Coats of arms, once only available to royalty and the nobility, were increasingly common amongst the merchant and artisan classes. To obtain one, it was important to first illustrate your familial history, possibly your current standing and perhaps pay a fee. John Parr, Royal Embroiderer to Queen Elizabeth I could provide all three.
In 1597, a coat of arms was granted to him by William Dethick Garter King of Arms. The wording on a draft of the grant indicated Parr would be worthy of the honour. Dethick wrote: “wherefore I have made search in the books and registers of my office and by the sundry rewards monuments and antiquities have found and collected those ancient coats of arms appropriate and belonging to John Parr now of London great and principal embroiderer to the Queens most excellent majesty whose virtuous civil and worshipful demeanour together with his advancement in her majesties service at this time not to be forgotten.” College of Heralds Vincent Old Grants 2 p.426.
A watercolour illustration can be found on a manuscript in the British Library (Cotton Titus B.VIII f294). It is a shield containing six coats of arms, surmounted by a maiden’s head crest. The quartered arms include a black boar with a thistle in its mouth, a griffin holding a helmet, and a falcon with a sprig of pea in its beak. The shield in the upper left is recognizable as the original Parr family crest with the addition of six scallop shells in the black border.
Parr’s arms were one of 23 granted by Dethick and challenged by York Herald Ralph Brooke as unworthy, arguing that Parr’s “father was a peddlar by occupation and unable to prove his surname to be Parr.” What makes this story a little more compelling is that amongst the other arms challenged by Brooke are the arms Dethick granted to Shakespeare’s father. The outcome of the challenge is not recorded but it was thought to be in Dethick’s favour. For more documentation and commentary on the dispute from the perspective of the Shakespeare family, the Folger Shakespeare Library has several pages. https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/resource/family-legal-property-records.
That John Parr used a coat of arms is confirmed in his will of 1605. He bequeathed a standing cup of silver gilt to the Broderers’ Company and it was to be engraved with his name and his coat of arms. The cup remains in the possession of the Broderers’ Company as the Parr Cup but I have never been able to ascertain whether it is engraved as requested. There is also a facsimile of the cup in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I had a wonderful time researching and exploring my family’s coat of arms. I did get a digital image and adapted it to beadwork. It was an challenging and rewarding experience. My family name goes back to the clan of MacQueen (Modern: McQuinn)
Cynthia, I am finding your site so interesting. I do have a question for you, could you please explain a little, the photo that tops your About page. It is a lovely piece and I would love to know just what it is and some more about the work. Thank you.
SE Queensland, Australia
Hi Judy, I’m delighted you are enjoying my blog. The picture is of a piece I created based on the techniques used to create a 16th century ceremonial embroidery known as the Broderers’ Crown. All the flowers are made separately, then cut out and appliqued to the prepared ground making the piece very 3-dimensional.
Hi Cynthia, I’m sorry to post this here but I couldn’t find any other way to contact you. I am wondering if it is possible to access older posts than Oct this yr, please. You have such a wealth of information , and I have the time, I would love to read more, please.
SE Queensland, Australia
I only began to post about my research beginning in October and I hope to try and post something at least once a week. I have no thing organized – just whatever pops into my head or whatever I happen to be doing that week. I hope you will continue to find the posts interesting and perhaps thought provoking. Please comment on anything and ask any questions, I will do my best to answer and if I can’t, I will try to suggest where to look for further information.