A Great Discovery! – The Ludlow Castle Heraldic Roll by Hugh Wood

It was a couple of years ago that I first heard about the existence of an old roll of parchment containing the coats of arms of people connected with Ludlow Castle. It was owned by a dealer in the Portobello Road in London who had had it for several years. Heraldic rolls like this are highly collectable, but this one had not sold, probably because it is not in perfect condition. At some point in its history it has been attacked by rodents, though it has subsequently been expertly repaired. As a trustee of the Mortimer History Society and a Ludlow resident, I was much more interested in the historical significance of the roll than its condition. Happily, when I had the chance to inspect it, I found that, though damaged and faded in places, much of it was still in remarkably good condition. It was immediately clear that this important document must be purchased for Ludlow.

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The introductory text of the roll.

In 1473, Edward IV decided that his son Edward, Prince of Wales, should reside in Ludlow Castle and he set up a Council to assist with the organisation of his household and to support him in his princely role. After the Wars of the Roses, the Council was re-created for Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Henry VII. The Council subsequently lost its royal connection but survived into the 17th century as the Council of Wales and the Marches, a form of regional government with wide-ranging legal and administrative powers and duties ensuring that Ludlow remained a place of great significance.

The best-known of the Lord Presidents of the Council is Sir Henry Sidney KG who was president from 1560 to 1586. In 1574 Sir Henry set up a display of coats of arms in the chapel in the inner bailey of the castle. A few years later he decided to keep a record of these shields and had them painted onto parchment with accompanying text, and this is the exciting document which has recently come to light.

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Roger Mortimer & Joan de Geneville

The roll is 15 feet long but only 4 inches wide. It is made from 7 separate pieces of parchment sewn together and the shields are organised in three sections. The first of these is 11 coats of arms of owners of the castle from its founder, Walter de Lacy in the 11th century down to Queen Elizabeth I. Not all of the owners are included and it is not completely correct, but it does include the arms of Geoffrey de Geneville (d1314) & Maud de Lacy; Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (d1330) & Joan de Geneville; Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March (d1381) & Philippa, Duchess of Ulster; before giving the royal arms of Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville; Henry VII & Elizabeth of York; Henry VIII & Ann Boleyn and Elizabeth.

Interestingly the list includes two erroneous owners. Before the coat of arms of Edmund, 3rd Earl of March it places those of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence. There is no historical evidence to suggest that he ever had control of the castle, even during the minority of Edmund, who was engaged to his daughter Philippa. The other error is even more clear-cut. This list of owners includes Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, father of Richard, 3rd Duke of York. He was married to Anne, sister of Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March but could never have owned the castle as he was executed in 1415 while Edmund survived till 1425.

After the owners of the castle come the arms of Sir Henry Sidney, and these are followed by the shields of the 22 members of the Council of the Marches who had been appointed by Queen Elizabeth in 1570. Finally come the arms of eight of the previous Lord Presidents of the Council – the four presidents immediately before Sir Henry Sidney were presumably there at some point, but are now missing.

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John Dudley, earl of Warwick, Lord President 1549-1550

In order to obtain the roll, we formed the Ludlow Castle Heraldic Roll Group to raise money to purchase it and to decide on its future. As it is fragile we decided to create high-quality facsimiles and entrusted the work to the National Library of Wales. One of these is for permanent display in Ludlow while another will be used for educational purposes. The Mortimer History Society already has an educational programme running in local primary schools each summer. As part of that programme, I present a half day of heraldry and the roll will now be incorporated into that session. We also plan to produce a book about the roll covering not only who made it and why, but also describing the coats of arms in detail and giving biographical information about the people whose shields are depicted. We also want to raise enough money to be able to conserve the roll itself, to guard against further deterioration.

This is an exciting project that has caught the imagination of many people locally. Although formally under the umbrella of the Friends of Ludlow Museum, the Mortimer History Society has been centrally involved from the start with 6 of the 9 members of the Roll Group being members of MHS. We have now purchased the roll and are currently having the facsimiles made. For much more information about the roll and the project go to  http://mortimerhistorysociety.org.uk/index.php/ludlow-castle-heraldic-roll . We are still seeking financial support and would welcome help. The link above contains information about how one can donate.

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The Roll.



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