How did it all start?

The changes from 1198 to 2012

St Thomas' Church, East Shefford. Close up of the Royal Arms of George III.At one time we could have seen Royal Arms displayed in nearly every Anglican Church, but now we can only see them in about fifteen per cent.

Fortunately we have a higher than average survival rate with nearly one hundred examples of Royal Arms on display across our estate, reflecting the high proportion of rural churches in our care.

Many of these have remained unspoilt and unaltered over the centuries, unlike those in the city, which are more likely to have been restored by the Victorians.

The Royal arms were created in various mediums including, textile, wood, stone, plaster, cast iron, paint and glass. The earlier Arms were often painted on wooden panels, but by the eighteenth century they were more likely to be oChurch of St John the Baptist, Pilling. Close up of the Royal Arms of George I.n canvas.

Royal Arms were often painted by local sign writers and very crude. However, Arms could also be of very fine and high end craftsmanship, particularly when they were specifically designed as part of new architectural schemes. An example of this is the 1714-1801 plaster Arms at Stapleford, Leics.

Location, location, location

Church of St Thomas Becket, Capel. Close up of the Royal Arms of George II and the prayers. Royal Arms appeared in churches from the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI in recognition of the monarch's title of the Supreme Governor of the Church Of England. In addition they would have added some welcome colour to the churches left bare by the the destruction of saints' images during the Reformation, a concern expressed by Elizabeth  I. They were placed in prominent positions in the Church, often above the chancel arch, so that their important message could be clearly conveyed.   

An example of a changed date on a Royal Arms where it has either been updated or incorrectSurvival

Unless there was a change in the territories they governed, the Royal Arms remained the same. Therefore they needn’t be updated in churches - it was often possible to just change the initials or numbers of the kings, for example an extra I could be added on to George I for his son George II.

Close up of an initials change on the Royal Arms at St Andrew's church, SapistonEven when there were changes in the Royal Arms, parish churches often did not remove or cover up older examples. There was no statute which said that they had to have the Royal Arms up (current or otherwise), and whilst a visiting Archdeacon could order a parish to display or renew them, records show that this did not happen very often. It is therefore likely that parishes put them up largely of their own accord.

There were exceptions:

  • during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor, it was ordered that the Royal Arms of her father Henry VIII and brother Edward VI were removed from churches as they symbolised the Reformation, Protestantism, and the fact that the King had declared himself Head of the Church in England instead of St Nicolas Church, North Walsham. Close up of a Commonwealth Arms. Not TCCT church. Copyright Broads Marshmann.the Pope
  • during the Commonwealth period Cromwell wanted the Royal Arms removed as they symbolised the monarchy that the Commonwealth had replaced

By the 19th century the display of Royal Arms was not considered of great importance, and unfortunately many existing examples were destroyed during some of the drastic church restorations which took place.

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Close up of a mosaic at St Peter, Northampton

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