Heraldry in the 17th and 18th Centuries part 1

17th Century HeraldryThe language of Heraldry had become an anachronism by the 17th century; to speak of shields, helmets and crests when none of these things were actually worn or used anymore is simply the continuation of a way of speaking and writing which is inseparable from the use of Heraldic terms.  But it is important to remember that the uses of Heraldry described in the previous few posts are mainly responsible for keeping the art and science of Coats of Arms alive. Heraldry had ceased to fulfill its original function and had become either ornamental or snobbish, the sign of gentility. The idea that the proper definition of a gentleman is “
one who has received a grant of arms ‘ is quite wrong, but it is as old as Tudor England.  The Shakespearean evidence on the snobbery of Tudor Heraldry is well known. In the Taming of the Shrew Act II, Scene I, when Petruchio offers to cuff Katharina, she says,

"So may you lose your arms;

If you strike me you are no gentleman;

And if no gentleman, why then no arms"

To which Petruchio replies, “ A Herald, Kate? Oh put me in thy books” William Shakespeare was more than willing to be put in the Heralds’ books. In 1599 arms were granted to William Shakespeare by the College of Arms. He had petitioned in 1596 for a coat of arms to be assigned to his father John, and the draft of the grant is dated 20 October 1596.  The Arms granted were; or on a bend sable a speare or,steeled argent. ( On a field of gold, a black diagonal line with a spear with a gold handle and silver blade).  Shakespeare’s interest in the matter may have been stirred by the possession of Arms on the part of his mother’s family. The Arden’s, which still exists in the male line to this day and is one of the very few English families that can be traced  back prior to the Norman Conquest. Dethick, from the College of Arms, who granted arms to Shakespeare was criticized by his peers for the type of people to whom he granted Arms. Theater artists were not rated very highly in the Tudor period and for one of them to become a gentleman was not viewed favorably by many. There are large numbers of allusions to Heraldry throughout Shakespeare’s work.

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