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High Court of Chivalry

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His Majesty's High Court of Chivalry
Courtroom in October 2017
Composition methodAppointed by Earl Marshal
Appeals toJudicial Committee of the Privy Council
Judge term lengthOne hereditary, otherwise depends on the appointment
Earl Marshal
CurrentlyDuke of Norfolk
Since1672 (current office granted by Letters Patent)

His Majesty's High Court of Chivalry is a civil law (as opposed to common law) court in English and Welsh law with jurisdiction over matters of heraldry. The court has been in existence since the fourteenth century; however, it rarely sits.[1] The sole judge is now the hereditary Earl Marshal of England, the Duke of Norfolk, though if not a professional lawyer, he normally appoints a professional lawyer as his lieutenant or surrogate.[1]

In Scotland, these types of cases are heard in the Court of the Lord Lyon, which is a standing civil and criminal court, with its own judge – the Lord Lyon King of Arms and its own procurator fiscal (public prosecutor) under the Scottish legal system.[2]


A session of the Court of Chivalry being held in the College of Arms, depicted in 1809.

The court was historically known as the Curia Militaris, the Court of the Constable and the Marshal, or the Earl Marshal's Court.[3] The court was established some time prior to the late fourteenth century with jurisdiction over certain military matters, which came to include misuse of arms. It was instituted by Edward III, along with the Earl and other key personnel.

Since it was created in the fourteenth century, the court has always sat when required, except for the short time between 1634 and its temporary abolition by the Long Parliament in 1640 when it sat on a regular basis. During this time, the court heard well over a thousand cases, of which evidence survives from 738 cases.[4]

Its jurisdiction and powers were successively reduced by the common law courts to the point where, after 1737, the Court ceased to be convened and was in time regarded as obsolete and no longer in existence. That understanding was authoritatively overturned, however, by a revival of the Court in 1954, when the Earl Marshal appointed the then Lord Chief Justice to sit as his surrogate. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard confirmed that the Court retained both its existence and its powers, and ruled in favour of the suit before him.



The court was last convened in 1954[1] for the case of Manchester Corporation v Manchester Palace of Varieties Ltd.[5] Prior to this, the court had not sat for two centuries (since 1737), and before hearing the case, the court first had to rule whether it still existed.[6] The proceedings opened with the reading of various letters patent in order to make clear that the Duke of Norfolk was indeed Hereditary Earl Marshal and that he had appointed Lord Goddard, who was the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, as his lieutenant in the court. It also had ruled that the Earl Marshal was allowed to sit in judgment without the Lord High Constable of England, an office which until 1521 was also held as a hereditary dignity by the Dukes of Buckingham.[1] The case itself was that the Palace theatre had been displaying the arms of the Manchester Corporation (now Manchester City Council) both inside and on its seal and this usage implied that it was linked with the city's council. The corporation had requested that the theatre stop using it, but this request had been refused. The court ruled in favour of the corporation.[1]

Appeals from the court


In 1832, the Privy Council Appeals Act 1832 made the Privy Council the appeal court for cases heard by the High Court of Chivalry.[7] From 1 February 1833, following the passage of the Judicial Committee Act 1833, appeals have been heard directly by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.[8] Prior to that, and in common with the admiralty and ecclesiastical courts, appeals from the Court of Chivalry were made to the Crown in Chancery, with appeals being heard by commissioners appointed by letters patent under the Great Seal in each case.[9] Sittings by these commissioners became known as the High Court of Delegates by the time of the 1832 Act.[10][11]





Historically the court had two hereditary judges – the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal of England, and the Duke of Buckingham as Lord High Constable of England – but in 1521 Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham was convicted of treason, stripped of his titles and offices, and executed. Since then the office of Lord High Constable of England has only been appointed to perform ceremonial duties during a Coronation[12] and there has only been the Earl Marshal acting as the sole judge.

Lieutenant, Assessor and Surrogate to the Earl Marshal


Joint Register to the High Court of Chivalry


Cryer to the High Court of Chivalry

  • A. H. Smith, 1954

See also





  1. ^ a b c d e "A Brief Account of the Proceedings in the High Court of Chivalry on 21st December, 1954". theheraldrysociety.com. The Heraldry Society. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  2. ^ Innes of Learney & Innes of Edingight, p.7
  3. ^ G. D. Squibb, The High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England, Oxford, 1959, pp.2–3; The Law of Arms in Mediaeval England
  4. ^ "The High Court of Chivalry in the early seventeenth century". birmingham.ac.uk. University of Birmingham. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  5. ^ Manchester Corporation v Manchester Palace of Varieties Ltd, P 133; [1955] 1 All ER 387
  6. ^ Squibb, G. D. (1959). The High Court of Chivalry: A Study of the Civil Law in England. Oxford.
  7. ^ Privy Council Appeals Act 1832 (2 & 3 Will. 4 c. 92)
  8. ^ "Judicial Committee Act 1833", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, 1833 c. 41
  9. ^ Halsbury's Laws of England (3rd Edition), vol. 13, para. 1049
  10. ^ Privy Council Appeals Act 1832 (2 & 3 Will. 4 c. 92), preamble.
  11. ^ "Records of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. The National Archives. 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2017. The Privy Council Appeals Act 1832 abolished the High Court of Delegates and transferred its powers to hear appeals in ecclesiastical and admiralty cases to the King in Council. The council had previously served only as a court of final resort from the delegates under the infrequently invoked procedure of petitioning for commissions of review.
  12. ^ "Coronation Oath Act 1688: Section III. Form of Oath and Administration thereof". legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. Retrieved 6 October 2016.