In England, recognition of existing arms and granting new coats is among the responsibilities of the College of Arms. This body, founded in 1484, is headed by Garter King of Arms under the supervision of the Earl Marshal of England, a hereditary office held by the Duke of Norfolk.
The process of obtaining a grant of arms from this venerable body is a complex and somewhat lengthy one. Initially, one makes a request to petition the Earl Marshal for a grant. The request, accompanied by a curriculum vitae, goes to an officer of arms. The c.v. is vetted to determine the petitioner's eligibility to receive a grant. The c.v. should include public activities in which you have engaged, whether in the armed forces, civil service, government (at any level), or voluntary and charitable bodies (again at any level). The idea is to show that one has been of some service to the community at large. Once the request to petition has been accepted, the next steps involve deciding the terms of the grant: whether it is to be a grant of arms to you and your heirs only; to your siblings and their heirs, too; or, indeed, to the descendants of your grandfather. It may also be of interest to you to know that a daughter may use her father's arms in her lifetime but may pass them on to her children only if her husband is himself armigerous and she has no brothers. In such a case, she (and any sisters she may have) is what is called an heraldic heiress.
What the granted arms will look like are, of course, most important. Heraldry is nothing if it is not a decorative art. So doubtless you would wish to consider what events or associations the arms should commemorate and how best to interpret or express them heraldically. Someone seasoned in heraldic lore and art can greatly assist the petitioner, who may not have much knowledge of heraldry, to obtain a coat of arms which both communicates what he wishes to express and is aesthetically pleasing.
Your grant could be of a complete "heraldic achievement". This comprises (1) a shield of arms, which is the "coat of arms" proper and the heart of armorial expression; (2) a crest on top of (3) a helmet above the shield; (4) mantling, the stylized fabric that falls from the top of the helmet, and (5) a motto. (click here for a graphical explanation of the parts of a coat of arms) You might also wish to consider obtaining at the same time a grant of a badge. This is a self-contained emblem which may be used in places where the shield or crest would not be as appropriate. It often expresses some personal conceit or relationship not conveyed by the arms themselves. Some badges which you will have seen many times are the rose, thistle and shamrock for the nations of England, Scotland and Ireland, the Prince of Wales's feathers and the portcullis badge of the Houses of Parliament. The design of suitable arms can take time when the petitioner's idea of what he wants proves difficult to reconcile with what the College requires. For example, the arms he has in his mind's eye may fail to be sufficiently distinct from another coat that already exists. This is one among many possible reasons why the process of obtaining a grant may cover a period of two years and even longer. Proper preparation and consultation can expedite the process. From 1st January 2011, the fee for the grant is £4,400. A badge granted with the Arms incurs a further fee. The College requires payment of the full amount at an early stage, in fact as soon as approval to petition is given. (The prices rise in line with inflation on the 1st January every year).
One may, and many people do, deal directly with the College of Arms when seeking a grant. Others find that they will save time, inconvenience and frustration by using someone experienced in heraldic matters, who has good relations with the College, to act as their broker or agent. We offer such a service. It includes handling on behalf of the client all discussions with the College from the initial request to petition through a number of intermediary steps up to the final agreement on the terms of the grant and the design of the arms. As I said, we work closely with the client so that the arms granted will reflect his wishes as fully as possible. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the process and cost of us acting as your agent. The grant of arms itself is a vellum scroll, hand scrivened and illuminated with the arms granted to the petitioner as well as the Kings of Arms and Heralds concerned with the particular grant. From the scroll are suspended the officer of arms' wax seals in their brass skippets. The grant is delivered in a red morocco box. It makes a memorable occasion when the box is opened and the grant unrolled for the family to see. It also looks extremely handsome when framed and hung in a suitable place.
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