Staveley Grants of Arms

Arms of Adam de Staveley c. 1350

The first Arms were quite simple, consisting only of the shield. The design was set off with a horizontal or vertical band, star or half-moon. Historically, different creatures of nature denoted certain characteristics, and various inanimate shapes implied certain traits, historical factors or aspirations. For example, the chevron, as used on the later Staveley Arms, symbolised protection, and has often been placed on Arms to tell others that its bearer achieved some notable feat. This must be taken in very loose terms though, (as very many armorials had this device), for the ‘Chevron’ is also said to represent that the bearer has ‘accomplished work of faithful service’.

(arms of Adam Staveley c.1350 depicted at left - Barry of eight argent and gules a fleur-de-lis sable, a canton gules)

The renderings became more complex during the later times. Immediately above the shield is the helmet, the style of which depends on the country and the status of the early bearer. The wreath, or torce, is mounted on top of the helmet.

The crest wasn’t included on the Coat of Arms until the 13th century. The crest was the emblem that survived when the banner was destroyed and the shield shattered, as a rallying symbol of the knight’s courage. It was painted on leather, sometimes thin metal or wood and was attached to the helmet so that allies could easily pick out who was who.

The lambrequin or mantling, now represented in stripes was once a cloth, which hung down from the helmet to cover the back of the neck. It meant that the bearer had been to battle. The mantling in most instances is of secondary importance to the shield and crest. Standardized mantlings are often used to illustrate different Coats of Arms.

Many armorial families have also passed down mottoes through the ages. Invariably in Latin, they may have begun as war cries or as a variation of a family name. They might express piety, hope, or determination, or commemorate a deed or past occasion.

By 1419, Henry V found it necessary to impose rigid legal regulations over the use of Coats of Arms because court battles were becoming quite numerous. He forbade anyone to take on arms unless by right of ancestry or as a gift from the Crown. Later Henry VIII even sent out the Heralds, (now Royal Authenticators of Arms), into the shires on what were called ‘visitations’. These visitations were held once every generation for almost two centuries for the sole reason of officially verifying, listing or denying Arms in use. The language most commonly used by the heralds was Norman French, the court language at the time. Even to this day, Heralds of the Royal College of Arms in the City of London rejoice in such titles as ‘Rouge Dragon’!

During the Elizabethan period those entitled to hold coats of arms were eager to display their arms which were a visible sign of their high status whether those arms were centuries old or had just been granted. The shield (being the central, most important element of the arms) might be pictured alone or with the other elements of the complete armorial achievement: helmet, crest, mantling, motto (and, for peers, supporters). Armorial decoration would be used in as many places as possible and in every conceivable medium. Arms were displayed on or inside houses in stone, carved wood, or stained glass. Burial monuments often displayed the arms of the deceased. They were placed in the upper corner of their portraits (often the means by which we are able to identify the portraits’ subjects centuries later).

Author: Peter Staveley


Text and Images Copyright © 1999-2006