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Fourteenth Century ordinaries of arms, part 1:

Thomas Jenyns’ book  

Coat of Arms  2006; 3rd series 2 (2) no 212: 97-102.

Fourteenth century ordinaries of arms part 1: Thomas Jenyns’ Book and its precursors.

Paul A Fox


Thomas Jenyns’ Book  is the largest and most significant of all the medieval ordinaries of arms, and as such warrants more attention than it has hitherto received.[1]  Some intriguing insights into the story of its evolution can be deduced from its structure and composition. It owes its existence to a now lost ordinary from the reign of Edward III which was the very first of its kind. The contents of this roll have been preserved in three later copies, of which the earliest surviving version is Cooke’s Ordinary of  644 shields. [2] Cotgrave’s Ordinary is essentially the same, but with the ordinary arranged in a slightly different sequence, and missing some 88 shields from Cooke’s. [3] Both are dwarfed in scale by the later Thomas Jenyns’ Book, which  adds over a thousand shields, while remaining closely related to  the other two. [4] In order to gain a clearer understanding of how, when  and why these ordinaries were created  a careful comparison was made of the three. The first  and most obvious  observation arising from this analysis is that  Jenyns generally supplies us with a christian name for the bearer of the arms, frequently omitted in Cooke and Cotgrave. There are 189 instances of matching arms and surname in all three ordinaries but with the christian names supplied only in Jenyns.   Many sequences of shields are  strikingly similar in all three, and the only possible explanation for these findings is that they are all based on a common progenitor, with Cooke’s being an early copy and not  the original. [5]

Altogether some 565 shields in Jenyns, more than a third of its total number, are based on the lost original.  Of these 225 match the christian names in either Cooke, Cotgrave or both, and there are 67 examples of christian name mismatches. These errors  are mostly transcriptional, which is hardly surprising in a situation where none of the surviving documents is the original. [6]  Despite the fact that the surviving text of Cotgrave is later than Cooke, the degree of concordance with Jenyns is the same for both.

      Nearly two thirds  of the arms from the lost ordinary can be independently dated by reference to other rolls of arms, seals, and the like, with the benefit of the additional christian names supplied by Jenyns. By far the largest proportion are from the reign of Edward III, with a somewhat smaller group who were living in the reign of Edward II, and a still smaller one in the reign of Edward I. Only four of the 565 were sourced from rolls of arms prior to Edward I. This demonstrates that the lost original ordinary was very much a working document of the reign of Edward III, with some knights surviving from the previous two reigns. Wagner’s date of circa 1340 for Cooke and Cotgrave is probably about right, and places the lost original  at the high point of chivalry in the English court, in the period  leading up to the foundation of  the Order of the Garter. [7]

      The compiler of Jenyns was working in the reign of Richard II, the evidence for which will be cited below, but he makes almost no attempt to update the names of the bearers of arms to his own time, some fifty years later. Some families had the name of their paterfamilias updated to later in the reign of Edward III, for example Nicholas Cantilupe in Cooke who died in 1355, becomes his heir William in Jenyns. [8]  Such a change may well have been an accidental consequence of the use of  multiple sources, because Jenyns sometimes also moves backwards in time from the lost ordinary, for instance William de Valoignes died in 1288, whilst Cotgrave supplies Warren or Waris de Valoignes his son who was living in 1326. [9]

The method by which the original ordinary was augmented to form Jenyns was much as one might expect in that  sections matching those from Cooke and Cotgrave were copied and corresponding heraldic charges were then added, before moving on to the next theme. The sequence of charges differs between Cooke, Cotgrave and Jenyns, but the internal structure within each section is retained. In some sections new shields are inserted more randomly into the original material, but for the most part in Jenyns it is possible to follow long runs of shields from the precursor ordinary interspersed with runs of additional material.

     While Cooke and Cotgrave begin with crosses, Jenyns begins with lions, and moves the crosses to the middle of the ordinary. A new section of  22 shields of lions  belonging to kings and  great men of yore was placed at the head of the book and before the section of lions from the lost ordinary.  It has been possible to date 40% of the 1034 additional shields, and once again  the great bulk of them are  from the reigns of the three Edwards, with the largest group being datable to Edward III. [10]  Most of the undatable shields are totally unique to Jenyns, but it is reasonable to suppose that they derive from lost rolls of arms from the same period.

     The first 1211 shields of Jenyns maintain the structure of  an ordinary, whilst at first sight the remaining 388 shields were seemingly added at random. For this reason it has been traditional to consider the two parts almost as if they are separate entities, the first part being commonly referred to as Jenyns’ ordinary, and given the letter Y in Papworth, whilst the second part, frequently referred to as Jenyns’ roll, is given by Papworth the letter X.  There is considerable internal evidence to show that the final section of the ordinary is closely connected with the remainder of the document. The structure of the ordinary breaks down at the end for two reasons: firstly because it contains a lot of miscellaneous material that is more difficult to classify, and secondly because the original ordinary does not include sections for certain charges, giving the later copyist no easy model to follow.  One can sympathise with the medieval scribe surrounded by scrolls, becoming  a little fed up with the enormity of the project, and feeling unequal to the task of  properly organising what remained to be copied. From shield number 1250 onwards nearly all the shields are supplementary to the lost ordinary, but the main focus of the additions is still the reign of Edward III.

     Wagner  tentatively dated Jenyns to circa 1410, while conceding that it might date to the reign of Richard II. [11]  His  attribution to circa 1410 is somewhat arbitrary, based on the presence of Edward Courtenay earl of Devon, who acceded in 1377 and died in 1419. [12]  Not a single individual included in Jenyns  requires a date so late as Henry IV, apart from two intrusive shields from the reign of Henry VI which are of considerable interest, and to which I shall return. The description of John of Gaunt as Duke of Lancaster places the date of compilation after November 1362. Bartholomew lord Burghersh who died without male issue in 1369, and whom we find in Cotgrave, is updated by Jenyns to John Burghersh who adopted his arms. [13]  One of the very last names in the ordinary, Thomas Burton of Tolthorpe, Leics, acceded in 1375/6. [14]  The mention of Edward Courtenay as earl of Devon who acceded the month before Richard II came to the throne takes us into Richard’s reign. Edmund of Langley was not created Duke of York until 1385, while  Lord Burnell takes us still later, because his arms are quartered with those of the Botetourt heiress whom he married in 1386. [15]

Arriving at a terminus post quem for Jenyns is by no means straightforward. One of the additions, William lord Heron, a parliamentary peer, died in 1379 and was succeeded by his son Roger, which illustrates the problem of using such dates as benchmarks. [16]

        The death of another named individual, Sir Simon Burlay KG,  in 1388 is rather more significant. [17] A friend of the Black Prince, he became tutor to Richard II, and Richard in his turn was devoted to him. He came to be reviled for what was considered to be a malign influence over that monarch, was impeached by the Merciless Parliament and executed as a traitor; a fact which would have been known to all. If the date of compilation was after 1388 then a close connection with the royal court and its sympathies is confirmed.

       The tiny proportion in Jenyns of knights from the time of Richard II provokes the question what possible use could such a ordinary have been  to a contemporary herald. [18] It does in fact have a purpose, which can only have been an attempt to reconstruct the knighthood  of a perceived golden age, that of the heyday of Edward III. Material from the reigns of Henry III and Richard II alike was for the most part eschewed, apart from the inclusion of a very small number of “worthies” from those two eras. The focus on the reign of Edward III fits well with the preoccupations of Richard’s court, and with  Maurice Keen’s observation that the knights of Richard II lacked military experience. [19]  Some of the inclusions point to the personal interest of Richard himself. The the arms of Piers Gaveston, the great favourite of Edward II,  were added in two places. [20] Richard doubtless felt that Edward and Gaveston had been greatly wronged, most especially because his own style of kingship so closely resembled that of his revered great grandfather. He made strenuous attempts to have Edward II canonised. The most telling antiquarian addition was the arms of all the earls of Chester before the earldom  became a royal appendage, even including a pre-conquest earl. [21]  Richard II had succeeded his father as earl of Chester a year before his accession to the throne.

           All of which points very strongly to  Jenyns having been compiled with Richard expressly in mind. There are two faint indications that this might have occurred after Burlay’s death in 1388. An aspect of the ordinary which would support a date of 1397 or later is the curious absence of  Thomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester from a royal section of the ordinary. Here we find Richard’s three uncles, Woodstock’s  brothers John of Gaunt, Edmund duke of York and Lionel duke of Clarence. [22]  Richard hated his uncle Woodstock because of the attempt  to dethrone him in 1387, and engineered his murder in 1397. The inclusion of another of Richard’s favourites, Sir John Bussy, could be due to the fact that he was a prominent man in Lincolnshire, where he was sheriff in 1379. Bussy’s arms were in Cooke and Cotgrave but without a christian name, and the head of the family in 1340 was John’s father Walter. This probably  represents  another rare example of the lost ordinary being updated. Sir John in his younger days served John of Gaunt, but became the hero of  King Richard’s attack on his opponents in 1397 while serving as Speaker of the Commons. He was to pay for his adherence to Richard II with his life when he was executed by the mob at Bristol in 1399, and was posthumously  attainted by Henry IV. Thus we can place Jenyns with certainty between 1385 and 1399, and probably circa 1398.

      The earliest surviving manuscript of Jenyns is  Queen Margaret’s version which is thought to have been copied in the early 15th century by the same person who copied the earliest known copy of  Grimaldi’s  roll. [23] Two intrusive coats of arms and a later postscript reveal the identity of  its fifteenth century owners. At number 1527 are the arms of  Stanley quartering Lathom: Sir John Stanley married the Lathom heiress in or before 1385.[24]  The shield is actually named for his grandson Thomas, who was not born until  circa 1405, and only acceded in 1437 on the death of his father John. The family had strong links with Chester, and this particular roll with its series of earls of Chester would have appealed to them. Sir John Stanley was controller of Richard the second’s household in the late 1390s, and  the book may well have simply remained in his hands after Richard’s captivity began at Chester in August 1399. It was certainly at the behest of his grandson Thomas that the roll was recopied, and had his arms inserted, which fits with the early fifteenth century date of Queen Margaret’s version. The insertion of a number of blank shields indicating arms which could not at that time be deciphered, points to the original being in a damaged state.

    The Stanleys rapidly changed sides following the fall of Richard II and  John Stanley was steward to the household of Henry IV. Sir Thomas Stanley in his turn was controller of the royal household at the time when Margaret of Anjou arrived in England in 1445, and the book  may have been his wedding gift to her. [25] His generosity was amply rewarded in 1448 when he was  appointed chief steward of the Duchy of Lancaster. The wedding gift theory is supported by the final intrusive coat at number 968. Here  the arms of Wydville, argent a bar and a quarter gules, quartering  gules an eagle displayed or, for Sir Richard Wydville KG, were painted over the arms of  John fitz Geoffrey. [26] This was an ideal location for such an insertion because within the section of quarterly shields at no 967 and 967 the same arms had been unaccountably repeated twice: quarterly or and gules a border vair. A neat red line was drawn through the second inscription for John fitz Geoffrey, and underneath was written only  “ Widville” and the blazon. There can be no doubt that the manuscript in the British Library was Queen Margaret’s own copy because of this original insertion. [27]

          The date of this final addition  may have been not long after the queen received the book, because Richard  and his wife  Jacquetta (daughter of Pierre de Luxembourg, count of St Pol, and widow of John duke of Bedford ) were in the party which escorted Margaret of Anjou to England for her marriage. [28] Jacquetta was the sister of Margaret’s aunt, and  they must have looked at the book together to see the arms of Luxembourg which occur twice within it. We can be certain that  the shield was added before 1461, because after the great Lancastrian defeat at Towton in Yorkshire Sir Richard went over to Edward IV, and his daughter later became queen.  

           Margaret  left the book behind in her headlong flight to escape after that battle. This can be deduced because its next owner was Sir John Conyers of Norton Conyers, Yorkshire, a place  north of York just off the Great North Road, the route which Margaret would have taken on her way to Scotland. [29] It is a safe assumption  that her baggage had to be abandoned on the way in the interest of speed.  Sir John’s eldest son fought at Towton on the Yorkist side in the retinue of the earl of Warwick, having been attainted by parliament with the duke of York in 1459, so it is possible that the book was given to him as a just reward for his services. [30]  Thomas Jenyns’ Book thus passed into the backwaters of history, but was cherished and  escaped the ravages of time, passing through the hands of numerous heralds until the beautiful manuscript was fittingly bought for the nation.



[1] The only other ordinary of comparable size, rather confusingly called William Jenyns’ Ordinary, contains far fewer families, but many examples of cadency, and will be the subject of  a later paper.

[2] Robert Mitchell’s edition, Heraldry Society of Scotland, 1982, and  CEMRA pg 58-59

[3] Nicolas, NH “a roll of arms compiled in the reign of Edward III”, London, 1829. CEMRA pg 60

[4]  There are various copies of this in existence, the earliest surviving being BL Additional ms 40851. I worked primarily from Society of Antiquaries ms 351, which is a remarkably faithful copy of the BL manuscript, though 2 leaves have been lost and the pages are  bound out of sequence. The numeration between the two differs slightly because the BL version includes some blank shields.

[5] Cooke’s is certainly a fourteenth century document, which led Sir Anthony Wagner, its then owner, to believe it was the original, see CEMRA pg xv. Some names found in Jenyns and Cotgrave are entirely wanting in Cooke, eg Jenyns no 710, although the loss may be due to the passage of time.

[6]  There are three cases where each of the ordinaries supplies a different cognomen: Jenyns no 679 is called Robert in Cooke and the contemporary Ashmole roll, Roger in Jenyns and John in Cotgrave; Jenyns no 685 is Adam in Jenyns, Amias in Cotgrave and Anketyn in Cooke, Boroughbridge and Ashmole; at Jenyns no 1228 the surname is spelt Hertford, in Cooke it is Retford, in Cotgrave Tetford, and in Ashmole Bedford!   

[7] It must certainly be after 1337 when William Montagu (no 628) was created earl of Salisbury, but the terminus post quem is more difficult to establish. Unfortunately some of the knights and peers included were already dead by 1337 eg Richard lord Grey of Codnor (no 570) who died 1335,  Robert Constable of Holderness (no 575) who died 1336, and Fulk Fitzwarin (no 957) who also died in 1336. Their inclusion signifies that the copyist was working from contemporary rolls of arms, and that the deaths even of parliamentary peers cannot be relied upon as dating material. There is also Thomas lord Poynings (no 574) who died 1339; William lord Fitzwilliam ( no 1032) who was dead by 1342 and  succeeded by his brother John; Henry lord Ferrers ( no 1026) died in 1343 and was succeeded by his son William; William lord Greystoke (no 581, the Christian name here supplied from Cooke as it is wanting in the other two) died in 1359 leaving a son and heir Ralph, and finally Ralph lord Neville of Raby (no 340) died in 1367 and was succeded by his son John. The further we move away from 1337 the less likely it becomes that such transitions would have been overlooked, which makes 1340 a reasonable guess. The date must surely be before the Garter was instituted as the founder knights are sparsely represented.

[8] No 1185: Nicholas Cantilupe’s heirs were his grandsons William and Nicholas, who both died without issue by 1375.

[9] No 1064. See Brault G “Rolls of arms of Edward 1”, London 1997, vol 2 pg 432-3, Warresius dspm.

[10] My tools for this research were primarily Papworth and the DBA. When the latter is complete the datable portion will doubtless increase, but it seems unlikely that such an exercise would change the conclusions of this paper. Joseph Foster “ Some feudal coats of arms”, London 1902, was also of some value, but  there are a great many errors and omissions, and Foster frequently attributes individuals to certain reigns on the basis of mere conjecture.

[11] CEMRA pg 74-75 and introduction pg xv.

[12] No 1473.

[13] No 43, This is a rare instance of the editor updating the precursor document. John sealed with these arms in 1371-2 and 1374-5. DBA vol 1 pg 174, 177.

[14] No 1595. Visitation of  Rutland Harl Soc  lxxiii  pg 22 and James Wright “ History and Antiquities of Rutland” 1684, pg 128.

[15] Langley and Burnell are at 175 and 955 respectively, for Botetourt see GEC ii 435.

[16] He was in fact only summoned to parliament once, which might account for why the herald was unaware of his death.

[17] No 1395. Of particular note is that between numbers 1395 and 1452 are to be found ten of the thirty shields for which the earliest alternative surviving examples are dated to the reign of Richard II.

[18] Only 30 of the 1034 additions are for individuals who flourished in his reign.

[19] Maurice Keen “ English military experience and the Court of Chivalry: the case of Grey v Hastings”, being chapter 10 of  “ Nobles, knights and men-at-arms of the Middle Ages”, London 1996.

[20] nos 227 and 1225.

[21] The first of these insertions is in the second row of shields where we find lions for the 4th and 5th earls, Ranulph le Meschin and Ranulph de Gernon. The attributed arms of the de Gernon can also be found in the county roll of Richard II. Shields for the 6th, 7th and 8th earls were inserted at nos 1170, 1170a and 1171, and for the preconquest earl Leofric and the 2nd to 5th post conquest at nos 1218-1223. The attributed arms for the Hugh Lupus ( Hugh d’Avranches) and his successor are also in the county roll of Richard II. The only earl to be missed out was Gherbod, who was earl for one year only, in 1070.

[22] nos 174-176

[23] CEMRA pg 74.

[24] GEC vol xiia pg 249

[25]  A new title page was added resplendent with her own magnificent arms.

[26] The same arms were recorded by Dering from the tomb of Wydeville’s father at Maidstone, see Archaeologia Cantiana vol 1, and occur again on Sir Richard’s Garter stall plate.

[27] Additional manuscript 40851. All surviving copies must stem from this one, since all include the arms of Widville. This includes the so called Thomas Jenyns version, which is not a different version at all, and which survives as a copy only in BL ms Stowe 696.

[28] GEC vol 11 pg 15-25,

[29] Sir John added his arms on a spare page at the end of the manuscript some time before his death  in 1489.

[30] This son, another Sir John, lost his life 10 years later at the battle of Edgcote.

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