Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dering Roll - roll of arms from the reign of Edward I

By Lucy Bogustawski
2 September 2008
Press Association National Newswire

The oldest existing roll of arms that is vital for the study of medieval knighthood has been bought by the British Library. Bought with funds raised by donations from heritage organisations and individual supporters, the British Library raised the £194,184 necessary to obtain the Dering Roll.

It was bought at Sotheby's at auction last December for £192,500 but a temporary export bar placed on the roll by Culture Minister Margaret Hodge enabled the Library to purchase it. It is a painted roll of arms depicting 324 coats of arms, around a quarter of the English baronage during the reign of King Edward I and, the Library says, is vital for the study of knighthood in medieval England.

Dr Noel Denholm-Young, a medieval history scholar, said it provided a list of the knights owing feudal service - military obligations - to the Constable of Dover Castle. The Library said the "extremely rare" roll was believed to have been produced in Dover in the late 13th century.

Beginning with two of King John's illegitimate children, Richard Fitz Roy and William de Say the parchment roll contains 324 coats of arms arranged in 54 rows, with 6 shields assigned to each line. Above each shield is written the knight’s name in English cursive script, with the exception of five shields where the names have been omitted or erased.

Other fascinating details include an attempt by the notable 17th Century antiquary and politician Sir Edward Dering (1598–1644), who acquired the roll during his years of service as lieutenant of Dover Castle, to use it to forge his family history. Dering erased a coat-of-arms on the roll and replaced it with a coat-of-arms that bore the name of a fictional ancestor, Richard fitz Dering.

Beyond the 17th century forgery the roll is a key document for the study of medieval English knighthood, made at a time when a knight’s political allegiances and his status in feudal society were of paramount importance.

Painted on a green background, the coats of arms are arranged in 54 rows, with six shields assigned per line and a knight's name with each. Claire Breay, head of medieval and earlier manuscripts at the British Library, said: "The Library holds an extensive collection of outstanding historical and heraldic manuscripts and the acquisition of the Dering Roll provides an extremely rare chance to add a manuscript of enormous local and national significance which will greatly strengthen and complement its existing collection."

Carole Souter, chief executive of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: "The Roll is the Who's Who for medieval knights and unusually gives two illegitimate royals pride of place."

The Dering Roll was acquired with £100,000 donated by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £40,000 from The Art Fund, £10,000 from Friends of the British Library and £10,000 from Friends of the National Libraries. The remainder of the £194, 184 was made up by donations from individual supporters, the Library said. It is now on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library.