What is an affinity and what is a livery badge?

Richard III’s white boar livery badge – York Museum

Having set a challenge about Royal Arms I thought I probably ought to post a little about the way in which arms and badges were used during the medieval period. Clearly a personal badge was originally designed so that people knew who was who on the battle field or tournament ground – either on a banner, a surcoat or a shield for instance but by the fourteenth century they had developed into something that was given out almost like a contract between a noble and the group of people who served him in a variety of capacities.

An affinity was a set of political and social connections – like an extended family- but with a nobleman at the centre of the web based on his links to royalty, personal patronage, family and territory. The noble would have a household and a set of retainers, or followers, who were sworn to provide the lord with help in terms of military service, political support etc in return for which they would receive protection; a leg up the social ladder and dating agency for their offspring; offices; land. As the fifteenth century progressed these retainers wore either his livery or someothe badge that associated them with their noble – the bear with the ragged staff is a well-known badge associated with the Earl of Warwick for instance.

A powerful lord like John of Gaunt would attract local gentry as well as family and tenants. The Gaunt affinity was particularly noticeable in Derbyshire for instance. This meant that men with a large affinity, such as the duke, effectively had an army that they could call upon whenever they needed one – something of increasing importance as the fifteenth century moved into the wars of the roses. Consider the impact of the Neville affinity in the escalation of feuding during the fifteenth century.

Livery badges and colours were used to show that you belonged to a particular affinity. More can be found on livery colours here: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/13103/whose-colors-coat-of-arms-did-men-of-arms-wear-in-a-feudal-army-14th-century and if you’re interested in the Wars of the Roses here: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/tag/livery-colours/

Livery badges could be displayed anywhere, but usually on the outside of the upper left sleeve, on the left breast. They turn up in jewellery – think of the medieval livery collar -(https://thehistoryjar.com/2015/07/17/nicholas-and-ralph-fitzherbert-a-glimpse-of-the-wars-of-the-roses/), on horse trappings, weapons and their scabbards, stained glass windows and masonry. In fact, now I come to think of it there’s a photographic project there when we’re allowed out again!

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III’s personal livery badge was a white boar. Sometimes the badges were taken from a charge (an emblem from the shield) on a coat of arms but they might also be more personal than that – they could be to do with an event in the lord’s life or a play on the lord’s name. Richard II’s white hart is a pun on Rich hart.

Henry VII needed to stamp out the concept of the affinity as the bands of men that nobles could gather up as part of their affinity could be used for the king but also form armies that fought against him. The Statute of Liveries of 1506 forbade issuing livery badges to men of rank; they had to be domestic servants unless the livery was covered by a specific royal licence.  Eventually livery badges were reserved only for those who were part of the monarch’s affinity and for household servants of the aristocracy. Henry made sure that everyone rocked the Tudor rose rather than their own personal livery. John of Gaunt’s livery chains of entwined “esses” ultimately became associated with chains of office rather than with the Lancastrian royal house.

Bear and ragged staff

The bear and ragged staff was associated with the Earl of Warwick during the Wars of Roses but in the reign of Elizabeth I it was associated with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who was the successor of the Earl of Warwick (via a circuitous route.)

The blue lion – or lion rampant azure- is associated with the Percy family.

The Prince of Wales feathers were first associated with the Black Prince when he chose them as a device on hearing about the bravery of the blind King of Bohemia.

The Stafford knot is associated with the Dukes of Buckingham.

The Talbot dog is associated with the Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury

The portcullis is associated with the Beaufort family and was used widely in Tudor iconography.

The white rose of York and Edward IV’s sun in splendour – St Andrew’s Church, Penrith

Livery badges issued by the livery companies of the City of London are of a later date.

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