Late Mediaeval Oaths for Heralds
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Late Mediaeval Oaths for Kings of Arms, Heralds, and Pursuivants

By Dom Pedro de Alcazar

© 2004, Craig Levin.
Reprinted here with gracious permission of the author.

Heraldry was and is a specialized art. Like most arts and crafts of the Middle Ages, it had its masters, journeymen, and apprentices. Unlike the other arts, though, it was a noble activity, and the ranks were called by different names than those of the mechanic arts. The apprentice herald was called a pursuivant. The journeyman herald was, well, a herald, or, more fully, a herald of arms. Kings of Arms were heralds-usually the best around-who were selected by a prince to be the head of his heraldic entourage. As will be seen below, they had other duties besides merely being "boss herald." One could think of them as the masters of the art without stretching the truth overmuch.

The oaths below are edited versions of the oaths found in the Black Book of the Admiralty, one of the works selected to be part of the Rolls Series of primary sources for English history. It was edited by Sir Travers Twiss in 1871. The exact placement of the oaths is pp.295-299 in the first volume of the Black Book.

The Oath of the Kings of Arms in Their Creation

You shall swear by the oath the you received when you were made a herald, and by the faith that you owe to the king, our sovereign lord, whose arms you bear, that you shall truly keep such things as are comprised in the articles following:

1st, whensoever the king shall command you to give any message to any other king, prince, state, or any other person out of this his realm, or to any person of whatever state, condition, or degree he be of within the same, that you shall do it as honorably and truly as your will and reason can serve you, and greatly to the advantage of our sovereign lord and his realm, and truly report bring again to his highness of your message and as near to the charge to you committed in words and in substance, as your said reason may attain to, always keeping yourself secret for any manner motion, save to such persons as you be commanded to utter your charge unto.

2ndly, you shall do your true duty to be every day more cunning than others in the office of arms, so as you may be better furnished to teach others under you, and execute with more wisdom and more eloquence such charges as your sovereign lord and his realm or of his realm any nobleman shall lay unto you by the virtue of the office, which his highness will erect you to at this time, discovering in no wise that you have in charge to keep closer than that be predjudicial to the king our sovereign lord and his realm.

3rdly, you shall do your diligence to have knowledge of all the nobles and gentlemen within your march, which should bear coats in the field in the service of our sovereign lord, his lieutenants, officers, and commisaries, and them with their issue truly register, and such arms as they bear, with the difference due in the arms to be given, and they hold any service by knight's fee, whereby they should give to the king service for the defense of his land.

4thly, you shall not be unwilling to teach pursuivants or heralds, nor to ease them in such doubts as they shall move to you, and such as cannot be eased by you, you shall show to the constable, and if any pursuivant asks any doubt of you, you shall ask him first, whether he has desired any of the heralds to instruct him in the same, and, if he says, you, you shall limit (orig.-"lymite") him one of them, or else ease him if you can. Also, you shall keep, from month to month, in your marches, your chapters to the increase of cunning in the office of arms, and the doubts that there cannot be eased, you shall move to the constable.

5thly, you shall observe and keep to your cunning and power all such oaths as you made when you were created a herald, to the honor and worship of noblesse and integrity of living, namely, in eschewing disreputable places and people, and always more ready to excuse than to blame any noble person, unless (orig.-"on les") than you be charged to say the truth by the king, his constable, and marshal, or in any place judicial. Also you shall permit truly to register all acts of honor in manner and form as they be done, as forsooth as power and cunning may extend, etc. (it ends there, unfortunately, but one presumes that the real end is like that of the oaths to come).

The Oaths of the Heralds

1st, you shall swear to our sovereign lord the king that makes (orig. "makyd") you of the order of herald in his excellent presence, and to be true in all manner point (orig. "maner poynt"), and if you hear any manner of language or any other thing that should touch treaon to his high and excellent person, or to his noble and discreet council, so help you God and holidom (orig. "holy dome"-a relic).

Item you shall be serviceable and secret in all points, except treason, and obedience to all knights and gentleness, to lords and ladies and to gentlemen and gentlewomen, and as a confessor of arms, and cause and counsel them to all them truth, worship, and virtue in that in you is, so help you God and holidom.

Item you shall be true of all your reports, and diligent to seek worship, and desire to be in the places of great assembly (orig. "into place ther grete semble") of princes and princesses, lords, ladies, and estates of great worship, where through you may have cunning to report to your prince or princess, or other estate, such worship as is occupied there, so help you God and holidom.

Item you shall promise, in case that fortune fall you to meet any gentleman of name and of arms that has lost his goods in our sovereign lord's service, or in any other place of worship, if he requires (orig. "required") you of your goods to his sustenance, you shall give or lend him to your power, so help you God and holidom.

Item, if case fall that you be in any place, that you hear any language between gentleman and gentleman, that hould touch any strife or debate between them two, and afterwards following that you be sent for to come before our sovereign, prince, lord, or judge, to bear witness of the aforesaid language, you shall keep your mouth closed, and bear no witness without leave of both parties, and with their leave you shall say the truth, and let neither (orig. "lette nother") for love nor for dread, but you shall say the truth, so help you God and holidom.

Item you shall be serviceable and true to all widows, maidens, of their supports in all worship, and counsel them to all virtues, and if any man would disworship them, or force them other in any manner, or otherwise take from them their goods against the laws of God, and of all gentleness, if they require you of your good support (orig. "supportacion"), you shall truely and diligently certify that to your sovereign lord, prince, lord, or judge to help them, that they may have right, in all that in you is, as the matter requires, so help you God and holidom.

Item you shall promise to you power to forsake all vices, and take you to all virtues, and to be no common goer (orig. "commyn goerse") to taverns, the which might cause unvirtuousness and unclean language, and that you be neither a dice player nor a gambler (orig. "not dyse player, nother has-harder"), and that you flee places of debate and unhonest places, and the company of women unhonest. These articles and other abovesaid you swear truely to keep with all your might and power, so help you God and holidom.

The Oath of the Pursuivant

Item you shall dispose yourself (orig. "you") to be lowly, humble, and serviceable to all the estates of all gentleness universal that be Christian (orig. "that cristene beth"), not lying in wait to blame nor to hurt none of the said estate in anything that may touch their honor.

Also you shall dispose yourself to be discreet (orig. "secret") and sober in your appearance (orig. "port"), and be not too busy in language, ready to commend and loth to blame, and diligent in your service, eschewing from vices, and drawing to virtues, and true in reports, and so to exercise while you be in the office thereof, so that your merits may cause you more preferring in the office of arms in time coming, for while you be and stand pursuivant you stand as no one of the offices of arms, but as a servant to all kings and heralds of the office of arms, and this you shall promise to your power, so help you God and holidom.