Heraldic visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms (or alternatively by heralds, or junior officers of arms, acting as their deputies) throughout England, Wales and Ireland. Their purpose was to register and regulate the coats of arms of nobility, gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. They took place from 1530 to 1688, and their records (akin to an upper class census) provide important source material for historians and genealogists.
By the fifteenth century, the use and abuse of coats of arms was becoming widespread in England. One of the duties conferred on William Bruges (or Brydges), the first Garter Principal King of Arms, was to survey and record the armorial bearings and pedigrees of those using coats of arms and correct irregularities. Officers of arms had made occasional tours of various parts of the kingdom to enquire about armorial matters during the fifteenth century.However, it was not until the sixteenth century that the process began in earnest.
The first provincial visitations were carried out under warrant granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux King of Armsdated 6 April 1530. He was commissioned to travel throughout his province (i.e. south of the Trent) with authority to enter all homes and churches. Upon entering these premises, he was authorized to "put down or otherwise deface at his discretion... those arms unlawfully used". He was also required to enquire into all those using the titles of knight, esquire, or gentleman and decided if they were being lawfully used.
By this writ, Henry VIII also compelled the sheriffs and mayors of each county or city visited by the officers of arms to give aid and assistance in gathering the needed information. When a King of Arms, or Herald, visited a county, his presence was proclaimed by presenting the King's royal commission to the local gentry and nobility, which required them to provide evidence of their right to use a coat of arms. The Sheriff would collect from the bailiff of each hundred within his county a list of all people using titles or arms.
In the early days, the visiting herald would tour the homes of the gentry and nobility, but from the late 1560s these persons were summoned to attend a central "place of sitting" – usually an inn – at a particular time.They were to bring their arms, and proof of their right to use them, most often by way of detailing their ancestral right to them, which would also be recorded. Where an official grant of arms had been made, this was also recorded. Other ancient arms, many of which predated the establishment of the College of Arms, were confirmed. The officer would record the information clearly and make detailed notes that could be entered into the records of the College of Arms when the party returned to London.
An example of the text of a herald's Visitation writ is the following, issued by Edward Bysshe, then Clarenceux King of Arms, dated 1 July 1664 and addressed to the Constables of the Hundred of Clackclose in Norfolk, giving them notice of two and a half months to muster the local gentry in the Black Swan Inn at Downham Market at 8 am:
These [letters patent] are to require you and in his Majestie's name to charge and comand you, that forthwith upon sight hereof you sumon these Baronets, Knights, Esqrs and Gentlemen, whose names are here under written, personally to appear before me Edward Bisshe, Knight, Clarenceux King of Armes of all the South, East, and West parts of this Realme of England, from the river of Trent Southward, upon Thursday the fifteenth day of September, by eight of the clock in the morning, at the sign of the Black Swan in Downham, where I intend to sit for the Registring of all the Gentry within the said Hundred; and to that end you likewise give them notice, that they bring with them such armes and crests as they use and bear, with such other evidence or matter of record and credit as (if need require) may justifie the same, to the intent that I knowing how they use and challenge their Titles and by what right and authoritye they beare or pretend to bear Armes, I may accordingly make entrance thereof, and register the same in the office of Armes, or else proceed as my commission enjoyneth me in that behalfe, and to disclaim and make infamous such as usurp the title of Esquires or Gentlemen; and to convent all such as shall refuse to conforme themselves unto my said commission before the Lords Commissioners for the office of Earle Marshall of England, there to answer their misdemeanors and contempts. And if there shall be any of the degrees and quallities above mentoned omitted within yor Liberties in these my directions, that you likewise insert their names and warn them accordingly. Hereof charge them not to fayle as they will avoid the perill as may ensue by any of their neglects or contempts herein. Of these particulars your are to make a true and perfect returne, together with this your warrant, and what you have done therein, at the time and place above appointed. Given under my hand and Seale this first day of July, anno Dom. 1664. Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux
The resulting volumes now make up the collection of Visitation Books at the College, which contain a wealth of information about all armigerous people from the period. [ citation needed ]If the officers of arms were not presented with sufficient proof of the right to use a coat of arms, they were also empowered to deface monuments which bore these arms and to force persons bearing such arms to sign a disclaimer that they would cease using them. The visitations were not always popular with members of the landed gentry, who were required to present proof of their gentility.
Following the accession of William III in 1689, no further commissions to carry out visitations were commanded. The reasons behind this cessation of the programme have been a matter of debate among historians. Philip Styles, for example, related it to a declining willingness of members of the gentry to attend visitations, which he traced to a growing proportion of "newly risen" families, who lacked long pedigrees and were therefore apathetic about registering them. [ citation needed ]However, Janet Verasano has challenged this interpretation, finding that (in Staffordshire, at least) gentry enthusiasm for coats of arms as an enhancement to social standing persisted to the end of the 17th century. The end of the visitations did not have much effect on those counties far removed from London, some of which had only been rarely visited over the entire period of the visitations.
There was never a systematic visitation of Wales. There were four visitations in the principality, and on 9 June 1551, Fulk ap Hywel, Lancaster Herald of Arms in Ordinary, was given a commission to visit all of Wales. This was not carried out, however, as he was degraded and executed for counterfeiting the seal of Clarenceux King of Arms. This is regrettable, since no visitation of all Wales was ever made by the officers of arms.
The principal records to emerge from the visitations were pedigrees, initially recorded on loose sheets of paper, and afterwards bound together as notebooks. In some cases, the sheets would include blank shields which had been drawn in advance (or at a later date printed), to simplify the process of recording coats of arms.The persons whose pedigrees were recorded were required (from about 1570 onwards) to certify them by signature, and where these original draft pedigrees have survived they are known as "originals with signatures". The signed copies were taken back to the College of Arms, where fair copies were made to a higher standard and preserved as the "office copies". Sometimes the signed copies were also retained at the College, but in other cases, no longer considered of official interest, they might pass into private hands: once in general circulation, further copies were often made, which might in turn be revised or augmented. As a result of these processes of transmission, a number of variant manuscript copies of any one visitation record may now survive, possessing varying degrees of accuracy and authority. The Harleian Collection of the British Library is particularly rich in such records. Many visitation records have been published over the years, by the Harleian Society, by county record societies, and a few privately (see listing below). However, because until relatively recently the College of Arms restricted access to its records, many of the older published editions were necessarily based on the unofficial second- or third-generation copies in other collections, and may therefore not always be reliable.
From as early as the 1530s, officers of arms on visitation frequently also compiled what were known as "church notes". These were fieldnotes (usually in the form of sketches) of coats of arms observed on church monuments, in stained glass windows, or on display in private houses.Sometimes, drawings were also made of non-heraldic antiquities, such as medieval architectural features, views of towns, Roman inscriptions and even Stonehenge.
The 17th-century visitations generated a growing number of supplementary papers, including warrants, lists of persons who disclaimed any pretence to arms, lists of persons summoned to appear before the heralds (including those who had not appeared), records of fees paid, and miscellaneous correspondence.
Visitations were conducted by or in the name of the two provincial Kings of Arms, Clarenceux and Norroy, within their respective provinces. In the following lists, the Deputies are the officers of arms who actually carried out the visitations. Where no Deputy is named, the visitation can be assumed to have been conducted by the King of Arms in person.
The Southern Province, the jurisdiction of Clarenceux King of Arms, comprised that part of England south of the River Trent, i.e. the counties of Bedford, Berks, Buckingham, Cambridge, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucester, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Kent, Leicester, Lincoln, Middlesex, Monmouth, Norfolk, Northampton, Oxford, Rutland, Salop, Somerset, Southampton, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwick, Wilton, Worcester, and the City of London; and South Wales.
|Year||County or area visited||Clarenceux King of Arms||Deputy or Deputies||Notes|
|1530||Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire||Thomas Benolt|
|1530||London churches||Thomas Benolt||Thomas Hawley, Carlisle Herald|
|1531||Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall||Thomas Benolt|
|early 1530s||Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Hampshire, Somerset, Isle of Wight, and London Companies||Thomas Benolt|
|early 1530s||Devon and Cornwall||Thomas Benolt|
|early 1530s||South Wales and Herefordshire||Thomas Benolt||William Fellow, Lancaster Herald|
|1558||Essex||William Harvey||Of uncertain status: perhaps not completed, or possibly not even begun.|
|1563||Warwickshire||William Harvey||Robert Cooke, Chester Herald|
|1563–4||Leicestershire||William Harvey||Robert Cooke, Chester Herald|
|1566||Oxfordshire||William Harvey||Robert Cooke, Chester Herald|
|1566||Berkshire||William Harvey||Robert Cooke, Chester Herald|
|1574–5||Oxfordshire||Robert Cooke||Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant|
|1574–5||Buckinghamshire||Robert Cooke||Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant|
|1574||Oxford University||Robert Cooke||Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant|
|1584||Shropshire||Robert Cooke||Richard Lee, Portcullis Pursuivant|
|1591||Somerset||Robert Cooke||Ralph Brooke, Rouge Croix Pursuivant|
|1592||Lincolnshire||Robert Cooke||Richard Lee, Richmond Herald|
|1612||Suffolk||William Camden||John Raven, Richmond Herald|
|1613||Norfolk||William Camden||John Raven, Richmond Herald|
|1613||Huntingdonshire||William Camden||Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald|
|1614||Essex||William Camden||John Raven, Richmond Herald|
|1618–19||Northamptonshire and Rutland||William Camden||Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1619||Warwickshire||William Camden||Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1619||Leicestershire||William Camden||Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1619||Cambridgeshire||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald|
|1619||Kent||William Camden||John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1620||Devon||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1620||Cornwall||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1622–3||Hampshire||William Camden||John Philipot, Somerset Herald|
|1623||Surrey||William Camden||Samuel Thompson, Windsor Herald, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant|
|1623||Gloucestershire||William Camden||Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1623||Berkshire||William Camden||Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and John Philipot, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1623||Shropshire||William Camden||Robert Treswell, Somerset Herald, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant|
|1623||Wiltshire||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1623||Dorset||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1623||Somerset||William Camden||Henry St George, Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1634||Hampshire||Sir Richard St George||John Philipot, Somerset Herald|
|1634||Essex||Sir Richard St George||George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1634||Lincolnshire||Sir Richard St George||Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and Thomas Thompson, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1633–5||London||Sir Richard St George||Sir Henry St George, Richmond Herald|
|1634||London Companies||Sir Richard St George|
|1634||Herefordshire||Sir Richard St George|
|1634||Buckinghamshire||Sir Richard St George||John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and William Ryley, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1633–4||Sussex||Sir Richard St George||John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and George Owen, York Herald|
|1634||Hertfordshire||Sir Richard St George|
|1634||Middlesex||Sir Richard St George|
|1634||Oxfordshire||Sir Richard St George||John Philipot, Somerset Herald, and William Ryley, Bluemantle Pursuivant|
|1634||Worcestershire||Sir Richard St George||George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1634||Bedfordshire||Sir Richard St George||George Owen, York Herald, and Henry Lilly, Rouge Rose Pursuivant Extraordinary|
|1662–4||Shropshire||Sir Edward Bysshe||William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms|
|1662–8||Surrey||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1662-8||Sussex||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1663||Middlesex||Sir Edward Bysshe||William Ryley, Lancaster Herald, and Henry Dethick, Rouge Croix Pursuivant|
|1663||Kent||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1664||London||Sir Edward Bysshe||Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, and Thomas Holford, Portcullis Pursuivant|
|1664–6||Berkshire||Sir Edward Bysshe||Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald|
|1664–8||Norfolk||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1664–8||Essex||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1664–8||Suffolk||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1666||Lincolnshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1669||Bedfordshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1669||Hertfordshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1669–75||Buckinghamshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1668–75||Oxfordshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1672||Somerset||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1677||Wiltshire||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1677||Dorset||Sir Edward Bysshe|
|1681–2||Northamptonshire||Sir Henry St George||Francis Burghill, Somerset Herald, Thomas May, Chester Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1681–2||Rutland||Sir Henry St George||Francis Burghill, Somerset Herald, Thomas May, Chester Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1681–3||Leicestershire||Sir Henry St George||Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1683||Warwickshire||Sir Henry St George||Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1682–3||Worcestershire||Sir Henry St George||Thomas May, Chester Herald, Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1682–3||Gloucestershire||Sir Henry St George|
|1683||Herefordshire||Sir Henry St George||Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1683||Monmouthshire||Sir Henry St George||Henry Dethick, Richmond Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant|
|1684||Cambridgeshire||Sir Henry St George|
|1684||Huntingdonshire||Sir Henry St George|
|1686||Hampshire||Sir Henry St George|
|1687–1700||London||Sir Henry St George|
The Northern Province, the jurisdiction of Norroy King of Arms, comprised that part of England north of the River Trent, i.e. the counties of Chester, Cumberland, Derby, Durham, Lancaster, Northumberland, Nottingham, Stafford, Westmorland and York; and North Wales. The Trent ran through Staffordshire, and the county was therefore technically divided between the two provinces; but for the purposes of visitation it was generally treated (sometimes through a process of deputation) as falling under the jurisdiction of Norroy.
|Year||County or area visited||Norroy King of Arms||Deputy or Deputies||Notes|
|1530||Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Lancashire||Thomas Tonge|
|1532||Lancashire and part of Cheshire||Thomas Tonge||William Fellow, Lancaster Herald|
|1552||Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Cumberland||William Harvey|
|1558||Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland and Cheshire||Lawrence Dalton||Conducted by Dalton in person, accompanied by William Colbarne, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, probably his nephew. Of uncertain authority, as Dalton had not yet been formally created Norroy|
|1569||Derbyshire||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1569||Nottinghamshire||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1575||County Durham||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1575||Yorkshire and Northumberland||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1580||Cheshire||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1583||Staffordshire||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1584–5||Yorkshire||William Flower||Robert Glover, Somerset Herald||Either conducted by Flower in person accompanied by Glover, or by Glover as Flower's deputy|
|1611||Derbyshire||Sir Richard St George||Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald, and Henry St George, Rouge Rose Pursuivant-Extraordinary (Sir Richard's son)|
|1612||Yorkshire||Sir Richard St George|
|1613||Lancashire||Sir Richard St George|
|1614||Cheshire||Sir Richard St George||Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Henry St George, Bluemantle Pursuivant, his son|
|1614||Nottinghamshire||Sir Richard St George|
|1614||Staffordshire||Sir Richard St George|
|1615||County Durham||Sir Richard St George|
|1615||Northumberland||Sir Richard St George||Conducted by St George in person, accompanied by Henry St George, Bluemantle Pursuivant, his son|
|1634||Derbyshire||[Sir William le Neve]||Henry Chitting, Chester Herald, and Thomas Thompson, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant||Although undertaken during le Neve's kingship, this visitation was conducted under a joint commission granted in 1633 to Sir John Borough, Norroy 1623–33 and Garter King of Arms 1633–43, and Sir Richard St George, Clarenceux King of Arms 1623–35|
|1662–4||[Shropshire]||William Dugdale||Conducted by Dugdale as deputy to Sir Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux, as the county lay within the Southern Province.|
|1666||County Durham||William Dugdale|
|1670||Flintshire||William Dugdale||Robert Chaloner, Lancaster Herald, and Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant||Conducted under a deputation to visit North Wales, granted in 1670|
This section needs additional citations for verification .(May 2016)
Since the practices of Ulster King of Arms so closely followed those of the English College of Arms, it is hardly surprising that the Irish officers of arms undertook heraldic visitations in their province. The purpose behind these visitations was twofold: to prevent the assumption of arms by unqualified people, and to record the arms of the gentry that were unknown to Ulster office. The first visitation was held by Nicholas Narbon, the second Ulster King of Arms, in 1569. He was authorized to reform practices which were contrary to good armorial practice. He conducted six visitations (Dublin in 1568–1573, Drogheda and Ardee in 1570, Dublin in 1572, Swords in 1572, Cork in 1574, and Limerick in 1574). One of his successors, Daniel Molyneux had the commission renewed, and mounted several visitations. Although Molyneux's last visitation – of Wexford – was the last proper visitation, two other expeditions occurred after 1618 by subsequent Ulster Kings of Arms. The visitations were not very extensive. The officers would not often be found in the disturbed countryside. Thus the visitations are confined to areas under firm control of the Dublin administration.
Today, the original visitation and related manuscripts are in the custody of the Chief Herald of Ireland. Copies are also deposited at the College of Arms in London.
(see also: Cornish heraldry)
Sir William Dugdale was an English antiquary and herald. As a scholar he was influential in the development of medieval history as an academic subject.
Sir William Coningsby was an English Member of Parliament and a Justice of the King's Bench.
Lawrence Dalton was an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. Dalton was one of thirteen children of Roger Dalton of Bispham, Lancashire, and his fourth wife. Lawrence Dalton also had two half-brothers and one half-sister from his father's first marriage. Little is known about Dalton's early life, and he is not known to have attended a university.
John Pory (1572–1636) was an English politician, administrator, traveller and author of the Jacobean and Caroline eras; the skilled linguist may have been the first news correspondent in English-language journalism. As the first Speaker of the Virginia General Assembly, Pory established parliamentary procedures for that legislative body still in use today.
There have been two baronetcies created for persons with the surname Goring, both in the Baronetage of England. The second creation came into the family through a special remainder in the patent creating the baronetcy. Only the latter creation is extant as of 2008.
Sir Thomas Gawdy SL was an English justice and Member of Parliament. He was a member of the Norfolk family of Gawdy, of whom many were lawyers during the 16th and 17th centuries. He was Recorder of Norwich for 16 years. His seat was at Gawdy Hall, Harleston, a grand mansion which, in its final state, was demolished in 1939.
Robert Steward was an English cleric who served as the last prior of the Benedictine Ely Abbey, in Cambridgeshire, and as the first Dean of Ely Cathedral which replaced it at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
William Flower (1497/98–1588) was an English Officer of Arms in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. He rose to the rank of Norroy King of Arms, serving in that capacity from 1562 until his death in 1588.
Robert Glover was an English Officer of Arms, genealogist and antiquarian in the reign of Elizabeth I. In the College of Arms, he rose to the rank of Somerset Herald of Arms, serving in that capacity from 1571 until his death in 1588. As marshal and deputy to his father-in-law, William Flower, Norroy King of Arms, he participated in heraldic visitations throughout northern England.
Robert Cooke was an English Officer of Arms during the reign of Elizabeth I, who rose swiftly through the ranks of the College of Arms to Clarenceux King of Arms, serving in that office from 1567 until his death in 1592–3.
Nicholas Charles or Carles was an English officer of arms, who served as Lancaster Herald from 1609 to 1613. He made a copy of an early and rare 13th-century roll of arms, the original of which is now lost, known after him as "Charles's Roll".
Sir John Maclean KB, FSA was a British civil servant, genealogist and author.
Henry St George, the younger, was an English officer of arms. He was a younger son of the herald Henry St George (1581–1644).
SirBassingbourne Gawdy, of West Harling, Norfolk, was an English lawyer and judge, knight, and Member of Parliament.
George Owen was a Welsh officer of arms, York herald from 1633.
Sir Herbert Whitfield (1617–1677) was an English lawyer and landowner, whose pedigree and arms were recorded in both the 1619 Visitation of Kent and the 1623 Visitation of Surrey.
Sir John Atherton, of Atherton Hall, Leigh, Lancashire, was a landowner and an English politician. He was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1550, 1554, and 1560, and was a Member of Parliament (MP) of the Parliament of England for Lancashire in 1559. He was 6th in descent from Sir William Atherton MP for the same county in 1381.
John Strode, the son of Robert Strode of Parnham, Dorset and Elizabeth Hody, was elected MP for Dorset in 1572 and was Sheriff of Dorset from 1572 to 1573.
Anthony Cokett was an English politician. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) for Melcombe Regis in 1545, alongside Thomas Poley.
William Ryley was an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London.