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Grants of Arms

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Grants of Arms

If an individual or family wanted to create, modify, or confirm a coat of arms, they would have to apply to a King of Arms for the right. If they met the requirements, the grantee would pay roughly twenty pounds (the equivalent of $15,000 or more in
today's money) and commission a large parchment grant or letters patent, written or engrossed by a professional scribe, with the new coat of arms described or blazoned and professionally painted. The drawing up of letters patent for the granting of arms was a phenomenon that was common to all of Europe by the fifteenth century. These grants typically recounted a person's right to demonstrate with a coat of arms their wisdom, learning, knowledge, virtuous life, noble courage, integrity, and discretion.


Written in Latin in a careful italic hand, this confirmation of arms to Stephen Powle is signed at the bottom by Garter King of Arms, William Dethick (image top right). Along the top border are the badges of Queen Elizabeth: the white rose, the red and white double rose, as well as the Garter, and the royal arms. Powle's arms have a distinctive crest of a blue unicorn with a gold horn, mane, hooves, and tail. The arms themselves come from both paternal and maternal sides of the family. Powle's father's arms are three gold lions passant guardant on a blue background: that is, the lion strides to the viewer's left with its head facing the viewer. His mother's arms are described as three gold bends, or diagonal bands, on a blue background. The patent's artist, however, incorrectly depicted the bends in silver.


This example of a draft confirmation (image second right), confirms the arms of Thomas Pecke, alderman, justice of the peace, overseer, and former mayor of the city of Norwich. Like new grants, confirmations describe the grantee's status and his arms, and declare his right to display them on shields, swords, seals, rings, signets, buildings, utensils, tombs, monuments, and other surfaces.


This is a formal grant of arms and crest (image third right) to Robert Horsseman, of Ripon (Yorkshire), by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms, on May 26, 1590. The coat is described as "the field gold, three Gantlets Sable" with the crest "a burning Castell gold," that is, three black gauntlets (metal gloves used in combat) on a gold background, with a crest above consisting of a gold tower with flames coming out of it.


The language and format of grants of arms has changed very little over the centuries. There is no American herald today, but individual Americans, as well as American towns and other corporate bodies, can obtain honorary grants from the English College of Arms. As part of their bicentennial celebrations in 1976, Hampden-Sydney College, in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, received a grant for an official coat of arms (image bottom right). The arms include two blue pheons, or spearheads, taken from the arms of the Sidney family of Penshurst, and two blue eagles against a silver background, from the Hampden arms. Loan courtesy of Hampden-Sydney College.

Garter King of Arms. Grant of arms to Stephen Powle. Manuscript, 15 March 1588

Garter King of Arms. Confirmation of arms to Thomas Pecke, Esq. Manuscript, ca. 1580

Clarenceaux King of Arms. Grant of arms to Robert Horsseman. Manuscript, 1590. Detail

Brooke-Little. Grant of arms to Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia. Manuscript, July 4, 1976

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