History of the Office of the Chief Herald

Irish Heraldic Authority

The Chief Herald of Ireland is the State’s authority on all heraldic matters relating to Ireland.

The earliest reference to a herald of arms for Ireland is to Chandos Herald, the herald of John Chandos. Chandos Herald was appointed “Ireland King of Arms” in 1382. Chandos had a number of successors, who appear to have been regarded as members of the English College of Arms, up to the time of Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483). The last recorded incumbent was Thomas Ashwell. It is not known whether the post continued after him.

In 1552 the Office of Ulster King of Arms was created by Edward VI, who recorded the event in his journal as follows:

Feb. 2nd. There was a King of Arms made for Ireland, whose name was Ulster, and his province was all Ireland; and he was Fourth Herald of Arms, and first Herald of Ireland

It is not certain why the name of the Irish province of Ulster was attached to the post. However, the Anglo-Norman earldom of Ulster had been vested in the English Crown since the reign of Edward IV, and it seems probable that the title was chosen to reflect this connection.

The first Ulster King of Arms was Bartholomew Butler, who by Letters Patent of 1 June 1552, was granted 'all rights, profits, commodities and emoluments in that office … with power … of inspecting, overseeing and correcting, and embodying the arms and ensigns of illustrious persons and of imposing and ordaining differences therein, according to the Laws of Arms: of granting Letters Patent of Arms to men of rank and fit persons; and of doing … all things which by right of custom were known to be incumbent of the office of a King of Arms'. The post continued until the death of its last incumbent, Sir Nevile Wilkinson, in 1941. Thomas Sadlier, Deputy Ulster, continued to operate the office until 1943.

In 1943 heraldic responsibility passed to the Irish State. Dr Edward MacLysaght, styled Chief Genealogical Officer to which was later added Chief Herald of Ireland, succeeded to the functions and powers of Ulster King of Arms. The old title of 'Ulster' was attached to the existing post of 'Norroy King of Arms', a member of the English College of Arms.

Further information on Heraldry in Ireland is available for download here:
The History of Heraldry in Ireland  Heraldry_in_Ireland.pdf (0.15 MB, Adobe PDF)