The Court of Chivalry 1634-1640: the project

The work of researching and editing the records of the Court of Chivalry, 1634-1640 has been carried out at the University of Birmingham by Professor Richard Cust and Dr Andrew Hopper over the period 2003-6.

It would not have been possible without funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. As project leader and research fellow we would like to thank the AHRC for all their support.

As the project has developed it has increasingly become a collaboration with the College of Arms in London who are the custodians of the bulk of the surviving records of the High Court of Chivalry. We wish to thank to thank the Chapter of the College of Arms for permission to edit and calendar the manuscripts in their possession. From the inception of the project in 2002, Mr Robert Yorke, Archivist at the College of Arms has been enormously helpful and supportive. He has always made us welcome at the college and has shared with us his expertise on the records in his care. We are immensely grateful. Mr Timothy Duke, Chester Herald, has also taken a keen interest in the project from the outset and, as secretary and treasurer to the Harleian Society has overseen the production of our companion volume to this website : R.P.Cust and A.J.Hopper (eds),Cases in the High Court of Chivalry, 1634-1640  (Harleian Society, new series vol. 18, 2006). Again we would like to thank him. Dr Clive Cheesman, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, and Mr Joe Edwards recognized at an early stage the possibilities of developing this project as part of a larger web site covering the history of the Court of Chivalry (www.court-of-chivalry.gov.uk). Again we are very grateful for their support and expertise.

The other main archive where Court of Chivalry records are housed is amongst the Earl Marshal’s papers at Arundel Castle, Sussex. We would like to thank Dr John Martin Robinson, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary and Librarian to the Duke of Norfolk , and the Arundel Castle trustees for permission to edit and calendar the manuscripts in their possession. Whilst researching at Arundel we were able to draw on the expertise of Mrs Heather Warne, Archivist, and Mrs Sarah Rodger, Assistant Librarian. We are very grateful for all their help and hospitality.

In the final stages of the project we have worked with Dr Peter Robinson and Mr Andrew West at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham. Without their expertise and enthusiasm, developing this web site would not have been possible and we are immensely grateful to them. We are also grateful to Deborah Jewison and Steve Rea for their design work on the front pages of the web site.

We would also like to thank the historians who have provided us with material and taken an interest in this project. Dr Clive Holmes has shared with us his expertise on all  matters relating to the gentry and the legal system; Dr Paul Hunneyball provided us with material from the Edgecumbe papers; Dr Stephen Roberts has helped us out with Welsh place names; and Dr Alex Shepard has given us valuable feedback.

Finally, it should be emphasized that this research project and web site would not have been possible without the pioneering work of  the late Mr G.D. Squibb, Q.C., Norfolk Herald Extraordinary, a barrister who turned himself into a historian. His High Court of Chivalry (Oxford, 1956) remains an indispensable guide to the court’s history and procedures, and in addition he published a series of Reports of Heraldic Cases in the Court of Chivalry 1623-1732 (Harleian Society, vol.107, 1955). We are greatly indebted to him.

About the website

The aim of the site is to make available to scholars, researchers, local historians and genealogists the records of the Court of Chivalry during its heyday between 1634 and 1640. Over this period the court dealt with well over a thousand cases of which it has been possible to recover details of 738. These cover a wide variety of topics relating to the social, political and cultural history of the period, from ship money and the Bishops' Wars to pew disputes and duelling, from heralds visitations and grants of arms to brawls in the street and quarrels at race meetings. The majority of cases relate to defamation and slanderous words against gentlemen or noblemen, and they provide a rich source for the contemporary vocabulary of insult. But they also offer insights into gender relations, processes of litigation and dispute settlement, and contemporary understandings of what it meant to be a gentleman, as well as a wealth of biographical detail on plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses.