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Beasts and Birds

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The book of natural history as studied in the middle ages lay open at the chapter of the lion, to which royal beast all the noble virtues were set down. What is the oldest armorial seal of a sovereign prince as yet discovered bears the rampant lion of Flanders. In England we know of no royal shield earlier than that first seal of Richard I. which has a like device. A long roll of our old earls, barons and knights wore the lion on their coats - Lacy, Marshal, Fitzalan and Montfort, Percy, Mowbray and Talbot. By custom the royal beast is shown as rampant, touching the ground with but one foot and clawing at the air in noble rage. So far is this the normal attitude of a lion that the adjective rampant was often dropped, and we have leave and good authority for blazoning the rampant beast simply as a lion, leave which a writer on armory may take gladly to the saving of much repetition. In France and Germany this license has always been the rule, and the modern English herald’s blazon of Gules a lion rampant or for the arms of Fitzalan, becomes in French de gueules an lion d'or. The lion standing with his forepaws together is not a figure for the shield, but for the crest, where he takes the position for greater stableness upon the helm, and the sitting lion is also found rather upon helms than in shields.

Beasts and Birds 1
The Lion's Companion

The lion’s companion is the leopard. What might be the true form of this beast was a dark thing to the old armorist, yet knowing from the report of grave travelers that the leopard was begotten in spouse-breach between the lion and the leopard, it was felt that his shape would favor his sire’s. But nice distinctions of outline, even were they ascertainable, are not to be marked on the tiny seal, or easily expressed by the broad strokes of the shield painter. The leopard was indeed lesser than the lion, but in armory, as in the Noah’s arks launched by the old yards, the bear is no bigger than the badger. Then a happy device came to the armorist. He would paint the leopard like the lion at all points. But as the lion looks forward the leopard should look sidelong, showing his whole face. The matter was arranged, and until the end of the middle ages the distinction held and served. The disregarded writers on armory, Nicholas Upton, and his fellows, protested that a lion did not become a leopard by turning his face sidelong, but none who fought in the field under lion and leopard banners heeded this pedantry from cathedral closes. The English king’s beasts were leopards in blazon, in ballad and chronicle, and in the mouths of liegeman and enemy. Henry V.’s herald, named from his master’s coat, was Leopard Herald’ and Napoleon’s gazettes never fail to speak of the English leopards. In our own days, those who deal with armory as antiquaries and students of the past will observe the old custom for convenience’ sake.

Those for whom the interest of heraldry lies in the nonsense-language brewed during post-medieval years may correct the medieval ignorance at England. their pleasure. The knight who saw the king’s banner fly at Falkirk or Crécy tells us that it bore: Gules with three leopards of gold. The modern armorist will shame the uninstructed warrior with: Gules three lions passant gardant in pale or.

As the lion rampant is the normal lion, so the normal leopard is the leopard passant, the adjective being needless. In a few cases only the leopard rises up to ramp in the lion’s fashion, and here he must be blazoned without fail as a leopard rampant.

Parts of the lion and the leopard are common charges. Chief of these are the demi-lion and the demi-leopard, beasts complete above their slender middles, even to the upper parts of their lashing tails. Rampant or passant, they follow the customs of the unmaimed brute. Also the heads of lion and leopard are in many shields, and here the armorist of the modern handbooks stumbles by reason of his refusal to regard clearly marked medieval distinctions. The instructed will know a lion’s head because it shows but half the face and a leopard’s head because it is seen full face. But the handbooks of heraldry, knowing naught of leopards, must judge by absence or presence of mane, speaking uncertainly of leopards’ faces and lions’ heath and faces. Here again the old path is the straighter.

Beasts and Birds 2
  • Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, bore: Gules a lion gold.
  • Simon de Montfort bore: Gules a silver lion with a forked tail.
  • Segrave bore: Sable a lion silver crowned gold.
  • Havering bore: Silver a lion rampant gules with a forked tail, having a collar azure.”
  • F’elbrigge of Felbrigge bore: Gold a leaping lion gules.
  • Esturmy bore: Silver a lion sable (or purple) looking backward.
  • Marmion bore: Gules a lion vair.
  • Mason bore: Silver a two-beaded lion gules.
  • Lovetot bore: Silver a lion parted athwart of sable and gules.
  • Richard le Jen bore: Vert a lion gold with a fesse gules on the lion.
  • Fiennes bore: Azure three lions gold.
  • Leyburne of Kent bore: Azure six lions silver.
Beasts and Birds 3
  • Carew bore: Gold three lions passant sable.
  • Fotheringhay bore: Sliver two lions passant sable, looking backward.
  • Richard Norton of Waddeworth (1357) sealed with arms of : A lion dormant.
  • Lisle bore: Gules a leopard silver crowned gold.
  • Ludlowe bore: Azure three leopards silver.
  • Brocas bore: Sable a leopard rampant gold.
  • John Northampton, Lord Mayor of London in 1381, bore Azure a crowned leopard gold with two bodies rampant against each other.
  • Newenham bore: Azure three demi-lions silver.
Beasts and Birds 4
  • Kenton bore: Cules three lions heads razed sable.
  • Pole, earl and duke of Suffolk, bore: Azure a fesse between three leo~ards’ heads gold.
  • Cantelou bore: Azure three leopards heads silver with silver fleors-de-lys issuing from them.
  • Wederton bore: Gules a cheveron between three lions’ legs razed silver.
  • Pynchebek bore: silver three forked tails of lions sable.

The tiger is rarely named in collections of medieval arms, Deep mystery wrapped the shape of him, which was never during the middle ages standardized by artists. A crest upon a I 5thcentury brass shows him as a lean wolf-like figure, with a dash of the boar, gazing after his vain wont into a looking-glass; and the 16th-century heralds gave him the body of a lion with the head of a wolf, head and body being tufted here and there with thick tufts of hair. But it is noteworthy that the arms of Sir John Norwich, a well-known knight of the 14th century, are blazoned in a roll of that age as “party azure and gules with a tiger rampant ermine.” Now this beast in the arms of Norwich has been commonly taken for a lion, and the Norwich family seem in later times to have accepted the lion as their bearing. But a portion of a painted roll of Sir John’s day shows on careful examination that his lion has been given two moustache-like tufts to the nose. A copy made about 1600 of another roll gives the same decoration to the Norwich lion, and it is at least possible we have here evidence that the economy of the medieval armorist allowed him to make at small cost his lion, his leopard and his tiger out of a single beast form.

Take away the lions and the leopards, and the other beasts upon medieval shields are a little herd. In most cases they are here to play upon the names of their bearers. Thus Swinburne of Northumberland has the heads of swine in his coat and Bacon has bacon pigs. Three white bears were borne by Barlingham, and a bear ramping on his hind legs is for Barnard. Lovett of Astwell has three running wolves, Videlou three wolves’ heads, Colfox three foxes’ heads.

Three hedgehogs were in the arms of Heriz. Barnewall reminds us of extinct natives of England by bearing two beavers, and Otter of Yorkshire had otters. Harewell had hares’ heads, a Talbot of Lancashire had three purple squirrels in a silver shield. An elephant was brought to England as early as the days of Henry III., but he had no immediate armorial progeny, although Saunders of Northants may have borne before the end of the middle ages the elephants heads. Lambton had lambs. Goats were borne by Chevercourt to play on his name, a leaping goat by Bardwell, and goats’ heads by Gateshead. Of the race of dogs the greyhound and the talbot, or mastiff, are found most often. Thus Talbot of Cumbcrland had talbots, and Mauleverer, running greyhounds or “leverers” for his name’s sake. The horse is not easily found as an English charge.

Beasts and Birds 5

As might be looked for in a land where forest and greenwood once linked from sea to sea, the wild deer is a common charge in the shield. Downes of Cheshire bore a hart lying down. Hertford had harts’ heads, Malebis, fawns’ heads (testes de bis), Bukingham, heads of bucks. The harts in Rother ham’s arms are the roes of his name’s first syllable.

Beasts and Birds 6

Of the outlandish monsters the griffon is the oldest and the chief. With the hinder parts of a lion, the rest of him is eagle, head and shoulders, wings and fore legs. The long tuft under the beak and his pointed ears mark him out from the eagle when his head alone is borne. At an early date a griffon rampant, his normal position, was borne by the great house of Montagu as a quartering, and another griffon played upon Griffin’s name.

The wyver, who becomes wyvern in the 16th century, and takes a new form under the Griffin, care of inventive heralds, was in the middle ages a lizard-like dragon, generally with small wings. Sir Edmund Mauley in the 14th century is found differencing the black bend of his elder brother by charging it with three wyvers of silver. During the middle ages there seems small distinction between the wyver and the still rarer dragon, which, with the coming of the Tudors, who bore it as their badge, is seen as a four-legged monster with wings and a tail that ends like a broad arrow. The monster in the arms of Drake, blazoned by Tudor heralds as a wyvern, is clearly a fire-drake or dragon in his origin.

The unicorn rampant was borne by Harlyn of Norfolk, unicorn’s heads by the Cambridgeshire family of Paris. The mermaid with her Drake. comb and looking-glass makes a 14th-century crest for Byron, while “ Silver a bend gules with three silver harpies thereon” is found in the 15th century for Entyrdene.

Beasts and Birds 7

Concerning beasts and monsters the heraldry books have many adjectives of blazonry which may be disregarded. Even as it was once the pride of the cook pedant to carve each bird on the board with a new word for the act, so it became the delight of the pedant herald to order that the rampant horse should be "forcené," the rampant griffon "segreant," the passant hart "trippant" while the same hart must needs be "attired" as to its horns and "unguled" as to its hoofs. There is ancient authority for the nice blazonry which sometimes gives a separate color to the tongue and claws of the lion, but even this may be set aside. Though a black lion in a silver field may be armed with red claws, and a golden leopard in a red field given blue claws and tongues, these trifles are but fancies which follow the taste of the painter, and are never of obligation. The tusks and hoofs of the boar, and often the horns of the hart, are thus given in some paintings a color of their own which elsewhere is neglected.

As the lion is among armorial beasts, so is the eagle among the birds. A bold convention of the earliest shield painters displayed him with spread wing and claw, the feat of a few strokes of the brush, and after this fashion he appears on many scores of shields. Like the claws and tongue of the lion, the beak and claws of the eagle are commonly painted of a second color in all but very small representations. Thus the golden eagle of Lymesey in a red field may have blue beak and claws, and golden beak and claws will be given to Jorce’s silver eagle upon red. A lure, or two wings joined and spread like those of an eagle is a rare charge sometimes found. When fitted with the cord by which a falconer’s lure is swung, the cord must be named.

  • Monthermer bore: Gold an eagle vert.
  • Siggeston bore: Silver a two-headed eagle sable.
  • Gavaston, earl of Cornwall, bore: Vert six eagles gold.
  • Bayforde of Fordingbridge sealed (in 1388) with arms of: An eagli bendwise, with a border engrailed and a baston.
  • Graunson bore: Paly silver and azure with a bend gules and three golden eagles thereon.
  • Seymour bore: Gules a lure of two golden wings.

Commoner than the eagle as a charge is the martlet, a humble bird which is never found as the sole charge of a shield. In all but a few early representations the feathers of the legs are seen without the legs or claws. The martlet indicates both swallow and martin, and in the arms of the Cornish Arundels the martlets must stand for swallows.

The falcon or hawk is borne as a rule with close wings, so that he may not be taken for the eagle. In most cases he is there to play on the bearer’s name, and this may be said of most of the flight of lesser birds.

Beasts and Birds 8
Beasts and Birds 9
  • Naunton bore: Sable three martlets silver.
  • Heron bore: Azure three herons silver.
  • Fauconer bore: Silver three falcons gules.
  • Hauvile bore: Azure a dance between three hawks gold.
  • Twenge bore: Silver a fesse gules between three popinjays (or parrots) vert.
  • Asdale bore: Gules a swan silver.
  • Dalston bore: Silver a cheveron engrailed between three daws’ heads razed sable.
  • Beasts and Birds 10
  • Corbet bore: Gold two corbies sable.
  • Cockfield bore: Silver three cocks gules.
  • Burton bore: Sable a cheveron sable between three silver owls.
  • Rokeby bore: Silver a cheveron sable between three rooks.
  • Duffelde bore: Sable a cheveron silver between three doves.
  • Pelham bore: Azure three pelicans silver.
  • Beasts and Birds 11
  • Sumeri (13th century) sealed with arms of: A peacock with his tail spread.
  • John Pyeshale of Suffolk (14th century) sealed with arms of : Three magpies.

Like the birds, the fishes are borne for the most part to call to mind their bearers’ names. Unless their position be otherwise named, they are painted as upright in the shield, as though rising towards the water surface. The dolphin is known by his bowed back, old artists making him a grotesquely decorative figure.

  • Lucy bore: Gules three luces (or pike) silver.
  • Heringaud bore: Azure, crusilly gold, with six golden herrings.
  • Fishacre bore: Gules a dolphin silver.
  • La Roche bore: Three roach swimming.
  • John Samon (14th century) sealed with arms of : Three salmon swimming.
  • Sturgeon bore: Azure three sturgeon swimming gold, with a fret gules over all.
  • Whalley bore: Silver three whales’ heads razed sable.

Shell-fish would hardly have place in English armory were it not for the abundance of scallops which have followed their] appearance in the banners of Dacre and Scales.

  • Dacre bore: Gules three scallops silver.
  • Shelley bore: Sable a fesse engrailed between three whelk-shells gold.

Reptiles and insects are barely represented. The lizards in the crest and supporters of the Ironmongers of London belong to the 15th century. Gawdy of Norfolk may have borne the tortoise in his shield in the same age.

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