Simon Cotton finds Elizabethan Royal Arms in churches


Following the split from Rome, the arms of the Reigning Monarch began to be displayed in churches in England, though the first legislation to that effect was not passed until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. The position of the Church of England was established by the start of the 19th century, at which time it became increasingly uncommon to display them – or indeed to update earlier examples to the ‘current monarch’ (ND Nov 2016, Sept 2021). 

Displays in churches of arms of Kings of the first half of the 20th c. are exceptionally rare, but there was something of a resurgence under Queen Elizabeth II. Very often they commemorate her Coronation in 1953 and bear that date. The example at Lamas (Norfolk) was painted by Miss Peggy Williamson, and bears her initials, whilst the set of arms at Letheringsett (Norfolk) records the Rector, the Revd. Charles Linnell, and the churchwardens at the time of their installation – as a keen historian (he co-authored the Shell Guide to Norfolk), Charles Linnell was of course cognisant of the historical precedents to this. A third set of 1953 arms can be found at Scottow (Norfolk), where its vigorous characterisation, especially of the lion and unicorn supporters, is in the eighteenth century idiom. 

In addition to the Coronation, ‘significant’ Royal years were often commemorated by new arms, as at Sutterton (Lincs) where they celebrated the Royal Wedding of 1981. In a few cases, such as at Erpingham (Norfolk), the arms breaks away from the square format characteristic of traditional examples. Most Royal Arms are painted on canvas or wood, but exceptions include the carved set at North Cerney (Glos), which are a replacement for a stolen set of Queen Anne Arms.

Bibliography: Charles Hasler, The Royal Arms: Its Graphic and Decorative Development, Jupiter Books, 1979; H. Munro Cautley, Royal Arms and Commandments in Our Churches, Boydell, 1934 (revised ed. 1974)