Office of the Chief Herald

Introduction

The Office of the Chief Herald is part of the Genealogy and Heraldry division of the National Library of Ireland. The Chief Herald is responsible for the granting and confirming of arms to individuals and corporate bodies. All arms granted are recorded in the Register of Arms, maintained since the foundation of the Office in 1552. The Register of Arms and other Office collections can be viewed in the Manuscripts Reading Room. A number of heraldic manuscripts have been digitised and are accessible via the Main Catalogue.

Origins and history of heraldry

The origins of heraldry come from the need to distinguish individuals in medieval battles or jousts, when faces and bodies were obscured through the wearing of helmets and armour. By the 12th century, personal badges were widely used by the nobility, and a century later, arms could be inherited. This meant that they had to be officially recorded and their display controlled. Specialists, known as officers at arms or heralds, were employed to record these coats of arms in rolls of arms (armorials). As arms became more elaborate, the language of their descriptions (blazons) acquired its own rules, vocabulary and syntax.

Grant of arms to Arthur French St George, 1811. NLI Ref: GO MS 106
Grant of arms to Arthur French St George, 1811. NLI Ref: GO MS 106
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