Elizabethan and Jacobean painter-heralds

Elizabeth Goldring, Associate Fellow, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick

Making Art in Tudor Britain
Abstract of a paper presented at Tudor and Jacobean Painting: Production, Influences and Patronage
Funded by the British Academy and The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Although a history of Elizabethan and Jacobean painter-heralds remains to be written, there is no doubt that all members of the College of Arms in this period were required to possess, at the very least, rudimentary drawing and painting skills. These were necessary not only for the tricking out of arms and genealogical tables that formed the bread and butter of the heralds’ daily life, but also for making visual records of the occasional ceremonies – such as coronations and royal and noble funerals and marriages – over which the College exercised jurisdiction.

To better understand the role of painting and drawing within the Elizabethan and Jacobean College of Arms, it is useful to set the College’s activities against those of the Painter-Stainers’ Company, with which the College was often in conflict in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Although the Painters and the Stainers originally had been separate companies, they joined forces in 1502, obtained their own hall in the City in 1532, and were granted a royal charter in 1581. Members of the Painter-Stainers’ Company included figurative painters, history painters, heraldic painters, and house painters, though the company’s membership was heavily biased towards heraldic painting throughout the sixteenth century and indeed well into the seventeenth. The heraldic banners carried in City pageants, for example, were often the work of members of the Painter-Stainers’ Company.  In addition, members of the Company are known to have supplied heraldic painting for a number of royal and noble funerals. Other Painter-Stainers, like George Cabel, who was appointed master of the Company in 1578, are known to have painted pedigrees.

This emphasis upon heraldic painting meant that the Painter-Stainers’ Company increasingly found itself at odds with the College of Arms, which claimed that its members should have control over all aspects of this particular branch of painting (and indeed of any related art form, such as tomb-making, which might also require the accurate tricking out of arms). In 1578, members of the Painter-Stainers’ Company famously petitioned Lord Burghley regarding what they perceived as the heralds’ infringement on the monopoly on painted work that the Company was attempting to maintain. Over the next several decades, the situation grew increasingly acrimonious until, in 1620, the College of Arms agreed that eight painter-stainers – specially selected because of the excellence of the work they had produced for heraldic funerals – would be employed by the College if, in return, they agreed not to canvass for heraldic funeral work independently. Unfortunately, however, this arrangement was only partially successful, for in 1628, four of the eight Painter-Stainers in question fell foul of the heralds for having solicited work in contravention of the earlier agreement.

The ongoing tensions in this period between the College of Arms and the Painter-Stainers’ Company should be viewed within the larger context of the internal strife which characterized the College in the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods. Amidst disputes about the methods of promotion within the College, and debates as to whether too many ‘new men’ were being granted arms, a number of heralds publicly accused one another of abuse of office and general misconduct (and indeed many do seem to have engaged in such behaviour).

Although art historians have tended to date to focus on points of conflict between the Painter-Stainers’ Company and the College of Arms, future research might usefully explore in more detail the ways in which members of these two institutions occupied overlapping worlds. For example, a number of the individuals admitted to the College of Arms in this period were the sons of painter-stainers: to cite just two examples, Robert Treswell, who was appointed Somerset Herald in 1597, and William Camden, who was appointed Clarenceux King of Arms that same year, were both the sons of members of the Painter-Stainers’ Company. In addition, there are a handful of cases in this period of painter-stainers going on to become officers of the College of Arms. Ralph Brooke, who became a freeman of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1576, was admitted to the College of Arms as a pursuivant in 1580, before being promoted, in 1592, to York Herald, a post that he held until his death. Similarly, Henry Lilly, who became a freeman of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1610, was one of the eight painter-stainers specially selected by the College of Arms in 1620 to undertake heraldic painting for funerals. Although Lilly fell out with the College in 1628 for canvassing for heraldic work in addition to that supplied to him by the College, nonetheless he was subsequently admitted to the College as a pursuivant. Future scholarship might delve more deeply into these, and other, points of overlap between the Painter-Stainers’ Company and the College of Arms – with a view towards highlighting the interconnected patronage networks within which members of both institutions operated. In addition, an exploration of the extent to which members of the Painter-Stainers’ Company and the College of Arms had ties to other London institutions – including guilds and livery companies, the Inns of Court, and the Society of Antiquaries – would help to create a prosopography of the early modern painter-heralds and their milieu. It would also be useful to know to what extent the life of William Segar – who had a brief but glittering career as a portrait painter to the Elizabethan elite before being appointed Garter King of Arms (i.e. chief herald) in 1604 – was or was not typical. Finally, it would be fruitful to explore in more detail the relationship between painter-heralds in London and the provinces. These, and other, topics I plan to explore in future in a book-length study.