Pedigree Rolls

29 July 2014

In the middle of last year, a project was begun to locate, rehouse and list comprehensively the large collection of rolled material held at the College.

Pedigree rolls make up the most significant proportion of this collection. These pedigrees (genealogies, or 'family trees') take a surprisingly wide variety of forms. They range from highly ornate medieval pedigrees produced by specially commissioned scribes, to less spectacular twentieth-century works-in-progress in biro. The origins of some are clear; others not so. Some have not worn well, and are torn and patched, whereas others have been carefully preserved. Often, those on vellum are much more robust than those on paper.

College of Arms MS Schedule 20/26Some of the most visually exciting rolls are the biblical pedigrees, showing the descent of a family from a biblical figure, such as Adam or Noah. This beautiful manuscript details the descent of King Harthacnut, son of King Cnut (or Canute), from the Saxon Kings of England. It is incomplete, and presumably was designed to continue to further generations of rulers of England.

Roll 20 26 chess problem A4 cropped compressedIn an interesting example of vellum, a precious material, being re-used in the creation of a manuscript, sections of the reverse of the roll feature chess problems, as shown right.

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Another example of a biblical pedigree roll is this 14th-century manuscript (right) showing the descent of Christ from Adam. The drawing shows Christ at the centre, and beneath Him Adam and Eve, with the intriguing figures above Him appearing to show both a male and female scribe. The man, on the left of the picture, is tonsured and is shown preparing the parchment by scraping the surface. The woman, also in Holy Orders, leans her head rather disconsolately on her hand as she views the blank parchment on the stand in front of her. The four winged creatures around Christ represent the four Evangelists, the authors of the four Gospels.

09 58 Nativity Scene cropped compressedIn the course of the roll, biblical figures and scenes are illustrated, including this one (left) of the Nativity, showing in the background a tiny Christ child sharing the manger (placed somewhat incongruously atop a pillar) with the oxen. 

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Pedigrees of royal and noble families sometimes included their descent from mythical figures. This pedigree of the Earls of Warwick, apparently dating from the Renaissance period, shows their descent from the mythical king Dunvallo, King of Cornwall and one of the descendants of Brutus, who according to Geoffrey of Monmouth won the Civil War of the Five Kings.

13 07 robin cropped compressedOther pedigrees of noble families, which more often show descent from the first ancestor to come to England with William the Conqueror, are sometimes beautifully illustrated, and show the coats of arms of the families which make up the pedigree. The roll created for the Heveningham family in 1509, to which an addition was made in 1597, is one such:

Naturally these precious and often delicate items require careful preservation and conservation. Thanks to the generosity of Mr Mark Pigott, the newly-appointed Pigott Library has now been fitted out with archival shelving and environmental controls, and the rolls housed in custom-made acid-free boxes. Some 1,126 rolls are now listed on a searchable database, which takes as its basis the cataloguing work undertaken by Mrs V. Lamb in about 1960. Due to several moves of material over the years, some errors and duplication of reference numbers had crept in, which have now been corrected. More detailed descriptions of some items have been added to the database; this work (along with conservation work to clean and rewrap the rolls) is ongoing.

By letters patent from Her Majesty dated 1 July 2014 Timothy Hugh Stewart Duke, previously Chester Herald, has been appointed Norroy and Ulster King of Arms in succession to Sir Henry Edgar Paston-Bedingfeld, Bt., who retired the previous day after nearly four years in office, and a total of thirty-one years as an officer of arms.

Timothy Duke was appointed Rouge Dragon Pursuivant on 26 January 1989 and became Chester Herald on 7 August 1995.

Vincent 151 Vincents Presidents p.21 compressedSymbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare's England: a free exhibition with this title will run at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, USA from 1 July to 26 October 2014. This exhibition, one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever mounted in the USA, will feature a variety of armorial manuscripts and pedigrees, early printed books, and documents written by heralds. Exceptional treasures include the original drafts of William Shakespeare's own coat of arms lent by the College of Arms. It is curated by Dr Nigel Ramsay and Dr Heather Wolfe. Details can be found here.

A publication with the title Heralds and Heraldry in Shakespeare's England will coincide with the exhibition. Edited by Dr Nigel Ramsay, this is a significant work exploring the use of heraldry in early modern times. It includes contributions by Clive Cheesman, Richmond Herald, and Peter O'Donoghue, York Herald, alongside chapters from a number of other scholars; and it is to be published by Shaun Tyas of Paul Watkins Publishing.

In a ruling dated 29 March 2014 the Kings of Arms have issued an ordinance governing the arms of individuals in same-sex marriages. The ruling aims to replicate as closely as possible the heraldic practice for married couples of different sex.

The ruling also amends a ruling of the Kings of Arms dated 6 November 1997 in respect of the arms of married women, ordaining that the use of the mark of difference laid down there for married women will henceforth be optional.

For the full text of the ruling, see here.

Morris pedigree 14D14.263Pedigree of Morris family: one important function of the College of Arms is to create and preserve pedigrees of families. Many of these are the result of genealogical research carried out by the heralds; and some are recorded to show the families of those receiving grants of coats of Arms. This example was registered in 1843. It shows the family of William Morris of Woodford Hall, Essex, who had been granted Arms by Letters Patent dated 15 April 1843, with the limitations extended to the other descendants of his late father, William Morris of the City of London. Included is his eldest son, also William Morris, who would become the famous artist, designer and author, a pioneer in the decorative arts. The Arms, which would later appear on tiles at the Red House, Bexley, are blazoned:

Arms: Azure a Horse's head erased Argent between three Horse Shoes Or.

Crest: On a Wreath of the Colours A Horse's head coupe Argent charged with three Horse Shoes in chevron Sable.

College references: 14D14/263 and Grants 46/298.

The Scottish Government has announced the appointment by Her Majesty The Queen of a new Lord Lyon King of Arms, Dr Joseph Morrow, on the recommendation of the First Minister of Scotland, in succession to David Sellar, M.V.O. Dr Morrow will serve as head of the authority for heraldry and state ceremony within Scotland and as judge of Lyon Court.

Dr Morrow is an Advocate, and First-Tier tribunal Judge, who in 2009 was appointed as a Vice Lord Lieutenant for the City of Dundee. He is an Incumbent of the Chapel of Glamis Castle. As well as being a student of heraldry, Dr Morrow has a special interest in ecclesiastical history and 35 years' experience of the practical application of ceremonial within a variety of settings including State, Civil, Military and Ecclesiastical areas of Scottish life.

The part-time appointment, made under section 3 of the Lyon King of Arms (Scotland) Act 1867, is based at Edinburgh's New Register House.

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By decision of the College of Arms all proceeds arising from the sale of The Armorial of Haiti will be donated to the international effort for the relief of Haiti
after the calamitous earthquake of 12 January 2010.

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