The list of coats of arms of the West Country, found here, was compiled from several published sources and from actual examples found in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and elsewhere. The published sources are listed below.
Between them, the sources contain a mixture of arms that people did use, arms they should have used, arms they might have used and, in a few cases, arms that may be purely imaginary. The editor of the list make no claims for the accuracy of the sources and little or no judgement as to their reliability.
The “visitations” were investigations made by heralds into the usage of coats of arms, county by county. One or more heralds visited a county, and those who claimed the privilege of bearing a coat of arms came to the herald with evidence of their right, which was duly recorded and approved (or not, in some cases.) The visitations used as sources were made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By this time the use of armorial bearings had been common among the gentry for about four centuries but had largely changed from its practical purpose of identifying a warrior enclosed in armour to a more ceremonial use of declaring a kind of social status.
Maybe, as a matter of definition, coats of arms described in the heralds’ visitations can be described as “correct,” because the heralds decide what is correct. However, even if that degree of correctness be acknowledged, it is limited to the moment of writing. The pedigrees shown in the record of a visitation often contain many names and but one coat of arms. It can be reasonably asserted that the herald acknowledged the right of his informant to bear the given coat of arms, but it cannot be assumed that any other person named in the pedigree used the same coat.
It must be noted that the sources used are the nineteenth century editions of the visitations, not the original manuscripts. Each editor declares his sources and the way in which he has treated them. This editor makes no claim to equal them in scholarship, and is merely a collator of information, now easily accessible, provided by those who spent years poring over dusty manuscripts, quill in hand, in dim-lit reading rooms, libraries and rectory drawing-rooms.
Where coats of arms are found on funeral monuments, they can be taken as showing what arms were actually in use, with or without the sanction of the heralds. Indeed, it can be seen that evidence from such monuments was subsequently accepted by heralds as justification for the use of coats of arms by descendants.
Where coats of arms are included for decoration or otherwise, for example carved in church fittings such as pulpits, bench ends, fonts or roof bosses, their accuracy must be considered far more suspect. In general, even if they are accurate depictions of a coat of arms, it is not safe to claim their use by any particular person. More often than not, they are not coloured, and may therefore equally be the coat of arms of several different families. Even where they are coloured, those tinctures may have changed over time by the natural degradation of paint or by inaccurate restoration. Also the artists may not be so careful as to produce accurate coats of arms, and even, in some cases they cobble together devices or badges from the coats of arms of different families.