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A transcript of the book A Grammar of English Heraldry, chapter 5



ALMOST as early as the introduction of armorial shields there came into being the objects known as crests. A crest, as its name implies, was originally a feathered plume on the head of a bird. Such a plume or bush of feathers, as it was called, was fixed as an ornament in the top of a helm, and thus formed the crest of its wearer. As early as 1198, on his second great seal, King Richard I has upon his cylindrical helm two wing-shaped fans turned in opposite directions, with a leopard below upon the cap; and similar fan-shaped bushes were popular throughout the thirteenth century. Other devices came into use later, and in time became associated with individuals; and eventually, like arms, they were looked upon as hereditary. Roger of Leybourne, before his death in 1284, used a lion for a crest, and before 1300 Thomas earl of Lancaster and his brother Henry both used seals whereon their helms are surmounted by wivers or two-legged dragons. The like creature also crests the earl's horse's head. The crest was at first fixed alone and directly upon the helm, but early in the fourteenth century it was often encircled by a crown (Figs. 104, 105, and 107), or placed upon the hat or cap of estate that was sometimes worn over the helm. The funeral crest of Edward Prince of Wales above his tomb at Canterbury is a good example of this form. The crest was always something

Fig. 104. Crested helm upon the tomb of Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick
(From Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers )

that could be worn, and if it represented an object that was naturally too large or too heavy, a model of it was made in boiled leather, like the Prince's leopard at Canterbury, or of wood or other light material. Such crests as the pictorial scenes and other absurdities granted to generals and admirals during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries could hardly have been conceived while heraldry was a living art.

The helm of which the crest formed part was such an one as was included in the war harness of the time, and it was usually drawn in profile the better to display the crest, which of course faced the same way as its wearer. Front-facing helms and crests likewise occur, both on seals and monuments, but the modern custom of using helms of different types facing different ways to denote grades of rank has no ancient precedent, and is impossible to defend logically.

The crown that so often encircles crests is purely an ornamental adjunct (Figs. 105 and 107), and as devoid of meaning as the cap of estate, notwithstanding that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries this formed part of the insignia at the investiture of a duke. The crowns generally consisted of three, four, or five fleurons or ornate leaves set upon a jewelled circlet, and were not necessarily always of gold or silver. In that great storehouse of coloured medieval armory, the stall-plates of the Knights of the Garter, two of the early plates have the crowns enamelled blue, and quite a number of others have red crowns; and there is no reason for regarding these as exceptional.

The cap of estate appears first, with his leopard crest, upon the head of the armed and mounted figure of King Edward In (apparently for his dignity as duke of Normandy and Aquitaine) on the new great

Fig. 105. Seal of Walter lord Hungerford with crest and flanking banners of arms, c. 1420
(From Hope's Stall-plates of the Knights, of the Garter )

seal made for him after the Peace of Bretigny in 1339-40. After 1350 it came into common use as a base for crests, and was so employed not only by dukes who had been invested with it, but by earls and barons, and even by knights, who certainly had not (Fig. 106). The cap of estate was generally red, with the brim turned up with ermine; but in two of the stall-plates the cap is blue.

Whether the crested helm were encircled by a crown or surmounted by the cap of estate, it was often covered behind with a hanging scarf or cloth, sometimes with

Fig. 106. Seal of Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset, c. 1445, with leopard crest on a cap of estate
(From Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers )

tasseled ends. In the latter part of the fourteenth century, when this mantling, as it is called, first became fashionable, it was of quite simple character. But it soon developed pictorially into something larger and more ornamental until it extended on both sides of the helm in a series of graceful twists flung about with charming freedom. The usual colour of the mantling, like that of the cap of estate with which it was often associated, was red with a lining of ermine or minever, but there was no rigid rule as to this before the seventeenth century. Thus, out of the sixty earliest stall-plates at Windsor, only about one-third have a plain red mantling. Seven are black, six white, two blue (in each case with a powdering of gold fleurs-de-lis), and one green with gold spots; two are all ermine, and another is all of gold. Six are covered with silver feathers, because the crest (such as a swan's head) suggested it (Fig. 107), and quite a number are of two different colours, such as black and white, red and black, white and blue, on either side of the helm. One is quarterly fessewise indented of red and white, another paly of red and white, and a third of ermine with red bars; while others have the outside powdered with gold lozenges or trefoils, or gold branches and flowers. Two brothers of the Bourchier family powder their red mantlings with gold billets, and the white lining with bouces and Bourchier knots; and a Lovel knight has a purple mantling powdered with gold hanging-locks (Fig. 108).

Towards the end of the fourteenth century the junction of the crest with the helm began to be masked, in the same way as with the earlier crowns, by a twisted wreath or terse of two or more differently coloured stuffs (Fig. 108). This is now usually described

Fig. 107. Feathered mantling from the stall-plate, c. 1422-3,
of Sir Hugh Courtenay, K.G.
(From Hope's Stall-plates of the Knights of the Garter )

as 'a wreath of the colours,' that is to say, the principal colour and metal of the arms, but the medieval artist held himself as free in the matter as in the colour of the mantlings. Nor did he confine himself to the six twists of modern rule, but showed a lesser or greater number as he pleased.

The decadence of heraldry which began under the Tudor kings is responsible for detaching the torse and crest and representing them apart from the helm to which they belong, and modern ignorance has perverted the torse into a twisted bar. In this form people are content to display what they call their 'crest' upon their spoons and forks,

Fig. 108. Crested helm, and mantling powdered with his badge,
of Francis lord Lovel, K.G. c. 1483, from his stall-plate
(From Hope's Stall-plates of the Knights of the Garter )

the panels of their carriages and motor cars, or the buttons of their liveried servants. Were the torse omitted the crest would logically become and could be used as a badge.

A badge is any device or figure assumed as a distinctive mark or emblem by an individual or family, and should be borne alone, without any shield, terse, or other accessory. But whereas a crest is distinctly personal to its owner, his badge may be worn by whom he pleases, and so would properly supersede the incorrect 'crest' upon the livery buttons of men-servants. Badges were anciently used as ornaments or decorations in every conceivable way, and were often accompanied by an appropriate word, reason, or motto. There was as great variety in the choice of badges as in that of crests. Not infrequently the same device served both for crest and badge; but as a rule it was different. Examples of badges abound. The bear and ragged staff of the Beauchamps, the crescent of the Percys, the swan of the Bohuns, the mermaid of the Berkeleys, the sickles of the Hungerfords, the knots of the Staffords and Bourchiers, the molet of the Veres, the red rose of the Lancastrians, the falcon and fetterlock (Fig. 109) and white rose of the house of York, the Beaufort portcullis and the Tudor rose (Figs. 110, 111), and the ostrich feathers borne by the sons of Queen Philippa and their descendants, are all familiar instances. Many men had more than one badge. Thus bishop Peter Courtenay's famous chimney-piece in the palace at Exeter displays dolphins, swans, and boars, St Anthony's tau-cross and bell, and the sickles and sheaves of the Hungerfords with whom he was connected. And John de Vere, the thirteenth earl of Oxford, bore, besides the molet from his arms and the harpy which did duty as one of his supporters, a cranket or jack and a boar ( verre ) in allusion to his

Fig. 109. The falcon and fetterlock badge of the house of York.
From King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster
(From Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers )

name, an ox crossing a ford in token of his title, a gold whistle for his office of lord high admiral, and a chair of estate for his hereditary office of lord great chamberlain.

Such allusive devices as the Vere boar of the earl of Oxford form what is called a rebus, or word punning upon a man's name. Rebuses were very popular all through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and are to be met with even in the thirteenth and

Figs. 110, 111. Badges of King Henry VII in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge
(From Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers )

fourteenth. Thus long swords are to be found on Longespee seals in the thirteenth century, and a boar occurs on the seal of Hugh de Veer appended to the Barons' letter of 1300-1. Aver of Rochford used in 1333 a seal with sheaves of oats flanking his shield as a pun on his Christian name, and Thomas duke of Gloucester, son of Edward III, because he was born at Woodstock, used the stock of a dead tree. Richard

Fig. 112. Rebus of John Islip abbot of Westminster
(From Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers )

lord Grey of Codnor ( ob . 1418) has on his seal a 'gray' or badger; William lord Botreaux (ob. 1461) has buttresses; Thomas lord Ros of Hamlake or Hemsley ( ob . 1464), hemlocks; and the lady Margaret Beaufort, marguerites.

Many bishops, abbots, and priors marked with their rebuses parts of buildings erected by them. In the cathedral church of Norwich bishop Walter Lyhart used a hart lying in water , and bishop Goldwell golden wells ; at Wells bishop Beckington used a

Fig. 113. Seal of William lord Hastings, 1461,
with supporters
(From Hope's Stall-plates of the Knights of the Garter )

beacon on a tun ; and at Ely bishop Alcock has a cock on the globe as being all the world. At Canterbury cardinal John Morton has an eagle on a tun which probably was lettered 'mor' ; prior Oxney an ox with ne upon him; and prior Goldstone II, gold stones . At Exeter bishop Oldham has an owl with a scroll lettered 'dom'; at Westminster (Fig. 112) abbot Islip has an eye

Fig. 114. Seal of John Nevill lord Montagu ( ob . 1471)
showing use of supporters
(From Hope's Stall-plates of the Knights of the Garter )

and a slip of a fig tree, with a man falling ('I slip!'), and at Fountains abbot Darnton has 'dern' on a tun , and abbot Huby a hobby or small hawk.

Quite soon after the engravers began to design armorial seals they felt the want of something to fill up the space between a shield of arms and the circle in which it was set. First they introduced scrollwork, then a wiver or other creature, next a secondary shield, or perchance a badge. Two lions back to back with intertwined tails also did service. Then such beasts were turned round to grasp the shield, and so became supporters. The growing popularity of crests soon caused the crested helm to be placed above the shield, and then the engraver skilfully transferred to the supporters of a shield the duty of upholding the heavy helm instead. The resulting compositions are usually drawn with consummate grace and skill, and the seals of the middle of the fifteenth century which were the first to complete the evolution of such designs are among the finest of these beautiful works of art (see Figs. 4, 87, 94, 106, and 113 and 114). The use of supporters is now restricted to peers, Knights of the Garter and of some other Orders, and a few privileged baronets and commoners, but ancient heraldic freedom allowed supporters to a knight as well as an earl or duke.