by Jocelyn Wingfield
Heraldry is the science of coats of arms—hereditary symbols which came to prominence all over Europe in the early 12th century. As the soldier encase his face (the origin of expression: “shut your face!”) in amour, heraldic symbols were used on his helmet, so he was instantly recognizable in battle (his crest). And on his shield was displayed his personal coat of arms. No two people can have the same arms—it has to have “differences” on the main coat.
Heraldry and genealogy go hand in hand. From 1484 the College of Arms (currently opposite St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, Church, London) has regulated arms in England and Wales. Its earliest rolls of arms dating back to 1275. Today it still flourishes. The college continues rolls, genealogical records and arms.
John Wingfield, the Tickencote line, who had been a captain of horse in the Royal Army 1641-48, became Portcuillis Poursuivant—a junior herald at the College of Arms—at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Then, as now, you had to be someone of importance to get the job; and to be approved by the Earl Marshal (the Duke of Norfolk). Then, both those provisos permitting, one could purchase the post.Then, as now, the officers at the College of Arms numbered about 14—including 3 kings of arms (Garter, Clarenceux, Norroy); 6 heralds (Windsor, Somerset, York, Lancaster, Chester and Richmond) and 4 Poursuivants (Rouge Dragon, Rouge Croix, Bluemantle and Portcullis).
The heralds, or rather: “the officers of the College of Arms” were originally used by the sovereign to carry important messages or to act as ambassadors, later becoming responsible for regulating and designing coats of arms, for which the interested parties paid them handsomely.
In the 17th Century they were given the extra duty of certifying pedigrees (family trees).
John Wingfield, father of Thomas Wingfield who emigrated to the River Mattaponi in Virginia in 1680, was promoted to York Herald in 1663, a post he held until 1674, when he sold it. His friend and colleague, John Gibbon, who was “Bluemantle” at the time, went too to Virginia, but decided not to emigrate. Wingfield’s father-in-law (George Owen) and his first cousin, Elizabeth Wingfield’s husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law (St. George family) were also officers of the college at that time. There is no picture of John Wingfield, but his three St. George cousins by marriage can be seen in Plates 280 and 309 of Sir Anthony Wagner’s Heralds of England (London, HMSO, 1967). Heralds still wear mediaeval jacket (a tabard), trews or gaiters and beret and carry a wand of office. The York Herald’s wand is black with, at the top end, a rose with the sun’s rays bursting from behind it, and a crown. Today’s heralds are responsible for ceremonial occasions such as coronations, royal weddings, funerals of royals and statesmen (such as Winston Churchill); and the opening of Parliament.
Arms can be obtained in two ways; either by proving to the college (or getting them to prove) one’s descent in the male line from someone who was legally entitled to bear arms; or by applying for a grant (and to do so one must be an eminent, respectable person!) Both ways are quite expensive, which is why I have never “claimed.” Today’s armigerous people (those legally bearing arms) tend to put them, or their crest, on their seals, signet rings, glass, writing paper, houses of castles (in stone or on a banner) and on coaches or cars. Arms where there is a play on words such as wings on a field for Wingfield, are called canting arms.
Dr. Conrad Swan, today’s York Herald, is showing 45 members of the Wingfield Family Society, round the College of Arms on May 24th.