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Heraldic Visitation. What were Heraldic Visitations?. Heraldic Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms or Junior office of arms acting as the King’s deputies in England, Ireland and Wales. Why were Visitations undertaken?.

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what were heraldic visitations
What were Heraldic Visitations?
  • Heraldic Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms or Junior office of arms acting as the King’s deputies in England, Ireland and Wales.
why were visitations undertaken
Why were Visitations undertaken?
  • Their purpose was to regulate and register the coats of arms of nobility and gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. They took place from 1530 to 1688,
terms to know
Terms to Know
  • Coats of arms
  • Pedigrees
  • Kings of Arms
  • Junior Office of Arms
coats of arms
Coats of Arms
  • A Coat of Arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield, or escutcheon, or surcoat, or tabard. A coat of arms is used to cover, protect, and identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. The design is a symbol unique to an individual person, and to his family, corporation, or state. Such displays are commonly called armorial bearings, armorial devices, heraldic devices, or simply armorials, or arms.

The frontispiece of the record of the heraldic visitation of Ulster King of Arms, Daniel Molyneux. This was undertaken in the city of Dublin in February 1607.


Effigy of William II Longespee (d.1250) in Salisbury Cathedral, showing an early triangular heater shield, the shape used as the "canvass" for the blazoning of arms during the classical age of heraldry

Triangular shape is therefore used as a setting for armorials from this "classical age" of heraldry

  • Abuse of coats of arms became widespread by the fifteenth century giving rise to the need for visitations to ensure correct practice and use of arms
  • The sixteenth century saw an increase in visitations under Tudor Rule
example c 1530
Example c.1530
  • The first provincial visitations were carried out under warrant granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Benolt, Clarenceux King of Arms dated 6 April 1530. He was commissioned to travel throughout his province and was given authority to enter all homes and churches. Upon entering these premises, he was authorized to "put down or otherwise deface at his discretion...those arms unlawfully used".He was also required to enquire into all those using the titles of knight, esquire, or gentleman and decided if they were being lawfully used.
  • In heraldry, an escutcheon is a shield which forms the main or focal element in an achievement of arms. The word is used in two related senses. Firstly, as the shield on which a coat of arms is displayed. Escutcheon shapes are derived from actual shields used by knights in combat, and thus have varied and developed by region and by era.
writ of the king
Writ of the King
  • Henry VIII also compelled the sheriffs and mayors of each county or city visited by the officers of arms to give aid and assistance in gathering the needed information. When a King of Arms, or his deputy, visited a county, his presence was proclaimed by presenting the Royal Commission and the local gentry and nobility were required to provide evidence of their right to bear arms. The Sheriff would collect from the bailiff of each hundred within his county a list of all people using titles or arms. These were summoned to the visitation and the hope was that none would escape the enquiry. The people that were summoned were to bring their arms, and proof of their right to use the arms.
visitations in ireland
Visitations in Ireland
  • The first visitation was held by Nicholas Narbon, the second Ulster King of Arms, in 1569. He was authorized to reform practices which were contrary to good armorial practice. He conducted six visitations (Dublin in 1568–1573, Drogheda and Ardee in 1570, Dublin in 1572, Swords in 1572, Cork in 1574, and Limerick in 1574). One of his successors, Daniel Molyneux had the commission renewed, and mounted several visitations. Although Molyneux's last visitation–of Wexford–was the last proper visitation, two other expeditions occurred after 1618 by subsequent Ulster Kings of Arms. The visitations were not very extensive. The officers would not often be found in the disturbed countryside. Thus the visitations are confined to areas under firm control of the Dublin administration.