Amongst other more treasured works in the library of Exeter Cathedral there is a manuscript, 3532 in the catalogue, with the modest title of “A brief collection of armory, especially relating to Devon and Cornwall.” The book has sat in the library for centuries, making one, or maybe two, brief appearances in public and returning swiftly to the seclusion of the shelves.
The manuscript contains descriptions and illustrations of twice as many coats of arms as its contemporary, the 1620 Heralds’ Visitation of Devon. That makes it amazing in itself. Even more surprising is that it has not been published and used as a major primary source for the heraldry of Devon of Tudor and Jacobean times.
In its last public appearance it was offered in about 1845 to Rev. George Oliver and Mr Pitman Jones, the editors of Thomas Westcote’s “View of Devonshire in 1630,” as being another of that antiquary’s manuscripts. Oliver & Jones relegate that notion to a footnote, suggesting that the work was more likely to have been by Richard St George, a King of Arms contemporary, more or less, with Westcote.
“Page 9” mentioned in the footnote contained the first illustration in the book, a picture and description of the arms of Richard St George esq. with his ancestral quarterings.
The inference drawn by Oliver & Jones might have been allowed but for a niggling objection. As Norroy king of arms while the book was being compiled, Richard St George’s official sphere of activity was to the north of the River Trent, not in Devon and Cornwall. Of course, Norroy may have his own personal interests, but the oddity made the claim worth investigating.
The date of 1620 mentioned in the footnote might have proved significant. In that year Richard’s son, Henry St George, with a colleague, Sampson Lennard, visited Devon and Cornwall officially on behalf of William Camden, Clarencieux king of arms. Maybe the book related to Henry, rather than his father.
The archivists at the College of Arms in London very kindly made available some manuscripts containing handwriting and drawings by Richard St George, Henry St George and Sampson Lennard, (with the caveat that heralds’ visitations included scribes, so it was not easy to determine who exactly had written what.)
Armed with photographs of some likely specimens, this editor compared the writing and drawings of the named heralds against the pages of the manuscript and concluded that, as far as he could tell, there was no similarity.
If not Richard or Henry St George or Sampson Lennard, then who was the author of the manuscript?
At this point, it is necessary to describe the manuscript, dismissed in a few words by Victorian antiquarians, known only to the staff of the library of Exeter Cathedral and unseen by any one else (to their knowledge) for at least forty years until now.
The manuscript contains 245 numbered pages and shows about 1150 illustrations of coats of arms.
The first few pages contain an envoi, a further poem concerning the marshalling of arms and other matters, and an essay on the concepts of gentility with an introduction to blazonry.
There are no formal divisions, but the coats of arms fall into the following groupings.
Page 9 shows the arms of Richard St George esq., with notes.
Pages 10-22 – 4 per page, the arms of some notables.
Pages 23-121 – 4 per page, mostly West Country arms.
Pages 122-129 – 8 or 9 per page, a miscellany of arms.
Pages 130-184 – 4 per page, arms mostly of the West Country
Pages 185-210 arms historical and contemporary.
Pages 211-243 arms arranged alphabetically.
Throughout the book, the arms are nearly all illustrated. A large number of the arms are blazoned. Many of the arms are tricked.
Many of the illustrations are tinted or partly tinted. Often the field is left untinted. In several cases the tinctures do not match the blazon but appear to be present in order to to clarify the drawing.
The various methods of showing or describing arms are frequently used in combination, two or three together.
Additionally, many of the entries include brief biographical or genealogical notes.
Several of the arms are accompanied by a heraldic note, explaining the significance of a charge or drawing a moral from it.
Many of the arms are accompanied by mottos or aphorisms, in English or in Latin or both.
So – Who wrote it?
At a glance, it looks as if the book were by at least three different hands.
Parts of the book are carefully laid out, with the entries well and consistently spaced. It looks (to this editor, at least,) as if in these parts the names and blazons of the arms were written first with space for the illustrations which were drawn possibly by the original author.
Other sections of the book appear to have been added later and less formally, either by the original author or another.
Latin tags and English notes or aphorisms were later added in a different hand.
Some illustrations and perhaps all or most of the tinting may also be by a later hand.
So – who wrote it?
Before deciding that, it would be helpful to know when it was written.
Oliver & Jones mention an entry dating from 1573, but this editor has not yet found that reference. The notes associated with the arms of Exeter refer to the “present visitation.” From the names of officers quoted, the visitation in question is that of 1563. In the context, however, “present” probably means “most recent” rather than “currently being carried out.”
Richard St George held the office of Norroy king of arms from 1604 to 1623, after which he became Clarencieux king of arms. He was knighted in 1616. The illustration on page 9 is titled “the achievement of Richard St George Norroy esquire, king of arms….” From the title “Norroy,” we can be sure that the illustration was executed in or after 1604. From the designation “esquire,” we can infer that it was done before, or very soon after, 1616.
On Page 112 there is an entry for Sackvile, Baron of Buckhurst, with “Earl of Dorset” inserted. Thomas Sackvile, created Baron Buckhurst in 1567, became Earl of Dorset in March 1604.
It is possible then, given these two entries, that the earliest portion of the manuscript was originally written in 1604, i.e. between the appointment of St George as Norroy and the time that the news of the elevation of Baron Buckhurst to his earldom was brought to the attention of the author.
From various entries, it can be seen that manuscript continued for about two decades. On Page 177, for example, there is a reference to Villiers, Viscount Purbeck, a creation of 1617. A reference to Viscount Fielding on page 209 must be dated after 1620 and would have been out of date by 1622.
A dating of 1604 to about 1620 would probably account for all the illustrations except the alphabetical general section at the end. [But see note at end, 16/12/2018.]
Most of the notes, mottoes and aphorisms that accompany the illustrations seem to have been added later in a different hand. There are many instances where these notes are fitted round the original entries, so clearly they were not anticipated at the time the arms were first drawn.
So – who wrote it?
If Richard St George were not the author, then it would be possible that the manuscript contained a clue or some clues , less obvious than the St George coat of arms, that could help to establish authorship.
The manuscript was offered to Oliver & Jones as the work of Thomas Westcote. They rejected that attribution partly on the prominence of the St George arms, partly on their tentative dating of the manuscript and partly on the inclusion of non-Devon coats of arms. Their reasoning is not necessarily convincing but the arms of Westcote appear in the manuscript only in the alphabetical general part, and they are there with no further information. One might expect Westcote to have included the arms of his family amongst the arms of the gentlemen of his county, and maybe in as much detail as those of St George.
Having rejected Westcote, Lennard and both Richard and Henry St. George, what other candidates offer themselves? There were a number of known and noted antiquarians in Devon at around the same time. Tristram Risdon was one such. His manuscript note book also resides in Exeter Cathedral’s library, referenced as manuscript 3531. A comparison of 3531 with 3532 showed easily enough that the books did not have common authors. Sir William Pole of Shute was another contemporary, but there is nothing in the manuscript to make him more likely than the discounted Westcote.
So – who did write it?
The main author was almost certainly a Devonian
He was active in the early C17th.
He may have had a high regard for or connection with Richard St George.
He had an interest in history and heraldry that extended well beyond his county’s boundaries.
The quantity of entries relating to officers of the Royal Court and to the law courts, suggests that he was, for a time at least, a courtier or a member of the legal profession.
Pages 220 & 221 are completely taken up with the arms and pedigree of the family of Coplestone of Coplestone.
Pages 222 & 223 are similarly devoted to the arms and pedigree of the Pollards of Way.
The Coplestone pedigree ends with Thomasine Coplestone, her marriage and issue.
The Pollard pedigree ends with a younger son, George Pollard of Langley, and his marriage and heir.
The two pedigrees end with the same marriage, because George Pollard of Langley was married to Thomasine Coplestone. Their issue were given as Richard, Thomas, George and Tristram. (Their daughter Joanna was not mentioned.)
The manuscript contains no other pedigrees. If such interest is any clue, then the most likely author would be George or Thomasine or one of their immediate offspring.
Westcote notes that one George Pollard of Langley “was Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth, and after to our Sovereign King James I.” This George was a younger son of George and Thomasine, the elder being Richard Pollard who inherited Langley. Risdon notes that this gentleman usher “married the daughter of Hardweek in Derbyshire, sister to the countess of Shrewsbery, and mother of the maids of honour of Queen Elizabeth.”
George Pollard the younger was Gentleman Usher of the Chamber from 1594 to 1603. He was Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod from 1605 to 1620. He was the second husband of Elizabeth nee Leche, who was half-sister to Elizabeth Talbot nee Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, nicknamed Bess of Hardwick. George and Elizabeth married in the early 1590s, after the death in 1593 of Elizabeth’s first husband, also a gentleman usher, to whom she had been married for about 35 years.
This George Pollard certainly meets the criteria expected of the first author of the manuscript. A Devon born man with a post at court. A post, moreover, that would have brought him into frequent contact with the heralds. Black Rod’s function did not stop at knocking on doors during the opening of Parliament (in fact that function dated from a later period.) The gentlemen ushers were, amongst other things, organisers of events and ceremonies. Along with the heralds, they were the professionals in protocol and precedence.
This editor considers George Pollard, Black Rod, to have been the most likely initiator of the “brief armory.”
Against the entry for Pollard of Way, in page 47 of the manuscript, there is a note. It states, “out of this house, my loving and virtuous mother came [and her] flourishing branch.”
This links the manuscript beyond any doubt to the Pollard family.
George and Thomasina had a daughter Joanna. She married William Risdon, and was the mother of Tristram Risdon. How neat it would have been if he had written the note. A check against his manuscript, (the second, but this coincidence made it necessary,) showed that he was not the author of the note.
In his “Survey of Devon,” however, Risdon continues his note on the gentleman usher, saying “he had no issue, but God has blessed his nephew, the inheritor of this house [Langley,] with fair issue, by one of the co-heirs of Philips, six sons and so many daughters …”
The 1620 Visitation shows that “flourishing branch,” the many children of Richard, son of Richard, nephew of George the Black Rod and also of Tristram Risdon. One of those girls was the loving and virtuous mother of the author who wrote that note and many others in the manuscript.
Note – 12th December 2018
Page 206 of the manuscript contains a reference to “Nicholas Beamond of Colerton now living.” Nicholas Beaumond M.P. of Coleorton, to whom this entry almost certainly refers, died in 1585. This does not invalidate any of the foregoing attributions, but does indicate that the “brief collection” was started two decades earlier than implied by the St George entry on page 9. Clearly, the present ordering of the pages is not the order in which they were written.