Heralds and Monarchy

Up to the reign of James II, the College of Heralds, besides the part they played on state occasions, had the important duty of regulating the kingdom’s social structure, as Anthony R. Wagner here documents.

John Anstis, Garter King of Arms under George I, has been credited with a plan to do away by degrees with all the heralds’ offices save his own. But he “found it impracticable with the Ministry, who thought, that however inconsiderable the Heralds were at other times, they were necessary in publick Proceedings.” Thus it may, at least in part, be due to Sir Robert Walpole, then prime minister, that the English heralds owe their continued existence. If the practice of Heraldic Visitation, as it flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had not been allowed to lapse after 1688, the question would not have arisen. Through their Visitations, the heralds performed a difficult and important function, at the heart of the social system of the day. At intervals of about thirty years, more or less, the Crown would issue Commissions directing mayors, sheriffs and others to render all assistance to the King of Arms of the Province—Norroy in the North, Clarenceux in the South—in his forthcoming Visitation. This was made county by county.

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