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How Family Crests are passed down through the generations.

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How are family Crests and coat of arms are passed down through the generations? By the custom of the middle ages the "whole coat," belonged to one man only and was inherited whole only by his heirs. Younger branches differed in many ways, following no rule. In modern armory the label is reckoned a difference proper only to an eldest son.


But in older times, although the label was very commonly used by the son and heir apparent, he often chose another distinction during his father’s lifetime, while the label is sometimes found upon the shields of younger sons. Changing the colors or varying the number of charges, drawing a bend over the shield or adding a border are common differences of cadet lines. Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, bore “Gules with a fesse and six crosslets gold.” His cousins are seen changing the crosslets for billets.

Although no general register of arms was’ maintained it is remarkable that there was little conflict between persons who had chanced to assume, the same arms. The famous suit in which Scrope, Grosvenor and Carhinow all claimed the blue shield with the golden bend is well known, and there are a few cases in the 14th century of like disputes. which were never carried to the courts. But the men of the middle ages would seem to have had marvelous memories for blazonry; and we know that rolls of arms for reference, some of them the records of tournaments, existed in great numbers. A few examples of these remain. to us, with painted shields or descriptions in French blazon, some of them containing many hundreds of names and arms.

To women were assigned, as a rule, the arms of their fathers. In the early days of armory married women, well-born spinsters of full age were all but unknown outside the walls of religious houses, have seals on which appear the shield of the husband or the father or both shields side by side. But we have some instances of the shield in which two coats of arms are parted or, to use the modern phrase, “impaled.”

The arms of Pinkeny being an indented fesse, we may see in this shield the parted arms of husband and wife, the latter being probably a Basset. In many of the earliest examples, as in this, the dexter half of the husband’s shield was united with the sinister half of that of the wife, both coats being, as modern antiquaries have it, dimidiated. This “dimidiation,” however, had its inconvenience. With some coats it was impossible. lithe wife bore arms with a quarter for the only charge, her half of the shield would be blank. Therefore the practice was early abandoned by, the majority of bearers of parted shields although there is a survival of it in the fact that borders and tressures continue to be “dimidiated “ in order that the charges within them shall not be cramped.


The practice of marshalling arms by quartering spread in England by reason of the example given by Eleanor, wife of Edward I., who displayed the castle of Castile quartered with the lion of Leon. Isabel of France, wife of Edward II., seals with a shield in whose four quarters are the arms of England, France, Navarre and Champagne. Early in the ,4th century Simon de Montague, an ancestor of the earls of Salisbury, quartered with his own arms a coat of azure with a golden griffon. In 1340 we have Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, quartering with the Hastings arms the arms of Valence, as heir of his great-uncle Aymer, earl of Pembroke. In the preceding year the king had already asserted his claim to another kingdom by quartering France with England, and after this quartered shields became common in the great houses whose sons were carefully matched with heirs female. When the wife was an heir the husband would quarter her arms with his own, displaying, as a rule, the more important coat in the first quarter. Marshalling becomes more elaborate with shields showing both quarterings and partings, as in the seal (1368) of Sibil Arundel, where Arundel (Fitzalan) is quartered with the arms of Montague.

The last detail to be noted in medieval marshalling is the introduction into the shield of another surmounting shield called by old armorists the innerscocheon and by modern blazoners the inescutcheon. John the Fearless, count of Flanders, marshalled his arms in 1409 as a quartered shield of the new and old coats of Burgundy. Above these coats a little scocheon, borne over the crossing of the quartering lines, had the black lion of Flanders, the arms of his mother.

Richard Beauchamp, the adventurous earl of Warwick, who had seen most European courts during his wanderings, may have had this shield in mind when, over his arms of Beauchamp quartering Newburgh, he set a scocheon of Clare quartering Despenser, the arms of his wife Isabel Despenser, co-heir of the earls of Gloucester. The seal of his son-in-law, the King-Maker, shows four quarters: Beauchamp quartering Clare, Montague quartering Monthermer, Nevill alone, and Newburgh quartering Despenser.