6 April 1927 - 13 February 2006

Founder and President of the Heraldry Society

The Society’s founder and President, John Brooke-Little, died in hospital on the morning of 13 February.  The Society he founded in 1947 as the Society of Heraldic Antiquaries was put on a more formal footing in 1950 and renamed  The Heraldry Society.  ‘J B-L’ as he was widely called was to serve as its inimitable Chairman for 50 years, standing down in 1997 to become President of the Society.

John Brooke-Little had been fascinated by heraldry since childhood.  He was born at Blackheath, the son of Raymond Brooke-Little, an electrical engineer, and his second wife Constance Egan, later editor of Home Chat and author of many children’s stories including the Epaminondas books and the adventures of Jummy the baby elephant. Constance Egan was to play an important editorial and secretarial role in the early years of the Heraldry Society.

His paternal ancestors, the Littles, came from Wiltshire and may be traced in the parish registers of Biddestone back to the late 17th century.  A pedigree of his family appears in the 1972 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry under the heading ‘Brooke-Little of Heyford House’.

John Brooke-Little was educated at Clayesmore, the progressive co-educational public school founded in 1896 by Alexander Devine.  It remained an important part of his life.  He sent his children there and while serving as chairman of its board of governors from 1971 to 1983 he oversaw a grant of arms to the school.  He went up to New College, Oxford in 1949 and read history.

John Brooke-Little

John Brooke-Little’s first contact with the College of Arms came when as a schoolboy he went to see Sir Algar Howard, then Garter King of Arms, who encouraged his interest in heraldry.  At Clayesmore School he founded a heraldry society. 

In 1952 he secured a position as one of the staff the Earl Marshal had assembled to plan the 1953 Coronation, and was a Gold Staff Officer on the actual day.  John Brooke-Little had many anecdotes from this period of his life including that of finding on Coronation morning a char-woman ensconced in the lavatory specially installed for the Queen.  He also relished the story of the elderly marquess who, on being told that if he wanted to sit close to a lavatory during the long service he must sit with the viscounts, replied ‘that will be fine, my dear chap; I am not a bit class-conscious’.

In 1956 John was appointed Bluemantle Pursuivant and began his career as an officer of arms which would last for more than forty years.  He was advanced to the office of Richmond Herald in 1967.  During his years as an officer of arms in ordinary he was the agent for a large number grants of arms.  He particularly liked the combination of gules and or and this is a theme which appears in many of his designs.  His own arms, granted to his father in 1952 were Argent gutty de sang three Unicorn’s Heads erased Sable armed and crined Or langued Azure, and the crest a demi Unicorn erased Sable armed crined and unguled Or and langued as in the Arms gorged with a collar compony Gold and Gules attached thereto a Chain reflexed over the back also Gold.  The unicorn supporters granted to the Heraldry Society in 1957 are a quotation from the Brooke-Little arms.

At the College of Arms he built up a substantial practice in heraldry and genealogy and in the running of this was assisted for many years by his loyal lieutenant Miss Mary Rose Rogers, MBE.  He lectured widely, carrying his enthusiasm for heraldry and for the theatre of ceremonial to a wide audience.  His lecture tours took him to Australia and several times to North America.

John Brooke-Little served in the vital offices at the College of Arms of Librarian, Registrar, and Treasurer.  Among the many positions and offices he held outside the College he was adviser on heraldry to the National Trust and to the Shrievalty Association, a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists, and Master of the Scriveners’ Company (1985-86).

He wrote often on heraldry.  In particular he was co-editor and then editor of editions of the standard work of reference on English heraldry by Boutell from 1963 to 1983.  In 1973 he produced An Heraldic Alphabet, an invaluable guide to heraldic terminology for both novice and expert.  Its usefulness and popularity is reflected by the fact that it is still in print.

A convivial companion and amusing story teller, John Brooke-Little had a wide circle of friends.  For many years he was a regular patron of El Vino’s wine bar in Fleet Street.

In 1980 he became Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, and remained such until the death of Sir Anthony Wagner in1995 on which the office of Clarenceux King of Arms became vacant.  From 1995 to 1997 John Brooke-Little was Clarenceux, retiring on reaching his 70th birthday.  He was appointed MVO (4th class) in 1969, and CVO in 1984.

John Brooke-Little  married in 1960 Mary, daughter of J. R. Pierce.  She with their three sons, Philip, Leo and Merlin, and daughter Clare, survives him.


The Heraldry Society Dinner was held on Monday 14 November 2005 at the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers in the City of London and the guest of honour was the Patron of the Society, His Grace the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal of England. It was a splendid occasion with a full house and enjoyed by all those who attended. His Grace gave a very informative and humorous account of the history of his family and its connections with the College of Arms.

The winner of the Heraldry Society's Corporate Heraldry Award Competition 2005 was The Company of Master Jewellers Ltd and the award was presented at the dinner by the Duke of Norfolk to Mr Richard Peplow, a former Chairman of the Company who collected it on behalf of Mr William Paterson, the present Chairman of the Company.

His Grace the Duke of Norfolk presents the Society's Corporate Heraldry Award to Mr Richard Peplow.

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