Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anstis, John (1669-1745)

ANSTIS, JOHN, the elder (1669–1745), heraldic writer and Garter king of arms, was born at St. Neots, Cornwall, 28 (or 29) Sept. 1669, entered Exeter College, Oxford, in 1685, and was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1688. Of a good family, and possessed of considerable fortune, Anstis was chosen one of the members for St. Germains in 1702. Although a strong tory, he voted against the bill for the prevention of occasional conformity, which caused his name to appear among the 'tackers' in the prints of the time. In 1703 Anstis was appointed deputy-general to the auditors of the imprest (an office which he never executed), and one of the principal commissioners of prizes. On 2 April 1714 he received a reversionary patent for the office of Garter. In a letter to the lord treasurer, dated 14 March 1711-12, he appears to be referring to the grant: 'I have a certain information it would be ended forthwith if the lord treasurer would honour me by speaking to her majesty at this time, which, in behalf of the Duke of Norfolk, I most earnestly desire, and humbly beg your lordship's assistance therein' (Noble's History of the College of Arms). From 1711 to 1713 Anstis represented St. Maw's, and in the last parliament of Queen Anne was returned for Launceston, or Dunheved, being re-elected at the accession of George I. In 1715 he was suspected of intriguing in the cause of the Pretender, and with other gentlemen was thrown into prison. A pamphleteer of the time states that the 'government had intimation of their designs to raise an insurrection in Cornwall, the rather because their interest was very great amongst the tinners there, of whom Mr. Anstis was hereditary high-steward' (A full and authentick Narrative of the intended horrid Conspiracy, &c, 1715). While Anstis was in prison the office of Garter became vacant by the death of Sir Henry St. George. Sir John Vanbrugh, Clarencieux king-at-arms, was appointed to the vacancy, Anstis's claims being set aside. But Anstis would not submit to this arrangement. He cleared himself of the charge of treasonable practices, and then proceeded to prosecute his claims with the utmost vigour. His opponent urged that in a contest in the time of Charles II the king had given up the right of nomination; but Anstis contended that Charles had merely waived the right. After much delay the controversy was at last terminated, on 20 April 1718, in favour of Anstis, who for some time previously had been residing in the college. In spite of the prejudice that had been raised against him, he succeeded in gaining the respect and favour of the government. On 8 June 1727, shortly before the death of George I, he received a patent under the great seal securing the office to himself and his eldest son and the survivor of them. In the following year Anstis had a dispute with the authorities of All Souls College, Oxford. His son, though of founder's kin, failed to secure a fellowship, the college alleging that he was incapacitated for election by his possession of a patent place and pension under government. The visitor, to whom Anstis appealed, ruled in favour of the college.

Anstis died at Mortlake on 4 March 1744-45, and was buried at Dulo, in Cornwall. He married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Richard Cudlipp, of Tavistock, Devonshire, by whom he had three sons and three daughters.

Anstis was a man of the greatest learning and industry. His published works were considerable, but his manuscript collections were still more extensive. In 1706 he published 'A Letter concerning the Honour of Earl Marshal;' in 1720 'The Form of the Installation of the Garter;' in 1724 'The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, from its cover in black velvet usually called the Black Book; with Notes placed at the bottom of the pages, and an Introduction prefixed by the Editor,' a work in two folio volumes, published at the editor's expense; in 1725 'Observations introductory to an Historical Essay on the Knighthood of the Bath.' 'Sixty-four pages,' says Noble, 'of his Latin Answer "to the case of Founders' Kinsmen" were printed in 4to, with many coats of arms;' and Watt mentions among Anstis's books a quarto published in 1724, 'Brook's Errors of Camden, with Camden's Answer and Brook's Reply.' In 1702 a few sheets were published of a work entitled 'Curia Militaris, or a Treatise of the Court of Chivalry, in three books.' Noble states that the whole work was printed privately in 1702, but no copy is known to exist. In Gutch's 'Collectanea Curiosa,' ii. 186, is a history of visitation books, under the title, 'Nomenclator Fecialium qui Angliæ et Walliæ comitatus visitarunt, quo anno et ubi autographa seu apographa reperiuntur, per Johannem Anstis, Garter. Principal. Regem Armorum Anglicanorum,' from a manuscript in the library of All Souls College. Leland's 'Collectanea,' v. 325, 337, contains 'An Account of the Ceremonial of the Marriage between Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and the Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of King James I, in the year 1613,' and 'Ceremonial of the Marriage between William, only son of Frederick-Henry, Prince of Orange, and Mary, eldest daughter of King Charles I, the 2nd of May 1641 ,' drawn up by Anstis in 1733 from original manuscripts in the possession of Joseph Edmondson, Mowbray Herald. In the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' lxix. 194, there appeared some extracts from a letter of Anstis, dated 13 Nov. 1731, 'in which he answers queries that had been proposed to him as to the pretensions a dean of Westminster might have to bear the insignia of the Bath; and, supposing them to be well founded, in what manner the shield was to be exhibited upon a sepulchral monument.' Anstis left in manuscript the following works : 1. ' Aspilogia, a Discourse upon Seals in England,' of which an abstract was read before the Society of Antiquaries in 1735-6. 2. Two folio volumes of drawings of sepulchral monuments, stone circles, crosses, and castles in the three kingdoms, extracts from which are printed in the 'Archseologia,' xiii. 208. 3. A collection of epitaphs and other inscriptions in England and Wales (facsimiles). 4. 'Collectanea, in sixteen folio volumes, respecting almost every subject of English History, Jurisprudence, Chronology, Ecclesiastical and Military Affairs.' 5. ' Sigilla in officio Ducatus Lancastriæ,' a catalogue of ancient seals, deeds, and charters. 6. 'Pedigree of the Anstis Family.' 7. A treatise on the name, origin, and duties of the Earl Marshall. 8. An article on the estate and degree of a serjeant-at-law. 9. A petition relative to the visitatorial power of All Souls College. These manuscripts came into the possession of Thomas Astle at the sale of Anstis's library in 1768, and are now in the Stowe collection (British Museum). Besides these were (10) five large folio volumes, on the 'Office, &c., of Garter King-at-Arms, of Heralds and Pursuivants, in this and other Kingdoms, both Royal, Princely, and such as belonged to our Nobility,' that were acquired by George Nayler, York Herald, who allowed the use of them to Noble for his 'History of the College of Arms.' 11. 'Memoirs of the Families of Talbot, Carew, Granville, and Courtney.' 12. 'The Antiquities of Cornwall.' 13. 'Collections relating to the Parish of Colliton, in Devonshire,' dealing with the question of tithes, which had been the subject of a dispute between the parishioners and his son, the Rev. George Anstis, the vicar. 14. 'Collections relating to All Souls College,' purchased for the college. 15. 'Heraldic, Genealogical, and Historical Collections,' British Museum Add. MSS. 12227, 14291, 19818; collections for a treatise 'De Baroniis,' 24964. Some letters of Anstis's are printed in Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes,' v. 271.

Pope alludes to Anstis in the 'Imitations of Horace:' —

A man of wealth is dubbed a man of worth,
Venus shall give him form, and Anstis birth;

and Prior mentions him in an epigram: —

But coronets we owe to crowns,
And favour to a courts affection.
By nature we are Adam's sons,
And sons of Anstis by election.

There is a portrait of Anstis at Oxford and in the hall of the College of Arms.

[Noble's History of the College of Arms, 376-79; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ii. 706-7, v. 269-72; O'Conor's Bibliotheca MS. Stowensis; Full and authentic Narrative of the intended horrid Conspiracy, 1715; Archæologia, i. xxviii; Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica; Buitows's Worthies of All Souls, 406-8]

A. H. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.7
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
43 i 24 Anstis, John, the elder: for 1745 read 1744
31-35 for Although a strong tory he voted . . . among the ‘tackers’ read As a strong tory he voted for the bill for the prevention of occasional conformity, and his name appeared among the ‘tackers’
ii 37-8 for 1744-45 read 1743-44
44 i 20f.e. for folio read quarto