Wyrley, William (DNB00)

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WYRLEY, WILLIAM (1565–1618), antiquary and Rouge Croix pursuivant, born in Staffordshire in 1565, was son of Augustine Wyrley of Wyrley, Staffordshire, and of Netherseal in Leicestershire, by Mary his wife, daughter of Walter Charnells of Snarestone, Leicestershire. His grandfather was William Wyrley of Handsworth in Staffordshire, where the family had been long settled.

Wyrley, who was educated at a country grammar school, showed from his childhood an ‘excellent genie for arms and armory.’ While still a youth he was employed as amanuensis by the Staffordshire antiquary, Samson Erdeswicke [q. v.] of Sandon. During the period that he was working with Erdeswicke, Wyrley published under his own name a brief heraldic essay entitled ‘The trve Vse of Armorie, shewed by Historie, and plainly proued by Example’ (London, by J. Jackson for Gabriell Cawood, 1592, 4to). The little work embodies some valuable historical research in regard to the early origin and significance of heraldic emblems. It was dedicated ‘To the Right honourable the Lords and others, the professors of martiall discipline.’ The ‘True Use of Armorie’ only fills twenty-eight pages, but to it Wyrley appended two historical poems of his own composition; they were in seven-line stanzas, and were entitled respectively ‘Lord Chandos’ and ‘Capitall de Buz.’ These ‘dull, creeping, historical narratives’ are very ‘uncouth ditties’ (Ritson, Bibl. Poetica, 1802, p. 399; Phillips, Theatrum Poet. Angl. ed. Brydges, p. 333). Dugdale republished a part of the heraldic tract in his ‘Ancient Usage of Bearing Arms’ (1682, 12mo, pp. 6–46), and he ascribed the whole of it to Erdeswicke, on the authority of William Burton, author of the ‘History of Leicestershire’ (who had the story from Erdeswicke). Wood disputed Erdeswicke's responsibility. Wyrley doubtless used materials which he gathered from Erdeswicke's papers. His authority for the poems has not been questioned. Wyrley's heraldic tract was reprinted without the poems in 1853 (London, sm. 4to).

Soon after the publication of his book Wyrley left Erdeswicke's service, and resolved to pursue his antiquarian studies at Oxford. He matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on 29 Nov. 1594 at the mature age of twenty-nine. During his residence at Balliol he made ‘Collections of Arms from Monuments and Windows in Churches and elsewhere in and near Oxford,’ besides voluminous notes from various ‘Leiger books’ belonging to monasteries in the neighbourhood. At Oxford he seems to have made the acquaintance of William Burton, historian of Leicestershire, who acknowledged aid rendered him by Wyrley. In later years they made together a survey of churches in Leicestershire. On 15 May 1604 Wyrley was appointed Rouge Croix pursuivant at the College of Arms. He gained the reputation there of ‘a knowing and useful person in his profession.’ He died at the college on 16 Feb. 1617–18, and was buried in St. Bennet's Church near St. Paul's Wharf.

Some portion of Wyrley's collections of arms and monumental inscriptions made in Leicestershire and other counties, as well as in churches in and near London, was acquired by Ralphe Sheldon of Weston, Long Compton, Warwickshire, who is said to have bequeathed Wyrley's manuscripts, on his death in 1684, to the College of Arms. The only manuscript there now identified as being of Wyrley's composition is a small quarto volume numbered Vincent MS. 197, and entitled ‘Church Notes of Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northampton, York, Rutland, and Staffordshire.’ Some notes by Wyrley on Staffordshire genealogy are incorporated in the edition of Erdeswicke's ‘Survey of Staffordshire’ which was edited by Thomas Harwood in 1820 (another edit. 1844).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon.; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Noble's College of Arms; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica; Simms's Staffordshire Bibliography; information kindly given by Everard Green, esq., F.S.A., Rouge Dragon.]

S. L.