1902 Encyclopedia > Heraldry > Introduction and History

(Part 1)

HERALDRY, though etymologically denoting all the business of the herald, has long in practice been restricted to one part of it only, and may be defined as the art of blazoning or describing in proper terms armorial bearings. It treats also of their history, of the rules observed in their employment and transmission, of the manner in which by their means families and certain dignities are represented, and of their connexion with genealogies and titular rank.

Particular symbols have in all ages been assumed by the various families of mankind, civilized and uncivilized. Such were the lion of the tribe of Judah, the S. P. Q. R. upon the standards of ancient Rome and the eagle sur-mounting them, the tattoo marks of the savages of America and the Pacific, the Danish raven, and the white horse of Saxony, which still remains carved upon the chalk downs of western England.1 Heraldry, however, is a purely feudal institution, coeval with close armour, devised possibly in Germany, adopted and improved in France, Spain, and Italy, and imported into England by the Norman invaders and settlers. Its figures have little or nothing to do with the older symbols, though these have occasionally been incorporated into its charges, and an apparent connexion thus established between them. These symbols, as has been well said, were the precursors and not the ancestors of heraldic bearings. The supposed connexion, however, misled the credulous heraldic writers of the 16th and 17th centuries, and caused them to attribute coats of arms to the heroes of sacred and profane history, who were certainly as ignorant of heraldry as ever was Adam of genealogy.

"Arms" or "armories," so called because originally dis-played upon defensive armour, and "coats of arms" because formerly embroidered upon the surcoat or camise worn over the armour, are supposed to have been first used at the great German tournaments, and to have reached England, though to a very moderate extent, in the -time of Henry II. and Coeur de Lion. To "blazon," now meaning to describe a coat of arms, is the German "blasen," to blow as with the horn, because the style and arms of each knight were so proclaimed on public occasions. The terms employed in heraldry are, however, mostly French or of French origin. Though now matters of form and ceremonial, and subject to the smile which attaches to such in a utilitarian age, armorial bearings were once of real use and importance, and so continued as long as knights were eased in plate, and their features thus concealed. At that time leaders were recog-nized in the field by their insignia alone, and these—both figures and colours—became identified with their fame, from personal became hereditary, were subject to certain rules of descent, and to the laws of property and the less certain rules of honour.

Froissart mentions a case in which a knight of the Scrope family could with difficulty be restrained from putting to death a prisoner because he wore the same bearings with himself. The last De Clare owed his death on the field of Bannockburn to his having neglected to wear his cotte d’armes had he been recognized, his great value as a prisoner would have saved him. Also the loss of the battle of Barnet was in part attributed to the similarity between the royal cognizance of a sun and that of John

FOOTNOTE (page 683)

1 The subject of ancient and especially of Greek "heraldry" is discussed by Curtius in a learned and interesting paper "Wappenge-brauch und Wappenstyl im Alterthum" in the Abhandlungen der Königl. Akad. d. Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1874). See also article GEMS, vol. x. p. 136.

de Vere, a star with streamers,—Warwick charging Oxford by mistake for the king.

The best if riot the only absolutely safe evidence for the origin of armorial bearings is that afforded by seals. Seals were in common use both before and after the introduction of armorial bearings, and they are not so likely as rolls of arms or monumental effigies to be the work of a later age. There are said by Courcelles to be extant, appended to charters of 1030 and 1037 A.D., two seals of Adalbert, duke of Lorraine, which bear on a shield an eagle with wings closed. This however wants confirmation; but Anna Comnena, describing the shields of the French knights who visited Constantinople about 1100, gives their surfaces as of metal only, polished but plain; nor have any decided traces of arms been discovered among the early crusaders. Louis le Jeune, who seems first of the French kings to have used the fleur-de-lys, caused it to be repre-sented in gold over the azure mantle and chaussures worm by his son at his coronation. Also, in 1180, he seals with a fleur -de- lys, but it is placed in a circle, not upon a shield. Planché cites two seals of Philip, count of Flanders, one plain, in 1157, and another in 1161 charged with a lion, their subsequent bearing. Seton mentions the seal of John de Mundegumbri in 1170 as bearing a fleur-de-lys, which, like that of Louis, has two intermediate flower-stems, as seen on Florentine coins. He also gives the seal of Falconer (1170) as bearing a falcon; and that of Corbet bore two ravens perched upon a fleur-de-lys, while his brother bore them upon a tree. This indeed was at a period when fleurs-de-lys, stars, and various animals were commonly represented as mere ornaments on seals, but the peculiarity of the instances named is that the falcon and the raven, like the fleur-de-lys of France, were afterwards the heraldic bear-ings of those families. The seals of the close of the 12th century, though not generally heraldic, certainly betray many of the elements of heraldry. No doubt, when once introduced, armorial bearings were felt to supply a real and serious want, and came rapidly into use, but Wace, the poet of the reign of Henry II., although he tells us that

"N’i a riche home ne Baron,

Ki n’ait lez li son gonfanon,

U gonfanon u altre enseigne,"

can scarcely be seriously held to mention armorial bearings. It is uncertain at what period armorial bearings found their way into England. The Conqueror and his successors certainly did not use them; they do not appear upon their seals, nor are they shown upon the banners of the Bayeux tapestry. The monk of Marmoutier, probably a contemporary, describes Henry I., upon the marriage of his daughter to Geoffrey of Anjou in 1122, as hanging about the bridegroom’s neck a shield adorned with small golden lions, "leonculos aureos;" and, making mention of a combat in which Geoffrey was engaged, he describes him as "pictos leones praeferens in clypeo." It is true that the number, attitude, and position of these lions on the shield are not specified, but considering that not long afterwards two lions became the arms of Plantagenet, and so of England, this may fairly be taken as their introduction. Stephen is said to have used a centaur, Sagittarius, as an emblem, because he landed in England when the sun was in that sign, but on his great seal his shield is quite plain, save a ridge down the centre, evidently a part of its construction. On the seals of the Conqueror, Rufus, and Henry I., only the hollow or under side of the shield is shown ; so there probably was no design upon the front. There is no seal of Duke Robert, but William, earl of Flanders, his son, shows a plain shield on his seal. His monumental effigy (1128) bears a large pavesse shield, and upon it an escarbuncle, apparently a highly ornamented clamp. The seal of Henry II. also shows the hollow of the shield. The first great seal of Richard I. bears a lion rampant, who from his position may be inferred to be fighting with a similar lion upon the sinister and concealed half of the similar lion upon the sinister and concealed half of the shield, blazoned in a MS. cited by Mr Way s "two lions confrontés."

Up to this time the kings, though represented on horseback and in full armour, have the free uncovered, and therefore their persons would be known. The seal of Richard I. in 1189 shows a close helmet, and upon the shield two lions passant gardant in pale, "leones lopardés," as they were then or soon after called. On a later seal, after his return from captivity in 1194, Richard added a third lion. John, while earl of Mortained, sealed with two lions, but his seal as king bears three, and the coat has so remained. That the two lions were more than a mere ornament is evident from their having been adopted by John’s natural son, Richard de Warre, who seals with two lions passant regardant. The seals of the great barons show the growth of the practice. Richard, constable of Chester, contemporary with Stephen, bears a shield covered over with small plates, regulated, like his armour ; but Stephen, earl of Richmond, as early as 1137, seals with seven fleurs-de-lys, a very early heraldic seal. Waleran, earl of Meulan (died 1166), also used an heraldic seal. Duchesne gives a seal of Bouchard de Montmorenci (1182), a contemporary of Louis le Jeune, with a cross between four alerions on his shield, and another in which the cross is charged with roundels. Mathieu, his son, seals also with the cross and alerions, which had evidently becomes, as they remained, hereditary. In England, William, earl of Essex (died 1190). Seals with ht escarbuncle of his family. In 1187 Gervase Paganel, a great Anglo-Norman baron, seals, with two lions passant, which his family continued to bear.

With the 13th century arms came rapidly into use. The second seal of Mathieu de Montmorenci in 1209 has them introduced upon his horse furniture, but this practice does not appear upon the seals of the kings of England until the second seal of Edward I. Baldwin de Bethume, earl of Albemarle (died 1214), sealed with three martlets in chief, and may other early examples of regular heraldic seals occur at this period attached to extant charters. The earliest roll of arms is of the reign of Henry III. ; of a second of the same reign a copy is preserved in the Harleian collection ; and a third, in the next reign, is the roll of Caerlavrock, 1300 A.D. So that for the reign of Henry and his son the evidence for armorial bearing is copious and excellent. Other rolls exist carrying the practice through the 14th and 15th centuries, before the middle of which there is no known work on heraldry, nor any trace of heraldic regulations save what may be deduced from recorded practice.

Coats of arms were not at first strictly hereditary, nor even always permanent in the same person. Thus William de Ferrars, 6th earl of Derby (died 1246), seems to have borne "argent. 6 fers de cheval, or horse shoes, 3, 2, 1, sable." William, his son, in consequence of a match with Peveril, who bore "vair," changed his bearing to "vair, or and gules, on a border azure 8 horse shoes argent." Robert his son, 8th earl (died 1278), dropped the horse shoes, and bore "vair, or and gules."

"Ferrars his tabard with rich vair yspread."

After the match with Quincy, the Ferrarses laid aside their own coat and bore that of Quincy, "gules, 7 mascles conjoined 3, 3, 1, or." Their make heir through a younger branch,—Ferrers of Baddesley-Clinton,—commemorates these various changes by bearing "quarterly,—(1st) vair, or and gules ; (2d) sable, 6 horse shoes, 3, 2, 1, argent ; (3d) gules, 7 mascle, 3, 3, 1, or, a canton ermine." Hugh Lupus, earl of Chester (died 1101), is fabled to have borne a wolf’s head, and not improbably his surname arose from some such emblem. Richard, his son, is said to have borne "azure, semée of crosslets or, a wolf’s head erased argent." Ranulph Meschines, 3d earl (died 1128), was sister’s son to the first earl, and to him is assigned "or, a lion rampant gules." Hugh Cyfelioc, 5th earl (died 1180), certainly bore "azure 6 garb of wheat, 3, 2, 1, or;" and Ranulph Blondevile, his son, bore "azure, 3 garbs or." With him the line failed, but as the wheat-sheaf is a common Cheshire bearing, it is probably that arms came into general use in the palatinate in the time of the last two earls.

Sir Nicholas Carru (died 1283) seals with a tricorporate lion, but at a Caerlavrock in 1300 is found with a

"Banière et jaune bien passable,

O trois passans lyons de sable,"

the arms of the Carews of our day. The fess and label of Saher de Quincy, earl of Winchester, in 1170, were changed by Roger his son for the mascles by which they were best known, and which he repeats upon his housings. The fact is that, at the close of the 13th century, arms, though on the whole hereditary, had not quite acquired that fixed character belonged to them half a century later. That the changes were the exception rather than the rule is, however, clear from the roll of Henry III., and from the arms of the forty great barons which he caused to be painted on the walls of Westminster Abbey, almost all of which, so far as they are on record, are the same with those borne or quartered by their representatives. There exist also in England a few families of Norman origin, the period of whose arrival in England is known, and whose arms are the same with those of the present stock in the parent country. Such are Harcourt of Ankerwyke and D’ Aubigny, who therefore bore their arms before the separation from Normandy under Henry III.

Early bearings were usually very simple, the colours in strong contrast, and their from outine such as could readily be distinguished even in the dust and confusion of a battle. They are mostly composed of right lined figures known in heraldry as ordinaries. The favourite beast is the lion.

The earliest and most valuable records relating to English armorial bearings are undoubtedly the rolls of arms of the reigns of Henry III. and the first three Edwards, which have been well edited by Sir H. Nicolas. That of Henry III. known as Glover’s roll, drawn up between 1243 and 1246 describes or blazons 218 coats of arms, and therefore shows very sufficiently the heraldry of the period. Of these coats nearly one-half are composed solely of the ordinaries and subordinaries, and other simple lnes and figures. About two score of them exhibit lions, chiefly rampant, and leo-pardés, a form of the same animal. The only other beast is the "teste de sanglier" borne by Swinburne. Of birds there are but the eagle and the papagay, several martlets, and single examples of the raven, the cock, the heron, and the horiole. The luce or pike is the only fish. The cinquefoil and sexfoil, the fleur-de-lys, the rose, and the wheat-sheaf, used very sparingly, represent the vegetable world for the rest there are annulets, barnacles, crescents, estoiles, escallops, ferd de cheval, mullets, and water budgets. There is one ray of the sun, and one whirlpool.

The coat of Mortimer "barrè, a chef palée, a corner gerennée d’or et d’azur, a ung escutcheon d’argent,"—or, in modern terms, "barry, a chief paly, its corners gyronny or and azure, an escutcheon argent" (fig. 63),—is the only one at all of a complex character, and this is composed of ordinaries and subordinaries; and though many of the ordinaries bear the smaller charges, or are placed between them, there are very few examples of an ordinary so charged also placed between charges, a common usage in later coats. An exception is Chandos, who bears three estoiles on a pile, which again is placed between six others ; but this stands alone.

The roll of Edward II. Blazons 957 coats of the bannerets of England, so that the use of arms had increased considerably. The lions have risen to 225, the eagles to 43 ; and there are 102 crosses of various kinds. Of new beasts, fabulous or real, there are the griffin, the wyvern, the stag, wolf, goat, and greyhound ; of new birds the falcon ; of fishes the dolphin. Of other objects the additions are the millrind, buckle, covered cup, chaplet, gauntlet, arrow, trumpet, hammer, battle-axe, palmer’s staff, pots, winnowing fans or vans, pens, cushions, and chessrocks. The character of the arms remains very simple, and the blazon employed agrees in the main with that still in use, and is in general perfectly intelligible. These rolls give various examples of changes of coats, either altogether or by the introduction of a difference to distinguish members of the same family ; and it is usually adhered to, as though it were considered undesirable to change them. Thus Gilbert de Segrave (died 1254) bore "sable, 3 garbs argent." Of his grandson John and Nicholas, John bore the paternal coast, but Nicholas, at Caerlavrock, had exchanged the garbs for a lion. This afterwards became the family bearing as "sable, a lion rampant argent, crowned or," the colours being retained.

No sooner had the great barons assumed arms for themselves than they began to grant them to their followers. Arms so granted commonly bore some resemblance to those of the grantor, and hence certain charges prevailed in certain districts. Thus the chevron of De Clare was common in South Wales, in the Honours of Gloucester and Clare, and about Tonbridge. The garb or wheat-sheaf was found in Cheshire ; the cinquefoils of the Bellomonts in Leicestershire ; the annulets of Vipont in Westmoreland ; the lion all over England, and the tressure in Scotland, both from the royal arms. Some of these grants remain ; others can with certaintly be inferred. Stephen Curzon, who held under the earls, of Derby, bore "vair, with a border of 8 popinjays argent," and Richard, his brother, bore "vair, on a fess 3 horse-shoes." Hubert, earl of Kent, bore "7 lozenges vair ;" and Anselm de Guise, on taking under him lands in Berks and Gloucester, assumed the same coat, with the addition of a canton or, charged with a mullet sable. In 1849 Robert Morle granted to Robert de Corby and his heirs the arms "d’ argent, ove un saltier engrailé de sable," which he himself had inherited from Baldwin de Manoirs. In 1356–7 William, baron of Greystock, who bore "barry of 6 argent and azure, 3 chaplets gules," granted to Adam de Blencowe and his heirs for ever "an escutcheon sable with a bend closeted [or barred] argent and azure, with 3 chapless gules," in 13 91 –2 Thomas Grendale granted to William Morgue his heirs and assign, "argent, on a cross azure 5 garbs or," which , as cousin and heir, he himself had inherited from John Beaumeys. Finally, in 1442 Humphrey, earl of Scofford, who bore "or, a chevron gules," granted to Robert Whitgreaves "un escue d’azure, à quatre points d’or, quarte chevrons de gules," to him and his heirs of lineage,—in modern terms "azure, a cross quarter-pierced or, on each limb a chevron gules." A coat of arms was not only heritable, subject to certain heraldic customs, but could be willed or granted away, whoolly or in part, like chattel property.

The crusades, by bringing together soldiers of different nations, tended to produced a certain assimilation in their heraldries, but their influence upon the arms themselves has been exaggerated. The stories as to bearings adopted to commemorate feats of arms in Palestine are mostly inventions. The cross no doubt was a crusading bearing, but it was so because it was the emblem of Christianity, and primarily popular as such. The stars, torteaux, water budgets, and other changes attributed to the crusaders, were of earlier date and of independent origin. There is no evidence that the crosses patée of the Berkeleys, or the crosslets of Beauchamp, Clinton, Windsor, and Howard, were added to their simpler bearings in token of services in the Holy Land. The star of De Vere, always attributed to an adventure there, was evidently a mark of cadency, adopted by Robert de Vere, brother of Alberic, 2d earl of Oxford. The fact appears to be that most of the additions to or alterations in the earlier coats of arms were made for some genealogical reason, to commemorate a match with some great family or to distinguish between the several branches from that parent tree. After, usually long after, the period of the crusades, arms were invented for "fabled knights in battles feigned," and but few of the Saracens’ heads with figure so formidably in many coats of arms are contemporary with any Saracenic war.

The diversion to promote the glorious of heraldry. On these occasions the presence of spectators, and especially of ladies, encouraged all sorts of heraldic display. At a tournament at Calais in 1381 Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, one of the most accomplished knights of the reigns of Richard II., and Henry V., suspended on three shields three several coats of arms, as representing three several knights who professed to be ready successively to meet all comers. Three French knights appeared to the challenged. Against the first the earl came forth as the green knight with a black quarter, bearing "silver, a maunch gules," the arms of De Tony, a maternal ancestor, and so overcome his adversary and retired unknown to his pavilion. On the second day he appeared as the green knight, and bearing "silver, two bars gules," the arms of Mauduit of Hanslape, another ancestor, he met a second knight with equal success. On the third day he appeared in his proper person bearing the arms of Guy of Warwick and Beauchamp on his shield, and those of De Tony and Mauduit on his caparisons, and thus with great honour won the third day also.

The shield, as the most obvious piece of the defensive armour, was that upon with arms were first displayed. The Norman shield was of wood covered with hide, and clamped and stiffened in a fashion which is thought to have given rise to the first simple bearings. It was 3 to 4 feet long, pointed below, and 18 inches broad. This shield is common on early monumental effigies armed in chain mail, and it is unusual to find it with armonial bearings. It was succeeded by the small triangular heater shield, and that, in the reign of Edward III., by a somewhat larger and full bottomed shield, which by degrees ceased to be used in war, and became more and more an architectural ornament. The arms were also displayed upon the breast-plate, and upon the camise of surcoat that covered the armour, and were repeated upon the housings of horses both before and behind the saddle. When the Comte d’Artois fell at Damietta, the Saracens showed in triumph his "cotte d’armes toute dorée et fleur-de lisée." The emperor Henry of Luxembourg is described in the Chronicle of Flanders as bearing "an aigle noir, sur un tornicle d’or qui pendoit jusq’ a mi-jambe." Sir Alexander Nevile appeared at Halidon Hill in a surcoat of hi own arms, the quarters filled up with the arms of his friends. The fine effigy of William de Valence at Westminster is decorated with small escutcheons of his arms on various parts of his dress and weapons. An actual remnant of the richly embroidered surcoat of William de Fortibus, earl of Albemarle (died 1261), is still preserved, and has been engraved in the Archaelogia. It was against the embroidery of the surcoat that the severe sumptuary enactments of Richard and Philip Augustus were mainly directed.

The importance attached to armorial bearings is strongly shown in the uses to which they were applied. A sovereign who wished to assert his claim to a kingdom placed its arms upon his shield. In 1479 when Alphonso of Portugal resigned his claim to Castile, he was required to lay aside its armorial ensigns. It appears that when Edward III. assumed the French lilies, he at first did so simply as representing his mother, who was an heiress, and placed her arms in his second quarter ; when, however, he claimed the kingdom of France in her right, he removed the lilies to the first quarter as representing the more important kingdom. A grant of arms at the hand of a sovereign had great value. Among the more solid bribes which Louis XI. bestowed upon the courtiers of Edward IV. occurs a grant of three fleurs-de-lys to a knight of the Croker family. Thus also when Juan de Orbieta Francis I. on the Ticino, he rewarded by a grant of arms from Charles V., though of so complex a character as to do little credit to Spanish heraldry. In later John Gibbon, the heraldic author, having a quarrel with two maiden ladies of his name, obtained a licence to convert the scallops in their common coat into the black balls called ogresses,—a most heraldic revenge.

Armorial bearings were largely painted, enamelled, and embroidered upon personal ornaments, furniture, and weapons. The sword of Edward, prince of Wales (died 1483), is a curious example of this ; it bears on its pommel the words "aves fortes" and five shields:—(1) England, (2) the duchy of Cornwall, (3) England and France with a label, (4) Mortimer quartering Ulster, (5) the earldom of Chester. In the middle is the cross of St George. The citizens of London were bound to provide their banner bearer, Lord Fitz Walter, with "a saddle with his arms," and the seal of one of that family, about 1300, shows the arms upon the back or rest of his war saddle. The seal of Sir Hugh le Despenser (1292) also so shows his arms. Various bequests of plate and furniture with arms occur in the 14th century. In 1368 William, Lod Ferrars of Groby, bequeathed his green bed "with his arms thereon, and his furniture bearing the arms of Ferrars and Ufford, impaled." In 1380 Edward Mortimer devised "à notre tres chier friere John Gilbert, evesque de Hereford, une plate de argent pour espices et enamillés ove has armes de Mortimer en la face."

Rirchard, earl of Arundel, in 1392, bequeathed a canopy of the arms of Arundel and Warren quarterly. In 1399 Eleanor Bohun, duchess of Gloucester, had a psalter with her father’s arms upon the clasps. In the Decorated and Perpendicular styles of architecture shields of arms are common ornaments. Those of benefactors were set up in church windows in glass, and those of a family in their houses. In the Scrope roll is a list of sixty-six churches in which the Scrope arms were set up, and the histories of Dugdale and Burton show us that nearly every church in Warwickshire and Leicestershire had a multitude of arms on its windows. Those still remaining in the east windows of Bristol cathedral are early and good examples of the arms of great barons, Berkeley, Clare, and Warren. They are also seen upon floor tiles of the same period.

As arms became hereditary, and their use ceased to be confine to the battle-field, but was largely extended to seals and ornaments, it was natural that some notice should be taken of the arms of females, and that the wife’s coat should be combined in some way with that of the husband, especially when she was the last of, and represented, her family. This seems first to have been managed by giving the wife a separate shield. The kings of France so bore the arms of Navarre after the marriage with the heiress of that kingdom. Another very early plan was to form a composite coat. Thus the old coat of Willinghby was fretty, but on their marriage with Bec of Eresby they adopted the coat of Bec, and Sir John Willoughby (13th Edward III.) bears the cross moline of Bec, but the wings of his crest are fretty for Willoughby, ad on either side is a buckle taken from the arms of Roscelin, his wife. Rose of Kilravock bore "or, 3 water budgets sable," but on a marriage with the heiress of Chisholm they added "a boar’s head couped gules" from her arms. So also Halyburton of Pitcur, who bore "or, on a bend azure 3 lozenges of the field," after a marriage with another Chisholm heiress, added to their coat "3 boars’s heads erased sable." Bohun, who bore "azure, a bend argent, cotised or, between 6 lioncels rampant of the third," is thought to have added the bend on the occasion of a marriage with Maun, daughter and heir of Milo, earl of Hereford. As this, however, led to complexity and indistinctness in the bearings, and the introduction of a second shield was obviously inconvenient, the method of impalement was devised, by which the sinister half of the shield was appropriated to the lady’s arms, at first under the process known as dimidiation. When, however, the lady was an heiress, a different plan was adopted which ultimately led to quartering or the marshalling of many coats in one shield, a practice, when pushed to any extent, quite inconsistent with the original use of coat armour. This also led to a corresponding alteration in the shape of the shield, which was expanded to contain the arms of each heiress who had married into the family, together with such other heiresses as her family had previously been allied with, so that when a Percy heiress married a Seymour, she added her heiress ancestors’ arms with her own arms to those of her husband, expanded in a similar fashion by the previous matches of his family. Thus the great shield of a family became a compendium of the family pedigree which, to those who could read its language, conveyed a considerable mass of semi-historical information. The defect of this system was that it only took account of heiresses, and did not provide for the purity of the whole descent, so that under it the children of a man of no birth who married a great heiress, would display all her quarterings, and no account would be taken of the absence of any on his side ; and further, if it happened, as was actually the case in the last century with the Rodneys of Rodney-stoke, that a family, though ancient, had never intermarried with an heiress, they could display no quarterings.

In France and Germany and to some extent in Scotland a far more perfect system was pursued. There the genealogical escutcheon included the arms of every ancestor and ancestress, whether an heiress or not ; thus one generation gave two coats, two generations four coats, and so on. "Seize quartiers" gave evidence of pure blood for four generations, and thirty-two-quarters, the qualification for a canon of Strasburg, for five.

As the combinations out of which the early coats were formed were limited, it occasionally happened that two persons of the same nation bore the same arms, and this gave rise to disputes which, as matters connected with military discipline, came under the jurisdiction of the earl marshal. One of the earliest of these disputes is mentioned in the roll of Caerlavrock—

"Le been Bryan de Fitz Aleyne,

De courtesie, et de honneur pleyn,

Ivi o baniere barrée,

De or et la gouls bien parée,

Don’t le chalenge estoit le pointz,

Par entre lui et Hue Poyntz,

Ki portoit cel ni plus ni moins,

Don’t merveille avoit meinte et meins."

Cases of a similar character were decided between Harding and St Loo in 1312, Warburton and Gorges in 1321, and Stytsylt and Fakenham in 1333, when Sir William Fakenham disputed the arms, "le champ de dise barretz argent et azure, supportez de cinz escocheons sables, chargés ovesque tant de lyons primers rampant incensés gules." They were adjudged by a commission to Sytsylt. Hugh Maltby and Hamon Beckwith had a similar dispute in 1339. But by far the most celebrated dispute of this nature arose in 1384 between Sir Richard Scrope of Boltron and Sir Robert Grosvenor, for the right to bear the arms including John of Gaunt, gave testimony on one side or the other, and it was shown that each family, had used the coat beyond the memory of man. It was finally adjudged to Scrope, and Grosvenor was directed to bear "les ditz armes ove une pleyne border d’argent." Grosvenor, however, declined to accept the arms so differenced, and assumed "azure, a garb or," retaining his colours and marking his connexion with the old earls of Chester. It was proved, incidentally, that an ancestor of Grosvenor’s had granted his coat, with a difference, to William Coton of Coton. It is remarkable that both disputants are still represented in the male line, and continue the arms as then settle. Both families had previously had disputes with other parties, and the Scropes long afterwards had a quarrel with the Stanleys for the right to bear the arms of the Isle of Man. The matter was compromised by Edward IV. The Hastings and Grey de Ruthyn case, which rises to the rank of a tragedy, illustrates still more forcibly the value attached to a coat of arms. On the death, childless, in 1389, of John de Hastings, earl of Pembroke, a dispute arose for his heirship between Reginald Grey, his heir-general, and Edward Hastings, the heir male and of the name, but of the half-blood. A court military decided in favour of Grey. Pending the trial Hastings had ceased to difference his arms as a cadet, and assumed the unbroken. He was, however, ordered to bear them with a label, and for contumacy was imprisoned for sixteen years. A suit for arms was decided as lately as 1720 in Blount versus Blount, in the earl marshall’s court.

The same necessity that made it important to prevent the use of similar bearings by different families in the same country made it also necessary to distinguish between the bearings of different members of the same family, all of whom had a right to the paternal coat. As this right was strongest in the eldest he alone bore the paternal arms unaltered (in French heraldry "sans brisure") ; and the other sons were obliged to introduced some sufficient change, called in heraldry a "difference." This was at first managed by inverting the colours or substituting one ordinary or one inferior charge for another, as a bend for a fess, martlets for mullets, and the like ; and sometimes by the use of a coat compounded of the paternal bearing with that of an heiress. A multitude of these early difference occur in the rolls of Henry III. and Edward II., and in various early lists of arms. The family of Grey, always numerous, differenced their cadets in at least fourteen different ways, almost all preserving in some tangible form the paternal coat; and this was also the case with the very numerous family of Basset. Generally no rule is followed, save that on the whole some reference is retained either to the charges upon, or the colours of, the paternal coat. Very frequently, even in the earliest times, the eldest son differenced his occurs fifteen times, though not always as a difference. Gradually, however it came to be used almost entirely for that purpose, and finally a set of marks, called of cadency, were devised for each of the sons, the label being the mark of the eldest during his father’s life.

All these rules and alterations were, however, the growth of a later age, and came into use as bold and simple heraldry of the 13th and 14th centuries began to be overlaid with florid fancies. So long as heraldry represented a real want, its expressions were simple and intelligible, but as "villainous saltpetre" came into use and closed helmets were laid aside, and as skill and strategy rather than personal valour became the attribute of a leader, armorial bearings fell into disuse in war, an were no longer worn upon the person, or upon the horse trappings. But though armorial bearings ceased to be of actual use, they continued to be emblems of rank and family, and a mark of gentle blood. They became, however, exceedingly and often absurdly complex, partly because simplicity was no longer necessary, and partly because it was scarcely practicable, owing to the enormous increase in the number of the gentry, which produced a demand for new combinations. The glories of heraldry reached their zenith in the reign of Richard II, with "youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm" of the vessel of the state, but it was not till the reign of Richard II., with "youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm" of the vessel of the state, but it was not till the reign of Richard III. that it was thought necessary to place under specific control the whole heraldry of the kingdom ; and this, in close of the example of France, was done by the incorporation of the heralds into a college placed under the presidency of the earl marshall.

The office of the herald as the messenger of war or peace between sovereigns or between contending armies in the field is of far earlier date than the introduction of armorial bearings, but as these came into use they were gradually placed under his charge, and he took his specific name sometimes from that of the noble or leader who employed him, sometimes from one of his castles of titles of honour, and sometimes from one of his badges or cognizances, which the heard wore embroidered upon his dress and by which he was known. In the pages of Froissart and other chroniclers frequent mention is made of heralds-at-arms and their attendants the pursuivants, and we read of Somerset and York, Windsor, Chester, and Lancaster heralds, Clarencieux, Arundel, Fleur-de-Lys, and Leopard ; and of pursuivants, Antelope, Blanch Lion, Falcon, Portcullis, and many more. At an early period the principal heralds, and especially those attached to sovereigns, were called kings-at-arms, and as early as Edward I. an officer, called from his jurisdiction, Norroy, was placed in charge of the heraldries north of the Trent. It is probable that a herald was always attached to each other of chivalry, as Toison d’or to the Fleece, and Garter to the chief English order. Garter, however, was only officially appointed by Henry V., when he seems to have been recognized as the principal king-at-arms— "Principalis rex armorum Anglicanorum." At the institution of the college, or soon afterwards, it was decided that its officers should be Garter, principal king-at-arms ; Norrow and Clarencieux, provincial kings north and south of Trent ; six heralds, Windsor, Chester, Lancaster, Richmond, Somerset, and York ; and four pursuivants, Rough Croix, Blue Mantle, Rouge Dragon, and Portcullis ; who constitute the present establishment, though some special officers have been appointed, as a king-at-arms to the revived order of the Bath, and some other, not members of the college.

It became the duty of the new incorporation to take note of all existing arms, to allow none without authority, and to collect and combine the rules of blazoning into a system. To effect a supervision of the armorial bearings throughout the kingdom, it was necessary to visit the several countries. Such a commission of visitation seems to have been issued by Henry IV. as early as 1412, but the first regular commission acted upon was issued by Henry VIIII., 1528 –9, and the last early in the reign of James II. The visitations were taken about every thirty years, and for contemporary events are most valuable records. The provincial king, either personally or by deputy, visited the capital town of each county in his division, and summoned the surrounding gentry to record their pedigrees, and shows a title to their armorial bearings. The earl marshal’s court survived the fall of the house of Stuart, and a few causes relative to a right to particular arms were decided in the course of the last century, but its powers fell into disuse, and not long since it was finally abolished, and with it fell any pretence on the part of the college to regulate, by compulsory authority, the heraldry of the kingdom. At present, however, notwithstanding the democratic tendencies of the age, armorial bearings are in greater demand than ever in England, and more or less coveted in the United States, and a good deal of the proper business of heraldry is still transacted within the college of arms, and a good deal more, irregularly and improperly, outside it. A considerable number of persons still bear arms derived from an ancestor who bore them before the institution of the college ; others bear them under grants and patent from that body ; and others still more numerous, who or whose fathers have risen from obscurity, have assumed arms according to their fancy, or under the unistructed advice of some silversmith of finder of arms. The Smiths, said a distinguished member of the family, had no arms ; they sealed their letters with their thumbs. It is to be avoid so inconvenient a signet that the new men have recourse to the demi-lions and demi-griffins now so much in vogue, and possibly they are not aware the Garter and his colleagues are still willing to grant arms, crest, and motto, on terms within reach of almost every aspirant to chivalry.

There is no college or corporation of heralds in Scotland or Ireland ; but in Scotland heraldry has been the full as much considered, and at least as well regulated as in England. "Lyon-king at-arms," "Lyon rex armorum," or "Leo-fecialis," called from the lion on the royal shield, is the head of the office of arms in Scotland. When first the dignity was constituted is not known, but Lyon was a prominent figure in the coronation of Robert II. in 1371. The office was at first, as in England, attached to the earl marshal, but it has long been conferred by patent under the great seal, and is held direct from the crown. Lyon is also king-at-arms for the national order of the Thistle. He is styled "Lord Lyon." And the office has always been held by men of family, and frequently by a per. His powers have been declared by statute, and extend to fine and imprisonment. He is supreme in all matters of heraldry in Scotland. Besides the "Lyon depute," there are the Scottish heralds, Islay, Rothesay, Marchmount, Albany, Ross, and Snowdown, with precedence according to date of appointment ; and six pursuivants, kintyre, Dingwall, Carrick, Bute, Ormond, and Unicorn. Heralds, and pursuivants are appointed by Lyon.

In Ireland also there is but one king-at-arms, Ulster. The office was instituted by Edward VI. in 1553. The patent is given by Rymer, and refers to certain emoluments as "praedicto officio…ab antiquo spectantibus." The allusion is to an Ireland king-at-arms mentioned in the reign of Richard II. and superseded by Ulster. Ulster holds office by patent, during pleasure ; under him are two heralds. Cork and Dublin ; and four pursuivants, Atholone, and St Patrick Nos. 1, 2, and 3. Ulster is king-at-arms to the order of St Patrick. He held visitations in parts of Ireland from 1568 to 1620, and these and other records, including all grants of arms from the institution of the office, are kept in the Birmingham Tower, Dublin, under the charge of the present most courteous and learned Ulster, Sir B. Burke. The precedence of the three chiefs has been the subject of dispute, but is now generally arranged, Garter being followed by Lyon, and he by Ulster.

Heraldry should be studied with reference to the period in which it was a useful art, and in the simple examples of the 4th and 15th centuries. Before that period it was in a changing and elementary state ; after it, it became merely ornamental, and its examples are complicated and debased. In a general treatise on the subject notice must of course be taken of the later as well as the earlier conditions of the art, but the greater number of the illustrations in the following pass are taken from the earlier and best examples.

A curious evidence of the vitality of hereldry, and of the desire of all mankind of ancestral distinctions, is afforded by its extension among the republics of the New World. The United States boast some excellent genealogical societies, and a great and very general desire is shown by individuals to trace pedigrees to the stocks of the Old World, and to assumed the arms proper to their name. The national emblem of the stars and stripes, now so widely and honourably known throughout the world, has been traced back to the paternal coat of the first and greatest president, George Washington, whose English ancestors bore "argent, 2 bars gules, in chief 3 mullets of the second." In Canda, Australia, and other English colonies, the assumption of arms by individuals and by the community is not less general ; and the republics of South America of the Spanish origin, almost all have adopted coats of arms. The Peak of Teneriffe, the Beaver, the Red Indian, contribute to the list of charges, and the clear firmament of Chili is indicatted by a star. "Coupé d’azur sur gules, à une étoile en abîme."

Read the rest of this article:
Heraldry - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries