The Parade before Gracechurch

Sutton Coldfield Coat of Arms

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How Sutton Coldfield became a Royal Town


The Arms of Sutton Coldfield are based on the Arms of the towns greatest benefactor, John Harman, otherwise known as Vesey. Born in Sutton in the fifteenth century, he attained high office during the reign of King Henry VIII, being consecrated Bishop of Exeter in 1519.

From the Arms of Vesey, the town Arms have taken the cross on a silver field with a stags head in the centre, and four birds, one on each arm of the cross. The stag surmounting the helmet holds two gold crossed keys and a sword, which are taken from the Arms of the Bishopric of Exeter. The mitre on the shield is a further allusion to Vesey as Bishop. The gold greyhound and red dragon supporters were used on the Arms of the early Tudor kings and commemorate the fact that:

Henry VIII granted a charter of incorporation for Sutton Coldfield to be a Royal Town in 1528 and placing the Chase and Manor in the hands of a local body for the benefit of the inhabitants in perpetuity

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John Harman, the eldest son of William and Joan Harman, was born in about 1462 in a property on the estate of Moor Hall in Sutton Coldfield. It is likely he was brought up in the household of distant relations of his mother, the Vesey's, whose name he adopted as his own.
He studied at Oxford and in 1489, having taken holy orders, was appointed chaplain to the household of Henry the Sevenths' Queen, Elizabeth of York, a post he held when the future King Henry the Eighth was born to the Queen in 1491. Vesey rose to distinction as a result of natural ability, hard work, ambition and a pleasing manner. He was, in his 40's, well entrenched in the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

In 1509, Henry the Eighth became King and Vesey was one of a handful of men to whom the inexperienced and wilful King came to rely upon. In 1519, Vesey was appointed Bishop of Exeter, and the following year, he was one of six bishops to accompany King Henry the Eighth to an important meeting with Francis the First in France.

Vesey returned to Sutton Coldfield in 1524 to attend his mothers funeral and found his home town was in a sorry state. Under the patronage of the Earls of Warwick, Sutton had once been a busy and prosperous market town but when Richard Neville Earl of Warwick died in 1471, his lands including the manor of Sutton were forfeited to the crown. By 1524, the market place was deserted and the Manor House had been demolished.

Vesey did not like what he saw.

In 1528 Vesey obtained from the King a charter of incorporation for Sutton which entrusted the government of the town to a warden and 24 local inhabitants known together as the Warden and Society of the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield. He rebuilt the market place so that the fairs and markets could flourish again, built a town hall and founded the Grammar School which still bears his name.
He died at Moor Hall in Sutton on October 23rd 1554 and he is remembered by a monument in Holy Trinity Church.

The association of Vesey with Henry the Eighth was also instrumental in giving to Sutton Coldfield the Tudor Rose as its emblem. Henry the Eighths father, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and grandson of Owen Tudor, a Welsh knight, had become the first sovereign of the House of Tudor.

Not caring greatly for the complicated heraldic devices of mediaeval times, he took for his own emblem a simple rose, whose petals of both red and white, symbolised the reconciliation which took place between the Houses of York and Lancaster at the end of the Wars of the Roses.

The Tudor Rose - 
emblem of Sutton Coldfield

While hunting one day in Sutton Park, Henry the Eighth, accompanied by Bishop Vesey was subjected to a sudden and quite unexpected charge by a wild boar. Before the animal could harm the King, however, it fell dead with an arrow through its heart.

The cry went out for the kings unknown saviour to be brought forward so that royal gratitude could be shown in some tangible way.

Much to the Kings surprise, the unseen marksman was found to be a young and beautiful woman and when Henry was told that her family had been dispossessed of their property, he ordered that restitution should be made to them.

Furthermore, to the young woman herself, he presented the Tudor Rose, his family emblem, which he said should henceforth also be the emblem of Sutton Coldfield, the girls native town.

Sutton Coldfield has a mention by Shakespeare, spoken by Falstaff.

"Bardolph, get thee before to Coventry. Fill me a bottle of sack;
our soldiers shall march through; we'll to Sutton Cofil tonight."

Henry IV, Part 1, Act IV, Scene 2.

As a result of a forced merger of land boundaries, a takeover by Birmingham Metropolitan District in 1974, Sutton Coldfield was forced to lose its Coat of Arms. A melancholy affair.

Soliloquy to Sutton Park
I know the pools where the pike rise,
I know the trees where the acorns fall,
I know the woods where the grey squirrel lies,
The heathland where the skylarks call.

Apologies to John Drinkwater and his poem "The Vagabond".

Sutton Coldfield is a Royal Mail recognised post-town.

Contact via oseagram iinet net au - a Suttonian.

Revised 15th March 2005.