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Armory originated in the 12th century in Anglo-Norman lands. Full-face helmets had come into use, making it difficult to identify armored men in battle and tournaments. Knights began adding unique decorations to their coats of arms, which in turn required the use of heralds to keep track of all the designs. In 1483, partly due to growing abuse, King Richard III insituted the Heralds' College of Arms, a royal corporation whose heralds were required to maintain records of all arms, including the legitimate descent of the right to their use. To accomplish this, the heralds regularly made stately and solemn progressions throughout every part of the kingdom to enquire into the state of families -- marriages and descents verified to them upon oath -- which were then entered into Visitation Books.

The right to armorial bearings can only be from a grant or ancestral right. The descent of arms is only through the male line (equally to all legimate sons) -- unless a man has no male heirs, in which case legitimate daughters can inherit (also equally to all). By the Elizabethan age (1558-1603), tournaments had become rare (excepting ceremonial rites), and jousting a dying sport. The duties of the heralds became more and more genealogical, particularly with so many of the nouveau riche (newly wealthy) eager to “become gentlemen,” and armorial bearings, limited to the gentry class or higher, serving as proof of their status (the heralds' right to grant arms gave them not only the potential to become arbiters of “high society,” but also made them quite susceptible to bribery).

In the case of feudal lands granted to early knights, other factors came into play, particularly when a man's land rights were tied to service to the king. Upon the Norman conquest, all the land in England was divided into “knight's fes” (feodum militare), estimated at over 60,000 total. Each knight's fee represented a knight being bound to serve the king in his wars 40 days in a year (Half a knight's fee was 20 days, etc.) with strict rules of succession in respect to inheritance and the land of a man without heirs of descent reverting to the king. (See Early Combes &c. of Olde England).

The following are a few records of grants of arms that have been collected during the course of research of Combs &c. researchers. Most are from Combes &c. Visitations, others from early records as noted above.

Arms - Identified

Arms: ermine, three lyons passant gardant gules

These arms (either missing a crest or it was added later) were granted sometime between 1327 and 1377 to Richard de COMBE. Their source is the “Jenyns Ordinary of Edward III's reign,” published in Some Feudal Coats of Arms (Joseph Foster, 1902, extracted by Combs Researcher Pete Coombs). Although no location is given, this is quite probably Sir Richard de COMBE of Fittleton, Wilts. The description of these arms appears to match, to a significant degree, the arms of Richard COMBE of Newington, Middlesex whose birth is estimated as pre-1467:

Arms: Ermine, three Lions passant in pale Gules
Crest: An arm in armour embowed per pale Or and Sable, holding in the hand proper a broken tiling spear of the first

These arms appear in the 1572 Herts visitation, Combe, that began with Richard and included his son, John of Newington, grandson, Robert of Newington (h/o Agnes WATERHOUSE), and was sworn to by his great-grandson, Richard of Hemel Hempstead, Herts (m Elizabeth MARSHALL of Edlesborough, Bucks). This coat of arms is also described in the WATERHOUSE visitation (Arms: Ermine, three lions passant-gardant Sable b?zantée”).

On 5 Feb 1662, Richard COMBE of Hemelhamsted [Hemel-Hempstead], Herts, was Knighted, his arms described as “Ermine 3 Lyons passt Gules.”

(From LeNeve's Pedigrees of the Knights made by King Charles II., King James II., King William III. and Queen Mary, King William Alone, and Queen Anne,” Edited by George W. Marshall, LL.D., Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and Honorary Secretary of the Harleian Society. London. 1873, p.127, Ref. Sr Edward Byshe's Hertf. fo.40).

These arms are very close in description to the arms of Johannes COMBE of Ashley, Worcester, as listed in the 1619 Warwickshire Visitation, Combes:

Arms: Ermine, three lions passant in pale gules.
Crest: a dexter hand and arm embowed in armour sable, garnished or, holding a broken tilting spear of the last and wreathed about the arm gules and argent.

Johannes (John) COMBE of Ashley, Warwickshire was listed as the father of John COMBE of Ashley, Worcestershire [sic], grandfather of John of Old Stratford, Warwickshire, great-grandfather of Edward of Newland, Warwickshire, Thomas of Old Stratford, John and George (no locations given for the latter two). This Warwickshire coat of arms is that displayed on this page (above) which, if it is the same as the Newington/Hemel Hampshire Combes, is an indication that the original grantee (arms bearer) was a shared ancestor.

Arms: argent, a chevron engrailed gules between three black birds proper”

These arms were granted either between 1216 and 1272 or in 1278 (more on this later) to Sir John COMBE (COUMBE), taken from the Ashmole Roll, an Elizabethan copy of the Dering Roll from the time of Henry III, as published in Some Feudal Coats of Arms (Joseph Foster, 1902, extracted by Combs Researcher Pete Coombs). Although no location is given, note the possible similarity to the 1620 Devonshire BIDLAKE (originally de COMBE) arms:

Arms: Gules, a fess between three birds argent

The 1623 visition of Somerset, includes an entry for Edward COMB of Tisbury, Somerset, his arms granted in 1623 by Wm. Segar:

Arms: Sable, two bars between six bees argent, 3, 2, 1
Crest: A demi lion sable, ducally collared argent.

Thus far, these arms bear no resemblance to any other.

Arms: argent on a band raguly gules, a lion pasant sable
Crest: out of a ducal coronet a lion's gamb argent holding a staff raguly gules.

The above arms were granted to John COMBE of London in 1603. (The Combes Genealogy…, p. 5) This John has not yet been identified, although it is possible he is John COMBE the Draper, husband of Margaret ARCHDALE, whose son, John, was an armiger (although whether hereditary or granted is not yet known, as is the case with the description of his arms).

Arms - Unidentified

The following is a partial listing of Combes who are believed to have been knights or armigers by either ancestral right or grant, but for whom we have insufficient information, including not having a description of the arms:

On 7 Jan (ca) 1372, a post-mortem inquisition was conducted at Somerset re the estate of of John COMBE or DE COMBE, knight, deceased, husband of Margaret and father of John, who held 2/3 of the manor of Bawdrip (Bawdrip, Somerset) and 4 tenements of Waldepull (not yet located). John held no lands in demesne (in his own right), but it is not yet known in which shire he actually resided.

On 10 Apr 1656, Archadell COMBES, son of John of Sparsholt, Berks Arm dec. (Armiger, deceased), was apprenticed to his maternal uncle Christopher LOVETT. This is the only record located thus far that describes John COMBE (s/o the above John and Margaret ARCHDALE Combe) as an armiger, although he is described as a gent and as the son of a gent in other records.

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