The following is an excerpt from Burke's General Armory, pages xxiv-xxvii.
The office of Kings of Arms is of feudal origin, and was one of the attributes of the pomp and splendour annexed to feudal sovereignty. there is no trace of such an institution anterior to the Norman invasion, which overturned the pre- existing system in England, formed as it has been by a fusion of the usages of the ancient Britons, saxons and Danes. Having so overturned it, the Normans introduced the military and chivalrous code of feuds, with its homage, and fealty, and services. Sir Henry Spelman is of the opinion that the title of King of Arms was attributed to such heraldic offices in England as belonged immediately to the person of the King's majesty, while those who appertained to princes of the blood royal, or to the nobility, were styled simply Heralds. another learned author states that the title of King of Heralds ( of later times called King of Arms) was given to that personages who was the chief or principal officer presiding over the heralds of any Kingdom, or of any particular province usually termed the marches, or of any order of Knighthood
The primary duty of the English Kings of Arms and Heralds at the time of their establishment, corresponded with that of the Heralds of foreign princes ; they carried and delivered all messages of importance to allies, enemies, and rebels, gave solemn defiances and denunciations of was ; summoned cities, &c., to surrender ; made proposition of peace, truce and accommodation, and offered mercy and pardon to rebellious subjects and insurgents. They had also the cognizance, inspection, marshalling, and regulation of coats of armour, and the several marks of distinction connected with them ; they received all foreign nobility and others coming to England to perform feats of arms, and gave safe conduct to t hem from the arrival to the time of their leaving the Kingdom ; assisted at tilts, tournaments, and feats of arms, and attended to the honour and reputation of military persons, and to the safety, welfare, and defence of the King and his realms. They had also the arrangement, order,and the progress of legal combats ; were employed in marshalling and conducting coronations, marriages, baptisms, funerals,interviews, and other august assemblies, processions, pomps, and solemnities of the ancient monarchs, and took care of the orders, rights, and ceremonies, established for those ceremonials were duly observed ; and that the rules of procedures were strictly adhered to.
The pride and ambition of the nobility prompted them to imitate, and often times to vie with, their Monarchs in stats and magnificence. Hence it is that we find the heralds attending at the funeral rites and ceremonies of the nobility, as well as at the celebration of their marriages, christenings, and other festives, and practising the same forms and grandeur as were observed at those of the royal family.
Noble and illustrations decent having also been held in high esteem, strict attention was paid to the observance of a just and exact distinction between the different ranks or classes of the people. The ignoble never presumed, in those ancient times, to arrogate a partipation in the rights annexed to eminence of parentage, or to claim honours to which their superiors alone were entitled. And the nobility and gentry, cautiously jealous of their dignity, avoided mixing with the vulgar, and were sedulously for the preservation, on all public and solemn occasions, of that purity of rank and proceeders which was by the feudal system to their birth and station in life. Family arms being general criterion which distinguished the gentleman from the peasant, no persons were suffered to enter the lists to tourney, or excorsize any feats of arms, unless they could, to the satisfaction of the Kings of Arms, prove themselves to be gentlemen of Coat of Armour. And the ancient gentry took particular care to have their arms embroidered on their common - wearing over - caots, and would not suffer any persoons of the lower class, although become rich, to use such tokens of gentle birth and distinction ; nay, so jealous were they of any infringement of the armorial rights which they were entitled, that whenever the arms which they and their families had borne happened to be claimed by any other gentlemen, they vindicated their rights in the military courts, and very often by duel. Under those circumstances it became essential and was a necessary part of the duties of Heralds, to draw out, with accuracy and exactness, the authentic genealogies of noble families, and families of gentle birth to continue, and from time to time, to add and preserve their pedigrees in direct and collateral lines ; and to have a perfect knowledge of all hereditary arms, ensigns, badges of honour, and the external marks as well l of persona; as of family rank and distinction.
Some portion of the ancient duties of the Herald has become obsolete with the decay of the feudal system, but enough remains to render the office important and useful. The branch of his labours connected with genealogy is valuable in the highest degree. Genealogical tables and authentic pedigree, regularly deduced, contain memorials of past transactions and events, and from them chronologers and historians have drawn very considerable assistance ; they have operated to the detection of frauds, forgeries, and impostures ; cleared up doubts and difficulties ; established marriages ; supported and defended legitimacy and purity of blood ; ascertained family alliances ; proved and maintained affinity and consanguinity ; vindicated and corroborated the titles of lands to their possessors ; and have been of essential use in setting claims and rights of inheritance without litigation, by furnishing effectual evidence. such has been, and ever must be ,the utility of genealogies, when they are framed with integrity and authenticated by evidence.
THE HERALDIC AUTHORITY over England and Wales is delegated by the crown to the hereditary EARL MARSHAL ( the Duke of Norfolk), and three Kings of arms, GARTER, CLARENCEUX, and NORROY, who form together with the HERALDS and PURSUIVANTS, the College of Arms. Of these, the principal is Garter king of Arms. In his patent he is styled Principal King of English Arms, and Principal Officer of Arms of the most noble order of the Garter. To him immediately belongs, inter alia, the adjustment of arms in England and Wales, and likewise the power of granting arms under the authority of the earl Marshal, in conjunction with the provincial kings of Arms according to their several jurisdictions, to persons qualified to bear them. Clarenceux king of Arms, so named from the Dukedom of Clarence, has duristiction over the south- east and west parts of England; and :Norroy King of arms, the most ancient of the heraldic sovereigns in England possesses as his province, England north of the Trent. He is the north King- Norroy. The English HERALDS bear the designation of Windsor. Chester, Somerset, Lancaster, York, Richmond, the PERSUIVANTS are known by the names of Rouge Dragon, Rouge Croix, Bluemantle, and Portcullis.
The date of the creation of the historic and dignified office of GARTER KING OF ARMS may be fixed with certainty to have been between May and September, 1417. The first Garter was William Bruges, originally styled Guyenne King of Arms, and subsequently Garter Roy dıArmes des Anglois. By the constitution of King Henry VIII, it was provided that Garter should be sovereign within the College of Arms above all the other officers, that he should have the correction of Arms. Crests, Cognizances,and Devices, as well as the power and authority to grant Armorial Bearings ; and that he should Walk in all places next to Our Sword, and no one between them except the Constable and marshal when they carry their batons of their office.
In addition, Garter King of Arms has various duties of considerable importance to per form, such as the regulation of precedence, the guidance of Coronations, and State Ceremonials, the control and management of all matters concerning the Order of the Garter, & C.
The Badge of garter is of gold, having on both sides the Arms of St. George, impaled with those of the Sovereign, within the Motto, enamelled in their proper colours, and ensigned with the Royal Crown. His sceptre is of silver gilt, about two feet in length, the top being of gold, of four sides of equal height but of unequal breadth. On the two larger sides are the Arms of St. George impaling the soverign's, and on the two lesser sides, the Arms of St. George, surrounded by the Garter and Motto, the whole ensigned with an imperial crown.
The ancient office of LYON KING OF ARMS, long stayed LORD LYON KING OF ARMS, the King of Arms of Scotland, is found occupying a very prominent position so far back in 1371, the year of the coronation of Robert II. at Holyrood. He derives his authority directly from the sovereign, and is entitled to wear an oval badge suspended by a broad green ribbon. The badge consists on the obverse of the effigy as St. Andrew b eearing his cross before him, with a thistle beneath , all enamelled in the propper colours on an azure ground. The reverse contains the Arms of Scotland having in the lower parts of the Badge, a thistle, as on the other side ; the whole surmounted with an imperial Crown. Lyon is the chief Heraldic Officer of the Order of the thistle, and enjoys the same rights and privileges in Scotland as Garter king of Arms does in England. the insignia of the Lyon Office, Argent, a lion sejant full- faced gules, holding in the dexter paw a thistle slipped vet, and in the sinister an escutcheon of the second, on a chief a St. Andrew's Cross of the first.
In IRELAND, ULSTER KING OF ARMS has the heraldic jurisdiction, and has under him Athlone Pursuivant : he is . ex-officio, Knight Attendant on the most illustrious Order of St. Patrick.
The title of Ulster King of Arms, was created of Edward VI. But the office itself, under the designation of Ireland King of Arms, had its origin in more remote times, the first express mention of Ireland King of Arms being in the sixth year of King Richard II. 1484 ; Froissart, vol.ii calls Chaundos le Roy dıIrelande. A regular suicession of Officers by the title Ireland King of Arms, continued from that time to the reign of King Edward IV., who promoted Thomas A. Shwell to that office.
This title of Ireland, as Sir Henry Spelman and Sir James Ware say, was afterwards, by Edward VI, altered into that of Ulster. That King himself, in his journal, takes notice of it as follows - fob. There was a King of Arms made for Ireland, whose name was Ulster, and his province was all Ireland. The patent passed under the great sea; of England, 1553, with an ample preamble, in testimony to the necessity and dignity of the office, which was given to Bartholomew Butler, York Herald. And a warrant bearing equal date with the patent was issued to sir Ralph Sadleir, Knt, of the King's wardrobe, to deliver him one coat of blue and crimson velvet embroidered with the gold and silver upon the same with the king's Arms.
The Badge of Ulster is of gold. containing on one side the cross of St.Patrick, or as it is described in the statutes, :the cross gules of the Order upon a field argent, impaled with the Arms of the realm of Ireland, and both encircled with the motto, quis Separabit, and the date of the institution of the order, MDCCLXXXIII. the exhibits the Arms of the Office of Ulster, viz., Or, a cross gules, on a chief of the last a lion of England between a harp and portculliis , all of the first, placed on a ground of green enamel, surrounded by a gold border with shamrocks, surmounted by an Imperial Crown, and suspended by a blue ribband form the neck.
The general procedures of Ulster King of Arms was affirmed by his majesty king William IV. by royal warrant, dated at St James's, 17th day of may, 1835, which was issued for revising and making alterations in the statues of the Order of St. Patrick. After that, by the Act of Union, Ireland became part and parcel of the United Kingdom,and Our King of Arms of all Ireland has not had, since that event, any specific place or precedence assigned to him among our kings of Arms by special ordinance or Royal authority ; We do hereby direct and command that in all ceremonials and assemblies Ulster King of Arms shall have place immediately after the Lord Lyon, King of Arms of Scotland. Hence , the general precedence of the kings of Arms for Great Britain and Ireland stands thus ; 1st. General King of Arms of England ; 2nd. Lyon king of Arms of Scotland ; 3rd. Ulster King of Arms of All Ireland; 4th. Clarenceux King of Arms; and 5th. Norroy King of Arms.
The Local precedence of Ulster King of Arms at the Court was established at the institution of the office in /Ireland, and the place assigned him the head of the officers of state, and next the person of the viceroy. This order of precedence was afterwards confirmed by successive Lords Lieutenants and Lords Justices. in all ordinance of the Earls of Orrery and Muontrath, Lords Justices, dated at Dublin Castle, 18th April, 1661, the programme of precedence of the officers of state at the Irish Court was set forth in detail, and stated therein to have what had formerly been used by the Lords deputies or lords justices, and have the place of the king of Arms was therein set forth as first in order, and next to the lords justices as representatives of the sovereign.
The Duke of Bolton, by an ordinance dated at Dublin Castle, 17th day August,1717, confirmed that order of precedence,and assigned the place of Ulster King or arms to be next to the person of his gace ; and after Ulster, the other official personages of the court.
By another order, of Lord Carteret, dated from his Majesty's Castle of Dublin the 29th day of October,1724, the same roll of precedence was affirmed and ordered. The last order upon the subject of the procedures of the person holding the office , was the Royal warrant of his Majesty King William IV., already mentioned.
Very considerable powers and duties, in addition to the due control and registration of Arms and pedigrees, were from time to time ocnfierred and imposed upon the Ulster King of Arms, in matters of official proceedings and courtly duties, which he regulates, whence the archives of his office present not only an interesting record of the various ceremonials observed from the time to time at the Irish Court, but are also landmarks of genealogy, and consist not merely of genealogical materials and reference, but in great measure of genealogies of families, full, ample, and complete.