The Heralds' Visitations part 9

Royal armsIn Sir William Dugdale’s Visitation of Yorkshire 1665-1666 we have a valuable indication as to the thoroughness of the Heraldic inspections, and as to the members of families who were not at home when the Heralds called. Nearly one-third of the gentry required by Dugdale to produce proof of Coats of Arms and pedigree failed even to respond. Two years after the Visitation, Dugdale issued a list of these persons, with a warning that they were not to use the arms and titles under pain of penalties from the Earl Marshal. As the editor of the Visitations justly remarked, the descendents of many of these families would have rejoiced had they then placed their pedigrees on record. In the case of Foljambe of Steveton, Dugdale stated that “ this family have for many ages used their arms with supporters” and he records the supporters. Taylor of Templehurst referred Dugdale to the Visitation of Shropshire, but there is no record of arms there.

After the flight of King James II in 1688 the Sovereign issued no further commissions to the Officers of Arms to enable them to hold Visitations. These inspections of the Heralds had never been popular with the gentry of England as they were viewed as a restriction on their freedom. As we can see even after the Visitations had been in progress for 100 to 150 years there were still many families using arms which had not been registered, or granted. Many families did not bother to attend The Visitations or, if they did, persisted in using arms which had been denied to them by the Heralds. The monarchs who succeeded James II owed their thrones to the gentry who dominated Parliament and did not feel secure enough to issue commissions to their Heralds to inspect and interfere with the Coats of Arms of the ancient gentry of the realm. Other than the Visitations there was another form of Coat of Arms control which was in use in the Tudor and Stuart period and that was by means of the Court of Chivalry. This was an ancient institution which gradually lost the bulk of its jurisdiction and became somewhat of an anachronism. It never disappeared, but remained in a state of suspended animation for 200 years to be revived in modern times. It is a very important part of the history of Heraldry.

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