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Her Majesty's High Court of Chivalry of England and Wales
April 27, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

In England coats of arms and other issues of heraldry are registered and administered by the College of Arms. But what if some base scoundrel displays your family's ancient and noble coat of arms without the right to do so? You sue them in the Court of Chivalry.

Founded by statute by Richard II in 1390 (13 Richard 2, St. 1, c. 2), the Court of Chivalry was highly active through the High Middle Ages and English Renaissance. In those days it was also concerned with disputes over honor and dueling. The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640 is a project that collects together 738 surviving cases from a narrow but prolific period in the court's history. It is also an excellent collection of mid-17th century gentlemanly insults. An example from the summary of St. Leger v. Acton:
St Leger complained that at the King’s Head Inn at Sutton Valence, Kent, at Shrovetide in 1639, Acton called him ‘base rascall, beggarly rascall, redcoate rogue’. When St Leger advised him to be quiet, Acton went out into the street and repeated the words ‘in the hearing of divers persons of good quality’. In his defence, Acton’s witnesses testified that the quarrel arose when St Leger kissed Acton’s mother, who was working in the kitchen. Acton’s response was to remark, ‘It is long of your mouth that you kiss her’, whereupon St Leger struck him with the back of his hand. Acton retorted, ‘How now you redcoate, what are you?’ and would have returned the blow had he not been restrained by his brother.
Alas a scant 100 years later heraldry no longer had the same cachet as it once did. As William Blackstone put it in the 1760 edition of his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England, the court had "fallen into contempt and disuse."

Indeed, the Court of Chivalry doesn't have a website because it has only heard one case since 1737, Manchester Corporation v Manchester Palace of Varieties Ltd [Scribd link] [1955] 1 All ER 387 (see here for a digest of the case). In Manchester Corp. the court (i.e. the Earl Marshal, or rather his Surrogate) had to first decide whether it even still existed. The court decided that it did indeed exist and ultimately went on to decide in favor of the plaintiff.
posted by jedicus (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
the College maintains registers of arms, pedigrees, genealogies, Royal Licences, changes of name, and flags. The heralds, besides having ceremonial duties, advise on all matters relating to the peerage and baronetage, precedence, honours and ceremonial as well as national and community symbols including flags.

This sounds like useful information to have handy.
posted by Madame Defarge at 8:50 PM on April 27


Indeed, the Court of Chivalry doesn't have a website because it has only heard one case since 1737

Although oddly enough, the equivalent Scottish body, The Court of the Lord Lyon, still has the power to prosecute heraldry-related crimes and hears both civil and criminal cases regularly.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:52 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


They're still getting a lot of heraldry related crimes in Scotland?

The differences between the Scottish and English judicial systems are rather fascinating. William Roughead mentions in some of his writings that there could be three verdicts in Scottish courts, which I thought was interesting.
posted by Diablevert at 8:57 PM on April 27


They're still getting a lot of heraldry related crimes in Scotland?

Good way to get a Scot to do something is to tell him that a proper Englishman doesn't.
posted by Etrigan at 9:04 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


The differences between the Scottish and English judicial systems are rather fascinating. William Roughead mentions in some of his writings that there could be three verdicts in Scottish courts, which I thought was interesting.
Prove it.
Or don't.
posted by fullerine at 9:15 PM on April 27



Prove it.
Or don't.



Still seems to be a thing. Roughhead refers to it being the verdict in the case of the poisoner Madeline Smith, I believe, though I can't seem to google up a quick text cite. I'm not digging through my bookcases at this hour.
posted by Diablevert at 9:26 PM on April 27


Still seems to be a thing
very much still a thing. It was discussed as a possible outcome in the Pan Am 103 bombing case for instance
posted by Bwithh at 9:56 PM on April 27


Canadian heraldry became independent from the UK authorities in 1988 (the Canadian Heraldic Authority is headed by the Governor-General, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II and the Canadian Royal Family) and is gloriously populist and weird and thriving.
posted by Bwithh at 9:59 PM on April 27 [6 favorites]


Hellin… 'did not care a fart for Sir John Carew'
Hellin was ordered to perform three especially humiliating submissions. Clad in a white shirt, he was to stand bareheaded on a stool or table for four hours at Tiverton, Devon and at the quarter sessions at Haverfordwest and Pembroke. A written admission of his fault was to be pinned to his hat and his hat attached to a staff two feet above his head. Hellin was to beg Carew’s forgiveness, acknowledge that he was ‘a knight of an honourable family and eminent in his country’ and promise to behave better towards him and ‘the rest of the gentry of this kingdome’.
posted by unliteral at 11:51 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump had to stop using a coat of arms in 2008 after Scotland’s guardian of heraldry, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, warned him he was breaking a 1762 law by using an unofficial crest.

In Ireland, they have a small 'arms crisis'
posted by Lanark at 12:51 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


In Ireland, they have a small 'arms crisis'

That's fucking fascinating. So basically the problem is that they were issuing arms on their own when the legal authority to do so is granted only by the the sovereign to whom the Irish lords pledged fealty, e.g. Q.E.II? But the crown no longer claims the Republic of Ireland as part of its dominion, does it? Although you'd think that becoming a republic would therefore leave you with no one with the ability to grant titles...
posted by Diablevert at 3:47 AM on April 28


There are indeed three possible verdicts in a scots court.

They are Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven

Not Proven is colloquially referred to as "Not Guilty, but don't do it again"
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:43 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I'm glad we have the Court of Chivalry to deal with this problem. The theft of heraldry is rampant and sinister.
posted by Flashman at 5:09 AM on April 28 [12 favorites]


The College of Arms' page on Granting Arms is a really odd read, such a brilliant anachronism. Wonderfully, if your application for a coat of arms is successful (no minimum qualifications, just write a persuasive letter and pay £5,250 if successful) they have someone who'll steer you clear of anything "heraldically trite". They remind you that puns are fine, and give advice on supplementing your coat of arms with a badge and a standard.
posted by metaBugs at 7:16 AM on April 28


In England coats of arms and other issues of heraldry are registered and administered by the College of Arms. But what if some base scoundrel displays your family's ancient and noble coat of arms without the right to do so? You sue them in the Court of Chivalry.

Worst "Law & Order" spinoff ever.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:40 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


PlusDistance:
Worst BEST "Law & Order" spinoff ever.

FTFY!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


steer you clear of anything "heraldically trite".


I wonder how many heraldry application attempts these days involve Game of Thrones sigils, and how many are successful (*glares accusingly at Canada*)
posted by Bwithh at 9:18 AM on April 28


If not giving a fart for Sir John Carew is wrong, I don't want to be right.
posted by Naberius at 9:53 AM on April 28


this varlet called me a jackanapes, and when i struck him most vigorously with my glove, he refused to even get off the ground, let alone meet me on the field of honor. i petition the court of chivalry for an appropriate order so i will be spared the effort of horsewhipping him upon every future public encounter.
posted by bruce at 12:10 PM on April 28


Lanark: In Ireland, they have a small 'arms crisis'

This sentence does not mean what it would imply in any other context.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:55 PM on April 28




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