You are no doubt aware of one of the latest BBC2 comedy sitcom creations Upstart Crow, that is now in its second series of six 30-minute programmes that have been aired since Monday, 4th September 2017. Actor, comedian and general social/political commentator David Mitchell stars as William Shakespeare in a light-hearted series of programmes created by Ben Elton that celebrate the genius of the Bard. As well as the brilliant humour many of us with an interest in heraldry and the College of Arms have had our interest further spiked by references to the College of Heralds.

The rest of the cast includes Harry Enfield as Will’s dad, John Shakespeare; Paula Wilcox as Will’s mum Mary Arden; Liza Tarbuck as Will’s wife Anne Hathaway; Helen Monks as their daughter Susanna; Gemma Whelan as Kate; Mark Heap as Sir Robert Greene, Will’s rival and nemesis; Steve Speirs as Burbage; Tim Downie as Kit Marlowe; Dominic Coleman as Kempleton; Spencer Jones as a member of Burbage’s company and Rob Rouse as the family servant Bottom.

Upstart Crow series 2 cast

It’s 1592 and William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is just at the beginning of his extraordinary career. The series focuses on both Will’s family and professional life and includes surprising stories of where many of his creations came from. The programme follows the quest of William Shakespeare to succeed as a playwright in London, whilst juggling family life with his loved ones in Stratford-upon-Avon. In the new series Will is still striving to make his mark in the theatre but while the London elite sneer at country-boy Will at least he has the help of his servant Bottom, trusty friend Kate and the not-so-trusty friend Marlowe. The series shows Will at odds with authority and in particular that of the College of Heralds and its supposed head Robert Greene, an official of the crown. His repeated application to the College for the Shakespeare family to be granted a Coat of Arms appears to be his constant quest that is met with failure, as his lack of connection amongst the deities precludes his father John Shakespeare and himself of the right to proclaim themselves as gentlemen.

Who Robert Greene may be is initially unclear. There has never been a Pursuivant, Herald or King of Arms called Robert Greene and in 1592 Sir William Dethick was the Garter King of Arms (1586-1606). However, there was a Robert Greene (1558-1592), a dramatist who was well known to William Shakespeare. Greene is best known for a pamphlet that was attributed to him after his death: Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance (1598) that is believed to contain an attack on William Shakespeare. Unlike Shakespeare, Greene was a student of the University of Cambridge, where he obtained a BA in 1580 and an MA in 1583. Greene was a prolific author and published in many genres including romances, plays and autobiography. The pamphlet Groats-worth of Witte contains the following lines … for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country. Clearly this is the origin of Ben Elton’s creation Upstart Crow and we must congratulate him for his endeavour in tapping into the rich history of that time that is at the centre of the Greene-Shakespeare and other conflicts.

We probably all know and understand the story that relates to the Grant of Arms to John Shakespeare, William’s father. This is discussed in detail in The assignment of Arms to Shakespeare and Arden 1596-1599 by Stephen Isaacson Tucker (1884) as well as other publications. Briefly a grant of arms was made to John Shakespeare (1531-1601), who qualified as a sufficiently eminent person by virtue of the council office he held in Stratford upon Avon and his marriage to Mary daughter of Robert Arden, a local land owner and member of the minor gentry. However, despite this attribution the earlier applications for a grant of arms were unsuccessful and it was only the later application (20th October 1596) by William Shakespeare, on his father’s behalf, that was successful when the grant cited his service to Henry VII, although the nature of that service was not defined. The arms are:

Shakespeare Arms

blazon: or, on a bend sable, a spear of the first, steeled argent

crest: a falcon, his wings displayed argent and supporting a spear gold steeled

motto: NON SANZ DROICT (Not without right)

This story of the difficulties faced by John Shakespeare does raise important issues with regards the granting of arms and perhaps some would reflect that these difficulties still exist today.

We primarily view the role of the Officers of the College of Arms to be their ceremonial activities and the preparation and granting of arms. However, we must not forget the other roles they perform that include research of heraldry, genealogy and military insignia and the preservation of the history, buildings and traditions associated with College of Arms. Many of our members first contact with the College is to apply for a personal grant of arms or a corporate grant of arms for an institution with which they have a connection. Having successfully completed the process our confidence in the granting system is enhanced and we look with pride at our involvement with the College and its Officers and often become members of the White Lion Society to maintain our interest in the College. We also have members who join the Society in the hope that their aspiration of being granted arms will be advanced. For those who have never experienced the process there is often a reluctance to make a start, which is the result of the lack of awareness of whether they qualify for a grant of arms, what the process of producing the arms will involve and ultimately what will the whole process cost.

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Having recently obtained a personal Grant of Arms I hope an account of my experiences will help others decide to seek their own Grant of Arms and feel confident that they will be treated fairly during the process. A starting point for any future grantee must be the College of Arms website, there from the tool-bar select ‘Services’ and from the resulting drop-down menu that appears select ‘Granting of Arms’. Here you will find a description under separate headings of many of the aspects of your application or petition:

Petitioning for Arms, Fees, Corporate Arms, Design of Arms, Standard and Badges, Badges, Standards.

I will deal with each of these but would like to re-assure anyone who still finds the process difficult to comprehend that help is available. For each week of the year the College of Arms designates an Officer in Waiting to deal with those members of the public who direct general enquires to the College or specifically would like to obtain a Grant of Arms. All Pursuivants and Heralds serve in rotation as Officer in Waiting for a week (Monday-Friday, not including bank holidays), for the hours of 10.00am to 4.00pm. Kings of Arms (Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster) do not act as Officers in Waiting. If you have visited the College of Arms between the hours of 10am and 4pm, you will have noticed that from the front portico hangs a banner, which is that of the serving Officer in Waiting. If you decide to contact the College, with a view to obtaining a Grant of Arms, then you can write to a particular Officer and request that they act as your agent or you can direct your enquiry generally to the College so that the Officer in Waiting will be allocated as your agent. Alternatively, you can turn up on any day (Monday-Friday, 10am-4pm) and meet the Officer in Waiting in person, who will discuss the process and options with you and acting as your agent will later guide you through the process which will begin once your payment has been made. The important first step is to make contact and get the process started.

The petition or memorial for a Grant of Arms is made to the Earl Marshal (Edward William Fitzalan Howard, The 18th Duke of Norfolk), however the petition will be prepared by your agent and approved by the Garter King of Arms (Thomas Woodcock). The submission is the start of the process.

Following acceptance of your petition you will correspond or meet with your agent until you have an agreed and acceptable design for your coat of arms and all or any of a crest, badge or standard. The agent needs to ensure that your design is permissible, subject to the laws of heraldic blazon and is unique in that it should not be a reproduction of any previously granted arms, crest, badge or standard. In realising that your arms are later likely to be reproduced in many different formats you should be aware that your arms if produced as a black and white image should be markedly different in that format to any other previous design. Most coat of arms are accompanied by an appropriate helmet and crest and often a motto. Ladies applying for a grant of arms do not have a helmet or crest. Mottoes need not be unique but need to be of a manageable length to fit the design, they can be in any language. Crests must also be unique and be capable of being viewed as a three-dimensional object. Personally, I decided that my grant should include a coat of arms, crest, motto and badge. Not a standard. Do take care not to mix up the terms banner and standard. I did not want a standard but like all others, who like to show our arms at dinners and other functions, wanted to have a banner. A banner is not part of the granting process as it is merely a rectangular representation of your coat of arms. The design of the coat of arms, crest and badge are independent of each other and need not contain any elements that are the same. However, design of standards will include elements drawn from other aspects of your grant. If you qualify for the granting of supporters, you will be informed of this.

Do not become concerned if a design or repeated design is rejected on the basis of uniqueness, just make sure that you are happy with the final result. Your agent will advise you at each stage and may offer alternate options or will explain why a particular design is not allowed.

The cost can be a major factor that effects your decision to start the process and you should be happy with what you have to pay and realise what you are receiving for your money, before you agree for work to begin. You must complete the full payment before the work begins. However, you can re-assure yourself that there are no further costs after your payment. A list of payments for 2017 follows. Other services can be provided and you should contact the College to get details of these or if you have any queries.








Commercial Company














Parish Councils




Woman in her own Patent




Woman in her Husband's Patent




Woman in her Husband's Patent




limited to her and her Sister's descendants




Impersonal in a separate Patent




Personal in separate Patent






Commercial Company in a Patent




Commercial Company in a separate Patent




Impersonal in a Patent




Impersonal in a separate Patent




Personal in a Patent




Personal in a separate Patent







Costs are reviewed and set at the beginning of each year. What you receive is an investment in your future and an acknowledgement of yourself, your family or your organisation. The fees generated for producing a Grant of Arms support the Officers of Arms and the craftsmen that contribute to the process, which include the heraldic painters, calligraphers, and producers of vellum. This network of worthies deserves our support.

Am I sufficiently eminent to be granted a Coat of Arms? You may be surprised to find that you are. I was. A relatively small number, who may be considered worthy, do not qualify. I recall a brief address that Garter made at a Heraldry Society reception some years ago in which he linked eminence to professional qualification and this I found very re-assuring. The holding at some time of a Civil or Military Commission is an alternative qualifying factor. The qualifying issue of eminence is linked to your right to be seen as a gentleman or an esquire. Many of us qualify by educational standard, when we receive a Bachelor degree, whether it is linked to our final employment or not. Higher professional standards in a number of areas also qualify. If you have been deemed worthy of an award in the Honours System again you will qualify. You may have to ask the question about your own particular circumstances but be re-assured that you will find that the response is immediate and sensitively dealt with.

What you get at the end of the process is a magnificent work of art that is the record of your Grant of Arms, granted by the Sovereign and endorsed by the principal Officers of the College. All grant documents are produced on vellum, have all artwork hand painted and calligraphy produced by hand. It will be signed by the Garter King of Arms, either Clarenceux King of Arms or Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and the registrar of the College of Arms. This is delivered to you rolled in a red presentation box.

 (c) The White Lion Society 2017