Marginalizing heralds and antiquaries


Title page of Augustine Vincent's A discouerie of errours

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a period of major transition for English heralds, as the number of arms being granted increased exponentially, requiring improved methods of record-keeping. Their job was both ceremonial (ordering and keeping score at tournaments, ordering funerals) and archival (granting and confirming coats of arms, carrying out visitation to determine the accuracy of the pedigrees and coats of arms that people claimed, and compiling dictionaries of arms to prevent duplication). Not infrequently, they disagreed with each other and with other scholars about matters of accuracy and the nature of proof, and a copy of a book at the Folger provides an excellent example of the importance they placed on getting it right.

The herald Augustine Vincent’s A discouerie of errours in the first edition of the catalogue of nobility : published by Raphe Brooke, Yorke Herald, 1619… was an attempt by him to correct the mistakes found in his colleague Ralph Brooke’s A catalogue and succession of the kings, princes, dukes, marquesses, earles, and viscounts of this realme of England … discouering, and reforming many errors committed, by men of other profession … to the great wronging of the nobility, and preiudice of his Maiesties officers of armes…, which itself was an attempt to correct the errors found in William Martyn’s The history, and lives, of twentie kings of England and Thomas Milles’ The catalogue of honor.

The Folger has a whopping eight copies of Vincent’s work, most of them annotated and/or hand-colored. One of them (STC 24756 Copy 2) contains multiple layers of manuscript marginalia. A note on the front pastedown written by Peter Le Neve, Norroy King of Arms, explains the origin of a particularly scathing set of comments:

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Peter Le Neve inscription (click on image to enlarge)

Memorandum I Peter Le Neve Norroy transcribed some few &
my amanuensis the rest of the marginall notes which are
markt with this note to them SLK: from a book I
borrowed of John Hare Esqr Richmond Herald of Arms
which was before the book of Henry Dethick Esqr
& before that of Sir William Dugdale Knight Garter
King of Arms & which notes were transcribed in
that book by Henry Lilly Gent Rouge Rose
pursuivant from a book of St Loe Kniveton a
derbyshire Gent & ^a^ good antiquary whose Collections
for the most part are in the Yelverton Library but
I have some 3 or 4 of them. P: Le Neve Norroy

Thus, the “S.L.K.” marginalia in the Folger copy are two times removed from the original marginalia, and the transmission happened like this: the respected antiquary St. Lo Kniveton annotated his own copy of Vincent’s Discoverie of Errours in the 1620s. The herald Henry Lilly then transcribed Kniveton’s notes into his copy. Lilly’s copy was then owned successively by the heralds Sir William Dugdale, Henry Dethick, and John Hare. The herald Peter Le Neve borrowed the book from Hare in order to transcribe Lilly’s transcription of Kniveton’s marginalia into a third copy of the book (the one at the Folger). He shared copying duties with an amanuensis, and they both marked Kniveton’s notes with “S.L.K.” The amanuensis also copied William Dugdale’s notes and corrections from the intermediary copy, initialing them “W.D.” and Peter le Neve supplied original notes, signed “P: L Norroy.”

University of Michigan graduate student Katie Will (willkath AT umich DOT edu) first drew my attention to this book a few months ago, and I helped her transcribe some of the passages. She is writing a dissertation on official and unofficial discourses surrounding early modern English heraldry, and she will discuss the full context of the transmission of Kniveton’s notes in one of her chapters. She has studied the marginalia closely and discovered that one of Kniveton’s underlying concerns had to do with research methodologies. Vincent consulted legal cases to disprove Brooke, while Kniveton felt that records stemming from court testimony were inherently unreliable and much prefered to cite physical evidence, such as deeds, wills, and seals.

A tiny sampling of Kniveton’s thousands of comments:

“Here your Froth of a little Wit ouerflows your shallow brain Pann for it was sufficiently scummed in the Marginal Note in the Page Precedent”

“Without all Question these Words either proceed from the son of a Fidler or one that was lately a serving Man the stile savours of yt”

“If you had searched your own Records diligently you might have found a more Pregnant Proof for this”

“Here your Froth of a little Wit ouerflows your shallow brain Pann for it was sufficiently scummed in the Marginal Note in the Page Precedent” (p. 368)

“Here is but your usual Confident Affirmation & no proof of it…” (p. 26)

“In this Passage you are very weak in your Records but weaker in your Reason” (p. 443)

“Without all Question these Words either proceed from the son of a Fidler or one that was lately a serving Man the stile savours of yt” (p. 431)

“You shew much more Malice then true Understanding even in your own proper Science of Arms see & Observe more & correct less” (p. 140)

“If you had searched your own Records diligently you might have found a more Pregnant Proof for this” (p. 569)

“God give you good Rest in another World for in this while you adventure to write as you doe very often you will receive little if you be Capable & Sensible of your own Credit & of other mens Observations of your Corrections of Mr. Yorke” (p. 137)

It is an attack upon an attack upon an attack upon an attack—Kniveton’s attack on Vincent’s attack on Brooke’s attack on Martyn and Milles. Kniveton’s commentary must have been not only useful but entertaining to the many heralds who read it, particularly because Vincent had the upmost respect for Kniveton, describing him as “a learned gentilman and a Rare antiquarye and fellowe of this Colledge…” (College of Arms MS Vincent 190, cited in Douthwaite, Gray’s Inn (1886), 20). His comments sometimes consist of benign citations or clarification of the facts, but are more usually addressed directly to Vincent. They were important enough to be requisite reading for several generations of heralds, and are one of the few examples of scribally-circulated early modern marginalia that I’ve encountered. Heralds and other antiquarians and scholars took the trouble to correct and improve Vincent because it was considered to be the best informed book on the subject, and retained its value until the nineteenth century and beyond. One wonders if Vincent ever read Kniveton’s criticisms?

 

Author: Heather Wolfe

HEATHER WOLFE is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and teaches early modern English paleography for the Folger Institute and Rare Book School.

2 Comments

  1. These are some of the best marginal comments ever! I’m going to use them next time I comment on a blog post that annoys me.

  2. One more time, a new very interesting comment of its hand-writtenannotations inside this nobility book

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