Jul 182017

On this date in 1555, Mary I granted the College of Arms a new house called Derby Place or Derby House and a new charter. The College is still more or less in the same place under much the same charter, although the College’s fortunes have come and gone over the years. The College of Arms, also known as the College of Heralds, is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth countries. The heralds are appointed by the British Sovereign and are delegated authority to act on behalf of the Crown in all matters of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research, and the recording of pedigrees. The College is also the official body responsible for matters relating to the flying of flags on land, and it maintains the official registers of flags and other national symbols. Though a part of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, the College is self-financed, unsupported by any public funds. I have to say that I despise the hereditary monarchy, hereditary privilege and all their trappings, including heraldic design, flag duties and all the rest of it. But there was a time in my boyhood when heraldry held my interest, along with ancient calligraphy, historical naval uniforms, and a host of other more or less useless things that now clutter up the dusty attic of my brain.  So, I’ll give the College of Arms its day in the sun.

At one time the College of Arms was an extremely important body, because it was responsible for the validation of hereditary rights to titles and property, including the right to be king or queen of England. For Mary I this function of the College was of supreme importance, not only because she had been declared illegitimate by her father, Henry VIII, when he invalidated his marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon, but also because certain factions in England were intent on putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of her, and heralds of the College of Arms had dutifully certified that Jane was the legitimate heir to the throne and not Mary. Mary had an army, most of the citizens of London, and other powerful factions on her side, and, so, won the day without too much trouble – beheading Jane and her supporters into the bargain for their troubles. The officers of the College were also, of course, in a certain amount of hot water for backing Jane instead of Mary, but they pleaded that they had been forced to act under threat of death, so Mary, in an uncharacteristic act of mercy, pardoned them, and gave them a new house and a new charter, no doubt assuming they would be on better behavior thereafter. The thing is that in the turbulent times of the Wars of the Roses (when the crown changed hands multiple times), followed by the reigns of the Tudors and then the Stuarts, the succession to the throne was constantly in doubt, and the support of the College of Arms was vital on many occasions.

The College of Arms was originally founded by royal charter in 1484 by King Richard III, the first year of his reign.  The College had several functions related to heraldry and genealogical claims. Richard’s royal charter outlines the constitution of the College’s officers, their hierarchy, the privileges conferred upon them and their jurisdiction over all heraldic matters in the kingdom of England. The College was also granted a house named Coldharbour (formerly Poulteney’s Inn) on Upper Thames Street in the parish of All-Hallows-the-Less, for storing records and living space for the heralds. The house, built by Sir John de Pulteney, four times Lord Mayor of London, was said to be one of the greatest in the City of London, testifying to the College’s importance as supporters of Richard’s claim to the throne and of his grants of titles to his allies.

Unfortunately for the College, Richard was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor who was crowned Henry VII soon after the battle, inaugurating the troubled house of Tudor. Henry’s first Parliament of 1485 passed an Act of Resumption, in which large grants of crown properties made by Richard to his allies were cancelled, and Coldharbour was taken from the College and given to Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, for life. As a result, the heralds were left destitute and many of their books and records were lost. Nonetheless, the heralds’ position at the royal court remained, and they were compelled by Henry to attend him at all times (in rotation).

During the reign of Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the heralds were of supreme importance in a number of areas. Henry VIII was fond of pomp and magnificence, and thus gave the heralds plenty of opportunity to exercise their roles in his court. In addition, the members of the College were also expected to be regularly dispatched to foreign courts on missions, whether to declare war, accompany armies, summon garrisons or deliver messages to foreign potentates and generals. During his magnificent meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, Henry VIII brought with him 18 officers of arms, probably all he had, to regulate the many tournaments and ceremonies held there.

Nevertheless, the College’s petitions to the King and to the Duke of Suffolk in 1524 and 1533 for the return of their chapter house were rejected, and the heralds were left to hold chapter in whichever palace the royal court happened to be at the time. They even resorted to meeting at each other’s houses, at various guildhalls and even a hospital. It was also in this reign in 1530, that Henry VIII conferred on the College one of its most important duties for almost a century, the heraldic visitation. The provincial Kings of Arms were commissioned under a royal warrant to enter all houses and churches and given authority to deface and destroy all arms unlawfully used by any knight, esquire, or gentleman. Around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries this duty became even more necessary as the monasteries were previously repositories of local genealogical records. From then on, all genealogical records and the duty of recording them was subsumed by the College. These visitations were serious affairs, and many individuals were charged and heavily fined for breaking the law of arms. Hundreds of these visitations were carried out well into the 17th century; the last was in 1686.

And so we get to Mary I. Although it must have been embarrassing for both sides, after the heralds initially proclaimed the right of her rival Lady Jane Grey to the throne. When King Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen four days later, first in Cheapside then in Fleet Street by two heralds, trumpets blowing before them. However, when popular support swung to Mary’s side, the Lord Mayor of London and his councils accompanied by the Garter King of Arms, two other heralds, and four trumpeters returned to Cheapside to proclaim Mary’s ascension as rightful queen instead. The College’s excuse was that they were compelled in their earlier act by the Duke of Northumberland (Lady Jane’s father-in-law, who was later executed), an excuse that Mary accepted.

Mary and her husband (and co-sovereign) Philip II of Spain then set about granting the College a new house called Derby Place or Derby House, under a new charter, dated 18 July 1555 at Hampton Court Palace. The charter stated that the house would: “enable them [the College] to assemble together, and consult, and agree amongst themselves, for the good of their faculty, and that the records and rolls might be more safely and conveniently deposited.” The charter also reincorporated the three kings of arms, six heralds and all other heralds and pursuivants, and their successors, into a corporation with perpetual succession.

Derby Place was situated in the parish of St Benedict and St Peter, south of St Paul’s Cathedral, more or less on the College’s present location. There are records of the heralds carrying out modifications to the structure of Derby Place over many years. However, little record of its appearance has survived, except the description that the buildings formed three sides of a quadrangle, entered through a gate with a portcullis on the west side. On the south range, roughly where Queen Victoria Street now stands, was a large hall on the western end. Derby Place’s hearth tax bill from 1663, discovered in 2009 at the National Archives at Kew, showed that the building had about thirty-two rooms, which were the workplace as well as the home to eleven officers of arms.

The College had its work cut out for it under the Tudors and Stuarts. Of the ruling monarchs, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Charles II, William III and Mary II, and Anne all died without direct heirs, and throughout Tudor and Stuart times, not to mention the Civil Wars, hereditary titles and property were in a constant state of flux. Under the Hanoverian Georges down to the present day, things in those quarters have been much more orderly and the College has gradually subsided into a largely ceremonial role (with ups and downs from time to time). Unless you are in danger of inheriting a castle from a distant relative, or you are intrigued by the archaic language and honors associated with coats of arms, this post will be about the sum total of your interest in, and knowledge of, the College of Arms.

Here’s 2 Tudor recipes for salmon.  It’s not rocket science to translate them into usable recipes for the modern kitchen:

Salmon Sallet for fish days From Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Jewell (1585, 1594, and 1596)

‘Salmon cut long waies with slices of onyons upon it layd and upon that to cast Violets, Oyle and Vineger’.

Here my main question is how the salmon is prepared first. I assume this is not a Tudor version of sashimi and that the salmon is cooked and then chilled before serving. I’d grill it with sliced onions, cool, then lay on violets, and sprinkle over oil and vinegar.

Salmon Rostyd in sauce  From Gentyll Manly Cokere, MS Pepys 1047 (c1490)

‘Samon rostyd in sause. Cut thy salmon in round pieces and roast it on a grid iron. Take wine and powder of cinnamon and draw them through a strainer. Add thereto onions minced small. Boil it well. Take vinegar or verjuice and powder of ginger and salt. Add thereto. Lay the salmon in dishes and pour the syrup thereon and serve forth’.