Coats of Arms

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July 7, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Many people, including royalty, like to imagine they can trace their family back to royalty, or Charlemagne, or Adam and Eve. So far, I haven’t turned up too many knights in the family – well, actually I am a descendant of Leonard Chester, armiger, who is buried in Wethersfield, Connecticut, but I’m only one of many. And that brings up another point – I could only properly display a version of the Chester arms on my own behalf if I was a direct male line descendant or the unmarried daughter of such a person.

Still I’ve been wondering for a while – was my ancestor Dorothy Seymour somehow related the THE Seymour family who had property in nearby Savernake Forest? (Wolf Hall, Queen Jane – those Seymours.) Once it was pointed out to me that Dorothy’s cousin Mary’s memorial in the church in Wroughton displayed a Seymour coat of arms I was even more intrigued. Mary’s father John was usually styled “yeoman,” a number of the local Seymours were landholders, and they might possibly be “gentry” in the sense that they might be descendants of younger sons of titled Seymour landholders. However, if Mary’s father was a knight/armiger wouldn’t that be referenced on the memorial? What in particular gave him the right to display a coat of arms? If I understand correctly, simply being a descendant of a Seymour with a coat of arms is not qualification enough.I started by looking at the details of the coat of arms displayed on the memorial.

First, for comparison, here are the arms of Edward Seymour (brother of Queen Jane), once he became 1st Duke of Somerset. This particular combination contains elements very specific to the Duke and could only refer to him. Arms are granted to individuals, and depending on the circumstances may be inherited by a single heir or used by the children in specific ways during specific times. If I understand correctly, during the recipient’s lifetime no other person used the exact combination of arms: during a parent’s lifetime a child or sibling might add another device, known as a “difference,” so that the two coats of arms could be distinguished.

by Rs-nourse - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

by Rs-nourse – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

Above the shield is the “crest” which in this case is a ducal coronet resting on a band of ermine – the five (visible) strawberry leaves are the distinguishing heraldic feature of a ducal coronet (other coronets have different edges or different numbers of leaves). Because he was actually a duke, his coronet includes a red cap. In older grants of arms the ducal coronet, as far as I can tell, does not always imply that the bearer (or his ancestor) was actually a duke and later Seymour coats of arms included the coronet, although a ducal coronet would not be included in a newly-granted modern coat of arms.

The shield displays a winged device which was used by a number of earlier Seymours as well as later Seymour descendants and is quartered with the lions and fleur-de-lys of the Plantagenet family as a special grant to show the relationship of the Duke to the ruling family. The royal devices are displayed the quarters of greater honor (1st and 4th). In other versions of Seymour arms, the wings are displayed as separate or on a different color field, or quartered with those of other families, but the wings (though a very old heraldic device) are strongly associated with the Seymour family.

As Sir Edward was a member of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, this is reflected by the surrounding motto and garter where other coats of arms might display supporters such as animals and mantling in colors related to the rest of the symbols. Obviously, this portion of his coat of arms could not be inherited.

The Mary Seymour buried in Wroughton was a second cousin of the Dorothy Seymour that married William Blackford – their grandfathers were brothers. Her memorial plaque includes a carved representation of what in general usage would have been her father’s arms which she could display as an unmarried daughter.

Contrast-enhanced clip of the coat of arms on the memorial of Mary Seymour. Original photo courtesy of Chris Turner.

Contrast-enhanced clip of the coat of arms on the memorial of Mary Seymour. Original photo courtesy of Chris Turner.

I have not seen Mary’s memorial in person* so I hope I have not misinterpreted any of the devices. Mary was buried in 1769 and I have not researched the standards related to heraldic displays in that exact era. On the other hand, I assume that either it was not considered improper for the heraldic display to be part of her monument, or enforcement of any rulings about displays was lax either in her specific case or at that place and time.

Version of the Seymour arms later incorporated in the coat of arms of Jane,  Queen of England.

Version of the Seymour arms used by a number of Seymour family members.

Shield: Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, brother of Queen Jane,  used the wings as shown above with a “crescent argent for difference” at the top of the shield. The winged device in this drawing is heraldically the same as that on Mary’s memorial; in other words her arms show no “difference” or specificity to her father or his lineage. As an unmarried woman, Mary’s memorial uses a “lozenge” (or diamond shape) rather than a shield shape. The heraldic description for this emblem is conjoined wings en lure on a “gules” background (a specific red hue). “En lure” referring to a lure for a hunting hawk.

Crest: A demi-phoenix rising out of a ducal coronet. On the memorial the bird and the coronet have been painted gold. This device was used by a number of the Dukes of Somerset and later Seymours, therefore I am assuming the most likely possibility for the bird is a phoenix. This is more than somewhat curious as what I have read states that a woman’s heraldic display only includes a crest in very exceptional circumstances (for example, a reigning queen) as the crest refers back to an identifying object that would be worn by a knight on a helmet during a tournament and women theoretically did not participant in tournaments or wear helmets. For this reason the use of a crest at all makes me suspicious about the general knowledge of the person ordering the memorial.

Motto: “Fide et Amor” or roughly “Faith and Love.” It is my understanding that Mary was free to choose her own motto. The motto of the (Seymour) Dukes of Somerset was “Foy pour devoir,” or Faithful to Duty.

Supporters: There are no animals holding the shield, just flowers and scrollwork in lieu of formal “mantling.” On the memorial this portion does not appear to have been painted or colored. Since she was not personally a knight, she did not use her father’s mantling and supporters. Again, I wonder about the knowledge of the person ordering the memorial – while the scrollwork provides a pleasing appearance, it may not be strictly correct.

To summarize: the memorial implies that Mary’s father John Seymour was an armiger, a person entitled to bear a coat of arms, and that the arms on the memorial were those of her father. I don’t know all the implications that would attend on John Seymour having a coat of arms in that era, however, all individuals entitled to bear coats of arms were supposed to be included in records known as “visitations,” a sort of heraldic tour of inspection that noted and updated the pedigrees of families with registered coats of arms. The last visitations theoretically would have at least included Mary’s grandfather William Seymour, who died about 1684, but I have not found him so far. It’s also possible the arms were granted directly to Mary’s father, and if so they would be recorded at the College of Arms.

By 1769 when Mary was buried, the notable arms-bearing Seymours generally lived outside Wiltshire. Wolf Hall had been torn down before her birth. Still, her branch of the family believed (correctly or not) that there was a connection to the Seymours that used the “conjoined wings en lure” on a red shield.

In conclusion, some aspects of the memorial cause me to be skeptical about the knowledge of the person who designed and/or executed the carving: as a female Mary correctly used a lozenge instead of a shield-shape and thus should not have displayed a crest over the shield, and the scrollwork surround appears more ornamental than heraldic. This makes me wonder if the use of the Seymour device was more wishful thinking than anything else and that its inclusion demonstrates the desire for high standing by association on the part of the community as well as the family. As stated at the beginning, this desire is not a new occurrence; for amusement I used to collect “pedigrees” that showed my descent from Charlemagne and/or the Kings of England through various ancestors. It was sort of an antiquarian hobby a few generations ago to construct such pedigrees – and the really amusing part is that it’s probably true that I’m a descendant of Charlemagne, even if the pedigrees I found were incorrect, but that’s another story.

There are other Seymour memorials in and near Wroughton that also include the “Seymour wings” on a red shield but I have chosen not to review them in this post. There is still more research that can be done that might reveal some answers, so perhaps I can cover both in future posts.

It may be that I have mis-interpreted what I have read of heraldry, I’m hardly an expert. It certainly would be delightful to find out that Dorothy’s family was related to the Seymour dukes if for no other reason that than it would be the farthest back I’d be able to trace any branch of the family and it would be interesting from a social history point of view to see how the family fortunes changed for younger siblings. Plus, I’d be that much closer to proving my connection to Charlemagne!

*Mary’s complete memorial can be seen with others in the Wroughton Church, and other local churches, at this wonderful website by Duncan & Mandy Ball.

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