The Armorial Bearings of Robert Holgate

Armorial Bearings were coats of arms, crests, and other insignias formerly borne on shields by knights and later granted by the Crown or other designated officials to individuals, public and local authorities, and corporate bodies such as guilds. 


In 1537 ROBERT HOLGATE was elected Bishop of Llandaff and became a member of “The King’s Majesty’s Council established in the North parts of this Realm of England” and proved of great assistance to Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, who was President of that Council.  In July, 1538, he succeeded Tunstall in the office of President, went to York to reside and was fully occupied in secular business in matters of State.


This new position required him to use a personal ‘Seal’ on  documents. The Holgate family personal insignia bore “Or, Three Bull’s Heads erased, sable” but Robert was the youngest son of Thomas and there is no evidence that Thomas was the senior member of the family. Robert would therefore be unable to register a right to bear these arms undifferenced.

So unsurprisingly on the 29th day of June in the year of Our Lord, 1539, being the 31st year of the reign of The Most Illustrious and Victorious King Henry VIII, that William Felow, by the authority and power assigned to him as Norroy, King of Arms and to his office, by terms definitely stated in letters patent, did devise, ordain and assign for the Most Reverend Lord Robert Holgate of Hemsworth in the county of Yorkshire, Doctor of Divinity, Bishop of Llandaff, a shield with insignia of honour, as set out in the following namely :- .
“Or, a bend between two bull’s heads, sable, on a chief barry of four argent and gules a Baculus rectoralis in bend, azure



Holgate Shield

The field of the shield being gold and having on it a black bend between two black bull’s heads would be sufficiently like the family arms, (in which the shield was gold with Three black bull’s heads) to indicate the family to which the bearer belonged, yet sufficiently different not to trespass on the rights of the lawful bearer of the family arms.

The upper part of the shield, divided horizontally into four equal strips in one plane, coloured alternately silver and red and having on it a blue crutched staff was derived from the arms of the Canons of St. Gilbert of Sempringham in Norfolk.


Robert Holgate was educated under the Gilbertine rule, became a canon, and eventually Master, of that order, and, when ordained Bishop of Llandaff, he received the King’s licence to retain the Mastership.


There is great debate around his right  to place the arms of the order on his personal shield as has been stated by several authors. The arms of Sempringham in Norfolk were :-” Argent, two bars gules, over all a crutched staff in bend, azure”, and the Gilbertine foundations at Sempringham, Lincolnshire; Alvingham, Lincolnshire; and Old Malton, Yorkshire all have different variations of these arms. Another variation was devised for the chief of Robert Holgate’s shield, the difference in this case being obtained by altering the silver field with two red bars (which would make five strips in two planes) to a field of four equal strips in one plane. Thus the bearer’s connection with the Gilbertines would be indicated without infringing the rights of Sempringham of Norfolk.