Heraldry in the 17th and 18th Centuries part 3

Medieval jousting tournament
Another important occasion where Heralds were very much in evidence was the Knights Tournaments. These faded in frequency and popularity after the death of the eldest son of King James I, Prince Henry in 1612. At tournaments it had been the duty of the Herald to note the style and quality of the entrants and to check that they were of noble birth. Another duty of a Herald at the tournament was keeping the scores of the contestants.
Heraldic funeral 1603Another function of the Heralds was to attend and supervise the funerals of the nobility and gentry. The Coats of Arms of the deceased were displayed on banners at the funeral, but the heraldic marshaling of arms and arrangement of precedence among mourners ceased at the end of the 17th century. Up to the end of the 17th century there are many references to to the use of Arms in English literature, but after the gradual curtailment of the Heralds’ functions, the discontinuance of the Visitations, and the cessation of the Court of Chivalry references became fewer and fewer and Heraldry faded somewhat from the zeitgeist.  While the officers at the Heralds’ College were thus thrown back on their own resources, the Middle Ages became an object of ridicule and dislike to the cultured men of the 18th century. David Hume wrote of the medieval history of England in the following terms, speaking of Alfred the Great as one who might for virtue be “set in opposition to that of any monarch which the annals of any age or nation can present to us, fortune, alone, by throwing him into that barbarous age, deprived him of historians worthy to transmit his name to posterity” Writing of Thomas Ă Beckett, Hume says, “ No man who enters into the genius of that age can reasonably doubt of this prelate’s sincerity. The spirit of superstition was so prevalent, that it infallibly caught every careless reasoner” The cover of Hume’s first volume shows an allegorical picture of Britannica with the caption “ The state of Britain during the early period of its history. Brittania appears sunk in slavery and superstition.”

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