The Grammar of Heraldry/Chapter 10

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1205053The Grammar of Heraldry — Armes ParlantesJohn Edwin Cussans


By Armes Parlantes are meant armorial bearings which have some fanciful allusion to the name of the possessor. In the records of heraldry are to be found numerous instances of arms of this description. The following are a few examples of armes parlantes, or canting heraldry, as it is sometimes called.

The families of Salmon, Sturgeon, Lucy, Herring, Shelly, Talbot, Wolf, Rabbett, Arundel, and Falconer, bear respectively, salmons, sturgeon, lucies (pike), herrings, whelk-shells, talbots, wolves, rabbits, hirondelles (swallows), and falcons. The Cardingtons bear three wool-cards, and the Harrows, as many implements of that name. See also the arms of Tremayne, in the Appendix.

In the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ we read:—

‘dancing in the sunny beam,
He marked the crane on the baron’s crest.’

alluding to Baron Cranstoun, whose family crest was a crane holding a stone in his foot.

In the same manner, the name of a family frequently gives rise to the motto. Thus the Vernons have for a motto, Ver non semper viret, which may be translated either, ‘The spring is not always green,’ or ‘Vernon always flourishes.’ The Neville family have, Ne vile velis, ‘Desire no evil thing,’ or ‘Desire Neville.’ The Ashburners, probably in allusion to the occupation of their ancestors, have, Quicquid crescit, in cinere perit. Festina lente, ‘Hasten slowly,’ or ‘On slow,’ is the motto of the Onslow family; and Doe no yll, quoth D’Oyle, that of Doyley. The family of Corbet inscribes, Deus pascit corvos, ‘God feeds the ravens’ (corbeaux, sometimes called in heraldry corbies). The motto of Fairfax is Fari fac. Forte scutum salus ducum is the well-known motto of the Fortescues, and may mean either, ‘A strong shield,’ or ‘Fortescue,’ ‘is the safeguard of the generals.’ Recipiunt fæminæ sustentacula a nobis, ‘Women receive support from us,’ is the motto of the Pattenmakers’ Company. The Scotch family Wightman bear for a crest, ‘a demi-savage holding over the dexter shoulder a club ppr.; with the motto, A wight man never wanted a weapon.

Sometimes a motto seems to be chosen on account of the harmonious jingle of the words; thus, the Earl of Balcarras has, Astra castra, numen lumen; ‘The stars my canopy, providence my light.’ The Peytons have adopted Patior, potior.