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.