The primary authority for Heraldry in England is the College of Arms, which was established in 1485. Henry V, in
1417, proclaimed that:
"no man of what estate, degree, or condition soever should assume arms unless he held them by right of inheritance, or
by donation of some person who had the power to give them, and that all persons should make it appear to officers to be appointed,
by whose gift they enjoyed such arms."
Consequently, approximately once in a generation, the College issued a summons to all of the gentry of an area to
appear before its Heralds in order that their pedigrees might be duly recorded, and their right to the arms and to the consequent
title of "gentleman" be certified and any irregularities corrected. All gentry so summoned were assessed a fee to help with
the Heralds’ expenses.
The gentry were compelled to present ‘proofs’ or their right to bear arms: ie. ancient documents, seals, monuments,
Church windows, pedigrees, etc. If such proofs were lacking, a gentleman could pay a fee of about 20 pounds to have his Arms
officially registered by the Herald. The Heralds had the authority to break down any coat of arms that failed their test,
and published a list of ‘disclaimers’ after each Visitation, which publicly proclaimed those who had failed to
establish their right to claim to be ‘gentlemen’ and bear a coat of arms.
Pedigrees were critical in establishing the right to bear coat armour because the right passed through the eldest son.
Other members of the family could apply for coats of arms with a slight ‘difference’, again, for a fee.
What the gentry hoped for was a confirmation of their right to coat armour based on the evidence they provided to the Heralds.
If so confirmed, the Herald would not require any additional fee and would make notes copying out the pedigree and describing
the Coat of Arms in Heraldic language. These notes or papers became an unofficial record of the Visitation and were sometimes
copied. If the Herald deemed that a registration was in order, the considerable fee would be charged and an official record
made, either as a confirmation of long usage or as a new Grant of Arms or new Grant of Crest. Those wanting to establish Amrs
with a ‘difference’ would pay the required fee and an official registration would be made of the ‘Augmentation
Admiral Benbow's first biographer, John Campbell, asserted that the Admiral had been granted an Augmentation of Arms by
King William in recognition of his service in the West Indies in 1698-1700:
"who, as a mark of his royal favour, was graciously pleased to grant him an augmentation of arms, by
adding to the three bent bows, which he and his family already bore, as many arrows." (Lives of the British
Admirals, 1817 edition, vol.iv, p.212)
Campbell based his information, in part, on personal interviews with the Admiral's daughter, Katherine, and her husband,
Paul Calton, of Milton.
The editors of The Naval Chronicle for their biography of Admiral Benbow, in 1808, had the College of Arms searched
for details of Admiral Benbow's Arms and this Augmentation.
They discovered that there was no record of any official Augmentation of Arms, and so concluded regarding Campbell's assertion
"This is altogether an erroneous statement. The Newport branch of the Benbow family, from which the
Admiral sprang, bore two bows, and two bundles of arrows, as far back as the year 1623; and, on dilligently searching the
books in the Herald's Office, we find that no augmentation whatsoever has been granted to any of the family since that period."
(The Naval Chronicle for 1808, "John Benbow", vol.xx, p.192.
The Naval Chronicle published an engraved portrait of Admiral Benbow with the Newport Benbow Coat of Arms. However,
they erred in the depiction of the Arms, by showing the bows counterposed, or bows front to front, grip to grip; rather than
as described in the Visitation as 'endorsed', ie. bows back to back, string to string. Thus: