Heraldry is the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described and regulated. The College of Arms (or Heralds' College), founded by royal charter in 1484, has jurisdiction over the system in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and parts of the Commonwealth. This is a royal institution and a self-funded part of the Royal Household, overseen by the hereditary Earl Marshall, the Duke of Norfolk, who is in effect the chief Herald.
In Scotland the system is regulated by the Court of the Lord Lyon, headed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. This position is filled by appointment from the Scottish judiciary, as the title holder must be legally qualified due to the office being a part of the Scottish legal system.
Contrary to the belief of some, coats of arms are not granted to a family. They are granted to an individual. Only descendants in the direct male line from the grantee may claim a right to use the arms.
We have a number of resources to assist you in understanding more about the subject and art of Heraldry. We have transcribed the book A Grammer of English Heraldry, by William Henry St. John Hope, published in 1913. This gives a great insight into the history of Heraldry, and how armorial bearings should be defined and described.
Grants of Arms
There is also a small section containing transcripts of Grants of Arms which we have extracted from various sources. This area will be expanded significantly in due course.
Heralds' Visitations contain pedigree charts, and in many cases coats of arms, of families documented when the Heralds visited each county, from the early 16th century to the late 17th century. The Heralds were responsible for ensuring that people claiming or using coats of arms were entitled to do so, through either being granted their own arms or being directly descended in the male line from an ancestor to whom they had been granted. These books contain some of the earliest documented pedigrees, and have been largely published by The Harleian Society (and others) since the late 19th century.
Below are links to all of the volumes that we currently have online. You can also search by pedigree name.
Pedigrees from the Visitations of Hampshire 1530-1634
The Four Visitations of Berkshire, 1532, 1566, 1623, and 1665-66 volume 1
The Four Visitations of Berkshire, 1532, 1566, 1623, and 1665-66 volume 2
The Visitation of Cambridge, 1575 and 1619
The Visitation of Cheshire, 1580
The Visitation of Cumberland 1615
The Visitation of Dorset, 1623
The Visitation of Kent, 1619
The Visitation of Kent, 1663-1668
The Visitation of London 1568
The Visitation of Rutland, 1618
The Visitation of Shropshire, 1623
The Visitation of the County of Buckingham, 1634
The Visitation of the County of Devon, 1564
The Visitation of the County of Gloucester, 1623
The Visitation of the County of Somerset, 1623
The Visitation of the County of Surrey 1662-1668
The Visitation of the County of Warwick, 1619
The Visitation of the County of Worcester, 1569
The Visitation of Yorkshire 1665-1666
The Visitations of Bedfordshire 1566, 1582, and 1634
The Visitations of Hertfordshire, 1572 and 1634
The Visitations of Norfolk, 1563 and 1613
The Visitations of Oxford 1566, 1574, and 1634