I'ANSON international

Notes on Heraldry

The Right to Arms

Information quoted from the College of Arms:

In heraldic law, one is entitled to Arms by inheritance if one can prove a direct male line descent from an ancestor who is himself on official record as being entitled to Arms. There is no such thing as a "Coat of Arms for a surname". Many families of the same name may bear different Arms, while others of that name may have no right to any Arms. An Officer of Arms can only certify a person as armigerous if that person's right is on record in the Official Registers of the College.
Mistakes happen even amongst those who should know better. For example, the book Armorial Families (author?), 7th edition states that the most recent bearer of the I'Anson coat of arms was William Andrew I'Anson (possibly true), but his address was given as Highfield House, Norton, Malton, Yorks (definitely not true since this was the address of William I'Anson of the horseracing branch, who was certainly not authorised to bear these arms, since the source of his line has not yet been found to connect even with the 'main' Family Tree). .

Coat of Arms: 

  • The name is derived from the 13th-century fashion of applying armorial bearings to a surcoat. (see Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson, "The Oxford Guide to Heraldry" [1988])
  • Heraldic matters are controlled by The College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4BT, which has a fine collection of pedigrees of Armorial families. . . . The Heraldry Society, 44-45 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LH, specialises in Heraldic studies. 
NB. Unauthorised or mistaken use of arms causes confusion. A common mistake is to assume that all people with the same surname are entitled to the same coat of arms.
    Papworth's Ordinary of British Armorials . . . lists most known coats of arms according to 'Ordinaries' or 'charges' on the shields. Thus if axes appear on the arms, you look up 'axes' in the book and there you will find them listed and described. 

Heralds' Visitations 15th-17th Centuries

  • In the 15thC the Senior Heralds, known as Kings of Arms, were given the right to grant arms. The heralds began to comile registers both of the arms already in use and those they had granted. Early in the 16thC conditions became more stringent when certain property requirements had to be proven before a grant of arms would be approved.
  • From 1530 onwards, at intervals of about 30 years, the Heralds made tours of the country to examine gentlemen's claims; they took account of records of previous visitations, family muniments and traditions before allowing a claim.
  • The Herald was empowered "to put down or otherwise deface at his discretion" all unlawful arms, crests, cognizances, and devices. "in plate, jewels, paper, parchment, windows, gravestones and monuments or elsewhere wheresoever they be set or placed". 
  • They could also summon before them any person who had unlawfully "usurped and taken upon him any name or title of honour or dignity as esquire, gentleman or other".
  • Visitations continued until 1686. The Harleian Society has printed copies of visitation pedigrees, although some of them are suspect! Nevertheless, many of them are genealogical records of value.
See G. D. Squibb, "Visitation Pedigrees and the Genealogist" in Genealogy Magazine Vol.13 No.8 (Dec.1960). This has subsequently been published by Phillimore (1965) and Pinhorns (1978). 
. The notes and information summarised here are mainly quoted from: 
David Hey, "The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History," 1996 
Pauline Saul, "The Family Historian's Enquire Within" 5th ed. 1995 

Further Useful Bibliography

  • Stephen Friar, "A New Dictionary of Heraldry" (1987, Alphabooks)
  • Stephen Friar, "Heraldry for the Local Historian and Genealogist"
  • Peter Summers, "How to Read a Coat of Arms" (1986, A and C Black)
  • "Heraldry Can Be Fun" (FFHS publication)
  • "The Observer's Book of Heraldry" (publ. Frederick Warne)
There are many other useful books readily available in libraries on various aspects of heraldry.