The names and creations of all or most of the nobilitie from William the Conqueror until the year of grace 1586

Chrzanowski 1590nNobility goes back to antiquity but armory (and coats of arms) associated with a title arose at the time of the Crusades. Arms met the arising need to identify—and the desire to attach glory—to leaders in battle. This need further increased in the early 13th century with the introduction of closed helmets that hid the wearer’s face. To a large degree the terminology and the rules of heraldry born at that time evolved similarly throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, illegitimate assumption of arms began early, and in England Henry V issued a proclamation setting stringent rules. As the Tudor era began, the need for arms for warfare waned; yet, interest in heraldry did not. Arms served the purpose of distinguishing a gentleman.

In effect, heraldry had become a regulated business. The Heralds’ College was first chartered by Richard III in 1483. During Elizabeth’s reign, an Earl Marshal presided over three Kings of Arms who had the authority to grant coats of arms (and divided the income amongst themselves). Among other duties these kings and six heralds also supervised funerals for a fee. Once granted, possession of arms is a hereditary privilege to be handed down provided that certain terms are obeyed and fees are paid.

William Shakespeare devoted considerable effort (and money) to become a gentleman. Since it is worthier to inherit an honor than be granted it, Shakespeare engaged the Heralds’ College on behalf of his father even though he fallen on hard times. John Shakespeare had been bailiff of Stratford and justice of peace; supposedly, Henry VII advanced and granted lands to his great-grandfather for faithful service; and John had married a daughter of one of the heirs in the Arden of Warwickshire family. Those factors and the fees paid by William were sufficient.

Knowledge about heraldry—considered to be a natural science—was a necessity for an educated Tudor gentleman. Assistance was provided by many books on the subject, most notably Gerald Legh’s Accedens of Armory (1562), which went through seven editions during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Heraldry manuscripts from that period include The Book of English Heraldry, which was completed ca. 1589, belonged to the Spencer family, and is now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. The present manuscript is quite similar in style and details. It is a fifty-leaf large folio (about 16” x 10 1/2”) with nearly 500 coats of arms illustrated in vivid colors and arranged chronologically by monarch, from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth. Each coat of arms has an associated name and biographical reference material in secretary hand (with occasional added material in a second hand). A later hand offers corrections to the bearings of the arms.

f Chrzanowski 1590n

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675