Heralds of the College of Arms

A.L. Rowse analyses heraldry as an essential element in the social history of England in the later middle ages and early modern period.

A.L. Rowse | Published in History Today

It is probable that, with historians in general, no approach and no source of historical information is so little appreciated, is so much disconsidered, as that of heraldry. And yet this, with the genealogical and antiquarian material that goes with it, is indispensable to the study of the later middle ages and probably of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

I confess to invincible ignorance myself; medievalists have to do better, but even such excellent medievalists as K. B. McFarlane and Charles Henderson were mere amateurs in the matter. Heraldry is a language, and it needs to be learned; going round the churches of Cornwall or Oxfordshire with them, it was some help to reading the tombs to be able to spell out a few of the coats of arms.

McFarlane, reverenced as a Master by his pupils, was an absolute devotee of the herald G. E. Cokayne’s Peerage. He needed to be. For though general historians are inclined to think this sort of thing small beer, they are wrong: it is an essential element, at least from 1300 to 1700, in social history.

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