A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 5

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WE now come to the science of armory and the rules governing the display of these marks of honour. The term "coat of arms," as we have seen, is derived from the textile garment or "surcoat" which was worn over the armour, and which bore in embroidery a duplication of the design upon the shield. There can be very little doubt that arms themselves are older than the fact of the surcoat or the term "coat of arms." The entire heraldic or armorial decoration which any one is entitled to bear may consist of many things. It must as a minimum consist of a shield of arms, for whilst there are many coats of arms in existence, and many still rightly in use at the present day, to which no crest belongs, a crest in this country cannot lawfully exist without its complementary coat of arms. For the last two certainly, and probably nearly three centuries, no original grant of personal arms has ever been issued without it containing the grant of a crest except in the case of a grant to a woman, who of course cannot bear or transmit a crest; or else in the case of arms borne in right of women or descent from women, through whom naturally no right to a crest could have been transmitted. The grants which I refer to as exceptions are those of quarterings and impalements to be borne with other arms, or else exemplifications following upon the assumption of name and arms which in fact and theory are regrants of previously existing arms, in which cases the regrant is of the original coat with or without a crest, as the case may be, and as the arms theretofor existed. Grants of impersonal arms also need not include a crest. As it has been impossible for the last two centuries to obtain a grant of arms without its necessarily accompanying grant of crest, a decided distinction attaches to the lawful possession of arms which have no crest belonging to them, for of necessity the arms must be at least two hundred years old. Bearing this in mind, one cannot but wonder at the actions of some ancient families like those of Astley and Pole, who, lawfully possessing arms concerning which there is and can be no doubt or question, yet nevertheless invent and use crests which have no authority.

One instance and one only do I know where a crest has had a legitimate existence without any coat of arms. This case is that of the family of Buckworth, who at the time of the Visitations exhibited arms and crest. The arms infringed upon those of another family, and no sufficient proof could be produced to compel their admission as borne of right. The arms were respited for further proof, while the crest was allowed, presumably tentatively, and whilst awaiting the further proof for the arms; no proof, however, was made. The arms and crest remained in this position until the year 1806, when Sir Buckworth Buckworth-Herne, whose father had assumed the additional name of Herne, obtained a Royal Licence to bear the name of Soame in addition to and after those of Buckworth-Herne, with the arms of Soame quarterly with the arms of Buckworth. It then became necessary to prove the right to these arms of Buckworth, and they were accordingly regranted with the trifling addition of an ermine spot upon the chevron; consequently this solitary instance has now been rectified, and I cannot learn of any other instance where these exceptional circumstances have similarly occurred; and there never has been a grant of a crest alone unless arms have been in existence previously.

Whilst arms may exist alone, and the decoration of a shield form the only armorial ensign of a person, such need not be the case; and it will usually be found that the armorial bearings of an ordinary commoner consist of shield, crest, and motto. To these must naturally be added the helmet and mantling, which become an essential to other than an abbreviated achievement when a crest has to be displayed. It should be remembered, however, that the helmet is not specifically granted, and apparently is a matter of inherent right, so that a person would not be in the wrong in placing a helmet and mantling above a shield even when no crest exists to surmount the helmet. The motto is usually to be found but is not a necessity, and there are many more coats of arms which have never been used with a motto than shields which exist without a crest. Sometimes a cri-de-guerre will be found instead of or in addition to a motto. The escutcheon may have supporters, or it may be displayed upon an eagle or a lymphad, &c., for which particular additions no other generic term has yet been coined save the very inclusive one of "exterior ornaments." A coronet of rank may form a part of the achievement, and the shield may be encircled by the "ribbons" or the "circles" or by the Garter, of the various Orders of Knighthood, and by their collars. Below it may depend the badge of a Baronet of Nova Scotia, or of an Order of Knighthood, and added to it may possibly be what is termed a compartment, though this is a feature almost entirely peculiar to Scottish armory. There is also the crowning distinction of a badge; and of all armorial insignia this is the most cherished, for the existing badges are but few in number. The escutcheon may be placed in front of the crosiers of a bishop, the batons of the Earl Marshal, or similar ornaments. It may be displayed upon a mantle of estate, or it may be borne beneath a pavilion. With two more additions the list is complete, and these are the banner and the standard. For these several features of armory reference must be made to the various chapters in which they are treated.

Suffice it here to remark that whilst the term "coat of arms" has through the slipshod habits of English philology come to be used to signify a representation of any heraldic bearing, the correct term for the whole emblazonment is an "achievement," a term most frequently employed to signify the whole, but which can correctly be used to signify anything which a man is entitled to represent of an armorial character. Had not the recent revival of interest in armory taken place, we should have found a firmly rooted and even yet more slipshod declension, for a few years ago the habit of the uneducated in styling anything stamped upon a sheet of note-paper "a crest," was fast becoming stereotyped into current acceptance.