Encyclopaedia Heraldrica

Encyclopaedia Heraldrica or Complete Dictionary of Heraldry by William Berry. 15 Years Registering Clerk to the College of Arms, London.
Published for the Author by Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. August 1856.

In four volumes William Berry and Robert Glover give an extensive treatment to the arms of the United Kingdom, first providing an introduction and dictionary for the Grammar of Heraldry before producing a large armory of the arms bestowed in the UK.  The volumes have many illustrated plates which provide great examples of the artistic styles found in arms during the 18th and 19th centuries, which were in many ways markedly different than either their more ancient or more modern counterparts.



The mental activity which characterizes the present age is as indefatigable in the discovery of matter for occupation as it is ardent in the pursuit of it. New paths of knowledge have been struck out and fresh lights have been thrown upon the old; sciences are rapidly changing their forms and present at each change the appearance of another advance towards maturity: and history sees all her most important events of every date re-examined and re-stated with an ingenuity and research which, at least, add to the stock of information; and, by placing each fact in every possible light, contribute to the confirmation and establishment of that which is the true one.

In this eager pursuit of knowledge, Heraldry has not been overlooked: connected as it is with history, with antiquities , and many existing distinctions, it presented itself at too many points not to secure very general attention; and the desire to become acquainted with its language and its laws are observably diffused to a very wide extent. The growing desire for information on this subject has not hitherto been met with proportionate zeal in communicating it, and digesting and presenting it in that form which is best adapted for instruction, and suited to the taste and fashion of the times.

This slowness in providing information in any attractive form may, perhaps, be accounted for, by the little distinction to be gained in treating a subject which afforded no scope to the exercise of genius, in which no new theories could be advanced, no claim to originality preferred; and where all that was required was to collect and arrange matter, in its very nature unchangeable, and already before the public, but not in a way to answer its present wants. To this it may be added that, till lately, the science has been almost solely in the hands of professional men, or professed antiquaries, and for them the books in which it was contained seemed to possess, in their scarcity, their antiquity, and their quaintness, a propriety, which any modem alteration would destroy.

A more popular form is, however, undoubtedly necessary for that large and increasing class of persons who are now desirous of an acquaintance with Heraldry; to whom, if they gained nothing more, it would be an important consideration to save the time uselessly employed in toiling through matter altogether uninteresting, or at least at that particular moment, when satisfaction upon some single point may be all that is desired. In one particular, the older writers on the subject have fallen into a fault characteristic of the age in which they wrote-the attempt to carry back their relation to the earliest possible date. To begin at the beginning, as it is emphatically termed, seemed to be considered essential by every historical writer, and not to be shunned for any deficiency of authorities or probability. Thus, like all other histories, the history of Heraldry had its fabulous, its traditionary, and its authentic periods. The writer of the present day no longer feels it incumbent upon him to maintain the existence of the science through all these periods, as necessary to the dignity or utility of his subject. The first of the three,

comprising the whole duration of ancient history, he is at liberty at once to reject. There is a line between ancient and modern history more distinct than could be expected to occur in the course of the actions and manners of successive generations of men in the same countries. All the institutions of the former perished and gave way to others totally different in the latter: the legal code, known by the name of the civil law, can scarcely be called an exception to the truth of this remark, since it was lost for centuries-was discovered by accident; and, in its second promulgation, was, to all intents, a new institution.

In ancient history, thus distinguished from modem, no traces of the science of Heraldry, properly so called, are to be discovered. In the countries of modem Europe, on the contrary, it sooner or later occupied a very prominent station; in no instance, however, can any confidence be placed in the supposed proofs of it earlier than the Crusades.

Seals, which were employed to attest documents in behalf of individuals, were likely to exhibit very early proofs of the employment of family armorial distinctions. Now, the use of seals on written documents was introduced into England by the Normans, upon their first meeting in this country. These, however, contain no trace of armorial bearings, and it may be thence conjectured that such did not exist. The superior civilization of the country from which our Norman princes came, the authority of victors, and the influence of the court, were sure to transfer into this country whatever was in fashion on the Continent. As the use of seals had been introduced into this country by the Normans at the Conquest, so it may be supposed they introduced, as soon as they were adopted elsewhere, the additions made to them of armorial bearings. Seals of this kind were not employed here till the time of Richard I which may be assumed to have been no distant follower of the establishment, in this country at least, of some of the principal laws of Heraldry.

Of the condition of the science, from this time to the reign of Edward III little can be known, or even conjectured; that it had appointed officers seems necessary to its existence at all, but, with one exception, it does not appear by what name they were distinguished, or what authority they possessed. That intimate connexion with France, which was occasioned by the claims of the English princes to the crown of that country, seems to have led to the establishment of heraldic officers, with the names and capacities which they still possess: at least, such establishment is contemporaneous with the invasions of France. Edward the Third appointed four of the six heralds, who form a part of the present constituted body; his successor appointed other officers, and these were collected into a college, and acted together by order of Henry the Fifth; and, by Richard the Third, were granted a charter and very extensive privileges. At this period, and for some time after, their dignity and power may be considered to have been at the highest: the honours, of which they were the guardians and regulators, were not too widely extended to escape from their jurisdiction, and the full exercise of their powers was not felt grievous by a people, who were not yet grown jealous of their personal independence.

When, however; the desire of a greater degree of freedom began to diffuse itself, they had a long struggle to maintain with that more numerous class, who were eager to assume those proofs of gentility. in which they were desirous of rivaling those with whom wealth and education had given them some grounds of equality; that easy method of smoothing difficulties, which later times have furnished, had not yet been sufficiently received.

When the increased liberty of the subject rendered it impossible for the Heralds to prevent, by the exercise of their power, the illegal assumption of arms, a way to escape from the guilt was compassionately devised, and it was discovered that the act might be legalized by the payment of a specific sum. This arrangement, by placing the desired object within the reach of all, rendered the exercise of its authority no longer invidious to the College; and though it does not directly interfere with the unauthorized assumption of arms, in some degree checks it, by lowering in public estimation such as have not the sanction which, it is known, may be obtained if applied for in the proper way. The Herald is no longer the uncompromising champion of the privileged few, the terror of new men, and budding gentility: if he is known to have objects of hostility, it is also known how he may be conciliated;

Si te nulla movet tantae pietatis imago
At ramum bunc (aperit ramum qui veste latebat)
Agnoscas-tumida ex irâ tum corda residunt

These amicable relations, however, between the Herald and the Public, were not brought about at once, nor till great political revolutions had taught the former that their only hope to retain some influence with their refractory subjects was in offering a friendly embrace to all who were willing to approach; and thus compensating the defiance of the disobedient by multiplying the number of their wi1ling supporters.

So early as the reign of Elizabeth, the growing spirit of freedom began to quarrel with the monopoly of honours by the favoured portion of the community, and the Heralds found themselves frequently called upon to resist the encroachment upon their privileges and defiance of their authority. This was particularly the case in the ordering of funerals, then the favourite scene for the display of heraldic honours, and a constant warfare was carried on throughout the country, between the provincial kings, or their deputies, and the painters and undertakers, whom interest united with their ambitious employers. Such continued to be the state of things during this and the succeeding reign, and it can easily be supposed what tum they took from the events of the following one of Charles the First.

The journal of Sir William Dugdale exhibits some amusing instances of the summary but ineffectual means employed by him, in vindication of his authority in his own province, and of the emulous pertinacity with which unwarranted achievements were alternately defaced and restored. This was in the earlier times of that Prince; in the events with which his career closed, all undue privileges of feudal origin either perished or received a fatal wound. It was then that the Earl Marshal’s court was suppressed; a late establishment, most unfit for the season, and most strongly opposed in principle and still more in practice to the spirit of the times. Ed ward Hyde; afterwards Earl of Clarendon, who brought it before the notice of Parliament, related there some of its proceedings, which were, indeed, of a character to endanger the existence of the Court, even if it had been of higher authority and older date: as it was, they looked like the passionate exercise of authority, which had no hopes to maintain itself but by terror, and, instead of supporting, hastened its downfall. With the fall of arbitrary power, in the government, fell all that was arbitrary in the constitution of the College of Heralds: without the power of punishing, they ceased to oppose, by other means than public opinion, the invasion of their former rights ; even the useful custom of visitations was considered too inquisitorial for the altered state of society, and perished with the last of the Stuarts.

From that time to the present the official business of Heraldry has been prosecuted in its contracted sphere, unofficiously, without noise, and without odium. The chartered and corporate association of its professors has proved necessary to the wants of a country possessed of hereditary titles, and in which the changes and acquisition of wealth are continually exalting new families to a position in which it is right and expedient to invest them with such distinctions as have been once bestowed upon the old. And, though the pageantry of Heraldry is no longer forced upon private individuals, and seldom sought

by them, it is maintained, on all public solemnities, with undiminished pomp and scrupulous accuracy. Neither has the science been suffered to remain a mystery in the hands of its professional followers: there have always been those who have devoted themselves to the study of it, from natural inclination and with uninterested zeal. To the exertions of these we are indebted for the collection of much useful information, and, to their example, for preserving and extending a taste for the study. At no time has this been so prevalent as at the present; and, when it is considered how many are personally concerned in it,-how much it is connected with some most interesting periods and events,-and how frequently it proves a useful auxiliary of the historian and still more of the biographer, it is natural that this taste should increase rather than diminish. To gratify the wants of the Public, in this respect, is the intention of the present work; and, to suit the purpose of all, the object of the arrangement. It is not attempted to teach the science in a gradual, systematic manner; yet the whole of the information necessary to be acquired is contained under a different form. The learner must select his own course of study, and, having done so, will find upon each subject, as be takes it in its tum, whatever has been established concerning it by usage or authority. In the Introduction, a brief sketch of the essential parts of the science is given, which will be some guide to the student in what order he may most profitably prosecute his investigations. The engraved arms of individuals, though not intended for that purpose, will, also, prove a most valuable help ; in them, compared with their blazoning in the Dictionary of Arms, he will find excellent illustrations of heraldic terms ; and, which is more peculiarly their advantage, familiarity and practice in the method of blazoning. Thus, it is hoped that even the beginner will be enabled to find his way to the elements of the science as here presented; while, to readers of every other kind, the form of a Dictionary will afford unusual advantages, presenting the subject of their inquiry, readily and separately, before their view, with all the benefit of conciseness, because unconnected with extraneous matter, and, at the same time, as complete as the compared and selected results of former writers can render it. In a science, of which the principles have been long settled, little of novelty remained to be discovered; what was required was to collect, from the rare, or cumbersome, or ill-assorted existing materials, all that could be relied upon and whatever was useful. This is what has been attempted to be accomplished in the present work; with what success must be pronounced elsewhere; but nowhere so properly as here can it be stated that, on those subjects, in which access to private documents, or badges, was necessary for obtaining correct information, such have been freely and kindly granted to the inspection of the Author; and he trusts he shall not be considered less sensible of the favours, because he is precluded, by their number, from every public acknowledgement beyond this general one.

Due to the age of the book it has been out of print for a long time; however, scans of all four volumes are available online and it can occasionally be found on Amazon.com as a printing of those files.


Originally posted 2013-08-19 11:27:05.

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