A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV

BIRDS

Birds of course play a large and prominent part in heraldry. Those which have been impressed into the service of heraldic emblazonment comprise almost every species known to the zoological world.

Though the earliest rolls of arms give us instances of various other birds, the bird which makes the most prominent appearance is the Eagle, and in all early representations this will invariably be found "displayed." A double-headed eagle displayed, from a Byzantine silk of the tenth century, is illustrated by Mr. Eve in his "Decorative Heraldry," so that it is evident that neither the eagle displayed nor the double-headed eagle originated with the science of armory, which appropriated them ready-made, together with their symbolism. An eagle displayed as a symbolical device was certainly in use by Charlemagne.

It may perhaps here be advantageous to treat of the artistic development of the eagle displayed. Of this, of course, the earliest prototype is the Roman eagle of the Cæsars, and it will be to English eyes, accustomed to our conventional spread-eagle, doubtless rather startling to observe that the German type of the eagle, which follows the Roman disposition of the wings (which so many of our heraldic artists at the present day appear inclined to adopt either in the accepted German or in a slightly modified form as an eagle displayed) is certainly not a true displayed eagle according to our English ideas and requirements, inasmuch as the wings are inverted. It should be observed that in German heraldry it is simply termed an eagle, and not an eagle displayed. Considering, however, its very close resemblance to our eagle displayed, and also its very artistic appearance, there is every excuse for its employment in this country, and I for one should be sorry to observe its slowly increasing favour checked in this country. It is quite possible, however, to transfer the salient and striking points of beauty to the more orthodox position of the wings. The eagle (compared with the lion and the ordinaries) had no such predominance in early British heraldry that it enjoyed in Continental armory, and therefore it may be better to trace the artistic development of the German eagle. [ 234 ]

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the eagle appears with the head raised and the beak closed. The sachsen (bones of the wings) are rolled up at the ends like a snail, and the pinions (like the talons) take a vertical downward direction. The tail, composed of a number of stiff feathers, frequently issues from a knob or ball. Compare Fig. 440 herewith.

With the end of the fourteenth century the head straightens itself, the beak opens and the tongue becomes visible. The rolling up of the wing-bones gradually disappears, and the claws form an acute angle with the direction of the body; and at this period the claws occasionally receive the "hose" covering the upper part of the leg. The feathers of the tail spread out sicklewise (Fig. 441).

Fig. 442.

Fig. 442.

Fig. 441.

Fig. 441.

Fig. 440.

Fig. 440.

The fifteenth century shows the eagle with sachsen forming a half circle, the pinions spread out and radiating therefrom, and the claws more at a right angle (Fig. 442). The sixteenth century draws the eagle in a more ferocious aspect, and depicts it in as ornamental and ornate a manner as possible.

From Konrad Grünenberg's Wappenbuch (Constance, 1483) is reproduced the shield (Fig. 443) with the boldly sketched Adlerflügel mit Schwerthand (eagle's wing with the sword hand), the supposed arms of the Duke of Calabria.

Quite in the same style is the eagle of Tyrol on a corporate flag of the Society of the Schwazer Bergbute (Fig. 444), which belongs to the last quarter of the fifteenth century. This is reproduced from the impression in the Bavarian National Museum given in Hefner-Alteneck's "Book of Costumes."

A modern German eagle drawn by H. G. Ströhl is shown in Fig. 445. The illustration is of the arms of the Prussian province of Brandenburg.

The double eagle has, of course, undergone a somewhat similar development.

The double eagle occurs in the East as well as in the West in very early times. Since about 1335 the double eagle has appeared sporadically as a symbol of the Roman-German Empire, and under the Emperor Sigismund (d. 1447) became the settled armorial device of the Roman Empire. King Sigismund, before his coronation as Emperor, bore the single-headed eagle.

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Fig. 443.—Arms of Duke of Calabria.

Fig. 443.—Arms of Duke of Calabria.

Fig. 444.—Eagle of Tyrol.

Fig. 444.—Eagle of Tyrol.

It may perhaps be as well to point out, with the exception of the two positions "displayed" (Fig. 451) and "close" (Fig. 446), very little if any agreement at all exists amongst authorities either as to the terms to be employed or as to the position intended for the wings when a given term is used in a blazon. Practically every other single position is simply blazoned "rising," this term being employed without any additional distinctive terms of variation in official blazons and emblazonments. Nor can one obtain any certain information from a reference to the real eagle, for the result of careful observation would seem to show that in the first stroke of the wings, when rising from the ground, the wings pass through every position from the wide outstretched form, which I term "rising with wings elevated and displayed" (Fig. 450), to a position practically "close." As a consequence, therefore, no one form can be said to be more correct than any other, either from the point of view of nature or from the point of view of ancient precedent. This state of affairs is eminently unsatisfactory, because in these days of necessary differentiation no heraldic artist of any appreciable knowledge or ability has claimed the liberty (which certainly has not been officially conceded) to depict an eagle rising with wings elevated and displayed, when it has been granted with the wings in the position addorsed and inverted. Such a liberty when the wings happen to be charged, as they so frequently are in modern English crests, must clearly be an impossibility. [ 236 ]

Fig. 445.—Arms of the Prussian Province of Brandenburg. (From Ströhl's Deutsche Wappenrolle.)

Fig. 445.—Arms of the Prussian Province of Brandenburg. (From Ströhl's Deutsche Wappenrolle.)

Until some agreement has been arrived at, I can only recommend my readers to follow the same plan which I have long adopted in blazoning arms of which the official blazon has not been available to me. That is, to use the term "rising," followed by the necessary description of the position of the wings (Figs. 447-450). This obviates both mistake and uncertainty. Originally with us, as still in Germany, an eagle was always displayed, and in the days when coats of arms were few in number and simple in character the artist may well have been permitted to draw an eagle as he chose, providing it was an eagle. But arms and their elaboration in the last four hundred years have made this impossible. It is foolish to overlook this, and idle in the face of existing facts to attempt to revert to former ways. Although now the English eagle displayed has the tip of its wings pointed upwards (Fig. 451), and the contrary needs now to be mentioned in the blazon (Fig. 452), this even with us was not so in the beginning. A reference to Figs. 453 and 454 will show how the eagle was formerly depicted.

Fig. 446.—Eagle close.

Fig. 446.—Eagle close.

Fig. 447.—Eagle rising, wings elevated and addorsed.

Fig. 447.—Eagle rising, wings elevated and addorsed.

Fig. 448.—Eagle rising, wings addorsed and inverted.

Fig. 448.—Eagle rising, wings addorsed and inverted.

Fig. 449.—Eagle rising, wings displayed and inverted.

Fig. 449.—Eagle rising, wings displayed and inverted.

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Fig. 450.—Eagle rising, wings elevated and displayed.

Fig. 450.—Eagle rising, wings elevated and displayed.

Fig. 451.—Eagle displayed.

Fig. 451.—Eagle displayed.

Fig. 452.—Eagle displayed with wings inverted.

Fig. 452.—Eagle displayed with wings inverted.

Fig. 453.—Arms of Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Gloucester and Hereford: Or, an eagle vert. (From his seal, 1301.)

Fig. 453.—Arms of Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Gloucester and Hereford: Or, an eagle vert. (From his seal, 1301.)

Fig. 454.—Arms of Piers de Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall (d. 1312): Vert, six eagles or.

Fig. 454.—Arms of Piers de Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall (d. 1312): Vert, six eagles or.

Fig. 455.—Double-headed eagle displayed.

Fig. 455.—Double-headed eagle displayed.

The earliest instance of the eagle as a definitely heraldic charge upon a shield would appear to be its appearance upon the Great Seal of the Markgrave Leopold of Austria in 1136, where the equestrian figure of the Markgrave carries a shield so charged. More or less regularly, subsequently to the reign of Frederick Barbarossa, elected King of the Romans in 1152, and crowned as Emperor in 1155, the eagle with one or two heads (there seems originally to have been little unanimity upon the point) seems to have become the recognised heraldic symbol of the Holy Roman Empire; and the seal of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, elected King of the Romans in 1257, shows his arms ["Argent, a lion rampant gules, within a bordure sable, bezanté"] displayed upon the breast of an eagle; but no properly authenticated contemporary instance of the use of this eagle by the Earl of Cornwall is found in this country. The origin of the double-headed eagle (Fig. 455) has been the subject of endless controversy, the tale one is usually taught to believe being that it originated in the dimidiation upon one shield of two separate coats [ 238 ] of arms. Nisbet states that the Imperial eagle was "not one eagle with two heads, but two eagles, the one laid upon the other, and their heads separate, looking different ways, which represent the two heads of the Empire after it was divided into East and West." The whole discussion is an apt example of the habit of earlier writers to find or provide hidden meanings and symbolisms when no such meanings existed. The real truth undoubtedly is that the double-headed eagle was an accepted figure long before heraldry came into existence, and that when the displayed eagle was usurped by armory as one of its peculiarly heraldic figures, the single-headed and double-headed varieties were used indifferently, until the double-headed eagle became stereotyped as the Imperial emblem. Napoleon, however, reverted to the single-headed eagle, and the present German Imperial eagle has likewise only one head.

Fig. 456.—Napoleonic Eagle.

Fig. 456.—Napoleonic Eagle.

The Imperial eagle of Napoleon had little in keeping with then existing armorial types of the bird. There can be little doubt that the model upon which it was based was the Roman Eagle of the Cæsars as it figured upon the head of the Roman standards. In English terms of blazon the Napoleonic eagle would be: "An eagle displayed with wings inverted, the head to the sinister, standing upon a thunderbolt or" (Fig. 456).

The then existing double-headed eagles of Austria and Russia probably supply the reason why, when the German Empire was created, the Prussian eagle in a modified form was preferred to the resuscitation of the older double-headed eagle, which had theretofore been more usually accepted as the symbol of Empire.

By the same curious idea which was noticed in the earlier chapter upon lions, and which ruled that the mere fact of the appearance of two or more lions rampant in the same coat of arms made them into lioncels, so more than one eagle upon a shield resulted sometimes in the birds becoming eaglets. Such a rule has never had official recognition, and no artistic difference is made between the eagle and the eaglet. The charges on the arms of Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, are blazoned as eagles (Fig. 454). In the blazon of a few coats of arms, the term eaglet, however, still survives, e.g. in the arms of Child ["Gules a chevron ermine, between three eaglets close argent"], and in the arms of Smitheman ["Vert, three eaglets statant with wings displayed argent, collared or"].

When an eagle has its beak of another colour, it is termed "armed" of that colour, and when the legs differ it is termed "membered." [ 239 ]

An eagle volant occurs in the crest of Jessel ["On a wreath of the colours, a torch fesswise, fired proper, surmounted by an eagle volant argent, holding in the beak a pearl also argent. Motto: 'Persevere'"].

Parts of an eagle are almost as frequently met with as the entire bird. Eagles' heads (Fig. 457) abound as crests (they can be distinguished from the head of a griffin by the fact that the latter has always upstanding ears).

Fig. 457.—Eagle's head couped.

Fig. 457.—Eagle's head couped.

Unless otherwise specified (e.g. the crest of the late Sir Noel Paton was between the two wings of a dove), wings occurring in armory are always presumed to be the wings of an eagle. This, however, in English heraldry has little effect upon their design, for probably any well-conducted eagle (as any other bird) would disown the English heraldic wing, as it certainly would never recognise the German heraldic variety. A pair of wings when displayed and conjoined at the base is termed "conjoined in leure" (Fig. 458), from the palpable similarity of the figure in its appearance to the lure with which, thrown into the air, the falconer brought back his hawk to hand. The best known, and most frequently quoted instance, is the well-known coat of Seymour or St. Maur ["Gules, two wings conjoined in leure the tips downwards or"]. It should always be stated if the wings (as in the arms of Seymour) are inverted. Otherwise the tips are naturally presumed to be in chief.

Fig. 458.—A pair of wings conjoined in leure.

Fig. 458.—A pair of wings conjoined in leure.

Pairs of wings not conjoined can be met with in the arms and crest of Burne-Jones ["Azure, on a bend sinister argent between seven mullets, four in chief and three in base or, three pairs of wings addorsed purpure, charged with a mullet or. Crest: in front of fire proper two wings elevated and addorsed purpure, charged with a mullet or"]; but two wings, unless conjoined or addorsed, will not usually be described as a pair. Occasionally, however, a pair of wings will be found in saltire, but such a disposition is most unusual. Single wings, unless specified to be the contrary, are presumed to be dexter wings.

Care needs to be exercised in some crests to observe the difference between (a) a bird's head between two wings, (b) a bird's head winged (a form not often met with, but in which rather more of the neck is shown, and the wings are conjoined thereto), and (c) a bird's head between two wings addorsed. The latter form, which of course is really [ 240 ] no more than a representation of a crest between two wings turned to be represented upon a profile helmet, is one of the painful results of our absurd position rules for the helmet.

A pair of wings conjoined is sometimes termed a vol, and one wing a demi-vol. Though doubtless it is desirable to know these terms, they are but seldom found in use, and are really entirely French.

Fig. 459.—An eagle's leg erased à la quise.

Fig. 459.—An eagle's leg erased à la quise.

Eagles' legs are by no means an infrequent charge. They will usually be found erased at the thigh, for which there is a recognised term "erased à la quise" (Fig. 459), which, however, is by no means a compulsory one. An eagle's leg so erased was a badge of the house of Stanley. The eagle's leg will sometimes be met with couped below the feathers, but would then be more properly described as a claw.

Fig. 460.—Phœnix.

Fig. 460.—Phœnix.

A curious form of the eagle is found in the alerion, which is represented without beak or legs. It is difficult to conjecture what may have been the origin of the bird in this debased form, unless its first beginnings may be taken as a result of the unthinking perpetuation of some crudely drawn example. Its best-known appearance is, of course, in the arms of Loraine; and as Planché has pointed out, this is as perfect an example of a canting anagram as can be met with in armory.

The Phœnix (Fig. 460), one of the few mythical birds which heraldry has familiarised us with, is another, and perhaps the most patent example of all, of the appropriation by heraldic art of an ancient symbol, with its symbolism ready made. It belongs to the period of Grecian mythology. As a charge upon a shield it is comparatively rare, though it so occurs in the arms of Samuelson. On the other hand, it is frequently to be found as a crest. It is always represented as a demi-eagle issuing from flames of fire, and though the flames of fire will generally be found mentioned in the verbal blazon, this is not essential. Without its fiery surroundings it would cease to be a phœnix. On the other hand, though it is always depicted as a demi-bird (no instance to the contrary exists), it is never considered necessary to so specify it. It occurs as the crest of the Seymour family ["Out of a ducal coronet a phœnix issuant from flames of fire"].

The Osprey may perhaps be here mentioned, because its heraldic [ 241 ] representation always shows it as a white eagle. It is however seldom met with, though it figures in the crests of Roche (Lord Fermoy) and Trist. The osprey is sometimes known as the sea-eagle, and heraldically so termed.

The Vulture (probably from its repulsive appearance in nature and its equally repulsive habits) is not a heraldic favourite. Two of these birds occur, however, as the supporters of Lord Graves.

Fig. 461.—Falcon.

Fig. 461.—Falcon.

The Falcon (Fig. 461) naturally falls next to the eagle for consideration. Considering the very important part this bird played in the social life of earlier centuries, this cannot be a matter of any surprise. Heraldry, in its emblazonment, makes no distinction between the appearance of the hawk and the falcon, but for canting and other reasons the bird will be found described by all its different names, e.g. in the arms of Hobson, to preserve the obvious pun, the two birds are blazoned as hobbies.

The falcon is frequently (more often than not) found belled. With the slovenliness (or some may exalt it into the virtue of freedom from irritating restriction) characteristic of many matters in heraldic blazon, the simple term "belled" is found used indiscriminately to signify that the falcon is belled on one leg or belled on both, and if it is belled the bell must of necessity be on a jess. Others state that every falcon must of necessity (whether so blazoned or not) be belled upon at least one leg, and that when the term "belled" is used it signifies that it is belled upon both legs. There is still yet another alternative, viz. that when "belled" it has the bell on only one leg, but that when "jessed and belled" it is belled on both legs. The jess is the leather thong with which the bells are attached to the leg, and it is generally considered, and this may be accepted, that when the term "jessed" is included in the wording of the blazon the jesses are represented with the ends flying loose, unless the use of the term is necessitated by the jesses being of a different colour. When the term "vervelled" is also employed it signifies that the jesses have small rings attached to the floating ends. In actual practice, however, it should be remembered that if the bells and jesses are of a different colour, the use of the terms "jessed" and "belled" is essential. A falcon is seldom drawn without at least one bell, and when it is found described as "belled," in most cases it will be found that the intention is that it shall have two bells.

Like all other birds of prey the falcon may be "armed," a technical term which theoretically should include the beak and legs, but in actual [ 242 ] practice a falcon will be far more usually found described as "beaked and legged" when these differ in tincture from its plumage.

When a falcon is blindfolded it is termed "hooded." It was always so carried on the wrist until it was flown.

The position of the wings and the confusion in the terms applied thereto is even more marked in the case of the falcon than the eagle.

Demi-falcons are not very frequently met with, but an example occurs in the crest of Jerningham.

A falcon's head is constantly met with as a crest.

When a falcon is represented preying upon anything it is termed "trussing" its prey, though sometimes the description "preying upon" is (perhaps less accurately) employed. Examples of this will be found in the arms of Madden ["Sable, a hawk or, trussing a mallard proper, on a chief of the second a cross botonny gules"], and in the crests of Graham, Cawston, and Yerburgh.

A falcon's leg appears in the crest of Joscelin.

Fig. 462.—Pelican in her piety.

Fig. 462.—Pelican in her piety.

The Pelican, with its curious heraldic representation and its strange terms, may almost be considered an instance of the application of the existing name of a bird to an entirely fanciful creation. Mr. G. W. Eve, in his "Decorative Heraldry," states that in early representations of the bird it was depicted in a more naturalistic form, but I confess I have not myself met with such an ancient representation.

Heraldically, it has been practically always depicted with the head and body of an eagle, with wings elevated and with the neck embowed, pecking with its beak at its breast. The term for this is "vulning itself," and although it appears to be necessary always to describe it in the blazon as "vulning itself," it will never be met with save in this position; a pelican's head even, when erased at the neck, being always so represented. It is supposed to be pecking at its breast to provide drops of blood as nourishment for its young, and it is termed "in its piety" when depicted standing in its nest and with its brood of young (Fig. 462). It is difficult to imagine how the pelican came to be considered as always existing in this position, because there is nothing in the nature of a natural habit from which this could be derived. There are, however, other birds which, during the brooding season, lose their feathers upon the breast, and some which grow red feathers there, and it is doubtless from this that the idea originated.

In heraldic and ecclesiastical symbolism the pelican has acquired a somewhat sacred character as typical of maternal solicitude. It [ 243 ] will never be found "close," or in any other positions than with the wings endorsed and either elevated or inverted.

When blazoned "proper," it is always given the colour and plumage of the eagle, and not its natural colour of white. In recent years, however, a tendency has rather made itself manifest to give the pelican its natural and more ungainly appearance, and its curious pouched beak.

The Ostrich (Fig. 463) is doubtless the bird which is most frequently met with as a crest after the falcon, unless it be the dove or martlet. The ostrich is heraldically emblazoned in a very natural manner, and it is difficult to understand why in the case of such a bird heraldic artists of earlier days should have remained so true to the natural form of the bird, whilst in other cases, in which they could have had no less intimate acquaintance with the bird, greater variation is to be found.

As a charge upon a shield it is not very common, although instances are to be found in the arms of MacMahon ["Argent, an ostrich sable, in its beak a horse-shoe or"], and in the arms of Mahon ["Per fess sable and argent, an ostrich counterchanged, holding in its beak a horse-shoe or"].

Fig. 463.—Ostrich

Fig. 463.—Ostrich

It is curious that, until quite recent times, the ostrich is never met with heraldically, unless holding a horse-shoe, a key, or some other piece of old iron in its beak. The digestive capacity of the ostrich, though somewhat exaggerated, is by no means fabulous, and in the earliest forms of its representation in all the old natural history books it is depicted feeding upon this unnatural food. If this were the popular idea of the bird, small wonder is it that heraldic artists perpetuated the idea, and even now the heraldic ostrich is seldom seen without a key or a horse-shoe in its beak.

The ostrich's head alone is sometimes met with, as in the crest of the Earl of Carysfort.

The wing of an ostrich charged with a bend sable is the crest of a family of Gulston, but an ostrich wing is by no means a usual heraldic charge.

Ostrich feathers, of course, play a large part in armory, but the consideration of these may be postponed for the moment until the feathers of cocks and peacocks can be added thereto.

The Dove—at least the heraldic bird—has one curious peculiarity. It is always represented with a slight tuft on its head. Mr. Eve considers this to be merely the perpetuation of some case in which the crude draughtsman has added a tuft to its head. Possibly he is [ 244 ] correct, but I think it may be an attempt to distinguish between the domestic dove and the wood-pigeon—both of which varieties would be known to the early heraldic artists.

The dove with an olive branch in its beak is constantly and continually met with. When blazoned "proper" it is quite correct to make the legs and feet of the natural pinky colour, but it will be more usually found that a dove is specifically described as "legged gules."

The ordinary heraldic dove will be found most frequently represented with its wings close and holding a branch of laurel in its beak, but it also occurs volant and with outstretched wings. It is then frequently termed a "dove rising."

Fig. 464.—Dove.

Fig. 464.—Dove.

The doves in the arms of the College of Arms are always represented with the sinister wing close, and the dexter wing extended and inverted. This has given rise to much curious speculation; but whatever may be the reason of the curious position of the wings, there can be very little doubt that the coat of arms itself is based upon the coat of St. Edward the Confessor. The so-called coat of St. Edward the Confessor is a cross patonce between five martlets, but it is pretty generally agreed that these martlets are a corruption of the doves which figure upon his coins, and one of which surmounts the sceptre which is known as St. Edward's staff, or "the sceptre with the dove."

The Wood-Pigeon is not often met with, but it does occur, as in the crest of the arms of Bradbury ["On a wreath of the colours, in front of a demi-wood-pigeon, wings displayed and elevated argent, each wing charged with a round buckle tongue pendent sable, and holding in the beak a sprig of barberry, the trunk of a tree fesswise eradicated, and sprouting to the dexter, both proper "].

Fig. 465.—Martlet.

Fig. 465.—Martlet.

The Martlet is another example of the curious perpetuation in heraldry of the popular errors of natural history. Even at the present day, in many parts of the country, it is popularly believed that a swallow has no feet, or, at any rate, cannot perch upon the ground, or raise itself therefrom. The fact that one never does see a swallow upon the ground supports the foundation of the idea. At any rate the heraldic swallow, which is known as the martlet, is never represented with feet, the legs terminating in the feathers which cover the upper parts of the leg (Fig. 465). It is curious that the same idea is perpetuated in the little legend of the explanation, which may or may [ 245 ] not be wholly untrue, that the reason the martlet has been adopted as the mark of cadency for the fourth son is to typify the fact that whilst the eldest son succeeds to his father's lands, and whilst the second son may succeed, perhaps, to the mother's, there can be very little doubt that by the time the fourth son is reached, there is no land remaining upon which he can settle, and that he must, perforce, fly away from the homestead to gather him means elsewhere. At any rate, whether this be true or false, the martlet certainly is never represented in heraldry with feet. If the feet are shown, the bird becomes a swallow.

Most heraldry books state also that the martlet has no beak. How such an idea originated I am at a loss to understand, because I have never yet come across an official instance in which the martlet is so depicted.

Fig. 466.—Martlet volant.

Fig. 466.—Martlet volant.

Perhaps the confusion between the foreign merlette—which is drawn like a duck without wings, feet, or forked tail—and the martlet may account for the idea that the martlet should be depicted without a beak.

It is very seldom that the martlet occurs except close, and consequently it is never so specified in blazon. An instance, however, in which it occurs "rising" will be found in the crest of a family of Smith, and there are a number of instances in which it is volant (Fig. 466).

The Swallow, as distinct from the martlet, is sometimes met with.

A swallow "volant" appears upon the arms usually ascribed to the town of Arundel. These, however, are not recorded as arms in the Visitation books, the design being merely noted as a seal device, and one hesitates to assert definitely what the status of the design in question may be. The pun upon "l'hirondelle" was too good for ancient heralds to pass by.

Fig. 467.—Swan.

Fig. 467.—Swan.

The Swan (Fig. 467) is a very favourite charge, and will be found both as a crest and as a charge upon a shield, and in all varieties of position. It is usually, however, when appearing as a charge, to be found "close." A swan couchant appears as the crest of Barttelot, a swan regardant as the crest of Swaby, and a swan "rising" will be found as a crest of Guise and as a charge upon the arms of Muntz. Swimming in water it occurs in the crest of Stilwell, and a swan to which the unusual term of "rousant" is sometimes applied figures as [ 246 ] the crest of Stafford: "Out of a ducal coronet per pale gules and sable, a demi-swan rousant, wings elevated and displayed argent, beaked gules." It is, however, more usually blazoned as: "A demi-swan issuant (from the coronet, per pale gules and sable").

Swans' heads and necks are not often met with as a charge, though they occur in the arms of Baker. As a crest they are very common, and will be found in the cases of Lindsay and Bates.

The Duck—with its varieties of the moorhen and eider-duck—is sometimes met with, and appears in the arms of Duckworth and Billiat. Few better canting examples can be found than the latter coat, in which the duck is holding the billet in its bill.

Fig. 468.—Cock.

Fig. 468.—Cock.

The other domestic bird—the Cock—is often met with, though it more often figures as a crest than upon a shield. A cock "proper" is generally represented of the kind which in farmyard phraseology is known as a gamecock (Fig. 468). Nevertheless the gamecock—as such—does occur; though in these cases, when so blazoned, it is usually depicted in the artificial form—deprived of its comb and wattles, as was the case when it was prepared for cock-fighting. Birds of this class are usually met with, with a comb and wattles, &c., of a different colour, and are then termed "combed (or crested), wattled, and jelopped"—if it is desired to be strictly accurate—though it will be generally found that the term is dropped to "combed and jelopped." If the bird is termed "armed," the beak and spurs are thereby referred to. It occurs in the arms of Handcock (Lord Castlemaine) ["Ermine, on a chief sable, a dexter hand between two cocks argent"] and in the arms of Cokayne ["Argent, three cocks gules, armed, crested, and jelopped sable"], and also in that of Law. It likewise occurs in the arms of Aitken.

The Sheldrake appears occasionally under another name, i.e. that of the Shoveller, and as such will be found in the arms of Jackson, of Doncaster.

Fig. 469.—Peacock in his pride.

Fig. 469.—Peacock in his pride.

The gorgeous plumage of the Peacock has of course resulted in its frequent employment. It has a special term of its own, being stated to be "in his pride" when shown affronté, and with the tail displayed (Fig. 469). It is seldom met with except in this position, though the well-known crest of Harcourt is an example to the contrary, as is the crest of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Bart., viz. "A mount vert, thereon [ 247 ] a peacock amidst wheat, and in the beak an ear of wheat all proper." With the tail closed it also figures as one of the supporters of Sir Robert Hart, Bart. ["Sinister, a peacock close proper"]: its only appearance in such a position that I am aware of.

A peacock's tail is not a familiar figure in British armory, though the exact contrary is the case in German practices. "Issuant from the mouth of a boar's head erect" it occurs as the crest of Tyrell, and "A plume of peacock's feathers"—which perhaps is the same thing—"issuant from the side of a chapeau" is the crest of Lord Sefton.

Fig. 470.—Crane in its vigilance.

Fig. 470.—Crane in its vigilance.

Another bird for which heraldry has created a term of its own is the Crane. It is seldom met with except holding a stone in its claw, the term for which stone is its "vigilance," a curious old fable, which explains the whole matter, being that the crane held the stone in its foot so that if by any chance it fell asleep, the stone, by dropping, would awaken it, and thus act as its "vigilance" (Fig. 470). It is a pity that the truth of such a charming example of the old world should be dissipated by the fact that the crest of Cranstoun is the crane asleep—or rather dormant—with its head under its wing, and nevertheless holding its "vigilance" in its foot! The crane is not often met with, but it occurs in the arms of Cranstoun, with the curious and rather perplexing motto, "Thou shalt want ere I want." Before leaving the crane, it may be of interest to observe that the derivation of the word "pedigree" is from pied de grue, the appearance of a crane's foot and the branching lines indicative of issue being similar in shape.

Fig. 471.—Stork holding in its beak a snake.

Fig. 471.—Stork holding in its beak a snake.

Heraldic representation makes little if any difference when depicting a crane, a stork, or a heron, except that the tuft on the head of the latter is never omitted when a heron is intended.

Instances of the Stork are of fairly frequent occurrence, the usual heraldic method of depicting the bird being with the wings close.

More often than not the stork is met with a snake in its beak (Fig. 471); and the fact that a heron is also generally provided with an eel to play with adds to the confusion.

The Heron—or, as it was anciently more frequently termed heraldically, the Herne (Fig. 472)—will naturally be found in the arms of Hearne and some number of other coats and crests. [ 248 ]

The Raven (Fig. 473) occurs almost as early as any other heraldic bird. It is said to have been a Danish device. The powerful Norman family of Corbet, one of the few remaining families which can show an unbroken male descent from the time of the Conquest to the present day, have always remained faithful to the raven, though they have added to it sometimes a bordure or additional numbers of its kind. "Or, a raven sable," the well-known Corbet coat, is, of course, a canting allusion to their Norman name, or nickname, "Le Corbeau." Their name, like their pedigree, is unique, inasmuch as it is one of the few names of undoubted Norman origin which are not territorial, and possibly the fact that their lands of Moreton Corbett, one of their chief seats, were known by their name has assisted in the perpetuation of what was, originally, undoubtedly a personal nickname.

Fig. 472.—Heron.

Fig. 472.—Heron.

Fig. 473.—Raven.

Fig. 473.—Raven.

Fig. 474 is a striking example of the virility which can be imparted to the raven. It is reproduced from Grünenberg's "Book of Arms" (1483). Ströhl suggests it may be of "Corbie" in Picardy, but the identity of the arms leads one to fancy the name attached may be a misdescription of the English family of Corbet.

Fig. 474.

Fig. 474.

Heraldically, no difference is made in depicting the raven, the rook, and the crow; and examples of the Crow will be found in the arms of Crawhall, and of the Rook in the crest of Abraham. The arms of the Yorkshire family of Creyke are always blazoned as rooks, but I am inclined to think they may possibly have been originally creykes, or corn-crakes.

The Cornish Chough is very much more frequently met with than either the crow, rook, or raven, and it occurs in the arms of Bewley, the town of Canterbury, and (as a crest) of Cornwall.

It can only be distinguished from the raven in heraldic representations by the fact that the Cornish chough is always depicted and frequently blazoned as "beaked and legged gules," as it is found in its natural state. [ 249 ]

The Owl (Fig. 475), too, is a very favourite bird. It is always depicted with the face affronté, though the body is not usually so placed. It occurs in the arms of Leeds—which, by the way, are an example of colour upon colour—Oldham, and Dewsbury. In the crest of Brimacombe the wings are open, a most unusual position.

The Lark will be found in many cases of arms or crests for families of the name of Clarke.

The Parrot, or, as it is more frequently termed heraldically, the Popinjay (Fig. 476), will be found in the arms of Lumley and other families. It also occurs in the arms of Curzon: "Argent, on a bend sable three popinjays or, collared gules."

Fig. 475.—Owl.

Fig. 475.—Owl.

Fig. 476.—Popinjay.

Fig. 476.—Popinjay.

Fig. 477.—Moorcock.

Fig. 477.—Moorcock.

There is nothing about the bird, or its representations, which needs special remark, and its usual heraldic form follows nature pretty closely.

The Moorcock or Heathcock is curious, inasmuch as there are two distinct forms in which it is depicted. Neither of them are correct from the natural point of view, and they seem to be pretty well interchangeable from the heraldic point of view. The bird is always represented with the head and body of an ordinary cock, but sometimes it is given the wide flat tail of black game, and sometimes a curious tail of two or more erect feathers at right angles to its body (Fig. 477).

Though usually represented close, it occurs sometimes with open wings, as in the crest of a certain family of Moore.

Many other birds are to be met with in heraldry, but they have nothing at all especial in their bearing, and no special rules govern them.

The Lapwing, under its alternative names of Peewhit, Plover, and Tyrwhitt, will be found in the arms of Downes, Tyrwhitt, and Tweedy.

The Pheasant will be found in the crest of Scott-Gatty, and the Kingfisher in many cases of arms of the name of Fisher. [ 250 ]

The Magpie occurs in the arms of Dusgate, and in those of Finch.

Woodward mentions an instance in which the Bird of Paradise occurs (p. 267); "Argent, on a terrace vert, a cannon mounted or, supporting a Bird of Paradise proper" [Rjevski and Yeropkin]; and the arms of Thornton show upon a canton the Swedish bird tjader: "Ermine, a chevron sable between three hawthorn trees eradicated proper, a canton or, thereon the Swedish bird tjader, or cock of the wood, also proper." Two similar birds were granted to the first Sir Edward Thornton, G.C.B., as supporters, he being a Knight Grand Cross.

Fig. 478.—The "Shield for Peace" of Edward the Black Prince (d. 1376): Sable, three ostrich feathers with scrolls argent. (From his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.)

Fig. 478.—The "Shield for Peace" of Edward the Black Prince (d. 1376): Sable, three ostrich feathers with scrolls argent. (From his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.)

Single feathers as charges upon a shield are sometimes met with, as in the "shield for peace" of Edward the Black Prince (Fig. 478) and in the arms of Clarendon. These two examples are, however, derivatives from the historic ostrich-feather badges of the English Royal Family, and will be more conveniently dealt with later when considering the subject of badges. The single feather enfiled by the circlet of crosses patée and fleurs-de-lis, which is borne upon a canton of augmentation upon the arms of Gull, Bart., is likewise a derivative, but feathers as a charge occur in the arms of Jervis: "Argent, six ostrich feathers, three, two, and one sable." A modern coat founded upon this, in which the ostrich feathers are placed upon a pile, between two bombshells fracted in base, belongs to a family of a very similar name, and the crest granted therewith is a single ostrich feather between two bombs fired. Cock's feathers occur as charges in the arms of Galpin.

In relation to the crest, feathers are constantly to be found, which is not to be wondered at, inasmuch as fighting and tournament helmets, when actually in use, frequently did not carry the actual crests of the owners, but were simply adorned with the plume of ostrich feathers. A curious instance of this will be found in the case of the family of Dymoke of Scrivelsby, the Honourable the King's Champions. The crest is really: "Upon a wreath of the colours, the two ears of an ass sable," though other crests ["1. a sword erect proper; 2. a lion as in the arms"] are sometimes made use of. When the Champion performs his service at a Coronation the shield which is carried by his esquire is not that of his sovereign, but is emblazoned with his personal arms of Dymoke: "Sable, two lions passant in pale argent, ducally crowned or." The helmet of the Champion is decorated with a triple plume of ostrich feathers and not with the Dymoke crest. In [ 251 ] old representations of tournaments and warfare the helmet will far oftener be found simply adorned with a plume of ostrich feathers than with a heritable crest, and consequently such a plume has remained in use as the crest of a very large number of families. This point is, however, more fully dealt with in the chapter upon crests.

The plume of ostrich feathers is, moreover, attributed as a crest to a far greater number of families than it really belongs to, because if a family possessed no crest the helmet was generally ornamented with a plume of ostrich feathers, which later generations have accepted and adopted as their heritable crest, when it never possessed such a character. A notable instance of this will be found in the crest of Astley, as given in the Peerage Books.

The number of feathers in a plume requires to be stated; it will usually be found to be three, five, or seven, though sometimes a larger number are met with. When it is termed a double plume they are arranged in two rows, the one issuing above the other, and a triple plume is arranged in three rows; and though it is correct to speak of any number of feathers as a plume, it will usually be found that the word is reserved for five or more, whilst a plume of three feathers would more frequently be termed three ostrich feathers. Whilst they are usually white, they are also found of varied colours, and there is even an instance to be met with of ostrich feathers of ermine. When the feathers are of different colours they need to be carefully blazoned; if alternately, it is enough to use the word "alternately," the feather at the extreme dexter side being depicted of the colour first mentioned. In a plume which is of three colours, care must be used in noting the arrangement of the colours, the colours first mentioned being that of the dexter feather; the others then follow from dexter to sinister, the fourth feather commencing the series of colours again. If any other arrangement of the colours occurs it must be specifically detailed. The rainbow-hued plume from which the crest of Sir Reginald Barnewall[1] issues is the most variegated instance I have met with.

Two peacock's feathers in saltire will be found in the crest of a family of Gatehouse, and also occur in the crest of Crisp-Molineux-Montgomerie. The pen in heraldry is always of course of the quill variety, and consequently should not be mistaken for a single feather. The term "penned" is used when the quill of a feather is of a different colour from the remainder of it. Ostrich and other feathers are very frequently found on either side of a crest, both in British and Continental armory; but though often met with in this position, there is nothing peculiar about this use in such character. German heraldry [ 252 ] has evolved one use of the peacock's feather, or rather for the eye from the peacock's feather, which happily has not yet reached this country. It will be found adorning the outer edges of every kind of object, and it even occurs on occasion as a kind of dorsal fin down the back of animals. Bunches of cock's feathers are also frequently made use of for the same purpose. There has been considerable diversity in the method of depicting the ostrich feather. In its earliest form it was stiff and erect as if cut from a piece of board (Fig. 478), but gradually, as the realistic type of heraldic art came into vogue, it was represented more naturally and with flowing and drooping curves. Of later years, however, we have followed the example of His Majesty when Prince of Wales and reverted to the earlier form, and it is now very general to give to the ostrich feather the stiff and straight appearance which it originally possessed when heraldically depicted. Occasionally a plume of ostrich feathers is found enclosed in a "case," that is, wrapped about the lower part as if it were a bouquet, and this form is the more usual in Germany. In German heraldry these plumes are constantly met with in the colours of the arms, or charged with the whole or a part of the device upon the shield. It is not a common practice in this country, but an instance of it will be found in the arms of Lord Waldegrave: "Per pale argent and gules. Crest: out of a ducal coronet or a plume of five ostrich feathers, the first two argent, the third per pale argent and gules, and the last two gules."


  1. Upon a wreath of the colours, from a plume of five ostrich feathers or, gules, azure, vert, and argent, a falcon rising of the last; with the motto, "Malo mori quam fœdari."