The College of Arms

Photo:College of Arms, open courtyard facing Queen Victoria Street.

College of Arms, open courtyard facing Queen Victoria Street.

College of Arms website

Talk by John Tunesi, October 2011

report by Gavin Ross

John Tunesi, recently retired from the staff of the College of Arms, addressed the Society on 25th October 2011.

The College of Arms is responsible for issuing and regulating heraldic coats of arms to individuals, families and institutions.  Founded in 1484 in the reign of Richard III, it was granted another charter by Mary Tudor in 1555, with the gift of Derby Place, now on Queen Victoria Street.  The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666 and rebuilt in 1671-8.  While one wing was removed when Queen Victoria Street was constructed the remaining building is visible behind a fine wrought iron screen.  The speaker showed where his rooms had been, and illustrated the interior hall where the Earl Marshal or the King of Arms has his throne, with the inner wooden enclosure for the other officers and the public outside.

Photo:Earl Marshall's Court, College of Arms

Earl Marshall's Court, College of Arms

College of Arms website

The Earl Marshal is the Duke of Norfolk, a Catholic family but allowed to preside over coronations and other state occasions.  Under him are the Kings of Arms (Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster) representing provinces of England and Wales and Northern Ireland.  (Scotland has its own College under the Lyon King of Arms).  Next in rank are the Heralds (York, Richmond, Windsor, Somerset, Lancaster and Chester) and then the Pursuivants (Portcullis, Bluemantle, Rouge Dragon and Rouge Croix).  All these officers are self-employed and build up their own practices, some employing researchers and other staff to prepare and execute designs and applications for approval of a grant of arms.  Mr Tunesi showed an elaborate design he had devised for Lord Howe, with allusions to Wales and to his parliamentary opponents.

The College has a large archive of existing coats of arms and supporting documents, and the expertise lies in knowing what is there and what is acceptable under the laws of heraldry.  The work of past scribes with beautiful handwriting was displayed, together with a sample pedigree.  On a lighter note he gave examples of humorous wordplay and visual puns incorporated in designs.

In the discussion that followed Mr Tunesi explained how the various officers were appointed, how individuals could approach the College to apply for coats of arms, and how the archives are catalogued but not digitised.  The College has an informative website: www.college-of-arms.gov.uk

This page was added by John Wassell on 28/01/2012.

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