Cases in the Court of Chivalry

This is a summary of D. R. Squibb's Reports of heraldic cases in the Court of Chivalry (1623-1732), 1956.

See also the cases of the Court of Chivalry (1634-40).

There are 171 cases listed. The amount of information on each case varies a lot: the outcome is often missing, the cause brought is often summarily described.

The cases fall into two periods: 1623-40 (64 cases) and 1687-1707 (66 cases) with 1 case in 1732. The types of causes are quite different in the two periods:

1623 to 1640

This is really 1634-40 with three cases in 1623 and 1630. The causes are as follows:

The 5 cases for assumption of arms are as follows:

  1. Prust vs. Saltren (1637), a cause of office brought by Prust against Saltren for assuming a coat of arms on a ring which he wore (as well as "diverse offensive and disgraceful comparison with the ancient gentry of the country"). Outcome unknown.
  2. Stepkin vs. Dobbins (1637): brought by Stepkins against Dobbins for assuming the title of esquire and a coat of arms. The court found that Dobbins was a plebeian, not a gentleman, and he was fined £20 plus costs.
  3. 3 cases by Garter and Clarenceux against the same Tuckfield (1635-37) for placing a coat of arms on his father's monument "and in other places in the church and elsewhere upon walls, windows, seals, housegold goods and other things", even though he was not a gentleman. The defendant was unable to prove the arms to belong to him, he submitted to sentence and was fined £100 (reduced to £5).

1687 to 1707

Out of those 66 cases, only 7 were not brought by the King's Advocate: 4 were usurpations of arms or name, and 3 are unknown. The rest, 59 cases, were brought either against painter-stainers (9 cases from 1687 to 1691), booksellers or printers (3 cases), and the rest against individual for "unlawfully assuming arms." What that meant exactly is this: the King's Advocate would recite the law of arms (arms can only belong to someone by ancestral right or by grant), and claim that the defendant was violating it. How is usually not specified, though it is sometimes: in Oldys v. Salmon (1699), it is alleged that the defendant "was not entitled to arms or crest, and he displayed arms and crest". Whether the arms in question are specific arms or not is usually not apparent, though sometimes the articles blazon the arms in question, and in one case the defendant "renounced all interest" in the specific arms; another defendant's submission is quoted in extenso and states: "I have no right to use and bear the said arms". In some cases it is shown that the arms in question belong to another family.

Almost all of the violations occurred at funerals, on hatchments or escutcheons born during the funeral (8 cases in 1707 involve arms displayed on a coach). The King's Advocate was thus often in the position of suing a bereaved widow. The King of Arms apparently sent out his clerks to monitor funerals and look for violations; in one instance, the clerk testifies that he went up to one of the organizers of the funeral and threatened to report him to the Heralds, whereupon the clerk was paid 2 guineas as hush-money.

It should be noted that cases against painters-stainers or organizers of funerals for not paying the required fees to the heralds stopped in 1691 because it was found that these cases were in fact under common law. Suddenly, then, the court of Chivalry turned to suing the executors of the recently deceased for unlawfully using arms. The only thing they got out of it were the court costs; the business of suing painters-stainers was more lucrative, with fines of £100 to £200 and damages for the heralds of the same order.

The defendants always submit, and the pace of cases brought was steady enough (17 in 1693-94, 38 in 1699-1701). But then, some defendants start fighting back, in 1707, arguing that the arms were theirs from time immemorial. And, in 1732, in one of the last cases, it was argued that the Court of Chivalry could not go on with the Visitations having stopped in 1688.

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François Velde

Last modified: Dec 13, 2006