UK Grants of Arms


Wherever possible we will try to help with your queries about heraldry and the Society. However, before contacting us, you may wish to read the following answers to those questions we are asked most frequently. To read an answer, simply point your mouse over the question. This will open a new window, which you can close when you have finished reading.

How to identify a Coat of Arms.

For identifying British coats of arms the two most important published works are J.W. Papworth's Ordinary of British Armorials, published in 1874 and since reprinted, and The Dictionary of British Arms of which two volumes have so far appeared (vol. 1, edited by D.H.B. Chesshyre and T. Woodcock in 1992, and vol. II, edited by T. Woodcock and J. Grant, in 1996) Both of these works is an ordinary, that is a book which lists arms by their component parts. To be able to use these two works it is necessary to be able to understand how to blazon a coat of arms (i.e. to describe it in heraldic language).

If you do not have access to these volumes, do not know heraldic blazon, or would simply like to have an expert opinion then it is suggested that you contact one of the three heraldic authorities in the British Isles, in London, Edinburgh, or Dublin. It is best to send a photograph of the arms if possible. You should then receive a reply from the particular authority saying whether the arms look as if they might be genuine, and quoting you a fee for carrying out research to try and identify them.

The standard works for trying to identify continental European heraldry are J.-B. Rietstapp's Armorial General vols i and ii (1884 and 1887), and its Supplement in 8 volumes (1904-1954); V and H.V. Rolland's Illustrations to the Armorial General by J.-B. Rietstapp (1954); and Theodore de Renesse's Dictionnaire des Figures Heraldiques, in 7 volumes (1894-1903), Rietstapp and Rolland have been reprinted since they were originally published.

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How do I get a coat of arms?

There are two ways of establishing a right to a coat of arms. The first is by descent in the male line from a person to whom arms have been granted or confirmed in the past. If you believe one of your ancestors may have been granted arms you should write to the heraldic authority under whose jurisdiction he would have fallen, sending a sketch pedigree showing your descent from him, and enquire whether any such grant or confirmation was made.

The second is to have new arms granted to yourself which will be inherited by your descendants. Who has the authority to grant you arms depends largely on your nationality and place of residence (see FAQ 'What are the jurisdictions of the heraldic authorities?')

The English Kings of Arms, the three senior English heralds, have the power granted to them to grant coats of arms. They are instructed in their Letters Patent of appointment from the Queen to grant arms to "eminent men". This phrase has for long been interpreted to include both women and corporations. There are no fixed criteria for eligibility, but, generally, such things as professional qualifications, university degrees, having held the Queen's Commission, and charitable and public work is taken into account. Those who think that they might wish to petition for a grant of arms should write to the Officer in Waiting at the College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4 BT, who will always be glad to advise them. Further details regarding the granting of arms in England are given on the College of Arms website at www.college-of-arms.gov.uk.

In Scotland the head of the heraldic authority is Lord Lyon King of Arms. Those who fall under his jurisdiction may petition him for a grant of arms. They are granted to 'virtuous and well deserving persons'. Those interested in petitioning Lord Lyon King of Arms for such a grant should write to The Court of the Lord Lyon, H. M. New Register House, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT and ask for Information Leaflet No. 4, Petitions for Arms.

Canadians should petition the Chief Herald of Canada, and citizens of the Irish Republic the Chief Herald of Ireland.

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Finding out whether your family has a coat of arms.

Coats of Arms belong to individuals not surnames. A coat of arms is granted to one individual and passes to his descendants in the male line. To find out if one has a coat of arms by descent is a matter of family history. It is necessary to trace one's family as far back in the male line as possible and then see if any one in the resulting family tree of the family was granted a coat of arms.

How does one know if a particular person was granted a coat of arms? To be certain one must approach the heraldic authority under whose jurisdiction that person fell. In most cases this would be decided by the country in which they were living. But the heraldic authorities of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland all made grants to people living in the British colonies.

Each of the heraldic authorities will be likely to charge a fee for establishing whether a particular person or family is on official record with them as being entitled to bear arms. Some of the records of grants and confirmations of coats of arms have been published and it may be worth your while to make searches in these.

The records of the College of Arms, Lyon Court and the Genealogical Office, Dublin have mostly never been published, but a certain amount of them are in the public domain. The records of grants of arms which have been published most fully are those of the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Two volumes, An Ordinary of Scottish Arms, by J. Balfour Paul (1903), and An Ordinary of Arms, volume II, published by Lyon Court in 1977, give details of the matriculations of all arms in the Public Register of Arms in Scotland between 1672 and 1973.

Nearly all coats of arms appearing in A.C. Fox-Davies' Armorial Families, (1929 edition), are genuine and correctly attributed.

Many of the records of the visitations of the English and Welsh counties carried out by the English heralds between 1530 and 1689 have been published by the Harleian Society. But these published versions should be used with great caution as they often differ quite markedly from the official records held at the College of Arms.

More records of the arms of corporations have been accurately published than the arms of individuals. Geoffrey Briggs' Civic and Corporate Heraldry (1971) which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland is now rather out of date. Scottish Civic Heraldry 2 by R.M. Urquhart, 2001, supplements Scottish Civic Heraldry (1979). A.C. Fox-Davies' The Book of Public Arms (1915) covers corporate arms of the British Empire and some foreign arms as well. It is illustrated with many black and white line drawings.

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What are the jurisdictions of the heraldic authorities?

The English Kings of Arms, who are the senior heralds at the College of Arms in London, have direct jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and claim jurisdiction in all other countries where Elizabeth II is head of state, except Scotland and Canada.

Lord Lyon King of Arms, in Edinburgh, has jurisdiction over Scotland and domiciled Scotsmen and women, and will also in certain circumstances grant arms to foreign nationals.

The Chief Herald of Canada grants arms to Canadians.

The Chief Herald of Ireland will grant arms to residents of the whole of the island of Ireland, and to others of Irish descent.

The English Kings of Arms will make grants of honorary arms to American citizens who can place on record at the College of Arms a pedigree showing their descent from a British subject.

Note that the claims to jurisdiction by Lord Lyon King of Arms (other than in Scotland) and the Chief Herald of Ireland in countries where Queen Elizabeth II is Queen are not recognised by the College of Arms in London.rms of corporations have been accurately published than the arms of individuals. Geoffrey Briggs' Civic and Corporate Heraldry (1971) which covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland is now rather out of date. Scottish Civic Heraldry 2 by R.M. Urquhart, 2001, supplements Scottish Civic Heraldry (1979). A.C. Fox-Davies' The Book of Public Arms (1915) covers corporate arms of the British Empire and some foreign arms as well. It is illustrated with many black and white line drawings.

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Heraldic language

Argent - Silver (most often shown as white)
Azure - Blue
Bend - A broad diagonal strip running from the top left to bottom right of a shield
Chevron - An inverted V
Chief - A broad strip running across the uppermost part of a shield
Dexter - Right-hand side of the shield (but the user's right, not the viewer's)
Ermine - A fur made from the white pelt of the ermine on which the black tips of the creature's tail appear
Fess - A broad strip running horizontally across the centre of the shield
Griffin - A monster, part eagle and part lion
Gules - Red
Mantling - A small cloak hanging from the back of the helm, usually shown as shredded and in an updraught
Or - Gold (often shown as yellow)
Pale - A broad vertical strip running down the centre of a shield
Passant - Position of an animal which is walking with one fore leg raised
Purpure - Purple
Rampant - Position of an animal which is standing up on one hind leg and pawing the air with the other three
Sable - Black
Sinister - Left-hand side of the shield (but the viewer's right-hand side)
Vert - Green
Wreath - A cord of twisted silk which holds the mantling to the top of the helm and forms the base of most crests
Wyvern - A two-legged dragon

How can a company know my coat of arms simply from my last name?

They can't. Any company which purports to supply you with a 'coat of arms for your surname' is misleading you. Coats of arms do not belong to surnames. They belong to individuals, and are either granted to a particular person, or inherited by descent from someone to whom arms have been granted in the past.

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Who and what are heralds?

'Herald' is the middle rank of Officer of Arms, and is also used more loosely to describe all Officers of Arms, whether kings of arms, heralds of arms, or pursuivants of arms. They have responsibilities for the overseeing of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research, and state ceremonial. Several countries number one or more heralds among their officials, including, Sweden, South Africa, Scotland, and Canada.

The College of Arms in London has a maximum of thirteen heralds. There are also 'heralds extraordinary' in England and Wales, and one in New Zealand, who do not form part of the College of Arms, but who, like their colleagues 'in ordinary', wear a tabard embroidered with the Royal Arms and process at certain state occasions. The English and Welsh heralds take part in the State Opening of Parliament each year at Westminster and in the Garter Service at Windsor Castle in June. The Scottish heralds have a wider number of ceremonial roles.

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