Having managed to completely take leave of my senses I gave Bristol Derbyshire’s axe wielding dragon crest in error yesterday – it was swiftly remedied but I decided to have a closer look at the city’s coat of arms.
Sinister – is left, dexter is right.
So starting at the bottom we have the motto: Virtue et Industria – so virtue and industry.
The lovely green clumps of grass above the motto form the compartment.
The two unicorns (or with sable manes) are supporters holding the shield, then there’s a helm, a torse which is still not a horse despite the spell check’s best efforts anchoring the mantling into place and then the crest.
In heraldic terms the crest is ‘issuant from clouds two arms embowed and interlaced in saltire proper the dexter hand holding a serpent vert and the sinister holding a pair of scales or.’ The symbolism behind the serpent is wisdom and the scales are justice – so good governance comes from wisdom and justice.
And that leaves us with the arms which were licensed in 1569. There’s a fortified harbour and a ship – which more or less sums up what Bristol was famous for at the time given the wool trade and the commerce between England and Ireland. It also traded with Iceland and with Gascony. In 1497 John Cabot set off to North America and Bristol’s port became a focus for trade with the Americas. It was one of the ports associated with the slave trade. George III signed the act banning the slave trade on 25 March 1807 but it was only in 1833 that slavery was abolished within the British Empire and even then it was a gradual process.
First of all there is no reward for spotting that I labelled the crest for Derbyshire as the crest for Bristol – I have no idea what came over me! Many apologies. Have now amended it online.
So – to the shield – the background of the shield is called the field and it is usually made of a colour (a tincture) or a metal or a design representing a fur.
metal – gold (or) and silver (argent)
colour – red (gules), blue (azure), green (vert), black (sable), purple (purpure)
fur – ermine, ermines, peon and vair – (I’ll come back to them)
Keeping things straight forward for the time being -we’ll come back to the way the shield is divided up- a charge is then added to the field. This is the shape, object, bird or animal that identifies the shield’s owner. A colour is never put on a metal!
There may be one large charge or several smaller repeated ones.
Popular charges include; crosses, stars, rings, balls, crescents and diamonds. – except of course nothing is as straight forward as that – why call a star a star when you can call it something different!
Can you identify the following: bezant, mullet, lozenge and annulet
A certain well known online encyclopaedia provides a list of heraldic charges.
Lions are a popular charge!
2) Which countries do these lions belong to?
And finally can you identify these English or Welsh county coats of arms – I’ve selected ones with repeating charges. The Derbyshire coat of arms should be no problem as he represents the fact that Derbyshire was initially founded by the Danes who came on their dragon boats (presumably not all the way to land locked Derbyshire) and there’s also a nod to the county’s mining. And of course its an opportunity to spot lozenges, lions rampant and martlets. How I managed to miss the crests for Lincolnshire and Suffolk I do not know!
The lion and the unicorn are the heraldic supporters of the royal coat of arms. The lion represents England, while the unicorn stands for Scotland. This current combination of supporters dates back to 1603 and the accession of James I of England or James VI of Scotland depending upon your viewpoint. There is a fine example of James’ coat of arms in the church of St John the Evangelist, Leeds.
Earlier kings used different supporters. Tudor kings used a Welsh dragon and sometimes a greyhound. Richard II used a white hart. In addition, the arms have changed over the centuries as Ireland, Scotland and Wales were added.
The royal coat of arms in its various guises, usually supported by a lion and a unicorn, began to appear in English churches and cathedrals in the aftermath of the English Reformation – a reminder to congregations that the monarchy was in charge of matters spiritual as well as temporal. There was never a law, although the “great council” issued an “injunction” in 1660 (Records of Buckinghamshire, p386) to say that churches required coats of arms, they tended to be put on display during times when it was sensible to demonstrate loyalty to the crown– after the restoration of Charles II; in the aftermath of the Jacobite uprisings and upon the accession of a new monarch for example.
This means that the coats of arms on display are not always the same. The arms on display in Halifax date from the reign of Queen Ann, while in Woodkirk near Morley the arms are those of King George I.
Not every church and cathedral has a royal coat of arms. The Victorians got rid of many of them or consigned them to less prominent positions. Apparently there are even one or two arms where thrifty churchwardens turned the board around and painted ones on the back.
The Churches Conservation Trust provides an interesting summary of the way in which the royal arms changed over the centuries with examples. Double click on the image of the fairly rare King Charles I coat of arms that was added to St Cuthbert’s in Wells in 1631 to open the page.