoming, the arms were reckoned not to be of authority. In some cases owing to the cessation of the Visitations after 1688, families have continued in a state of suspended animation as regards their Coats of Arms.

In the case of Beauchamp of Branston, the head of the family was able to produce only a signet ring and a tablet of his arms, and although these were attached to the pedigree, there is a note attached declaring “they do not seem to be above 30 years standing and therefore not allowable.” In the 16th and 17th centuries the Heralds were accustomed to accept Coats of Arms although not granted by them if they had been borne for a sufficient period and if the users were part of the gentry class. This is what is known as the right to arms by prescription and user, a right which undoubtedly did exist in England in the past. This period had to be at least 30 years. There are records from this time that stated a period of 60 years necessary for right to arms to be granted. There is an instruction for a Visitation issued by Sir William Dugdale ( image above ) between 1683 and 1686, in which Coats of Arms borne by prescription are to be allowed if it can be demonstrated that the lineal ancestors of the claimant have made use of them for at least 80 years.

Charles Townley, York Herald 1735-1753

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