The Dering Roll is the oldest roll of English coats of arms and dates from 1270–1280. In the seventeenth century it was acquired by Sir Edward Dering (1598–1644) (right), from Dering in Kent, who is described as a knight and a baronet. He bought it in the seventeenth century, and although it seems dreadful to us now, he ‘modified’ the roll to include a fictitious ancestor of his own. While Dering was lieutenant of Dover Castle, he removed entry number 61 on the roll, the coat of arms of Nicholas de Croill, and put in his own arms with the false name of Richard fitz Dering in its place. This was to prove the ancestry of his family.
The roll itself starts with the two illegitimate children of King John (1166–1216, king from 1199 to 1216) who were Richard Fitz Roy (fitz = son, roy = king) and William de Say, although their coats of arms at the top are difficult to discern because of the condition of the roll.
Made from four strips of 8 inch wide parchment pasted together, and stretching to almost three yards in length, it is a huge piece of work, and it’s remarkable that it has survived so well. The shields are arranged six to a row and there are 54 rows, making 324 shields in all. All but five of them have the individual names of the knights written above them. These names have either been removed or were never written in in the first place. The background to the colourful shields is painted green.
In the twentieth century it was bought by Sir Anthony Wagner (right) who became Garter King of Arms at the College of Arms in London. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 for £192,000 and was due to be exported from the country. A stay of execution meant that the British Library were able to raise the sum of £194,184 to ensure that it stayed in the country. The importance of this heraldic roll is summed up by the Head of Mediæval and Earlier Manuscripts, Claire Breay, who said of the purchase, ‘the acquisition of the Dering Roll provides an extremely rare chance to add a manuscript of enormous local and national significance’.