Arms

The various modes of acquiring, and reasons for bearing arms are differently described by different writers, but the following varieties will be found to represent the more usual classification.

Arms of Dominion are those borne by sovereign princes; being those of the states over which they reign: while Arms of Pretension are those borne by sovereigns who have no actual authority over the states to which such arms belong, but who quarter them to express their prescriptive right thereunto.

Arms of Succession, otherwise called feudal arms, are those borne by the possessors of certain lordships or estates: while Arms of Family are hereditary, being borne (with proper differences) by all the descendants of the first bearer.

Arms of Assumption are such as might rightfully be taken, according to certain laws, from the original bearer otherwise than by grant or descent: and Arms of Alliance are those of a wife, which a man impales with his own, or those which he quarters, being the arms of heiresses who have married into his family. Arms of Adoption are those borne by a stranger, when the last of a family grants him the right to bear his name and arms, as well as to possess his estates: and Arms of Concession are granted when an important service has been rendered to the Sovereign. The grant almost always consists of an Augmentation, q.v. Arms of Patronage: those of the lesser nobility or gentry derived from the arms of the greater.

Arms of Office, such as those borne by Bishops, Deans, Kings of Arms, &c.; and lastly,

Arms of Community, those borne by cities, towns, abbeys, universities, colleges, guilds, mercantile companies, &c. The arms of abbeys and colleges are generally those of their founders, to which the abbeys usually added some charge of an ecclesiastical character, as a crosier, mitre, or key. Such arms, as well as those borne by Sovereigns, are more properly termed Insignia.

The coat of arms of William, Stephen, Henry II and Richard I (Lion Heart)

The Royal Arms. Arms have been assigned in subsequent times to all the early kings of England from Alfred the Great onwards, but the earliest. English sovereign for whose insignia we have any contemporary authority is Richard Cœur-de-Lion. From that time onwards the series is complete; and in most cases the great seal of each successive reign affords a good illustration. The following notes will be found to represent a brief summary of the more important changes.

Though we have no authority for the arms of William I., William Rufus, or Henry I., writers agree in ascribing to them the following.

Gules, two lions [or leopards] passant gardant in pale or.

Some ingenious writer, knowing that the Sagittarius was ascribed as the badge of King Stephen, substituted it for the lions in the Royal arms, but following late examples, placed three instead of two upon the shield.

According to a theory of comparatively late date, Henry II., upon his marriage with Eleanor, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Aquitaine and Guyenne, added another lion, and hence the Insignia of England (q.v.)

Gules, three lions passant gardant in pale [called the lions of England] or.

These arms appear very distinctly upon the great seal of his successor, Richard I., but there is a second great seal of this king (perhaps even earlier), in which a portion of the shield is shewn, and (possibly by carelessness of the die-cutter) this contains a lion counter-rampant.

The great seals of John, Henry III., and Edward I. exhibit the arms of England very clearly. The seal of Edward II. is without a coat of arms, but there is abundance of other evidence for ascribing the same to him.

Le Roy de Engleterre, porte de goules a iij lupars passauns de or–Roll, temp. ED. II.

Edward III., for some years after his accession, bore the same arms, but after 1340 he bore—

The Arms of King Edward III

Quarterly 1 and 4; azure semy of fleurs-de-lis or [for France] 2 and 3, arms of England.

On the seal is represented, for the first time, a distinct crest (a lion passant on a chapeau).

There are several authorities for the same arms being borne by Richard II.; but towards the end of his reign he impaled the imaginary arms of Edward The Confessor, his patron Saint.

Azure, a cross patonce between five martlets or.

Henry IV. bears on his great seal the same arms, and apparently a similar crest. The badges of Henry V. are sometimes given as the supporters of the arms of Henry IV., but on no good authority.

Henry V. bears the same arms, but Charles VI. of France having reduced the number of Fleurs-de-lys in the arms of that kingdom to three, the arms of Henry V. were then altered, and appear so in the great seal.

Henry VI. the same; and the arms appear with two antelopes argent, attired, unguled, and spotted or, gorged with crowns as supporters, and the motto, Dieu et man droit.

Edward IV., Edward V., and Richard III., the same arms, with supporters ‘ a lion rampant argent, and a bull sable armed and unguled or;’ and in one case ‘two white boars armed, unguled, and bristled or.’

Henry VII. and Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary and Elizabeth the same aims, excepting that after Mary’s marriage with King Philip, she bore the arms of the two sovereigns impaled, viz. with that of Philip on the dexter.

Throughout the supporters appear varied. A dragon gules and a greyhound argent appear with the arms of Henry VII. A dragon and greyhound, also a lion and greyhound, with those of Henry VIII. A lion and dragon with those of Edward VI. A lion and greyhound with those of Mart, and a lion and dragon with those of Elizabeth. But the authorities, chiefly in sculpture and painting, are not much to be depended on.

James I. On his great seal we find the following:—

Quarterly, I. and IV. counter quartered: 1 and 4 France ; 2 and 3 England. II. Or, a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter flory gules—Scotland, in. Azure, a harp or stringed argent—Ireland.

These arms were continued to be used by Charles I., Charles II., and James II., and are usually represented in carving, painting, &c., with the same supporters, namely, the lion and the unicorn. It may be noted, however, that Cromwell, as Protector, bore:—

Quarterly 1 and 4; argent a cross gules [i.e. of St. George, for England]. 2, Azure, a saltire argent [i.e. of St. Andrew, for Scotland]. 3, Azure, a harp or, stringed argent [for Ireland], and on an escutcheon surtout sable a lion rampant gardaut argent [for Cromwell].

William and Mart bore the same arms, but the former with an escutcheon surtout bearing the arms of Nassau (Azure, seme of billets and a lion rampant or).

Queen Anne bore the arms of James II., but on the union with Scotland in 1707 the Royal Arms were marshalled:—

Quarterly 1 and 4, England impaled with Scotland; 2 France; 3 Ireland.

George I. and George II. the same, except that in the fourth quartering the arms of Hanover were substituted for England.

George III. After the Treaty of Amiens in 1801 the Arms of Trance were abandoned and the Royal Arms were :—

Quarterly 1 and 4 England ; 2 Scotland ; 3 Ireland ; an escutcheon with the arms of Hanover surtout ensigned with the electoral bonnet [afterwards with a crown].

George IV. and William IV. the same. Victoria as follows:— Quarterly 1 and 4 England ; 2 Scotland ; 3 Ireland.

From James I. onwards the Lion and Unicorn remained the supporters, generally with the same motto, Dieu et man droit.

A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry; Parker & Company (1894).


Arms – Arms or Armories were so called because originally displayed upon defensive arms, and coats of arms because formerly embroidered upon the surcoat or camis worn over the armor. The term coat of arms, once introduced, was afterward retained, even when displayed elsewhere than on the coat. In the days when knights were so encased in armor that no means of identifying them was left, the practice was introduced of painting their insignia of honor on their shield as an easy method of distinguishing them. Originally these were granted only to individuals, but were afterward made hereditary by King Richard I, during his crusade to Palestine. They may be divided into two general classes: (1) Public, as those of kingdoms, provinces, bishoprics, corporate bodies, etc. And (2) private, being those of private families. These two classes are again separated into many subdivisions, founded mainly on the different methods by which they were granted.

Arms of Adoption – This term is used in a case where the last representative of an aristocratic family adopts an outsider to assume his armorial bearings and inherit his estates.

Arms of Alliance – Arms which came into a mans possession by matrimonial alliances, as the arms of his wife which are impailed with his own, and those of heiresses, which he in like manner quarters. To illustrate: When Gilbert Talbot (who died in 1274) married Gwenllian, heiress of the Welsh Prince Rhys ap Griffith, he laid aside his paternal coat – “bendy of 10 pieces, argent and gules” – and adopted that of the lady – “gules, a lion rampant or, within a border engrailed of the field” – as still used by the Earls of Shrewsbury.

Arms of Assumption – Those arms which a person may legitimately assume.

Arms of Attribution – Arms that are fictitious, such as indulged in to absurd extent by the heralds of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

“Almost all the older genealogists attribute coats of arms to ancestors long before they were in use. On the tomb of Queen Elizabeth are emblazoned the arms of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, and of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland, all, of course, pure inventions. It is only of very late years, since a critical spirit has found its way even into heraldry, that these absurdities have been exposed.” — Ency. Brit., vol xi (1902).

Arms of Community – Those borne by corporations, religious houses, colleges, cities and boroughs, inns of court, guilds and the cinque ports, some of which go back to an early period.

Arms of Concession – Arms granted by a sovereign to commemorate some great deed. The heart on the arms of the Douglases is in memory of the mission of James Lord Douglas with the heart of Robert Bruce to the Holy Land. The families of De la Warr, Pelham, Vane and Fane bear arms in allusion to the share their ancestors had in the capture of John of France at Poitiers.

Arms of Dominion – Are those belonging to empires, kingdoms, principalities, states, etc., officially used by the ruler de facto. The origin of some of these arms is obscure, such as the three legs conjoined in triangle of the Isle of Man and the lion of Scotland. Occasionally the arms of dominion were those of an early sovereign or governor. Thus the lions of England belonged to the Plantagnet kings. In the United States the Stars and Stripes, now so well known throughout the world, had their origin in the coat of arms of the first President, the immortal George Washington, whose English ancestors bore “argent, two bars gules, in chief three mullets of the second.” The arms of the State of Maryland are those born by Cecililus Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, Lord Proprietary of the Colony.

Arms of Family – Those received by some distinguished person and borne with modifications by all his descendants.

Arms of Honor – The same as Arms of Concession.

Arms of Office – Those borne by holders of certain offices which designate that office. For instance, the ancestors of the Dukes of Ormond, being hereditary butlers of Ireland, bore three covered cups. Garter, the principal king-at-arms of England, bears “argent, a cross gules, on a chief azure a crown or, encircled with a garter of the order buckled and nowed betwen a lion of England and a lily of France.”

Arms of Patronage – (1) Arms borne by the lesser gentry which were derived from the arms of the greater; arms on which there is some mark of subjection or dependence. (2) Arms to indicate the connection between the follower and his feudal lord. (3) Arms added to the family arms as a token of superiority, right or jurisdiction.

Arms of Pretension – Arms quartered by a sovereign belonging to a state over which he does not hold authority. Nearly all the earlier European sovereigns bore arms of this character. The kings of England, from Edward III until 1801, in the reign of George III, bore the lilies of France. The treaty of Amiens (January 1, 1801) stipulated that this quartering of the French arms should be abandoned.

Arms of Succession – The same as Feudal Arms.

Arms Royal – The personal arms borne by the sovereign of a country, as distinguished from those borne by him in his official capacity, being those of the country over which he rules. As set forth in Arms of Dominion, the personal arms of a ruler sometimes become those of the country. On the other hand, neither the arms of Baliol, Bruce nor Stuart ever became the arms of Scotland. Cromwell placed his arms on an escutcheon of pretense over those of the commonwealth, and William of Nassau did the same with those of England.

Allusive Arms – (Called also canting or punning arms, and by the French Armes parlantes) are those in which the charges suggest the bearers name. Thus were the castle and lion for Castile and Leon, the fers de cheval of Ferrers, the corbeau or raven for Corbet, the herons of Heron, the falcon of Falconer, the swine’s head of Swinebourne, the hammers of Hammerton and the swallows (hirondelles) of Arundel. Allusive arms were treated with respect until the time of James I, when they fell into disrepute.

Assumptive Arms – This now applies to arms which have been appropriated without proper authority. Originally, however, the term had a different meaning, as seen in the following:

“. . . Assumptive arms are such as a person has a title to bear, by virtue of some action done or performed by him, which by birth he could not wear; as if a person that has naturally no coat should, in lawful war, take a prince or nobleman prisoner, he has from that time a right to bear the arms of such prisoner by virtue of that military law that the dominion of things taken in lawful war passes to the conqueror.”-Dych: Dict. (1758).

Canting Arms – The same as Allusive Arms.

Feudal Arms – The arms borne by the possessors of certain lordships or estates .

Paternal Arms – Those that descend by custom to the male heir. The descendants of females (heiresses) can only quarter their arms, except by special license.

Pimbley’s Dictionary of Heraldry; Arthur Pimbley (1908).


ARMS. A word derived from the Latin arma, which signifies in Heraldry a mark of honour, serving to distinguish states, cities, families, &c.

Manual of Heraldry; Virtue & Company (1846).

Originally posted 2011-01-01 16:23:24.

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