Petitioning for Arms
Arms and crests, badges and supporters, are granted by letters patent issued by the most senior heralds, the Kings of Arms. They act according to powers delegated to them by the Crown and all grants are therefore made under Crown authority.
The first step in applying for a grant of arms is to submit a petition, or memorial as it is called, to the Earl Marshal. This will be drafted by one of the officers of arms. There are no fixed criteria of eligibility for a grant of arms, but such things as awards or honours from the Crown, civil or military commissions, university degrees, professional qualifications, public and charitable services, and eminence or good standing in national or local life, are taken into account. When approaching a herald with a view to petitioning for a grant of arms it is desirable to submit a curriculum vitae.
When the memorial is submitted the fees due upon a grant of arms become payable. Such fees are laid down by Earl Marshal's Warrant. As of 1 January 2013 the fees payable upon a personal grant of arms and crest are £4,950, a similar grant to an impersonal but non-profit making body, £10,425, and to a commercial company, £15,475. When a grant of arms includes the grant of a badge or (to eligible grantees) supporters, or the exemplification of a standard, a further fee is payable. A special reduced fee (currently £5,975) has recently been introduced for parish, town and community councils, to cover the grant of arms alone, without crest. Those wishing to know further details of the fee structure should contact the Officer in Waiting.
When an officer of arms is the agent for a grant of arms he is remunerated for his work on the case, and related expenses, by a payment out of the fees a petitioner pays to the College.
The use of arms spread in the Middle Ages from individuals to corporate bodies such as cities, towns and abbeys. On 10 March 1439 William Bruges, Garter King of Arms, granted arms to the Worshipful Company of Drapers, a London guild. Grants have been made continuously since then to livery companies, merchant companies, civic bodies, charities and hospitals. More recently, banking, shipping, insurance and other commercial companies have been given the right to bear arms. Modern examples of companies with coats of arms include Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
The applicant body must be registered or situated in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, or in another territory or country of which The Queen is Head of State, e.g. New Zealand. (The exceptions are Canada and Scotland which have their own heraldic authorities). It must be well established, of sound financial standing, and be a leading or respected body in its field. It may be incorporated by Act of Parliament, by Royal Charter, or under the Companies Acts, and could be a commercial enterprise, local authority, school, university, or charity. Similar bodies in the USA or the Commonwealth may also have arms 'devised' for them. Professional associations governed by a constitution are also eligible.
American citizens may be granted honorary arms. They must meet the same criteria for eligibility as subjects of the Crown, and in addition must record in the official registers of the College of Arms a pedigree showing their descent from a subject of the British Crown. This may be someone living in the north American colonies before the recognition of American independence in 1783, or a more recent migrant. A descent from an Irish or Canadian grandparent, or a father who was born in a Caribbean country where The Queen is Head of State, for example, would be sufficient.
The Design of the Arms
If the Earl Marshal approves a petition he will issue his Warrant to the Kings of Arms allowing them to proceed with the grant. At this stage the designing of the arms will begin. The Kings of Arms have full discretion over the design of the armorial bearings they grant, but the wishes of the applicant are taken into account as fully as possible. The officer of arms who is acting for the petitioner will discuss with him or her the allusions and references he or she would like made in the design. Simplicity and boldness make for the best heraldic design and it is a mistake to seek the inclusion of too many references. The officer will, through his experience and knowledge of many thousands of coats of arms, be able to warn the petitioner of what is heraldically trite. The design must be proper heraldry and be distinct from all previous arms on record at the College.
The best heraldic design is usually achieved if the petitioner gives his wishes in fairly general terms leaving the herald certain scope for inclusion or exclusion. References in the design could be made to the grantee's profession, family, interests or place of residence or origin. Visual quotations may be made from the arms of institutions with which he or she is particularly associated. There is a long tradition of puns in heraldry, some of them obvious, others less so.
A sketch of the design proposed will be sent to the petitioner. When considering such a sketch it is important to remember that it is sent for comment primarily on points of substance, not on points of drawing. The form of the arms, once they are granted, will be governed not by the painting of the arms on the letters patent, but by the concise verbal description of them in the text, known as the blazon. The same arms may be rendered perfectly correctly in numerous artistic styles.
Once the design has been agreed with the petitioner it is checked against all previous arms on record to ensure it is distinct and then submitted to the Kings of Arms for their approval. Assuming that this is forthcoming, the vellum which will become the letters patent is selected and the arms to be granted painted on to it by a College of Arms artist. The text is engrossed by a scrivener, it is signed and sealed by the Kings of Arms, and a copy of it painted and scrivened into the official College registers. The letters patent then become the property of the grantee.
Standards and Badges
Letters Patent granting arms and crest may also grant a badge and exemplify a standard.
Badges are separate heraldic devices which, like shields and crests, are particular to an individual or family. Some of the most well known badges are Royal ones such as the Prince of Wales' feathers, and the Queen's crowned Tudor rose which appears on the reverse of the British twenty pence piece. Any person or corporation already entitled to arms may petition for the grant of a badge, and others may do so at the same time as petitioning for a grant of arms and crest.
While arms and crest are personal to their bearers the badge may be used by others wishing to show connection or allegiance to the individual or corporation to whom it belongs. Thus it is appropriate for the employees of a company to wear a tie bearing the company's badge, but not the company's arms. The grandchildren in the female line of a man entitled to arms may not use his arms or crest but can quite properly wear his badge, and often do so in the form of a brooch.
The standard is a narrow tapering flag. It was in use from the reign of Edward III, and appears never to have been meant for any other purpose than that of pageantry. Traditionally the arms of St. George were shown in the hoist of the standard, and later the Union flag. Since the early years of the 20th century the arms of the bearer have been shown in the hoist. The badge or the badge and crest are shown repeated along the length of the remainder of the standard, usually with the motto shown on two diagonal stripes across it. The pole which supports the standard is topped by the appropriate coronet if that of a peer, and by a carved red hand if that of a baronet. Knights, esquires and gentlemen have plain tops to the pole. The standards of esquires and gentlemen have a curved, undivided end, whereas those of the rank of knight and above have split, swallow-tailed ends.
Individuals and corporations being granted arms, crest, and badge may have a standard exemplified in their Letters Patent which confers permission to have one manufactured and flown.