The Court of Chivalry Part 2

Cardinal WolseyThe Court of Chivalry became very unpopular, and in 1521 the virtual abolition of the office of High Constable struck a blow at its jurisdiction. In that year Cardinal Wolsey, the powerful minister of Henry VIII, brought about the trial, condemnation and execution of the High Constable, the Duke of Buckingham. Wolsey was of humble origin, the son of a butcher in the town of Ipswich. He hated Buckingham and caused his ruin. When the Emperor Charles V heard of this event he exclaimed “ A butcher’s cur has pulled down the finest buck in England.” After 1521 no High Constable was appointed, except on the day of a Coronation of a King or Queen.

The disappearance of the High Constable from the Court of Chivalry weakened the position of the Earl Marshal, the remaining functionary. From 1521 until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 the court continued to sit, but objections were continuously made against its rights of jurisdiction. In this period its jurisdiction was gradually reduced. Under James I (1603-1625) the right to hear cases of claims to peerages was taken from the court and given to the House of Lords. With the growth of a regular army from 1645, the military jurisdiction passed away. Under the government of the Parliament and of Oliver Cromwell, the Court of Chivalry was abolished. After the restoration to the throne of Charles II in 1660 the Court was restored. It continued to sit at intervals until 1735 but the cases brought before it were not serious, and as many of the defendants brought before it questioned its legality, it ceased to function. It still existed and perhaps the best testimony to this comes from Blackstone the great English legal commentator who stated in his 18th century Commentaries upon the Laws of England that the Court existed and had jurisdiction in matters armorial. From 1718 to 1744 the Garter King of Arms was John Anstis, image below, who was succeeded by his son. Great efforts were made by both of them to maintain the Court and to revive the Visitations, but nothing came of these efforts. Anstis the elder had wished to use the Court as a means of controlling persons who used arms without the authority of the College of Arms. Since the end of the Visitations the College of Arms had lost any real control over the authenticity of Coats of Arms and the right to bear them. 

John Anstis



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