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Heraldry and The Crusades Part 6

The crescent was not the only heraldic symbol that has survived from the crusades. Other notable charges dating from the time of the crusades are the escallop shell and the water bouget, it does not however follow that every family that bore such emblem s on their Coats of Arms have an ancestor that took part in the crusades, as these charges passed into general heraldic use, and were adopted by many men whose forefathers never traveled to the Holy Land. The “escallop shell of quiet” was an emblem of pilgrimage. Assigned as a badge to St. James, patron saint of pilgrims, with reference to his original occupation as a fisherman, it was worn by those who made pilgrimages not only to the Holy Land but to the famous shrines in England and other European countries. From its use on garments to its appearance in armorial shields was a natural step, and the shell became a familiar heraldic charge from an early date.

A number of Coats of Arms, which contain escallop shells, clearly refer to the crusades. The family of Villiers have borne a silver shield with a red cross, and theron five gold escallops, since Sir Richard Villiers took part in the crusade of Prince Edward. He relinquished his old Arms; Sable three cinquefoils argent, derived from the cinquefoil of his feudal lord, the Earl of Leicester, for the newer one combining the emblems of St. George and St. James. A more famous bearer of these Arms was Villiers de L’Isle-Aadam, the last Grand Master of the Knights of St. John of Rhodes, who led the heroic defense of Rhodes against the forces of Soliman the Magnificent in 1522. A cross and three escallop shells appear in the Arms of John Kendal, Prior of the English Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in 1480 and commander of the cavalry protecting pilgrims from the Turks. The family of D’Acre supposedly took their name from an ancestor who distinguished himself at the siege of Acre. Their Coat of Arms is a red background with three escallop shells in silver, Gules three escallops argent.

The water bouget, a pair of leather bottles borne on a staff over the shoulder , was a very important object to armies in the deserts of the  Middle East, and naturally finds a place in the Heraldry of the crusades. It appears in the Arms of Roos, who derived it from their kinsmen, the Trusbuts; and the three bougets-trois boutz- in the shield of the latter family are clearly a pun on their name. The three blue water bougets on a gold field , Or three water bougets azure, of the Bouchiers may have denoted some ancestor’s part on a crusade, especially as their crest is a Saracen king’s head. But here again we can trace it to a pun on the name, as the family name variously appears as Bucy, Boues, and Bouser, suggesting the old word for drink.

Water Bouget

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Heraldry and The Crusades Part 5 The Seals of Richard I

The two seals of Richard the Lionheart contain emblems that have a special connection to the Crusades. The first seal contains two crescent moons, each surmounted by a star-shaped object. The crescent moon referred to King Richard’s vocation as a crusader. It was the ancient symbol of Byzantium, connected with its presiding goddess, who had saved the city from a night assault by Philip of Macedonia by making the moon shine with unexpected brilliance. A popular theory holds that the badge on Richard’s seal represents the Star of Bethlehem in ascendancy over the half-moon of the infidel is false, as the crescent was not yet the symbol of the Turks. The medieval writer , Geoffrey de Vinsauf, commenting on King Richard’s appearance at Cyprus noted “He was clothed in a vest of rose-coloured stuff ornamented with rows of crescents of solid silver, like orbs of the sun shining in thick profusion.” On Richard’s second seal the sun accompanies the moon and this leads some commentators to surmise that the celestial body above the crescent moon on the first seal also represents the sun.

If the sun was a badge of Richard I , the “sunburst” badge of Edward III and the “sun in splendor” of Richard II may have been a revival of what they knew to have been a royal emblem. Kings John and Henry III also used the star and crescent moon badge; they used the cross for policy reasons but never fulfilled their crusader vows. It also appears on the seal of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, an ally of Henry III. It also forms the Coat of Arms of Portsmouth, which received its first charter from Richard I, and appears in the shield of Dartmouth as this was the port that the crusading ships set sail from. Seized from the Christians by the Turks in the 15th century the star and crescent badge has been the Muslim emblem ever since. When it appeared on the medal presented by the Sultan in 1801 to English officers who had taken part in the Egyptian campaign, the descendants of the crusaders received a Christian emblem at the hands of the Infidel. In 1927 Turkey devised a Coat of Arms to replace those of the Sultanate. The star and crescent were retained and set upon a red shield above the white wolf of the Turks standing on a lance. The wolf totem recalls dark ages when the Turks were wandering in a tribal state in Central Asia. Legend tells that a white wolf appeared to guide the people across precipitous mountains to the more fertile lands to the West. The Coat of Arms are intended to point to Turkey’s westward conquest, and the resurrection of her old national spirit.

Turkey National Arms

Heraldry and The Crusades Part 4 Richard the Lionheart

Islington, a borough of North London, recalls in its Coat of Arms its ancient association with the crusaders through the Knights of St. John, who once held the manor of Highbury, the gold cross potent on a red field in the first quarter of the borough shield being taken from that of the Arms of Jerusalem. Hackney’s Arms include a quartering divided horizontally in black and white ( like the Templars’ banner) and containing an eight pointed cross, white on the black half of the ground and red on the white half, in token that the Manor was once held by the Templars, and afterward by the Hospitallers. The nails of the Cross also appear in early Heraldry. The Anstruthers explain their three black piles on silver field as a conventional representation of Passion nails, Henry, Lord Anstruther accompanied St. Louis to the Holy Land on the early crusades.

Contemporary writers compared the crusader King, Richard I, to a lion. Richard of Devizes said of him that “he raged like the fiercest lion, and vented his anger in a manner worthy that noble beast.” Passages of writing such as this, as well as his famous nickname Coeur-de-Lion, have reference to the King’s habitual use of a lion as a badge or banner; though the name has the usual explanatory fable which tells how Richard, being attacked by a lion, tore out with his hands the royal beast’s heart. The first Great Seal of Richard, used during the crusading period of his reign, represents him with a single rampant lion on his shield. But as the lion  faces the center of the shield, of which only half is visible, there has been conjecture that there was another lion on the hidden half, and consequently Richard I has been credited with the Arms of two gold lions combatant ( facing each other fighting) on a red field. There is strong evidence to suggest that Henry II bore two lions on his Coat of Arms; we know with certainty that his son John bore two lions; and the evidence is in favor of the theory that in the earlier part of his career Richard also bore two lions. The fact that Richard’s lions are “rampant combatant” while John’s are “passant reguardant” supports this view as the brothers would naturally have borne their paternal lions in different attitudes so that their Arms would be different. On his return from the crusade, Richard adopted the three lions “passant guardant” as his Coat of Arms and these have been the Royal Arms of England ever since and hold the premier place in the Regent’s shield. Richard embodied these Arms in a new Great Seal and obtained considerable sums of money from his subjects by requiring all existing charters to be confirmed under the new seal.

Richard The Lionheart Arms

Heraldry and The Crusades Part 3 The Arms of Jerusalem

Queens College Arms

No Coat of Arms from the time of the Crusades are more reverently regarded than those of the crusader’s Kingdom of Jerusalem, which consists of five crosses. The central one is a large cross ‘potent”, or crutch shaped, and it is surrounded by four small plain crosses, one in each corner of the shield. All crosses are gold upon a silver shield which is one of the rare exceptions to the rule in Heraldry whereby a metal object may not lay upon a metal field in the Coat of Arms. It is thought that the violation was intentional due to the specials sacredness of the Arms of Jerusalem. There are various schools of thought as to the meaning of the Arms of Jerusalem, some writers see in the form of the central cross a combination of the letters ‘I” and “H” standing for Iesus (Jesus) and Hierusalem (Jerusalem). The number of crosses has also been thought to represent the Five Wounds of Christ; but the most probable theory is that the crosses symbolize the Savior, Jesus and the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reference to Jerusalem in the Psalms may have been the reason for the metal upon metal design of the Coat of Arms:

“Though ye have lien among the pots

Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove

Covered with silver and her feathers with gold”

To modern minds this may seem like a stretch however it must be remembered that in the Middle Ages much importance was attached to the prophetic interpretations of the scriptures; and it may well be that the designers of the Arms of Jerusalem had this text in mind, and felt they were assisting in its fulfillment.


The close resemblance between the Arms of Jerusalem and those of the See of Lichfield are too close to be merely a coincidence. In the Lichfield Arms the central cross is squared at the center, and the four small crosses are of the form known as “paty”. The field is divided vertically in red and silver, and the crosses are counterchanges, silver on the red background and red on the silver background. An early Bishop of Lichfield is believed to have assumed this Coat of Arms after a journey to Jerusalem; but as the patron of the Cathedral is St. Chad ( a 7th century Bishop of Mercia), the Arms have come to be incorrectly associated with him. They were deflected still further from their true significance when they became the basis of the Arms of the family of Chad, baronets from the 18th century. The Arms of Jerusalem are quartered in the shield of Queens’ College Cambridge, founded by Henry VI’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou, daughter of the landless King of Naples and Jerusalem; and the Arms of Lichfield have been embodied in the shields of Selwyn College, Cambridge; Denstone College, Derbyshire and other foundations linked in some way with the Diocese of Lichfield.

Arms of Jerusalem

Lichfield Arms

Heraldry and the Crusades Part 2

The Order of the Garter was founded by King Edward III, under the patronage of St. George. At the time it was written that he ‘appoynted his Souldiers to wear white coats or jackets, with a red crosse before and behinde over their armour, …” and “it was not only a comely but a stately sight to  behold the English battles, like the rising sunne, to glitter far off in that pure hew; when the souldiers of other nations in their baser weedes could not be discerned” ( Speed). So for many years the red cross remained the uniform of the English armies, and even after it ceased to be used the soldiers continued to wear its martial red until the vagaries of warfare compelled them to don “baser weedes” which “could not be discerned”. Richard II invaded Scotland in 1386 and he commanded his followers to bear “ a sign of the Arms of St. George, large, bothe before and behynde, lest he be slain in default thereof by his own party; and that non enemy do bere the same token or crosse of St. George, notwithstanding if he be prisoner upon payne of deth.”Many families that have crosses in their shields claim that they signify an ancestor’s participation in one of the crusades. The writer Camden tells us that “the Lord Barkleys, who bare first Gules a Chevron Argent, after one of them had taken upon him the cross ,… to serve in those wars, inserted ten crosses ‘paty’ in his shield”.


Several of the crusading military orders adopted an eight-pointed cross, each point supposedly standing for on of the Beatitudes ( Blessings from Jesus supposedly given at the service on the mount). The Knights Templar bore the cross red on white the Hospitallers white on black. The red eight-pointed cross with the motto Sic Deus Vult ( For the greater glory of God)  is still used by the Order of the Crusaders, a twentieth century revival of the orders of chivalry, which waged the “Tenth Crusade”  against class hatred and social evils in Great Britain and the British Empire. The cross of the Hospitallers survives to this day as the badge of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which assigns significance to each of the points, namely, Observation, Tact, Resource, Dexterity, Explicitness, Discrimination, Perseverence and Sympathy- essential qualities in ambulance work.

Knights Templar

Heraldry and The Crusades Part 1

1st Crusade Siege of Antioch

“ Then might you have seen many a banner and pennon of various forms floating in the breeze ……. Helmets with crests, brilliant with jewels, and shining mails, and shields, emblazoned with lions, or flying dragons in gold.” — Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Itinerary of Richard I

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns during the time of Medieval England against the Muslims of the Middle East. In 1076, the Muslims had captured Jerusalem – the most holy of holy places for Christians. Jesus had been born in nearby Bethlehem and Jesus had spent most of his life in Jerusalem. He was crucified on Calvary Hill, also in Jerusalem. There was no more important place on Earth than Jerusalem for a true Christian which is why Christians called Jerusalem the “City of God”. However, Jerusalem was also extremely important for the Muslims as Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith, had been there and there was great joy in the Muslim world when Jerusalem was captured. A beautiful dome – called the Dome of the Rock – was built on the rock where Muhammad was said to have sat and prayed and it was so holy that no Muslim was allowed to tread on the rock or touch it when visiting the Dome.Therefore the Christian fought to get Jerusalem back while the Muslims fought to keep Jerusalem. These wars were to last nearly 200 years. Heraldry played an important role in the Crusades.

Although we can trace the beginnings of Heraldry to a period prior to King Richard’s First Crusade, it was during that great adventure that the need for a developed system of armory became apparent, and the Heraldic emblems and nomenclature of the Middle Ages bear many traces of impressions left by the later Holy Wars. The impetus, which Richard’s expedition gave to Heraldry, is seen when a comparison is made between the Coats of Arms in use before the crusade and those in the Roll of Arms compiled later in the reign of Henry III. There are certain ubiquities in 12th century Coat of Arms, mainly due to the frequent repetitive use of only a small number of charges that were grouped and colored differently in order to produce differing Coats of Arms. The heraldic ordinaries, or charges, which consisted of birds and beasts, and common objects which served as a pun on the bearers name were the full range of arrows in the Herald’s quiver. But the Crusades gave birth to many new heraldic figures. The enrichment of Heraldry at this time is typical of the manner in which the ideas of Western Europe in art, science and philosophy were broadened through contact with the more ancient culture of the East.

Foremost amongst the emblems of the Holy Wars was the cross. Every man of the Christian armies, like Spenser’s knight St. George in his epic poem “ The Faerie Queene”

Upon his breast a bloody Cross he bore,

The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,

For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,

And dead, as living, ever Him ador’d;

Upon his shield the like was also scor’d

Pope Urban II, the preacher of the First Crusade, decreed this practice at the council of Clermont in 1095. “The Cross of Christ,” he told the crusaders, “ is the symbol of your salvation. Wear it, a red, a bloody cross, on your breast and shoulders, as a token that His help will never fail you; as the pledge of a vow which can never be recalled.” His words echoed those of St. Olaf, who 60 years previously had ordered his men to paint the Holy Cross on their shields before their encounter with the pagan forces of Scandinavia. The color of the cross was later varied to distinguish the soldiers of one country from those of another. In the Third Crusade the red cross was appropriated by the French forces, while the English displayed a white cross and the Flemish green crosses. But when the English adopted St. George as their patron saint they made his red cross their own, and in this ancient crusading device we see the beginnings of the English national flag, the Union Jack.

Pope Urban II preaching the 1st Crusade 1095

Heraldic Tabards and Surcoats

Pursuivant Tabard

Today only English and Scottish Heraldic officers wear official ceremonial dress. On British state occasions, such as coronations, the officers of Arms wear their full heraldic regalia of tabard and knee breeches and carry their staffs of office, continuing a tradition that was begun 800 years ago. In most other European countries the tradition of wearing ceremonial garb ceased after World War I. In the 12th and 13th centuries, when the Herald acted as a messenger or envoy, he would have worn the lord’s own tabard, or short surcoat, as a mark of favour and acknowledgement of the special relationship between a lord and his herald. Wearing his Lord’s armorial tabard clearly indicated that he had his master’s favor and protection and indeed spoke with his master’s voice. The tabard of the time was constructed of several layers of cloth cut in the form of a “T”. The front and back panels and both sleeves were embroidered with the Coat of Arms of the master. Examples of surcoats and tabards emblazoned with Coats of Arms are found in illuminated manuscripts and tombs from as early as the 13th century. By the middle of the 14th century the surcoat had given way to the later period armorial jupon.

A pursuivant (junior heraldic officer) was singled out from officers of Arms of higher rank by wearing his tabard “athwart”: the shorter panels designed to fit over the arms were worn over the chest and back, with the longer panels over the arms. In England this practice occurred from the 15th until the late 17th century; and it was customary for the tabard to be fitted in this way by the Earl Marshal when the pursuivant was admitted to the office. If the pursuivant was later promoted to the rank of Herald, the tabard was turned around to its more normal position.Heralds would wear the tabard of a lord other than their own on certain occasions, for example during funerals of the major nobility when they would wear tabards bearing the Coat of Arms of the deceased lord. Also at tournaments they would have their tabards decorated with shields of other knights and lords and judges who were present at the tournament. Beginning in the 16th century officers of Arms of different degrees- king of arms, herald, and pursuivant- each wore a tabard made from materials commensurate with their rank; in France each rank’s garment had a different name. This practice still occurs in England and Scotland where kings of arms wear velvet, heralds wear satin, and pursuivants wear silk damask tabards. The garments are very heavy and all officers need to be dressed by assistants for state occasions.

Tabard Royal Armouries Main Museum,Leeds

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