A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV

FISH

Heraldry has a system of "natural" history all its very own, and included in the comprehensive heraldic term of fish are dolphins, whales, and other creatures. There are certain terms which apply to heraldic fish which should be noted. A fish in a horizontal position is termed "naiant," whether it is in or upon water or merely depicted as a charge upon a shield. A fish is termed "hauriant" if it is in a perpendicular position, but though it will usually be represented with the head upwards in default of any specific direction to the contrary, it by no means follows that this is always the case, and it is more correct to state whether the head is upwards or downwards, a practice which it is usually found will be conformed to. When the charges upon a shield are simply blazoned as "fish," no particular care need be taken to represent any particular variety, but on the other hand it is not in such cases usual to add any distinctive signs by which a charge which is merely a fish might become identified as any particular kind of fish.

The heraldic representations of the Dolphin are strangely dissimilar from the real creature, and also show amongst themselves a wide variety and latitude. It is early found in heraldry, and no doubt its great importance in that science is derived from its usage by the Dauphins of France. Concerning its use by these Princes there are all sorts of curious legends told, the most usual being that recited by Berry.

Woodward refers to this legend, but states that "in 1343 King Philip of France purchased the domains of Humbert III., Dauphin de Viennois," and further remarks that the legend in question "seems to be without solid foundation." But neither Woodward nor any other writer seems to have previously suggested what is doubtless the true explanation, that the title of Dauphin and the province of Viennois were a separate dignity of a sovereign character, to which were attached certain territorial and sovereign arms ["Or, a dolphin embowed azure, finned and langued gules"]. The assumption of these sovereign arms with the sovereignty and territory to which they belonged, was as much a matter of course as the use of separate arms for the Duchy of Lancaster by his present Majesty King Edward VII., or the use of separate arms for his Duchy of Cornwall by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.

Berry is wrong in asserting that no other family were permitted to display the dolphin in France, because a very similar coat (but with the dolphin lifeless) to that of the Dauphin was quartered by the family of La Tour du Pin, who claimed descent from the Dauphins d'Auvergne, another ancient House which originally bore the sovereign title of Dauphin. A dolphin was the charge upon the arms of the Grauff von Dälffin (Fig. 481).

Fig. 479.—Dolphin naiant.

Fig. 479.—Dolphin naiant.

Fig. 480.—Dolphin hauriant.

Fig. 480.—Dolphin hauriant.

The dolphin upon this shield, as also that in the coat of the Dauphin of France, is neither naiant nor hauriant, but is "embowed," that is, with the tail curved towards the head. But the term "embowed" really signifies nothing further than "bent" in some way, and as a dolphin is never heraldically depicted straight, it is always understood to be and usually is termed "embowed," though it will generally be "naiant embowed" (Fig. 479), or "hauriant embowed" (Fig. 480). The dolphin occurs in the arms of many British families, e.g. in the arms of Ellis, Monypenny, Loder-Symonds, Symonds-Taylor, Fletcher, and Stuart-French.

Woodward states that the dolphin is used as a supporter by the Trevelyans, Burnabys, &c. In this statement he is clearly incorrect, for neither of those families are entitled to or use supporters. But his statement probably originates in the practice which in accordance with the debased ideas of artistic decoration at one period added all sorts of fantastic objects to the edges of a shield for purely decorative (!) purposes. The only instance within my knowledge in which a dolphin figures as a heraldic supporter will be found in the case of the arms of Waterford.

Fig. 481.—Arms of the Grauff von Dälffin lett och in Dalffinat (Count von Dälffin), which also lies in Dauphiné (from Grünenberg's "Book of Arms"): Argent, a dolphin azure within a bordure compony of the first and second.

Fig. 481.—Arms of the Grauff von Dälffin lett och in Dalffinat (Count von Dälffin), which also lies in Dauphiné (from Grünenberg's "Book of Arms"): Argent, a dolphin azure within a bordure compony of the first and second.

The Whale is seldom met with in British armory, one of its few appearances being in the arms of Whalley, viz.: "Argent, three whales' heads erased sable."

The crest of an Irish family named Yeates is said to be: "A shark issuant regardant swallowing a man all proper," and the same device is also attributed to some number of other families.

Another curious piscine coat of arms is that borne, but still unmatriculated, by the burgh of Inveraray, namely: "The field is the sea proper, a net argent suspended to the base from the dexter chief and the sinister fess points, and in chief two and in base three herrings entangled in the net."

Salmon are not infrequently met with, but they need no specific description. They occur in the arms of Peebles,[1] a coat of arms which in an alternative blazon introduces to one's notice the term "contra-naiant." The explanation of the quaint and happy conceit of these arms and motto is that for every fish which goes up the river to spawn two return to the sea. A salmon on its back figures in the arms of the city of Glasgow, and also in the arms of Lumsden and Finlay, whilst other instances of salmon occur in the arms of Blackett-Ord, Sprot, and Winlaw.

The Herring occurs in the arms of Maconochie, the Roach in the arms of Roche ["Gules, three roaches naiant within a bordure engrailed argent. Crest: a rock, thereon a stork close, charged on the breast with a torteau, and holding in his dexter claw a roach proper"], and Trout in the arms of Troutbeck ["Azure, three trout fretted tête à la queue argent"). The same arrangement of three fish occurs upon the seal of Anstruther Wester, but this design unfortunately has never been matriculated as a coat of arms.

The arms of Iceland present a curious charge, which is included upon the Royal shield of Denmark. The coat in question is: "Gules, a stockfish argent, crowned with an open crown or." The stockfish is a dried and cured cod, split open and with the head removed.

A Pike or Jack is more often termed a "lucy" in English heraldry and a "ged" in Scottish. Under its various names it occurs in the arms of Lucy, Lucas, Geddes, and Pyke.

The Eel is sometimes met with, as in the arms of Ellis, and though, as Woodward states, it is always given a wavy form, the term "ondoyant," which he uses to express this, has, I believe, no place in an English armorist's dictionary.

The Lobster and Crab are not unknown to English armory, being respectively the crests of the families of Dykes and Bridger. The arms of Bridger are: "Argent, a chevron engrailed sable, between three crabs gules." Lobster claws are a charge upon the arms of Platt-Higgins.

Fig. 482.—Whelk shell.

Fig. 482.—Whelk shell.

The arms of Birt are given in Papworth as: "Azure, a birthfish proper," and of Bersich as: "Argent, a perch azure." The arms of Cobbe (Bart., extinct) are: "Per chevron gules and sable, in chief two swans respecting and in base a herring cob naiant proper." The arms of Bishop Robinson of Carlisle were: "Azure, a flying fish in bend argent, on a chief of the second, a rose gules between two torteaux," and the crest of Sir Philip Oakley Fysh is: "On a wreath of the colours, issuant from a wreath of red coral, a cubit arm vested azure, cuffed argent, holding in the hand a flying fish proper." The coat of arms of Colston of Essex is: "Azure, two barbels hauriant respecting each other argent," and a barbel occurs in the crest of Binney. "Vert, three sea-breams or hakes hauriant argent" is the coat of arms attributed to a family of Dox or Doxey, and "Or, three chabots gules" is that of a French family of the name of Chabot. "Barry wavy of six argent and gules, three crevices (crayfish) two and one or" is the coat of Atwater. Codfish occur in the arms of Beck, dogfish in the arms of Dodds (which may, however, be merely the sea-dog of the Dodge achievement), flounders or flukes in the arms of Arbutt, garvinfishes in the arms of Garvey, and gudgeon in the arms of Gobion. Papworth also includes instances of mackerel, prawns, shrimps, soles, sparlings, sturgeon, sea-urchins, turbots, whales, and whelks. The whelk shell (Fig. 482) appears in the arms of Storey and Wilkinson.


  1. Armorial bearings of Peebles (official blazon): Gules, three salmon naiant in pale, the centre towards the dexter, the others towards the sinister. Motto: "Contra nando incrementum."