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First draft grants of arms based on John Shakespeare’s and William Shakespeare’s applications for acquiring a coat of arms (1596)
October 20,
1596
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Record Shakespeare Draft Grant of Arms 1 (formerly MS Vincent 157, no. 23)

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Record Shakespeare Draft Grant of Arms 1 (formerly MS Vincent 157, no. 23)
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The College of Arms has graciously contributed images from their collections to Shakespeare Documented, and retains sole ownership of said images. Visitors may link to and cite the images within Shakespeare Documented in personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the images is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the College of Arms to request additional use: by email at: enquiries@college-of-arms.gov.uk; by telephone: (+44)20 7248 2762; or by post at: Officer in Waiting, College of Arms, 130 Queen Victoria Street, London, UK, EC4V 4BT

Document-specific information
Creator: Sir William Dethick, Garter King of Arms
Title: First draft grants of arms based on John Shakespeare’s and William Shakespeare’s applications for acquiring a coat of arms (1596)
Date: October 20, 1596
Repository: College of Arms, London, UK
Call number and opening: Record Shakespeare Draft Grant of Arms 1 (formerly MS Vincent 157, no. 23)

Item Creator
Sir William Dethick, Garter King of Arms
Item Title
First draft grants of arms based on John Shakespeare’s and William Shakespeare’s applications for acquiring a coat of arms (1596)
Item Date
October 20, 1596
Repository
College of Arms, London, UK
Call Number
Record Shakespeare Draft Grant of Arms 1 (formerly MS Vincent 157, no. 23)

Institution Rights and Document Citation

Terms of use
The College of Arms has graciously contributed images from their collections to Shakespeare Documented, and retains sole ownership of said images. Visitors may link to and cite the images within Shakespeare Documented in personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the images is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the College of Arms to request additional use: by email at: enquiries@college-of-arms.gov.uk; by telephone: (+44)20 7248 2762; or by post at: Officer in Waiting, College of Arms, 130 Queen Victoria Street, London, UK, EC4V 4BT

Document-specific information
Creator: Sir William Dethick, Garter King of Arms
Title: First draft grants of arms based on John Shakespeare’s and William Shakespeare’s applications for acquiring a coat of arms (1596)
Date: October 20, 1596
Repository: College of Arms, London, UK
Call number and opening: Record Shakespeare Draft Grant of Arms 1 (formerly MS Vincent 157, no. 23)

This draft grant of arms for John Shakespeare was prepared and written by William Dethick, Garter King of Arms, the most senior of the 13 heralds of the College of Arms. It is the first of two drafts of the grant, both dated October 20, 1596. These drafts would have been used to create "letters patent," an ornate parchment copy made by a herald or a professional scribe, with the new coat of arms blazoned (that is, described) and illustrated, and then signed by the herald. The "letters patent" for John Shakespeare's arms is not known to survive.  

The drafts describe the arms as "gold, on a bend sable [black], a spear of the first, the point steeled argent [silver]" (it is altered from "argent" to "proper," or natural-colored, in the first draft, and described as argent in the second draft); that is, a gold shield with a diagonal black band, and within the band, a gold spear with silver tip. The crest on top of the shield is a "falcon, his wings displayed, argent, standing on a wreath of his colors, supporting a spear gold, steeled argent..."; that is, a silver falcon with wings open, standing on a wreath, holding a gold spear with a silver tip, sitting on a helmet with mantels and tassels. The spear in the shield, and the spear being "shaken" by the falcon, are visual puns on the Shakespeare family name. It has been very common since the Middle Ages for heraldic designs to feature imagery that refers to the family’s name.
 
There are very minor differences between the two drafts. The first draft contains many corrections by Dethick. The second draft, also in Dethick's handwriting, integrates these revisions and makes further revisions. The second draft’s neater script and format, together with the fact that it incorporates some of the changes made to the first, suggest that it was intended as the model to be followed for the letters patent. Shakespeare’s motto Non sanz droict (Not without right) is included on the drafts, although mottoes were not part of grants of arms and did not need to be recorded.
 
A note at the bottom of the second draft states that the design of the arms had previously been made by Clarenceux Cooke 20 years previously: "a patierne thereof under Clarent. Cookes hand in paper xx [twenty] years past.” Although no version of this earlier application survives, it suggests that John Shakespeare applied for a grant of arms in the late 1570s, and that the “pattern,” or design, of the coat of arms had been created at that time. John was at the height of his career in the 1570s, having served in a variety of high-ranking municipal positions in Stratford-upon-Avon, including bailiff, chamberlain, and alderman. Unfortunately, he encountered financial hardships after his initial application to Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms, and the application process was not renewed until 1596.
 
Although William Shakespeare’s name does not appear in the drafts of the grant, the prosperous and successful playwright is assumed to have commissioned them on behalf of his aging father, since in 1596 he was in a much better social, financial, and geographical position to pursue the elevation of his father’s (and his own) status. The granting of a coat of arms to John Shakespeare would have bestowed an outward show of “gentility” on all of his descendents. In the complicated social hierarchies of early modern England, a coat of arms did not establish gentility, but merely confirmed it. This was a great social step upwards, and one to which, it has been shown, many actors aspired. 
 
Until the twentieth century, the two drafts were bound into a volume containing other Dethick working papers (Vincent MS 157, vol. 1). This volume and 259 others were owned by the herald Augustine Vincent (d. 1626) and passed down to his son John Vincent (d. 1671), who then willed them to the antiquary Ralph Sheldon of Beoley, who in turn willed them to the College of Arms at his death in 1684. On November 1, 1933, the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant “handed in” the two Shakespeare draft grants of arms and the 1599 confirmation of arms at the monthly chapter meeting of the College of Arms. The three fragmentary sheets had been separated from the two large volumes in which they had lived for at least three hundred years prior, and were rebound separately. They were ordered to be placed in “the specially locked presses.”

George Steevens first brought modern attention to these drafts in the introduction to his Plays of William Shakespeare (1778), vol. 1, p. 191. He mentions them in a footnote to the transcription of the 1599 exemplification: "In the Herald's Office are the first draughts of John Shakespeare's grant or confirmation of arms, by William Dethick, Garter, Principal King of Arms, 1596. See Vincents Press, vol. 157, no. 23 and No. 24. STEEVENS."

Modernized/Translated transcriptions

Non, Sanz Droict.                               NON SANZ DROICT                              Shakespere, 1596

[coat of arms]

To all and singular Noble and Gentlemen of what estate or degree bearing Arms to whom these present shall come: William Dethick, alias Garter, principal King of Arms, sendeth greetings. Know ye that whereas by the authority and ancient privilege and custom pertaining to my said office of principal King of Arms, from the Queen's most excellent majesty and her highness's most noble and victorious progenitors, I am to take general notice and record and to make public demonstration and testimony for all causes of Arms and matters of Gentry throughout all her Majesty's kingdoms and dominions, principalities, isles, and provinces. To the end that [damage] as some by their ancient names, families, kindreds, and descents have and enjoy sundry ensigns and [Coats] of Arms, so others for their valiant facts, magnanimity, virtue, dignities, and deserts may have such marks and tokens of honor and worthiness whereby their name and good fame shall be [damage] and divulged, and their children and posterity in all vertue to the service of their prince and country being therefore solicited [and by] credible report informed that John Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwickshire, whose parents and late ancestors were for their valiant and faithful service advanced and rewarded by the most prudent prince, King Henry VII of famous memory, sithence which time they have continued at those parts in good reputation and credit, and that the said John having married Mary daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden of Wilmcote in the said county, gent. In consideration whereof and for encouragement of his posterity I have therefore assigned, granted, and by these present, confirmed this shield or coat of arms, viz., Gold on a bend sable, a spear of the first, the point steeled proper. And for his crest or cognizance, a falcon, his wings displayed argent, standing on a wreath of his colors, supporting a spear gold, steeled as aforesaid, set upon a helmet with mantles and tassels as hath been accustomed and more plainly appeareth depicted on this Margin. Signifying hereby that it shall be lawful for the said John Shakespeare, gent., and for his children, issue, and posteritie at all times convenient, to make show of and bear blazon the same achievement on their shields or coat of arms, escucheons, crest, cognizance, or seals, rings, signets, pennons, guidons, edifices, utensils, liveries, tombs, or monuments, or otherwise, at all times in all lawful war-like facts or civil use and exercises according to the laws of arms, without let or interruption of any other person or persons that usurp, presumpt, or show and bear the same.

In witness whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and fastened the seal of my office endorsed with the signet of my arms, at the Office of Arms, London, the 20th day of October in the 39th year of the reign of our sovereign lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the faith, etc. 1596.

To whom these achievements [may/must] descend, by the ancient custom and laws of arms.

Semi-diplomatic transcription

Non, Sanz Droict.                               NON SANZ DROICT                              Shakespere, 1596

non, sanz Droict:

[coat of arms]

To all & singuler Noble & Gentillmen of what estate or degree bearing Arms to whom

these presentes shall come   William Dethick alias Garter. principall king of Arms

sendethe greetinges   Knowe Yee that whereas by the authoritie & auncyent ^ pryvelege & custome of ^ pertey[n]inge to

my said office of fre ^ principall king of Arms from the Quenes most excellent Maiestie and her highnes most noble & victorious

Progenitors. I am to take generall notice & record & to make publique demonstracion

& testimonie for all matters & causes of Arms & for all and matters of Gentrie Thoroughe out all her

Maiesties kingdoms & domynions, Principalites, Isles, & Provinces.   To thend that [. . .] [. .]

As some by theyre auncyent Names families kyndredes & descentes have & enioye sonderie enseignes & [Coates]

of Arms. So other for theyre valiant factes magnanimite vertue dignites & descertes maye have

suche tokens & markes & Tokens of honor & Worthinesse. Whereby theyr Name & good fame shalbe [. . . . . . . .]

& divulged. & theyre Children & posterite ^ in all vertue better ^ encouraged descerned ^ to the better service of theyre Prynce & Contrie

In consideration & the better. declaration wherof I have ben ^ Being herevnto solicited and bycredible report informed  Beinge ^ therefore herevnto solicited [& by]

credible report informed.  That John .Shakespeare. of Stratford vppon Avon in the Counte of warw[icke]

whose ^ parentes & late antecessors were for they[r]e valieant & faithefull service advaunced & rewarded by the most Pruden[t]

Prince king Henry the seventh of famous memorie sythence whiche tyme they have continueed at those partes^ in good

reputacion & credit ^ And that the said John having maryed the Mary daughter & one of the heyres of Robert Arden of Wilmcote in the said Countie gent. In consideration wherof & for encouragement of his posterite I have ^ therfore assigned

geven and graunted ^and ^ by these presentes confirmed this shield or Cote of Arms. Viz. Gould on a bend sable a speare. of the first ^ the poynt steeled argent proper.

And for his Creast or Cognizance. A faulcon ^ his winges displayed proper Argent argent standing on a wrethe of his Coullors supporting

a Speare. gould. steled ^ as aforesaid proper argent sett vppon a healmett with mantelles and tasselles as ^ hath ben accustomed and more playnely appearethe

depicted on this Margent. Signefieing hereby that it shalbe lawfull for the sayd John Shakespeare

Gent. and for his Children yssue & posterite at all tymes convenient to make shewe of And that he or th[ey] maye vse to & beare ^ Blazon the same ^ Atchevement on ^ theyre Shield[es]

or ^ cote of Arms Escucheons. ^ Creast Cognizance or Seales Ringes signettes ^ pennons Guydons Edefice vtensiles liveries Tombes or Monumentes or other wyse ^ at all tymes in all lawfull Warrlyke factes or Ciuile vse

and exercises ^ according to the Lawes of Arms without lett or interruption of any ^ other person or persons ^ that maye or[..] vse vsurpe & beare the same.   presumpe or shewe In witnesse whereof I have

herevnto subscribed my name & fastened the Seale of my office endorzed with the Signett

of my Arms.  At the office of Arms London. The xxte Daye of october in the

xxxixtie yeare of the reigne of our Soueraigne Lady Elizabeth by the grace of God Quene of

England ffraunce & Ireland. Defender of the faithe &c. 1596.

                                                            To whom theyse achivmentes maie [or “must”] 

                                                             desend, by the auncient custom and

                                                              lawes of Armes.

Last updated January 17, 2018