Heraldry(fr. armoirie, or La science des armes et de blason): the name of Heraldry has been applied to the Art, or(as some with reason contend that it should be called) the Science which deals with observed, deciphering, and recording the coats of arms borne by the ancestors of the nobility and gentry of the present day; because in the sixteenth and seventeenth century this became an important part of the duties of the Heralds. It will be seen that a series of Visitations(q.v.) were commanded to be made throughout the country for this purpose, namely, to collect and register, as far as possible, all armorial and genealogical information. These visitations extend from 1528 to 1686, and then it is that we find the term Heraldry applied to the study, instead of 'Armorie' and the like. At the same time, too, it may be said to have a wider signification.
There was, however, an extensive literature bearing on the subject going on simultaneously with these visitations. One of the earliest, if not the earliest book on the subject, is "The Boke of S.Alban's," first printed in 1486, the third part of which relates to 'coot armuris' beginning, "Here shall shortlie be shewyd to blase all armys if ye entende diligently to your rulys."
The following titles of books, with the date of their first publication, will shew perhaps more clearly the attention paid to the study, and the light in which it was viewed, than any general remarks. It is probable that the visitations gave considerable impetus to the study.
Gerard Leigh's "Accedence of Armorie," London, 1562.
John Bossewell's "Works of Armorie," London, 1572.
Sir John Ferne's "Blazon of Gentrie," London, 1586.
Sir William Segar's "Book of Honour," London, 1590.
William Wyrley's "The True Use of Armorie," 1592.
William Camden's "Discourse of Orders in Britain," [in his Britannia, 1594; also, "The Discoverie of certain Errors in the 'Britannia' ed. of 1594, "by Ralph Brooke, 4to., 1596, reprinted in 1724].
Edmund Bolton's "Elements of Armories," London, 1610.
John Guillim's "Display of Heraldry," first published 1611.
Thomas Milles, "The Catalogue of Honour, or Treasure of true Nobilitie," London, 1610(chiefly compiled by Robert Glover, his uncle).
Andrè Favine's "Theater of Honour and Knighthood," London, 1623.
James Yorke's "Union of Honour," London, 1640.
Nicholas Upton's "De Studio Militari Libri Quatuor;" cum notis Ed. Bissæi, Lond. 1654. [Upton, however, wrote C. A.D. 1450.]
Sylvanus Morgan's "The Sphere of Gentry," London, 1661.
John Selden's "Titles of Honour," London, 1614, (later ed. 1672).
Sir George Mackenzie's "Science of Herauldry," Edinburgh, 1680.
John Gibbon's "Introductio ad Latinam Blasoniam," Lond. 1682.
Randle Holme's "Academie of Armorie," Chester, 1688.
Samuel Kent's "Grammar of Heraldry," London, 1716.
Alexander Nisbet's "System of Heraldry," 2vols., Edinburgh, 1722-42.
Joseph Edmondson's "Complete Body of Heraldry," 2vols., London, 1780.
James Dallaway's "Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of Heraldry," Gloucester, 1793.
"Anecdotes of Heraldry," Worcester, 1795.
It will be seen by the above titles of books(representing the chief works published at the time) that, with the one exception of Guillim's work, the term Heraldry is not used till quite the end of the seventeenth century; while in the next century it appears to be used exclusively in describing the study of coat-armour and all that belongs to it.
The greater part of the early treatises, and much of the later works, is taken up with fanciful disquisition, based on the guesses of the meaning of arms adopted, and attempts to adopt a scientific method in blazoning; so much so, that a large number of forms are described in very technical language, which were never borne on any coat of arms at all. A fashion had arisen also of ascribing arms not only to the early Saxon kings, and also to the imaginary British kings of the Arthurian romances, but also to the chief personages of sacred and classical history. In Sylvanus Morgan's book we are gravely told that "to Adam was assigned a shield gules, and to Eve another argent, which latter Adam bore over his as an inescutcheon, his wife being sole heiress." Again, "that Adam after the fall bore a garland of fig-leaves, which Abel quartered with 'Argent, an apple vert,' in right of his mother." From Gerard Legh we learn that the arms of Alexander the Great were--
Gules, a golden lyon sitting on a chayer and holding a battayle-axe of silver.
In some instances the writers invented the arms themselves, in others they took idle gossip; but the worst part was that these legendary arms were not confined to the literature, but were carved in wood and stone, and such has been the extent that with respect to personages of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the fictitious arms cannot be distinguished from the genuine ones; thus the science has been obscured, and it is not too much to say, in consequence of some of their extravagancies, brought into ridicule.
The material, however, for the study of Heraldry is still very extensive. Apart from a very large number of monuments remaining in cathedrals and churches, a considerable amount of sculpture on domestic as well as on ecclesiastical buildings, and some stained glass in church windows, and in those of old manor-houses, as well as here and there paintings on panels, &c., go to supply our store of documentary evidence. A large number of the Visitations were taken happily before the Puritans had their way, when, as William Dowsing's Journal shews, as well as other evidence, superstition was made the excuse for pure havoc. It was only necessary to say that a monument was superstitious, or a coat of arms in a window was profane, and the axe and hammer shattered it. The work, however, done during these Visitations does not appear to have been so complete or so accurate as it might have been: certainly it would be much more satisfactory to have the originals before us now.
But the most important material we have are the rolls of arms, beginning as early as Henry III.'s reign. The following is a list of the chief rolls, only a few of which have been as yet printed:--
circa circa .... Acre roll, MS. Harl. 6137, and No. 158 MS.; Dodsworth, MS. Ashmole, 1120[dated 145, 5086; MSS. Harl. 1192, but probably later]. 4033, 5803, 6137, 6589. 1245. Roll MS. in the College of 1322. Boroughbridge Roll, MS. Ash- Arms, L. 14. mole, 831. 1260. Roll, MS. Harl. 6589. 1338. Roll, Grimaldi's MS. 1280. ,, MSS. Harl. 6137, 6589. 1346. ,, MS. College of Arms; 1286. ,, MS. Harl. 6137. MS. Harl. 6589. 1290. ,, MS. Harl. 6137. 1348. Calais Bannerets MS. Ash- 1296. ,, MS. Harl. 6137. mole, 1120, Cotton MS. 1298. Falkirk Roll, MS. Harl. 6589. Tiberius E. 9, MSS. Harl. 1299. Roll, MSS. Harl. 6137, 6589. 6589, 6595. 1300. ,, MSS. Harl. 6137, 6589. 1348. Calais Knights MS. Harl. 1300. Carlaverock Poem, MS. Cot- 6589. ton, Caligula, A. 18. 1395. Roll, Newling's MS. 1308. Dunstaple Roll, MSS. Harl. 1418. Rouen Roll, MS. Ashmole, 6137, 6589. 1120; MS. Harl. 6137. 1310. Roll, MS. Harl. 6589. 1512. Parliament Roll, MS. Cole, 1312. ,, MS. Queen's Coll. Oxon, 30.
A history of the origin and first actual instances of the used of armorial bearings, clearly distinguishing between true and regular coat-armour, and the classic devices and badges, symbols and the like, borne by tribes in warfare, or carved on their shields, and, above all, clearing it of the fancies and fictions with which the study has been surrounded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and by which it has been obscured, still remains to be written.