Saturday, 4 April 2015


Well, we all know what heralds are, don't we?

"Hark, the herald angels sing" and all that.

Mind you, I've never understood how those angels actually managed to sing while they were so busy blowing their trumpets.

And then there was that little sporty car, the Triumph Herald, introduced in 1959 and sold throughout the 60s.

I very nearly bought one just like that - white, convertible - but the independent mechanic's report I had done wasn't over-enthusiastic so I didn't bother.

But it's a different sort of herald that has been in my mind a bit recently.  It all started while I was re-reading Bernard Cornwell's book Azincourt, a fictitious account of the campaign leading up to and the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  An excellent read, by the way.  At one point, the author mentions the heralds from both the English and the French sides meeting at the edge of the field of battle, halfway between the opposing armies. 

The idea just hovered at the back of my mind for several days until, a day or two after the re-interment of King Richard III in Leicester, a letter appeared in the paper asking why no heralds had been at the service.  Garter King of Arms - yes, that is a real title - responded that two heralds had been there, but out of uniform.

Windsor Castle Garter Day 2009 - the heralds by garethr1
Just who, I puzzled, are these heralds?  And what are their duties?

It was only then that I learned that the College of Arms, the existence of which I have known about for donkeys' years, was actually founded under Royal charter dated 2 March 1484 - by none other than Richard III!  (I will confess here that what follows is but a very brief summary of a very long Wikipedia article.)

There are, I have learned, 13 heralds who are members of the College of Arms.  There are three ranks of heralds.  First in seniority are the Kings of Arms, comprising Garter King of Arms, the principal King of Arms; Clarenceux King of Arms, whose "province" is the part of England south of the River Trent. Clarenceux is the senior of the provincial King of Arms; and Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, whose "province" is the part of England north of the River Trent (Norroy) and Northern Ireland (Ulster).  Ranking below the Kings of Arms are the six Heralds of Arms in Ordinary, whose titles are references to places or peerage titles historically associated with the monarchy.  There are Chester, Lancaster, Windsor, Somerset, Richmond and York Heralds.  And, lastly, the third rank comprises the Pursuivants of Arms in Ordinary, of whom there are four: Portcullis, Rouge Croix, Rouge Dragon and Bluemantle

In addition, there are a number of other heralds who are not members of the College of Arms.

But what do these heralds actually do?  They are seen twice a year in public; at Windsor for the Garter Day parade and in London at the State Opening of Parliament.  Otherwise they appear at state funerals and coronations.  And for these duties they receive an annual salary.  Garter King receives £49.07 and the other two Kings £20.25 each.  Heralds are paid £17.70 and Pursuivants £13.95.  Hardly enough to keep them in beer and fags, so they earn more money in other ways.  The granting of coats of arms within the United Kingdom is the sole prerogative of the British monarch. However, she has delegated this power to two authorities; the Lord Lyon, with jurisdiction over Scotland, and the College of Arms over England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Under the latter's jurisdiction, the right to arms is acquired exclusively either by proving descent in an unbroken male-line from someone registered as so entitled or by a new grant from the King of Arms.  The fees for a personal grant of arms, including a crest is £4,400, a grant to a non-profit body is £9,600 and to a commercial company is £14,300. This grant however does not include a grant of a badge, supporters or a standard, their inclusion into the grant requires extra fees. The fees mainly go towards commissioning the artwork and calligraphy on the vellum Letters Patent, which must be done by hand and in a sense is a work of art in itself, plus other administrative costs borne by the heralds and for the upkeep of the College.

So there we have it, a quite extraordinary matter for the 21st century, harking back as it does to medieval times.

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