“The highest and most sovereign things a knight ought to guard in defence of his estate are his troth and his arms.”
These were the words of Richard Lord Scrope of Bolton proclaimed to Sir Robert Grosvenor in the presence of the king at the Palace of Westminster on 11 November 1391, recorded verbatim in the Calendar of the Close Rolls.
Sir Richard Lord Scrope had recently won the right to bear a certain shield of arms against Sir Robert Grosvenor (C 47/6/2), a Cheshire knight, after a four year dispute in the Court of Chivalry (1386-1390) and was now demanding his defeated rival pay recompense for damages and costs. The suit had been filed in the court in 1386 after it had become apparent during Richard II’s Scottish campaign the previous year that both parties had displayed similar arms: a gold bend (a thick strip running diagonally across the shield) against an azure (blue) background. It is likely that the duplication was accidental.
Such heraldic disputes were frequent in the fourteenth century due to a rise in military activity and chivalric ideals triggered by the Hundred Years War. They were hotly contested because arms were principal symbols of profound chivalric honour and identity for a noble family. In many cases the same arms had been used by several generations of the same aristocratic house.
The Court of Chivalry was established in the fourteenth century as an institutional extension of powers already exercised by the constable and marshal of English armies in war. Its creation was necessitated by the increase in armorial disputes and other criminal or legal matters that arose during active military service but were not covered under the umbrella of Common Law, such as disagreements over ransoms for prisoners or evident breaches of the code of knighthood. Copies of proceedings for a select number of law suits heard in the Court of Chivalry, written in French, the language favoured by Chancery clerks, form a small series in Chancery (C 47/6) held at The National Archives. The original rolls of the court are located at the College of Arms in London. Continue reading »