Anthony Wagner

Anthony Wagner

Sir Anthony Richard Wagner, KCB, KCVO, FSA (6 September, 1908 – 5 May 1995) was a long-serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. He served as Garter Principal King of Arms before retiring to the post of Clarenceux King of Arms. He was one of the most prolific authors on subjects of the heraldry and genealogy of the 20th century.

Early life and education

Wagner was born to a family of German Silesian origin (see Burke's "Landed Gentry"). His ancestor, Melchior Wagner, arrived in England from the Saxon city of Coburg in 1709 and became hatter to George I of Great Britain. At an early age Wagner developed a taste for genealogy, and invented an imaginary realm which he could people to taste. His father ran a day-school in London. Scholarships took Wagner to Eton College and then to Balliol College at Oxford. Eventually he entered the College of Arms as Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary in 1931.

Wagner did not marry until he was 44, but in 1953 made a happy alliance with Gillian, daughter of Major H.A.R. Graham. In addition to taking over his father's house in Chelsea Square they acquired a country cottage at Aldeburgh, Suffolk. He was survived by two sons, one of whom is a distinguished artist, and a daughter. After Sir Anthony's death in 1995, he was buried at Aldeburgh following a funeral service at the Church of St Benet Paul's Wharf, which has been the religious home of the College of Arms since 1555.

Professional career

Wagner joined the College of Arms as Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary in 1931. He was promoted to Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary in 1943 and Garter Principal King of Arms in 1961. In 1978 he retired to the subordinate position of Clarenceux King of Arms. He was a firm believer in the view that appointments to the college were for life. As a herald he enjoyed a very large practice and was able to train up a number of skilled and well-qualified assistants who later became officers of arms. His professional library was enormous, but he was also able to build up an important collection of early heraldic manuscripts from the Clumber and other sales.

During World War II he served in the War Office for four years, and then moved to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, where he rose to be Principal Private Secretary to a series of ministers. Although he contemplated remaining in the Ministry, he returned to the College of Arms in 1946 and took over the extensive practice of Alfred Butler, Windsor Herald.

One idea, which he pursued persistently, was the establishment of a museum in which to display the treasures of the College of Arms itself. Initially it was hoped to erect a building adjacent to the college, and a most interesting design was commissioned from Raymond Erith; this became impossible because of the increasing financial demands of repairs to the college itself. For it has to be remembered that the Heralds, as a body corporate, receive no subvention from any national source; their own stipends were fixed in the 17th century and have not been raised since. But in 1981 the Heralds' Museum was at last opened in part of the Tower of London. To those who wish to gain some idea of the resources of the college, Wagner's own "Records and Collections of the College of Arms" (1952) is an invaluable short guide.

Wagner continued to visit the College of Arms and attend meetings of its chapter. With his departure the world of heraldry and genealogy lost a scholar of majestic stature, though his numerous works keep his memory alive.


Wagner had many interests outside the world and work of the College of Arms. He belonged to the Vintners' Company, serving as Master from 1973 to 1974, and was a member of a number of important dining clubs including the Society of Dilettanti, the antiquarian Cocked Hats, and the bibliophilic Roxburghe Club.

A number of large projects engaged his attention and enthusiasm. One, which arose from the Harleian Society, was an endeavour to list and describe the surviving English Rolls of Arms: to this series (CEMRA) Wagner contributed the first volume. Another project, connected with the Society of Antiquaries of London, was a revised edition of the Ordinary of Arms originally produced by Papworth. The first volume appeared in 1992.


It is fair to say that through his life genealogy occupied the foremost place in Wagner's affections, but his earliest publications made highly important contributions to the study of heraldry. Issues of State Ceremonial took third priority. His "Historic Heraldry of England" (1939) derived initially from an exhibition of panels in America, but drew a stern and scholarly line between those great men who were truly armigerous and those who were not. On the other hand, his "Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages" (also 1939) shed new light on the development of the functions of the earliest officers of arms. Many years later he traced the whole story of the College of Arms in a massive volume entitled "Heralds of England" (1967).

Of all Wagner's genealogical writings, his "English Genealogy" (1960, and since revised) is standard reference in any well-conditioned public library and on many private shelves. Many of his conclusions were rehearsed and reinforced in "Pedigree and Progress" (1975), where an important group of essays is annotated and brought up to date. Always he stressed the mobility of social life and class in the course of English history, and in maintaining this view ran contrary to the opinions of some professional English historians.

His office had been highly mechanised from an early stage, but all the more so once he became blind in 1984, whereupon, making every use of the aids of modern science, he bore his affliction with patience and dexterity. His autobiography, "A Herald's Way" (1988) he dictated.

Honours and appointments

*Appointed Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary (1931)
*General Editor, "Society of Antiquaries Dictionary of British Arms" (1940-1995)
*Appointed Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary (1943)
*Secretary of the Order of the Garter (1952-1961)
*Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (1953)
*Registrar of the College of Arms (1953-1960)
*Joint Register of the Court of Chivalry (1954-1995)
*Appointed Garter Principal King of Arms (1961-1978)
*Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (1961)
*Knight Principal, Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor (1962-1983)
*Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (1978)
*Appointed Clarenceux King of Arms (1978-1995)
*Director, Heralds' Museum, Tower of London (1978-1983)

ee also

*The College of Arms


*Maclagan, Michael (1995). [ Obituary:Sir Anthony Wagner] , "The Independent", 10 May 1995. Available online, and last accessed 8 January 2008.

External links

*worldcat id|lccn-n50-21339

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