see it clearly

Family crest supporters

See your own family crest for free. Enter your surname below.

Shields of arms, especially upon seals, are sometimes figured as hung round the necks of eagles, lions, swans and griffons, as strapped between the horns of a hart or to boughs of a tree. Badges may fill in the blank spaces at the sides between the shield and the inscription on the rim, but in the later 13th and early 14th centuries the commonest objects so serving are sprigs of plants, lions, leopards, or, still more frequently, lithe-necked wyvers. John of Segrave in 1301 flanks his shields with two of the sheaves of the older coat of Segrave: William Marshal of hingham does the like with his two marshal's staves.

Arms of William, Lord Hastings

Henry of Lancaster at the same time shows on his seal a shield and a helm crested with a wyner, with two like wyvers ranged on either side of the shield as "supporters." It is undertain at what time in the 14th century these various fashions crystallize into the recognized use of beasts, birds, reptiles, men or inanimate objects, definitely chosen as "supporters" of the shield, and not to be taken as the ornaments suggested by the fancy of the seal engraver. That supporters originate in the decoration of the seal there can be little doubt. Some writers, the learned Menetrier among them, will have it that they were first the fantastically clad fellows who supported and displayed the knight's shield at the opening of the tournament. If the earliest supporters were wild men, angels or Saracens, this theory might be defended; but lions, boars and talbots, dogs and trees are guises into which a man would put himself with difficulty.

By the middle of the 14th century we find what are clearly recognizable as supporters. These, as in a lesser degree the crest, are often personal rather than hereditary, being changed generation by generation. The same person is found using more than one pair of them. The kings of France have had angels as supporters of the shield of the fleurs de lys since the 15th century, but the angels have only taken their place as the sole royal supporters since the time of Louis XIV. Sovereigns of England from Henry IV. to Elizabeth changed about between supporters of harts, leopards, antelopes, buls, greyhounds, boars and dragons. James I. at his accesion to the English throne brought the Scottish unicorn to face the English leopard rampant across his shield, and, ever since, the "lion and unicorn" have been the royal supporters.

An old herald wrote as his opinion that "there is little or nothing in precedent to direct the use of supporters." Modern custom gives them, as a rule, only to peers, to knights of the Garter, the Thistle and St. Patrick, and to knights who are "Grand Crosses" or Grand Commanders of other orders. Royal warrants are sometimes issued for the granting of supporters to baronets, and, in rare cases, they have been assigned to untitled persons. But in spite of the jealousy with which official heraldry hedges about the display of these supporters once assumed so freely, a few old English families still assert their right by hereditary prescription to use these ornaments as their forefathers were wont to use them.