The College of Arms: Historical account to the Great Fire of 1666

Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1963.

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Walter H Godfrey. Anthony Wagner, 'The College of Arms: Historical account to the Great Fire of 1666', in Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963) pp. 1-10. British History Online [accessed 23 May 2024].

Walter H Godfrey. Anthony Wagner. "The College of Arms: Historical account to the Great Fire of 1666", in Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963) 1-10. British History Online, accessed May 23, 2024,

Godfrey, Walter H. Wagner, Anthony. "The College of Arms: Historical account to the Great Fire of 1666", Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963). 1-10. British History Online. Web. 23 May 2024,

In this section



The heralds of the kings of England formed a part of the household establishment from the reign of Edward I or earlier and from that of Henry V at least functioned in some measure as a corporation. Their first formal charter of incorporation was, however, given them by Richard III on 2 March 1484, (fn. 1) who at the same time granted them their first permanent home, the ancient house of Coldharbour in the City of London by the river on the site now occupied by 89 Upper Thames Street. A history of Coldharbour is given in C. L. Kingsford's 'Historical Notes on Mediaeval London Houses' in the London Topographical Record, vol. x (1916), pp. 94–100. It was an important house, the residence at different times of Sir John de Pulteney, four times mayor of London in the fourteenth century and builder of the hall at Penshurst; of William de Montagu, Earl of Salisbury, about 1340; of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, between 1347 and 1361; of Alice Perrers, Edward III's mistress, who built a tower there; of John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, who entertained Richard II there in 1397; of Henry IV who was living there in 1400; of Henry V as Prince of Wales; of John Holland, Duke of Exeter, and others. In 1480, a very few years before its grant to the heralds, the King's sister, Margaret of Burgundy, was lodged there during her visit to England. We can therefore judge that its grant to the heralds was a high mark of royal favour. Here, as was afterwards recalled regretfully, 'every king of arms had his place several for his own library'. (fn. 2)

They had held it little more than a year, however, when their benefactor, King Richard, lost his throne, and his successor Henry VII cancelled both the heralds' incorporation and the grant of Coldharbour, which he gave to his mother Margaret Beaufort for life.

From 1485 for seventy years the heralds were unincorporate and homeless, meeting from time to time for their chapters and partitions of fees either where their official duties brought them together as at Greenwich, Hampton Court, Windsor, Richmond, or in the house of one of their number, such as that of Christopher Barker, Richmond Herald in 1528 and 1529, (fn. 3) in that of Thomas Hawley, Clarenceux, in the Barbican in 1549 and 1553, (fn. 4) and regularly in that of Sir Gilbert Dethick, Garter, between 1554 and 1564. (fn. 5) In 1562 and 1563 they met more than once in Embroiderers' Hall in the parish of St Peter Cheap. (fn. 6) Sir George Buc in A discourse, or treatise of the third Universitie of England (fn. 7) says that the heralds were removed from Coldharbour 'to our Ladies of Roncivall, near Charing crosse', but Anstis is probably right in thinking this based merely on some reference to their holding a chapter or partition at this ancient hospital.

Derby Place

On 18 July 1555 King Philip and Queen Mary gave the heralds a new charter reincorporating them and granting them the house called Derby Place in the parishes of St Benet and St Peter in the way leading from the south door of St Paul's Cathedral to Paul's Wharf, that they might keep safe their records and rolls and all things touching their faculty. (fn. 8) This house, according to Stow, (fn. 9) was built by Thomas Stanley, who married Margaret the mother of Henry VII in 1482 and was created Earl of Derby in 1485. His son George, Lord Strange, died there in 1503. Edward Stanley, third Earl of Derby, surrendered it to the Crown and in exchange was granted by Edward VI on 24 January 1553 lands in Huyton, Lancashire, called St Leonard's lands, adjoining his park at Knowsley, and certain other lands which had belonged to Burscough Priory. (fn. 10)

Derby Place was at this time (1552–3) occupied by Sir Richard Sackville, who evidently remained for some time as the heralds' tenant, since at a chapter held at Garter's House on 10 April 1561 they agreed that he should be given a quittance in the name of the whole office for the receipt of money due to them for the house. (fn. 11) Weever says that it had come to Sackville by mortgage, 'for which mortgage, Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolke, out of his affection to the office of armes, satisfied the said Sir Richard; who thereupon past it over to Q. Mary, and at the instant request of the said Duke, she by her Charter granted it' to the heralds. (fn. 12) The mortgage story is not supported by the other evidence, however, of which the natural interpretation is that Sackville was Lord Derby's tenant and continued as the tenant of the Crown and then of the heralds until the expiration or surrender of his lease. That the Duke of Norfolk was instrumental in securing the grant to the heralds is, however, likely enough and is confirmed by Buc's statement that 'At the length they obtained by the favour and mediation of the most illustrious princes of the house of Norffolke, Marshals of England, to be placed in Derby Place: and for the more secure enjoying thereof (because an honorable Gentleman had gotten about that time an estate in it) Queene Mary gave it to the Heralds by her Charter Royall, as I have been informed. In this house these Heraulds have severall lodgings and a common Library and place to keepe their Records, and Bookes of Armory.' (fn. 13)

Stephen Martin Leake, Garter (d. 1773), says that though Queen Mary has the praise of giving Derby House to the heralds, this was first designed and procured by King Edward VI 'as appears by the Charter itself'. (fn. 14) Although all that in fact appears there is that Edward, as already stated, acquired Derby Place, Leake's statement is confirmed by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald (d. 1588), who left a note in his own handwriting, which states definitely that King Edward VI, being informed of the heralds' impoverishment through the discontinuance of their employment on embassies, purposed if God had spared his life to have remedied it, 'who not only assigned to this Society of Kings, Heralds and Pursuivants of Arms, the house they now enjoy for the preservation of their records with a charter of sundry freedoms, privileges and immunities in the Commonwealth, but also intended himself to have granted those Letters of Incorporation which after were performed by his sister Queen Mary and to have increased their stipends in lieu of the said board wages lost'. That the King favoured the heralds is shown by his letters patent of 4 June 1549 confirming their ancient exemption from taxation in relation to the subsidy lately granted him by Parliament. (fn. 15) One thing appears certain, that Edward's intention owed nothing to the mediation of the Duke of Norfolk, who throughout his reign was a prisoner under sentence of death. Another claimant to having secured the royal gift of Derby Place was Sir Gilbert Dethick, Garter (d. 1584), when he complained that in spite of this he had been allotted only four chambers out of twenty-five there. (fn. 16)

At the same chapter of 10 April 1561 when the heralds agreed on a receipt to Sir Richard Sackville for what he had owed them upon Derby Place, they agreed further that there should be a day appointed for the view of the said house in what state and reparation the same is, and for the better view thereof they agreed to take with them a mason, a carpenter and a plumber at the costs and charges of the whole office. (fn. 17) However, we have no evidence that they were in occupation before 20 February 1565 when (as they recorded three years later) they held a chapter at Derby Place 'now called the House of Office of Arms'. (fn. 18) On 16 May 1565 (fn. 19) they made a Partition at 'the House of the Office of Arms' and thereafter such entries follow regularly. The name given to the house varies a little, however. In May 1566 (fn. 20) it is 'our Colledge of Armes' and in January 1567 (fn. 21) 'our house of the College of the office of arms'.

There exists an agreement between the heralds allocating the rooms in Derby Place, which by internal evidence must have been made not earlier than 20 April 1564, possibly not much before 25 January 1565, and not later than 19 April 1565. (fn. 22) By this:

Garter is to have his quarters on condition of surrendering the two foremost rooms next adjoining the hall to the Earl Marshal when he shall repair to the house on any urgent cause. (fn. 23) Clarenceux has two great chambers on the south side of the house (fn. 24) over those appointed for the Earl Marshal with a cellar for his necessaries. Norroy has the two uppermost lodgings in the north side of the house over the gate with the study thereto belonging and a cellar (fn. 25) under the stairs of the same lodgings. Somerset, 'now being oldest herald', is to have the chamber at the end of the hall over the old pantry, with the apartments which he now enjoyeth. Richmond, now second herald, is to have the room next adjoining this, nearer the street and somewhat above. Lancaster, now third herald, will have the room which lately was the old pantry at the nether end of the hall and over the cellar appointed to Clarenceux. Chester, now fourth herald, will have the room which is the first chamber and next to the court of the said house of the two uppermost lodgings there adjoining to the kitchen. Windsor 'now elect herald', will have the next room equal with this, on the same floor, towards the street side, and York 'now elect herald' will have the room next over and above Chester's. The room equal with York's on the same floor and towards the street is to be shared by Rouge Cross and Portcullis, 'now the two eldest pursuivants', and the room next the ground towards the court and under Chester's by the two youngest pursuivants which hereafter shall be. The stairs with the appurtenances, the stairs with the great bay window going into the great chamber and the chambers going up to the hall over that are to be taken down and new altered as shall be thought good.

From this alone it would be possible to form some idea of the plan and nature of the building, but it can in fact be amplified from two other sources, very different from one another, one a poem, the other a rough ground plan. The poem, by Nicholas Roscarrocke, is prefixed to the Workes of Armorie by John Bossewell, which appeared in 1572, and the first part of it must allude to the heralds' new home, though in somewhat exalted terms.

A Court ther stands twixt heaven & erth, al gorgeous to behold Of royal state, in second spheare a hugie building olde, Portcolized & bard with bolts, of gold resplendant bright, Of glistering gemmes, through Pallas power, bedazeling eche mans sight That no man may com in except he have the perfit skil, Of Herehautes Art, and climbed hath, Parnassus sacred hill. Within this stately court, like number roomes are founde, like number flags, like number Armes, as Realmes upon the ground. About the walls (more wonderous work, then framed by mortal hand) Eche Herehauts lively counterfet, in seemely sort doth stand. Within these severd roomes, through wals, ibuilt of Christal cleare Eche thing that longs to Herehauts Art, doth perfectly appeare. There leger bookes, of auncient gestes, ywrit by Pallas hand, there campinges, mornings, musterings, there pedegrees do stand. There cumbats fierce, there summons bold, there triumphs passing brave Of crowning kings, of dubbing kinghts, the orders ther they have, Both single coates, and martialed of eche renowmed wight, With visitacions, which allottes to ech desert his right. Reversed coates (not hidden there) bewray disloyall deedes, Caparisons ther fixed hang, and bardings strong of steedes. With armors fully furnished, and gauntlets unredemd, Suche uncouth sights, eche office holdes, as cannot be estemde. At upper ende of al this court, as severd from the rest, with flaunting Penon standes a house, as famous as the best, where portraied are the English Armes, from which dependeth brave, A golden garter in the whiche, a golden George they have.

The particulars of the house and its furniture alike are vague, but we at least gather that Garter had lodgings separate from the rest, at the upper end of the courtyard, with a flag flying over them, and that the gate was guarded by a portcullis.

The ground plan—unhappily of the roughest—is preserved among Anstis' papers in the British Museum (fn. 26) and consists of a pen drawing on a single sheet of paper entitled 'Scheme of the College before the Fire of London'. Its proportions do not represent the whole site as rebuilt and little more can be inferred from it than that Derby House formed three sides of a quadrangle, entered by a gateway in the west range on St Benet's Hill and that the hall formed part of the western half of the south range (the opposite side to that of the rebuilt College) with its screen and screens passage centrally placed in the range and entered by a porch, all at the eastern or lower end of the hall. The east and west wings, the length of which is probably shown too short, enclosed a garden and there seems to have been a passage in the east range communicating with St Peter's Hill. Garter's lodgings are shown in the south-west angle with the Library between them and the entrance. The remaining part of the west wing, that is, its northern section, is occupied by Clarenceux and Norroy. The part of the south range east of the hall, as far as St Peter's Hill, as well as a small part of the east range, is hatched and labelled 'Lodgings' and evidently comprises the quarters of the heralds and pursuivants. The east range north of the passage is unmarked, except at its northern end.

At some date between 1608 and 1616 a series of shields appears to have been carved or painted on the outside of the building, for a manuscript now in the National Library of Scotland (fn. 27) has tricks of the arms of five commissioners for the office of Earl Marshal (fn. 28) between those dates entitled: 'These must be placed betwene the pillars, as they are here figured the one against the other', together with those of the then three kings of arms, Camden, Segar and St George, headed: 'These 3 must be placed in the pedestalle as they are here figured', while a further series of tricks of the arms attributed to the kingdoms of the Heptarchy is headed 'The Armes that must be placed in the Arche'.

That the quarters and their allocation did not give entire satisfaction is shown by a paper among Camden's collections, (fn. 29) probably written about 1599 (fn. 30) by Ralph Brooke, York Herald, as follows:

Mr Clarentiaux

Clarentiaux had 2 Chambers apointed Harvie (fn. 31) and those Mr Garter keapes. Harvie bestowed 50l.

Norrey, for a lodging [inserted]

Mr Garter

saith that he had the rooms he enjoyeth by the Duke of Norfolk's appointment after Harvie's death.


He knoweth that a petition was made to the Duke for those chambers because the trampling was such over his hed. Mr Clarentiaux is contented so he may be conveniently lodged.

Mr Windsor

That his lodging is owt of reparacions.

Mr Lancaster

lodged as his predecessor and contented.

Mr Sommerset

contented with his lodging. Before Sommersett.

Mr Chester

complaineth he can not enjoy his lodging, because a widowe dwelleth in yt. Norreis widow.

Mr York

A stable built, so noysome that the water cometh into yt very much annoyed with donge.

Richmond a lodging [inserted]

Rooge Dragon

His lodging is porter's lodge

Blewmantel Portcullis [crossed out]

No. A roome by the porters lodg

Portcullis [and] Rugecross, None. Blewmantel [crossed out]

The roomes according to the names irremoveable.

The surprising arrangement which left Portcullis and Rouge Croix without any rooms at all lasted for thirty years after this, for at a chapter on 8 September 1624 (fn. 32) complaint was made by Philip Holland, Portcullis, and John Bradshaw, Rouge Croix,

That they were unprovided of lodgings in the office of arms, by reason that formerly such rooms as belonged to those officers (without the consent of the Company or parties to whom they did properly belong) were converted and added to the lodgings of Chester and Windsor. Now forasmuch as this day it appeared that two rooms over the general and common kitchen built by Robert Treswell when he was Somerset herald [1597–1624] fell after the surrendering of his place to the use and disposing of the Company. So concluded that Henry St George, Richmond, should have those 2 rooms over the kitchen, and his successors, and the rooms of Richmond should go the upper to Portcullis as the senior and the nether to Rouge Croix. Further agreed that Mr Richmond should at his pleasure (if otherwise the rooms were not surrendered to him by Mr Philpott now Somerset) possess himself of them by taking some neighbours with him and breaking his way into the said rooms through the walls on the stairs leading to Chester's rooms or lodgings.

It should be recorded that on 31 March 1617 (fn. 33) James I, one of the few sovereigns who have been benefactors of the heralds, on the advice of the Privy Council, granted £15 a year to be paid to Garter and the junior herald for the time being, of which £5 was to be paid to the Register as his salary and the remaining £10 to be spent by the consent of the whole office on diverse reparations to be done from time to time in and about the house and office of arms. (fn. 34)

The heralds must have made considerable alterations to Derby House at various times. Mention has already been made of plans involving changes to the stairs into the Great Chamber, the great bay window and rooms adjoining. Also, at the chapter of 8 September 1624 it was stated that Robert Treswell, when he was Somerset Herald, built two rooms over 'the general and common kitchen'. There is preserved at the College a contract dated 1 June 1623 under which John Ramsey, joiner of the parish of St Peter, Paul's Wharf, undertakes to wainscot the hall of Derby House after the manner of the wainscot in the Embroiderers' Hall (where we have seen the heralds met in 1562 and 1563), 'with faire pillasters, pedestalls and capitalls with faire benches and a lardge freeze with plaine scotcheons and scrolles... and such dores at the screene and in all pointes the whole worke to be done in such manner or better then as it is in the said Embroderers' hall'. The price was to be 3s. 6d. a square yard.

There is also a contract for retiling the roofs 'from the hall west and northwards', dated 9 July 1630, made with John Chevesley, bricklayer of the parish of St Nicholas [? Olave] in Bread Street, with a further provision for maintenance of the same roofs to 'be kept windetite and watertite for the space of one and twentie yeares', for a yearly payment of five shillings to be paid on the feast of St John Baptist. In December of the same year payment was made to Thomas Goode for plumber's work.


  • 1. Text in Rymer's Foedera, old ed. vol. xii, p. 215. The original charter is B.M. MS. Cotton, Faustina E.I., fo. 23.
  • 2. Wagner, Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages (1939), p. 94.
  • 3. Coll. Arm. Partition Book 1. All Saints Eve 1528 and 8 October 1529. Barker's house in 1523 was in Paternoster Row.
  • 4. Ibid. 11 January 1549 and 21 January 1553.
  • 5. Ibid. From 5 December 1554 to 23 December 1564. Dethick had a house at Poplar, but whether this is meant is not clear.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Printed at the end of Edmund Howe's edition of Stow's Annales (1631), p. 988.
  • 8. Calendar of Patent Rolls, Philip & Mary (1555–7), p. 31; Rymer's Foedera (1728), vol. xv, pp. 423–5; H.C.E.C. no. 114.
  • 9. 'Queene Mary gaue it to Gilbert Dethike, then Garter principall King of armes of englishmen, Thomas Hawley Clarentioues king of armes of the south partes, William Haruy Alias Norey king of armes of the north partes, & the other Heraults and Purseuantes of armes and to their successors, all the same Capital messuage or house called Darby house with the appurtenances, scituate in the parish of saint Benet, and saint Peter, then being in the tenure of sir Richard Sackuile knight, and lately parcell of the landes of Edward Earle of Darbie, &c. To the ende that the sayde king of Armes, Heraultes and Purseuauntes of Armes, and their successors, might at their liking dwell together and at meete times to congregate, speake, conferre, and agree among themselues, for the good gouernment of their facultie, and their recordes might be more safely kept, &c. Dated the 18. of Iuly, 1555 Philip and Mary the first and third yeare' (John Stow, Survey of London, ed. C. L. Kingsford (1908), vol. ii, pp. 16–17).
  • 10. Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward VI (1550–3), p. 263; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent, vol. iv, p. 70; Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials (1822), vol. ii, pt. ii, p. 229; Victoria County History, Lancashire, vol. iii, p. 161, n. 7. Three carvings, which recall the original building, are preserved in the present College. 'Some years ago', says Kingsford, 'three tablets were found in the basement; two, which show the Eagle's claw (a Stanley Badge) and the Three Legs of the Isle of Man, have been built into the east wall of the College; the third had the Beaufort portcullis' ('Historical Notes on Mediaeval London Houses', London Topographical Record, vol. x (1916), pp. 105–6). Planché, however, demolishes most of this in his article on the College of Arms in Charles Knight's London (1844), vol. vi, p. 84, where he writes: 'On the south side of the quadrangle is a paved terrace, on the wall of which are seen two escutcheons, one bearing the arms (and legs) of Man, and the other the Eagle's claw, both ensigns of the House of Stanley. They have been supposed to be relics of the original mansion; but are not ancient, and have been put up merely to mark the site of Old Derby House.' The stone carved with the Beaufort Portcullis, now set in the wall under the terrace, probably dates from the original building of Derby House, but the other two appear to date from the nineteenth century only.
  • 11. Coll. Arm. Partition Book 1, fo. 224.
  • 12. John Weever, Ancient Funerall Monuments (1631), p. 687.
  • 13. Buc in Howe's edition of Stow's Annales, op. cit. p. 988.
  • 14. Coll. Arm. MS. SML. p. 38.
  • 15. Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward VI (1548–9), p. 203; Rymer, vol. xv, p. 186; H.C.E.C. no. 115.
  • 16. Bodl. MS. Ashm. 857, fo. 68. Sir Gilbert Dethick was Garter king of arms from 1550 to 1584.
  • 17. Coll. Arm. Partition Book 1, fo. 224.
  • 18. Coll. Arm. Partition Book 1, fo. 281. This date would fit in with the grant to Sir Richard Sackville by the Crown in 1564 of Salisbury House in St Bride's parish. Patent Roll, 6 Elizabeth, pt. viii, m. 7; C. J. Phillips, History of the Sackville Family (n. d.), vol. 1, p. 138.
  • 19. Ibid. fos. 259 b–261b.
  • 20. Ibid. fo. 274.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Coll. Arm. MS. Heralds, iii, fos. 1148–9. The document is in an Elizabethan hand. It refers to Windsor and York as 'elect herald' which could apply only between the date of death of Martin Maroffe, York, on 20 or 21 April 1564, and the creation of Turpin as Windsor and Colbarne as York on 19 April 1565. It might only apply after 25 January 1565 when the patents of appointment of these two are dated, but they must have been nominated some time earlier. The reference to 'the two youngest pursuivants which hereafter shall be' means that the places of Bluemantle and Rouge Dragon were vacant, by the promotions of Turpin to Windsor and Colbarne to York respectively. The patent of Nicholas Dethick as Bluemantle was dated 25 January 1565 and that of Edmund Knight as Rouge Dragon 27 January 1565, and both were created on 19 April 1565, the same day that their predecessors were created heralds. On the whole a date rather before 25 January 1565 seems likely.
  • 23. A similar arrangement was made in 1673, and Garter's largest room is still nominally the Earl Marshal's. A note in Bodl. MS. Ashm. 857, fo. 68 (supra cit.) 'Out of Mr Owen's MS. of Presidentes' says 'Derby Place given for to be the Generall Office of Armes with all convenient lodgings therein to the number of 25 chambers were reasonably divided of which number Sir Gilbert Dethick Garter the procurer of that house had but 4 chambers allotted unto his use. The rest were reasonably divided to the other Kings and Heraulds of Armes.'
  • 24. The ground plan referred to on p. 7 shows him as sharing with Norroy the north end of the west wing.
  • 25. The words 'for his wood and cole' are here inserted, but struck out.
  • 26. B.M. MS. Add. 9020, fo. 34b.
  • 27. MS. 2515, fos. 182–3, formerly Clumber MS. 183.
  • 28. The Earl of Northampton, the Duke of Lennox, the Earl of Nottingham, the Earl of Suffolk and the Earl of Worcester.
  • 29. B.M. MS. Cotton, Faustina E. I., fo. 68.
  • 30. Mr H. Stanford London arrived at this date from internal evidence.
  • 31. William Hervy, Clarenceux 1557–67.
  • 32. Chapter Book 1, fo. 3b.
  • 33. Coll. Arm. Chapter Book 1, fo. 3 b.
  • 34. Privy Seal of 31 March, 15 Jac. I; copy in Heralds, 1, fo. 435. Ralph Brooke in the first edition of his Catalogue and succession of the Kings. . . of England (1619), p. 9, says that this endowment and an accompanying increase in the heralds' salaries were given by the King on the persuasion of Thomas, Earl of Arundel. Anstis, B.M. MS. Add. 9020, fo. 49 b, gives the date as 6 February 1618.