College of Arms

From Academic Kids

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The College's own coat of arms was granted in 1484.

The College of Arms is an English institution originally incorporated in 1484 which includes all the Kings of Arms, Heralds and Pursuivants in England and Wales.

Its officers are members of the Royal Household. The Kings of Arms, with the authority of the Queen (which is granted to them in general terms upon their appointment), are responsible for granting coats of arms in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. (Scottish heraldry is independently regulated by Lord Lyon King of Arms.) The officers of the College of Arms also grant arms to citizens of other Commonwealth countries that do not have their own heraldic authorities, including Australia and New Zealand (but excluding Canada and South Africa, which have their own heraldic authorities).

In addition to designing and granting coats of arms, the members of the College of Arms undertake research in matters of genealogy and heraldry, and register family trees (pedigrees) in their records, which, although not open to the public, have official status. Such pedigrees are carefully scrutinised by officers independent of the person who has done the research, and official proofs are required for every stage.

The officers of the College of Arms also supervise ceremonial matters in England and Wales, including the introduction of new peers into the House of Lords, and they play a role in the ceremonies of orders of chivalry (notably the Order of the Garter) and in the designs of official military badges.

The College of Arms building is on Queen Victoria Street in the City of London, south of St. Paul's cathedral. The present site of the College of Arms was granted when it was re-incorporated by Philip and Mary I in 1555, and the present 17th century College building dates from a reconstruction after the Great Fire of London in 1666.


The officers

The Earl Marshal, a hereditary office held by the Duke of Norfolk, oversees and controls the College, though he is not a member of that body. A coat of arms may not be granted without the consent of the Earl Marshal. Furthermore, the Earl Marshal may, in theory, hear cases and controversies relating to the use of arms in the Court of Chivalry, although the court has not met since 1954. In practice, however, the Earl Marshal usually leaves affairs to the professional heralds of the College.

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The College of Arms building in Queen Victoria Street, London, England

The heralds fall into three ranks: Kings of Arms, Heralds, and Pursuivants. Each member of the College holds a traditional post, the titles of which are either geographic and derived from peerages currently or formerly held by the Royal Family or derived from devices on the various Royal Badges. None has more than symbolic meaning:

The various heralds conduct their own private practice in heraldry and genealogy, receiving only nominal salaries as officers of the College (49.07 for the Garter Principal King of Arms, 20.25 for the other Kings of Arms, ₤17.80 for the Heralds, and 13.95 for the Pursuivants.) They serve in rota as the 'officer of the day' to handle walk-in business.

Beyond these 'Heralds in Ordinary' who make up the college, there have been from time to time certain 'Heralds Extraordinary' who are appointed for special occasions or who assist the Earl Marshal personally. They include

  • Arundel Herald Extraordinary
  • Beaumont Herald Extraordinary
  • Maltravers Herald Extraordinary
  • New Zealand Herald Extraordinary
  • Norfolk Herald Extraordinary
  • Wales Herald Extraordinary
  • Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary

Heralds, both in ordinary and extraordinary, also serve ceremonial roles in state functions, such as investitures and the reading of proclamations, wearing tabards bearing the coat of arms of the Queen. On these occasions, they are sometimes proceeded by state trumpeters, with whom, however, they should not be confused.

Grants and descent of arms

The Kings of Arms grant coats of arms by letters patent. Before they can even consider the granting of arms, an application must be made to the Earl Marshal, and a fee paid.

The Kings of Arms are authorised in their patents of appointment to grant (with the consent of the Earl Marshal) to "eminent men", a phrase which first appeared in the patent of appointment of Stephen Leake as Clarenceux King of Arms in 1741. Originally, the test applied was one of wealth or social status, because any man entitled to bear a coat of arms was expected to be a gentleman. By 1530, the heralds applied a property qualification, requiring successful candidates for a grant of arms to have an income from land of 10 per annum, or movable wealth of 300. But since the heralds receive fees for granting arms, they have always had an incentive to be generous rather than restrictive in their interpretation of who should be allowed a grant. In 1616, Ralphe Brooke, York Herald, tricked Garter King of Arms, Segar, into granting a coat of arms to the common hangman for a fee of 22 shillings.

In 1673, the authority of the Earl Marshal, which the heralds had challenged, was established in its modern form by a royal declaration which stated, among other things, that no patents of arms should be granted without his consent. This established the system, which is still operated, whereby royal authority to approve candidates for grants of arms is exercised by the Earl Marshal, and royal authority to grant the arms themselves is exercised by the Kings of Arms from the College of Arms.

There are no fixed criteria as to whether a modern application for a grant of arms should be allowed. If a herald is approached and does not consider that the application has merit, he may tactfully suggest to the applicant that he or she should not proceed. If it does proceed, its success or otherwise will depend on the approval of the Earl Marshal, who may apply his own standards. Peter Gwynn-Jones, Garter King of Arms, has recently written that "In practice, eligibility depends upon holding a civil or military commission, a sound university degree or professional qualification, or having achieved some measure of distinction in a field beneficial to society as a whole." (The Art of Heraldry (1998) P. Gwynn-Jones p 121).

If the Earl Marshal finds the application satisfactory, he will grant a Warrant authorising the Kings of Arms to proceed with the designing of arms. One of the heralds then works with the applicant to devise arms pleasing to him as well as heraldically correct. Once a final form is reached, the Kings of Arms grant letters patent (colourfully illuminated and decorated) authorising the use the arms blazoned therein to the grantee and his heirs.

They, or a differenced version of them using marks of cadency, will be inherited by all of the legitimate children of an individual and such children and their descendants may bear the arms (or a differenced version of them) from the moment of birth: they do not (as with other inheritance) have to wait for the death of the previous generation. Nor is there any requirement for the College of Arms to approve the use of the arms in each generation: the original grant of arms is the only authority required. Although daughters and sons inherit the right to bear arms for themselves personally, the right passes only through the male line: hence, a son transmits the arms to his children, but a daughter, while bearing them for herself, does not transmit them to her children. A partial exception to this rule is the case of a woman who has no brothers, or whose brothers have no issue; such a woman is called a heraldic heiress and may transmit the arms to her children and their descendants as a quartering with their own arms.

The costs involved are quite substantial; but it should be noted that in theory the applicant does not "buy" a coat of arms: the arms themselves are freely given, but fees must be paid to the heralds and artists involved as professionals, and to support the buildings and other running costs of the College since (aside from the heralds' traditional nominal salaries given above), the College of Arms is not financed by the taxpayer.

Name changes

The College of Arms is also responsible for recording the changes of the names. In order to change one's name, one must apply for a deed poll to be entered on the College's registers and published in the London Gazette. (The deed poll is not entered on the registers, but is still published, if the name change does not amend the surname.)

Alternatively, when a Royal Licence is granted for a transfer of arms, the change of the surname of the transferee to that of the transferrer may be permitted by the Licence itself, without the need for a deed poll.

See also

External link


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