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A familiar site in Westminster Abbey is the Coat of Arms of Edward the Confessor which stand in many places in his greatest monument. Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) was the son of Aethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy and is widely acknowledged as the last king of the House of Wessex. He ruled from 1042 to 1066. Edward’s successor Harold Godwinson was defeated by William Duke of Normandy, which led to the England’s domination by the Normans. Edward the Confessors Arms consist of a golden cross”flory” and five gold doves on a blue shield; Azure, a cross flory or between five doves of the same.

The thirteenth century heralds that devised this shield based it on a coin of the Confessor, containing the cross usual to the reverse side of English money, but in the quarters four doves instead of the customary pellets. A dove surmounts the scepter in Edward’s seal, and it is clear that he regarded this bird, emblem of piety and gentleness, as his special symbol. Though posthumously conferred, Edward’s Arms are of some importance on account of their medieval and modern associations. They have been incorporated in the Arms of Westminster Abbey, Westminster School., Westminster City, the Borough of Eye in Suffolk, the West Suffolk County Council; they are even found in Canada, where they appear in the shield of the See of New Westminster. They were adopted by the Abbey of Dunfermline, founded by the great-niece of Edward the Confessor, who became the wife of Malcolm Canmore. They were also the basis of the Arms of Edmund Rich, the sainted Archbishop of Canterbury, founder of St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, which still bears a red cross “patonce” and four black martlets ( birds)  on gold; Or a cross patoncesable between four martlets of the same.

Malcolm Canmore

To some of Edward the Confessor’s royal predecessors the heralds assigned modifications of his Arms- a gold cross with only four doves for the kings from Edgar onwards, and the cross flory alone for some of the earlier kings, including Alfred. University College, Oxford, which claims Alfred as its founder, departs from heraldic tradition by using as Arms the cross and four doves attributed to Alfred’s successors. The presence of Edward’s Arms in the roof of Westminster Hall is a memorial not directly to the confessor but to Richard II, rebuilder of the hall, who showed such respect for Edward as to bear his banner in battle and marshal his Arms on the royal shield. Another emblem attributed to Edward the Confessor is a hand grasping a ring; the ring he gave as alms to an old pilgrim at the consecration of St. John’s Church at the place subsequently called Havering, Essex. The pilgrim was St. John himself, who later sent the ring back to King Edward with word that he should “dispose of his goods, for within six months he shall be in the joy of Heaven with me, when he shall have his reward for his chastity and good living.”

Westminster School Arms


Today most people who posses a Coat of Arms regard it as no more than an interesting relic of an ancestral past; privately they may feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in the evidence of noble forbearers. However personal Heraldry is no longer indicative of class or privilege. The writer Stubbs has noted that in earlier times however “the coat armour of every house was a precious inheritance, which descended, under definite limitations and with distinct differences, to every member of the family: a man’s shield proved his gentle or noble birth, illustrated his pedigree, and put him on his honour not to disgrace the bearings which his noble progenitors had worn”. The Coat of Arms was the shrine of personal honor, as closely associated with its owner as own name, and a man was doubly disgraced if he suffered an armorial degradation. An armorial degradation was the stripping of ones Arms due to some heinous act. In the reign of Edward II, the two Lords Despenser were purposely dressed in their full coat of Armour before they were hanged, drawn and quartered.

The right to the exclusive use of a particular Coat of Arms was jealously guarded. When, in 1375, Sir Richard le Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor were found to be using the same Arms, Azure a bend or (A blue shield with a gold diagonal line), since pride prevented either of them from voluntarily relinquishing their Arms, Richard II decided that the dispute should be settled by a duel. Grosvener lost and had to change his Coat of Arms. He added a silver border to differentiate from those of le Scrope who complained that this change was insufficient. Grovesner then took for Arms a sheaf of wheat upon a blue shield Azure a garb or which was derived from the Arms of the old Earldom of Chester. The sheaf of wheat is still borne on the Arms of the Duke of Westminister.

Schwerin Castle located near Meclenburg in the old East Germany is a fairytale Castle set on a small island in a lake within the city of Schwerin. For many years the Castle was home to the Dukes and Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg. The Castle currently serves as the seat of the state parliament for the state of Meclenburg-Vorpommern. Thew Castle dates to the 10th century when first reports of a castle in the locale are recorded in 973. The Polabian Slavic tribe founded a fort for defence on the strategically situated island.In 1160, the fort became a target of Germanic noblemen planning to expand their territory eastward under the leadership of Henry the Lion (1129–1195).However, the German conquerors recognised the strategic and aesthetically interesting location of the island and started building a new fort. The foundation of the city of Schwerin took place in the same year. Schwerin became seat of a bishopric.In 1167, Henry gave the County of Schwerin to his vassal Gunzelin von Hagen, and the rest of the country around the city was returned to Niklot’s son Pribislav, forming a ducal hereditary line that lasted until 1918.  Under Duke Johann Albrecht I. (1525–1576), the fort became a castle, and the defensive functionality of the fortress was replaced with ornamentation and concessions to comfort. The use of terracotta during the Renaissance was dominant in North German architecture, and Schwerin’s terracotta was supplied from Lübeck. Johann Albrecht rebuilt the chapel in the castle in 1563 and it became the first protestant church in the state. . The architecture was inspired by churches in Torgau and Dresden. The Venetian Renaissance gate, its gable showing the carrying of the cross, was made by Hans Walther (1526–1600), a sculptor from Dresden.Windows on the northern face show biblical illustrations by well-known Dutch artist Willem van den Broecke (called “Paludanus”) (1530–1580).

The architect Ghert Evert Piloot  made plans to rebuild the castle in the style of the Dutch Renaissance in the early 17th century, however, these plans were put on hold due to the 30 Years War. His plans were partially carried out after the war when the house above the castle kitchen and that above the chapel were razed and replaced with Dutch Renaissance style facades in the 1630s. In the nineteenth century Grand Duke Friedrich (1800–1842) decided to rebuild the castle, and ordered his architect Georg Adolph Demmler (1804–1886) to do so. A few months later, construction was halted by his successor, Friedrich Franz II (1823–1883), who wanted a complete reconstruction of the historic site. Only some parts of the building from the 16th and 17th century were kept. Dresden architect Gottfried Semper (1803–1879) and Berlin architect Friedrich August Stüler (1800–1865) could not convince the grand duke of their plans. Instead, Demmler included elements of both of them into his plan, but would find inspiration in French Renaissance castles. It became the most admired master work of the student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.. He also planned a government building in 1825-26 located at Schlossstraße (today the State Chancellery).His successor Stüler, again, changed a few things, and included a statue of Niklot on horseback, and the pompous cupola. For the interior design, Heinrich Strack (1805–1880) from Berlin was chosen.  There was a fire in the castle in December 1913. The revolution in 1918 resulted in the abdication of the Grand Duke, but only the exterior reconstruction had been completed. It later became a museum and in 1948 the seat of parliament. The German Democratic Republic, opposed to nobility, used it as a college for kindergarten teachers from 1952-1981. Then it was a Museum again until 1993. The Orangerie had been a technical museum since 1961. From 1974 on, some renovated rooms were used as an art museum. Since late 1990, it is once again a place of government and representation as the seat of the parliament of State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Since then, massive renovation efforts have been conducted and are, due to the complexity of a castle of this size, still in progress.

The practice of combining several Coats of Arms on one shield, known as “marshalling” arose from a desire to denote important marriage alliances. When a man married an heiress or co-heiress of an armorial family, he could incorporate her Arms permanently on his own shield, and transmit them to his descendents. He added not only her paternal Coat of Arms, but also any quarterings which may have accrued to it in the past. In this manner many present-day families carry in their Arms an heraldic record of a number of ancient families, their remote ancestors whose names have long since died out. An elaborately quartered shield is often far less artistic than a simple and less pretentious Coat of Arms; but it is historically of much greater interest, because it is an index to the former status and fortunes of the family that bears it.

A good example of this method of Marshalling of Arms comes from the Arms of Gregory Fiennes, Lord Dacre of the South, who died in 1594. The Arms indicate that the members of the family of Fiennes had married the heiress of noble houses, whose ancestors had in their turn married other heiresses; so that Gregory bore beside his own paternal lions the Arms of Dacre, Multon, Vaux, Morville, Fitzhugh, Stavely, Furneaux, Grey, Marmion, St. Quentin and Gernegan. Lord Dacre had no children, but his noble display of Heraldry survives in the Arms of Emanuel School founded by his widow. The illustration of these Arms illustrate how metals and colors are denoted in heraldic drawings prior to the time when color was readily available for illustrative purposes. A plain surface represents white or silver ( Argent); dots represent gold (Or); vertical lines, red (Gules); horizontal lines, blue (Azure); diaginal lines, left to right downwards, green (Vert); and diagonal lines in the other direction, purple (purpure). This system of indicating colors and tinctures was not introduced until the seventeenth century and was widely used in Europe until the 20th century. One very notable use of this system was in Rietstaps Armorial General, an exhaustive index of over 50,000 European Arms.

Rietstap first published his Armorial général, contenant la description des armoiries des familles nobles et patriciennes de l’Europe, précédé d’un dictionnaire des termes du blason. This work contained the blazons of almost 50,000 noble families in Europe. They were all organized alphabetically by surname. He made extensive use of heraldic sources in a variety of languages to compile the Armorial. As word spread of the publication, he made more heraldic contacts around Europe and was able to expand the work to two volumes in 1884 and 1887.In 1871, European interest in heraldry was growing, thanks in part to Rietstap’s work. Capitalizing on this, he was able to begin publication of an heraldic magazine. Specifically, he hoped that the Heraldieke Bibliotheek (Heraldic Library) would expose Dutch readers to the wider heraldic world. In 1872, the he went to press with the subtitle “Magazine for Heraldry, Genealogy, Seals and Medals.” The magazine would be published until 1882, and was mostly filled with articles written by Rietstap himself. In the 1880s Rietstap also published two studies of the genealogy and coats of arms of the Dutch nobility, the Wapenboek der Nederlandschen Adel (Armory of the Dutch Nobility) which became available between 1880 and 1887 and De Wapens van den Tegenwoordigen en den Vroegeren Nederlandschen Adel met Genealogische en Heraldische Aanteekeningen (The Arms of Present and Past Dutch Nobility with Genealogical and Heraldic Annotations) published in 1890. In the prologue of this work, Rietstap continued his critique of the development of spelling in the Dutch language and heraldic blazon.

Rietstaps Armorial General

Some Arms were devised to record the incidents of feudal tenure. For example, the family of Argenton, who once held the manor of Wimondley, which required the tenant to present a cup of wine to the King at his coronation, bore three silver covered cups on a red shield. Sir John Argenton performed this service at the coronation of Richard II, and had the silver cup for his fee. As an example of early official Coats of Arms we have the silver sword on a black shield attached to the office of Hereditary Grand Champion of England. This was formerly borne by the Marmion family, whose descendant and successor to the Championship, the head of the family of Dymoke, still quarters it with his own Arms; while his motto “Pro Rege dimico” ( I fight for the King), happily combines a play upon his name with a reference to his office. The desire to suggest their name- at least the second syllable- led the ancient Dymokes to adopt as a crest “ two asses eerys grey”, a moke being an old English term for donkey.

Since Heraldry first flourished at the height of feudalism, it naturally occurred that many men acknowledged their feudal dependency by basing the Coat of Arms on those of their overlords, introducing differences of color and detail. For instance the cinquefoil ( five leaved flower) in the Fitzpernell, Earl of Leicester, Coat of Arms, image above, is also found in the Arms of several old Leicestershire families, and still forms the Arms of the city of Leicester. Three chevrons derived from the great House of Clare variously colored and sometimes borne with other charges appear in the Arms of many families that were connected with them feudally, such as the Fitzralphs, who placed three fleur-de-lis upon each chevron to differentiate. Similarities in Arms such as these may denote an ancient feudal connection between the families that bear them. It may also indicate that the families came from the same stock. For example the Arms of the Fitzwalters, Or a fess gules between two chevrons of the same ( a gold shield with a red fess and 2 red chevrons) recall that this family traced their ancestry to Robert, fifth son of Robert de Tonbridge, Earl of Clare, the Clare family having three red chevrons on a gold field.

Towards the end of the age of chivalry, Heraldry began to reflect historical occurrences of the time. Kings and Princes began to reward the service of their followers by the grant of Arms or through augmentations- the addition of honorable emblems to existing shields. Still later, as the original purpose of Heraldry as a means of identification ceased, due to changed methods of warfare and the abandonment of complete body armor, the symbolic side of the art-science was developed to a greater extent and a large number of newly-created Coats of Arms contain some reference to the status, profession or achievements of the men to whom they are granted.

Arms of casual origin include the basic ordinaries of the chief, fesse, chevron, and pale and they probably owe their origin to the bands of metal added to a shield for the sake of increasing its strength. A very early instance is the gold pale (vertical band) on a red shield Gules a pale or, belonging to Hugh de Grandemesnil, in the reign of Henry I, image below. Banded and studded shields appears on the pre-heraldic Bayeux Tapestry. Such shields became heraldic in character when the strengthening pieces were colored differently from the surface (field) of the shield upon which they were laid. The shield of a branch of the Montgomery family provides an example of Arms which sprang from the emblem of an early seal. John Mundegumbri, in the 12th century, had a single fleur-de-lis on his seal, and this developed into three golden fleur-de-lis upon blue Azure three fleur-de-lis or in the shield of his descendents. ( These Arms are identical to the Royal Arms of France but are not connected. Obviously Arms which arose in these haphazard ways can have no primary historic significance, though many of them acquired historical associations through the careers of their bearers.

We saw in the previous post how Coats of Arms of casual origin came about, we next turn to Arms of causal origin or Coats of Arms with a meaning. Foremost in this class of Coats of Arms are those seeking to express the name of the bearer in pictorial form. Frequently men who bore a name capable of heraldic illustration devised Arms that were a pun on the name. This process is known as “canting”, and some prominent early examples of the practice in England include the bull on the Arms of Bovill, the trumpets of Trumpington and the whelk shells on the shield of Shelley. In some instances the pun on the name is not as obvious and some examples of more obscure puns on the name include the fretty design on the shield of Harrington which actually represents a herring net, while the fret design for Maltravers represents something hard to pass.

The writer Planché memorably described Heraldry as “ the shorthand of history,” but in quoting that phrase the limitations of Heraldry and the dimensions of history must not be overlooked. The idea that every Coat of Arms has a symbolic meaning is false; it is not true of Heraldry, as in commercial advertising, that “every picture tells a story.” The decoration of banners and shields, which has been a persistent custom among warlike people in all ages, was in medieval Europe systematized into what we now call Heraldry to meet a defined need, namely to provide medieval warriors with a means of identification when fully armed. Shut in his house of steel, the knight felt the same need to hang out a nameplate as any suburban family of modern times, but in an age when few could read, the knight’s sign was of necessity pictorial rather than written, especially as it had to be clearly recognizable from a distance; while the desire for decorative effect had also to be satisfied. In the early days of Heraldry the utilitarian motive prevailed, and symbolism was of secondary importance. Very few ancient Coats of Arms were designed with the express intention of telling something of the owner’s history or character, although in modern times many fables have been invented by boastful owners of old Coats of Arms to account for their hereditary emblems. These baseless family legends have been responsible for the general misconception that all Arms are essentially symbolic.

A true perspective of Heraldry can be best obtained by briefly examining some of the motives which in the age of chivalry led men to adopt their particular emblems and signs, and the factors which in later times produced changes and developments in Coats of Arms. The shields recorded in the early rolls of arms, or heraldic catalogues, which date from the 13th century, fall into two main classes: those which seem to have come about through a casual rather than causal origin; and those which were devised to denote the name, family or feudal connections or office of the bearer.

Caerlaverock Roll of Arms

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