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Disputes within the College of Arms

The College of Arms was plagued by rivalries and quarrelling in the 1590s. William Dethick, Garter King of Arms, was notorious for his arrogant and overbearing manner. He quarrelled with several of his colleagues, including Ralph Brooke, York Herald, in whom he met his match. Brooke accused Dethick of abusing his office in multiple ways: by granting arms to people who were of too lowly a status, who were not the Queen's subjects, or who were already dead, and by granting arms that were too similar to arms that already existed. The exclusivity and honor associated with the right to bear arms was at stake. Dethick was forced to resign in 1606 after numerous allegations of outrageous and unethical behavior.


While Ralph Brooke, York Herald, waged one battle with William Dethick about the improper granting of arms, he waged another with his new colleague William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms. Camden was the venerable author of Britannia, an extremely influential and innovative account of the local history and topography of the British Isles. Ralph Brooke responded to Britannia with A discoverie of divers errors, exposing Camden's genealogical inaccuracies in a mean-spirited and sarcastic fashion, and accusing him of ignorance in heraldic matters. The attack was largely prompted by Brooke's resentment that he had been overlooked for promotion, while Camden, who had no prior experience as a herald, was appointed Clarenceux, the senior provincial King of Arms.


Ralph Brooke published his first attack on William Camden in 1599, and further antagonized Camden with A catalogue and succession, published twenty years later. Camden was by this time an elderly man, but he was capably defended by another herald, Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant. Vincent responded with A discouerie of errours in the first edition of the catalogue of nobility. Vincent essentially reprinted Brooke's Catalog and added his corrections as separate paragraphs after each section. The debate turned into a learned discussion of the history of the English nobility, well worth the while for the publisher of both men's books, William Jaggard.


Below are some of the items that were selected to illustrate these disputes.

Detections and abusesse of William Derike. Manuscript, ca. 1595

Brooke. Coats of arms granted by William Dethick. Manuscript, ca. 1595-ca. 1600

Brooke. A discouerie of diuers errors. London, 1599

Brooke. Alphabet of arms. Manuscript, ca. 1620

Camden. Britannia siue Florentissimorum regnorum. London, 1594

Collection of antiquarian papers. Manuscript, ca. 1600

Brooke. A catalogue and succession of [nobility] in England, since the Norman Conquest. London, 1622

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