THE 1620 HERALDIC VISITATION OF CORNWALL
The granting of coats of arms, crests, badges and supporters ultimately rests with the monarch but is delegated to heralds, of whom the Kings of Arms are the most senior. In mediaeval times, when the class structure was much more rigid, the display of a coat of arms carried much more importance than it does today. Abuse of the heraldic system in the 13th to the 17th centuries meant that heraldic visitations took place from 1530 to 1688 by Kings of Arms or their deputies throughout England, Wales and Ireland. The purpose of these visits was to collate and control the coats of arms used by families and organisations such as towns. The records are usually in the form of family trees or pedigrees.
One such visitation took place in Cornwall in 1620. The record of the inspection has survived and is part of the Harleian Collection in the British Museum. The visitation was ordered by Bishop Camden with the approval of King Charles I. Two heralds were sent to document the position in Cornwall - Henry St George, the Richmond Herald, and Sampson Lennard, titled Bluemantle Pursuivant.
The heralds made contact with all the nobility, gentry and boroughs in the county and collected information to validate their use of heraldry. Three families in North Hill warranted inspection and they were the Spoure family of Trebartha Hall, the Darley family and the Vincent family. Other local families such as the Archers of Trelaske in Lewannick, the Lampens of Patrieda in Linkinhorne and the Bonds of Holwood and Earth in Quethiock were also visited.
One family that was 'disclaimed', meaning that their right to display a coat of arms was withdrawn, was the Vincent family. It was recorded at Bodmin in 1620 that John Vincent of North Hill, along with other people from other Cornish parishes, was disclaimed. The story of the dispute between the Vincent family of Stoke D'Abernon in Surrey and the Vincents of North Hill, presumably resulting in the disclaim, can be read here.
The records were updated and published in printed form with more recent information in the 1880s under the management of genealogist and historian Lieutenant-Colonel John Lambrick Vivian (1830–1896), Inspector of Militia and Her Majesty's Superintendent of Police. Vivian's Heraldic Visitations of Devon and of Cornwall have become standard reference works for historians.
The original records were pedigrees and can be difficult to understand because of the use of Latin, an obsolete script and arcane abbreviations. They can be understood with Vivian's printed version for guidance, as demonstrated above by use of the Spoore/Spoure (spelling was not standardised at this time) family pages. The printed version shows the information that was derived from the 1620 visitation by the use of italics. The added information was not italicised and was frequently footnoted to show the source, commonly parish registers. There are few exact dates in the 1620 records. Early generations were frequently annotated with the year of the reign of a monarch. For instance "12 H 8" or "12 H VIII" would indicate the twelfth year of the reign of King Henry VIII; Henry having become king in 1485 the date of the record would be around 1497. It is not always possible to be sure what this date signifies but at worst we know that the person referred to was alive within a year of that date.
The records were also written using some Latin and some Latin abbreviations. Names were frequently recorded in a Latin form such as 'Johis' for 'John' and 'Robti' for 'Robert' and 'Jana' for 'Jane'. It is common to see 'uxor' for 'wife' and 'fi' for 'filius or filia' meaning 'son' or 'daughter'. Heraldic rights to bear arms were passed through families and the visitations record heraldic heirs, usually the eldest surviving son or even in some cases a daughter where no sons were born or have survived upon the death of the father. The visitation pedigrees will often show such heirs as "heres" or something similar.
When Richard Spoure was interviewed he had a record of ancestors dating back to the reign of Edward II which was important for proof of his entitlement to bear a coat of arms and ownership of the Trebartha estate. Helpfully, Richard recorded the ages of his children at the time of the visitation. You will see, for instance, Richard's seventh daughter Margaret 'at' (this is a Latin abbreviation for 'aetatus' meaning 'aged') 6 on the pedigree.
The details provided to the heralds, or perhaps an exact copy of the pedigree, survived at least until the 1690s when it was used by Edmund Spoure as the basis for his Book of Spoure.
The images in the banner of this page show the signature of Richard Spoure (1570-1647), signed as Spoore on the 1620 pedigree record, and the title page of J L Vivian's "The Visitation of Cornwall 1620".