As well as asking our users about their favourite documents from our collections, we have also been asking ourselves. Here, Archive Assistant Edward Harris tells us about one of his favourite documents, the Grant of Arms to Thomas Barrett Leonard 1st Baronet (D/DL/F170).
This document recites a royal warrant of 13 March 1786 which directs the Garter and Clarenceux, kings of arms, to grant to Thomas Thomas the right to adopt his father’s surname, title and arms as per his father’s will.
Thomas Thomas was an illegitimate son of Thomas Barrett-Leonard, 17th Baron Dacre, and Elizabeth FitzThomas. He went on to be MP for Essex South and a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex. He was created 1st Baronet of Belhus in 1801. His eldest son Thomas became an MP for Maldon, but predeceased Thomas Sr who died aged 95 as the most senior member of the baronetage in 1857. He was succeeded in his baronetcy by his grandson Thomas (why give up on a good name?).
This document has always stood out for me as it was one of the first documents I noticed on when I began working at the Record Office, as its distinctively shaped box caught my eye. I am sorry to say that it was only recently that I actually unrolled it and discovered the wonderful illumination inside.
For me it was always the meaning behind it that appealed to me. This is a document which was the making of this one man. It transformed him from a relatively wealthy gentleman into one of the foremost members of the nobility in Essex, an opportunity that he clearly didn’t squander. Without this document his life would have been somewhat different. The esteem in which he held it is obvious. The box is carefully made and decorated and the document itself is pristine to the point of looking almost brand new.
We have a portrait of Thomas’s painted by John Opie, and it now hangs on one of the walls in the Searchroom, next to a portrait of his first wife. I very much recommend having a look at it on your next visit – he looks every bit like a man who had to prove himself, and this document certainly helped.