Beware of old books

+21 votes

In the 17th century Sir William Dugdale, a herald, published in print a list of writs of summons to the House of Lords.

For 200 years plus this became the standard reference of genealogists and peerage lawyers.

Then in 1912, Vicary Gibbs wrote his preface to Complete Peerage, 2nd edn, vol 2

Key phrases

"not only inaccurate but quite untrustworthy"

"fabricated whole lists of bogus writs"

The point to note is that Dugdale was heavily relied on by 19th century Burkes, and also by Cokayne's Complete Peerage 1st edition and every other peerage book.

in The Tree House by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (645k points)
I guess the real story here is that Dugdale had no access to the records that were later at the PRO, and based his book on "records" at the College, which had been gerrymandered by other heralds to support their fake pedigrees.

4 Answers

+9 votes
Thanks for pointing this out. Does this work qualify for the fraud template or category ?
by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (926k points)

I had the same thought. I don't think this qualifies as a "fraud" or "fabrication' by Dugdale, because the author apparently was not the original perpetrator of the errors. Maybe a new category called [[Category: Fabrications Propagated in Dugdale's Summonses]] could be included in [[Category: Frauds and Fabrications]]?

+7 votes
I see it more as a warning that Victorian writers worked from inadequate sources and unreliable "authorities".

Citing old books is convenient, as they're free and out of copyright, but there's always the danger that modern research doesn't support them.
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (645k points)
+7 votes
Well he is not quite Victorian is he RJ? :)  I would like to defend Dugdale a bit. I think he is in fact much better than Burkes and similar funnily enough. Quite often Dugdale seems to get something a bit wrong, but the 19th century crowd took everything much further. :)

Dugdale is still also used by serious genealogists too. Because in some cases he had primary documents now lost. (He did try to use primary documents, unlike many who copy from him.)

An example from a well-known family is [[Hastings-386]]'s wife. Every author I have ever seen accepts Dugdale's word about her. There is no other record of her.
by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Pilot (145k points)
"Victorian writers" meant people like Burke and Cokayne and many editors of Visitations and writers of county histories.

I don't have a problem with Dugdale, except that we have to understand the limitations he was working under at the time.

Gibbs or his publishers evidently thought it was best to avoid any criticism of the College, which was in cahoots with the aristocracy when they were still a power in the land.  But they must be the villains.

But it's interesting that Gibbs in 1910 still had to get a Deputy Keeper to check out basic stuff in the "public" records.

There's always the hope that Victorian writers had primary sources which are now lost.  But on the whole there are far more primary sources accessible now than ever before.  Loads of estate papers etc that used to be in private hands are now in county archives.
The College itself doesn't seem to acknowledge this situation, outside of that note in CP, was there a book written that tried to investigate the fabrications in detail? I don't doubt that the aristocracy were the ones culpable but I'd like to know what they had to do to get a fabricated pedigree/writ.
They had to be rich.

The ostensible purpose of the system was to protect the privileges of old money, but no government ever wants to do that.  The true purpose was to enfranchise the new money.

So the heralds were like most consultant genealogists until modern times, and some still - they were mostly in the repairs and improvements business, with the occasional new build.

But they're hard to pin down.  Nobody can do a complete analysis of their "records" because they aren't public. You can see a copy of a Visitation pedigree and see where it's been tweaked and why, but you can't prove who did it.  You can see a bogus parchment scroll with a herald's signature on it, but signatures can be forged.

Social history is such an important subfield you'd think someone would have written at least an article about fabricated pedigrees and how you paid officers of arms to fluff up your pedigree if this was such a common practice. I didn't find anything in JSTOR - thanks for the question!


If you were going to write about corruption in the Middle Ages, you'd be writing about the whole Middle Ages.  England was a Third World country, of the worst sort.  Everything was bent.
Kirk, in the history of genealogy maybe a couple of turning point writers you might be interested in are JH Round and Walter Rye. This was around 1900. Their generation was the one which started ripping up a lot of the worst fraudulent pedigrees. Too many articles to name. (There was also a feud between them. Round was an extremely awkward but brilliant person, often quite wrong in conclusions, but very good at ripping up those of others.) If genealogists got statues then they would have statues (and so would Dugdale).

Thanks for those references - JH Round mentions his opinions on the Barony of Burgh/Borough of Gainsborough in Studies in Peerage and Family History  starting on p. 334, and John a quick mention p. 349.

There was an attempt to revive the Burgh title in Round's day.

These things were all about precedence.  You could get a new title, but you'd be at the bottom end of the bottom table.  It was much better to hold your title because somebody once did Henry the Eighth a favour than to have it by anything you did yourself.

Round himself was a total snob (and racist and anti-Semite) and was very keen to defend the old money against the new money trying to muscle in, aided and abetted by the College.
+3 votes

The History of Parliament proj's staff are working on a number of new books, including Lords 1603-1660 which will have biographies for the 462 Lords (94 Bishops, 368 peers) from 1603-1660. The webpage says its planned for publication in 2019, using the staff who worked on the Commons 1604-1629 and 1640-60 (which is due to be published soon). There's also a Lords 1660-1632 set as well, and hopefully some notes about what happened before 1603 along with some information on these dubious writs.

by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 7 (73.3k points)

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