The mane of horse-hair appended by the Greeks and Romans
to the projection on the top of their helmets,
was called crista, by the Romans
The Book of Crests
Edited for Armorial Gold by George Vance Hale, Esq.
All rights reserved.
ARMS IN GENERAL-A PREFACE
One of the first steps in civilization, is, distinction of ranks; and Heraldry, whatever may have been its original design, has unquestionably been found serviceable as the means of marking that distinction. To signalize merit, and preserve the memory of the illustrious,- are the useful purposes of this science, which will ever secure it from contempt ; notwithstanding that the total change of the military system in which it flourished, has tended greatly to lessen its necessity and importance. The use of armorial ensigns is supposed by Sir John Ferne to have been derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphics; and it is observed by several antiquaries, that symbols, or devices of honour, have been adopted by all nations, and from the earliest ages, to distinguish the noble from the inferior. The conjecture of Sir William Dugdale, that arms were first used by great military leaders, to identify themselves the easier to their friends and followers, is not improbable ; it is related by Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, that their heroes bore figures on their shields, whereby their persons were distinctly known. But, however this may be, it is certain that, in all ages of the world, symbolical signs of one kind or other have been adopted, either to denote the valour of a chief or of a nation, to render those who bore them more formidable in appearance to their enemies, or to distinguish themselves or families.
Heraldry, as an art, flourished chiefly under the feudal system; and it seems agreed by the most eminent antiquaries that the hereditary use of arms, to distinguish families, did not commence until the year 1230.
Coats of arms are thought to be clearly referable to the tournaments ; having been then a sort of livery, made up of several fillets, or narrow slips, of stuff of various colours ; whence originated the fess, the bend, the pale, &c. which are supposed to indicate the manner in which the fillets were originally worn.
The introduction of Heraldry into England is referred to the crusades, which also gave rise, in many countries, to figures previously unknown in armorial ensigns; as, crosses, of various colours and shapes, allerions, bezants, &c. About A.D. 1190, the arms were usually depicted on a small escutcheon, and worn at the belt; and the reign of Richard I. supplies the earliest illustration in this country of their being borne on an ordinary shield; though they are found on seals of the seventh and eighth centuries. And here it may be observed, that the curious inquirer may gain much heraldic instruction from the seals appended to ancient writings, from illuminated manuscripts, and from old tombstones and buildings. The appellation arms must be ascribed to the fact that the marks of distinction so called were chiefly and first worn by military commanders, on their shields, banners, or other martial instruments.
Heraldry, like most other human inventions, was introduced and established gradually: from the rude representation of particular figures, generally designed as characteristic of the bearer, it at length became a science, methodized and perfected by the crusades and tournaments, and, in its improved state, formed a conspicuous portion of the pageants which constituted the delight of our ancestors in the middle ages, in their cavalcades and processions, tilts, jousts, and all the " form , pomp, and circumstance, of glorious chivalry."
The armed knight was known in all countries by his shield and crest, the figures on which marked his family and the nation to which he belonged. And these devices not only embellished the shield and vestment in war, but were also introduced as the appurtenances of grandeur and pageantry in the intervals of peace. The shield, helmet and armorial ensigns of the warrior lord, ornamented the walls of his castle, where these honourable trophies acted as a memento of the past, and a stimulus for the future. It is supposed by Nisbet, and other distinguished writers on heraldry, that its rules originated with the conquering Goths, on the downfall of the Roman empire ; and in Stuart's " View of Society," it is remarked, that a milder race of the ancient Germans, in the obscurity of their woods, were famed for gallantry, and for manners singularly governed by the point of honour, and animated by the virtues of the amiable sex. To excel in the achievements of war was their chief aim; hence the invention of many insignia connected with arms, which were never bestowed on the bearer but with great formality, as an honourable token of valour and merit.
These emblems were the friends of his manhood, when he rejoiced in his strength; and they attended him in his age, when he wept over his weakness. Of these, the most memorable was the shield ; it was the employment of his leisure to make this conspicuous ; he was sedulous to diversify it with chosen colours ; and what is worthy of particular remark, the ornaments he bestowed were, in time, to produce the art of blazonry, and the occupation of the herald. To this it may be replied, that though the first rude notion of distinctive colouring may be ascribed to the ancient Germans, or their descendants, yet that blazonry, as an art, must unquestionably be referred to the French; which is partly proved by the heraldic terms still used. In the reign of Charlemagne, the rage for personal coats of arms and hereditary armorial distinctions, was considerably increased by the splendour of his victories; and during the time of Hugh Capet, heraldry advanced rapidly towards a system. The tournaments contributed essentially to its general use.
CRUSADES & THE CROSS
Every individual engaged in the Holy "Wars, had the form of the cross sewed or embroidered on the right shoulder of his surcoat; whence these expeditions received the appellation of Crusades. The cross was used in every possible variety of colour and form; one object of which was to distinguish nations. The white cross appears to have been, (in one of the crusades at least,) peculiar to the English; that of the French was red; the Flemings assumed the green cross; and those who belonged to the States of the Church were distinguished by cross-keys. Tasso, Ariosto, and other poets, contemporary with different periods of the crusades, have exemplified the splendid banners and armorial ensigns, borne by the nobles who participated in those romantic expeditions. The assemblage of so many different nations during the crusades naturally led to the increase of armorial charges. The cross was used in forms so numerous as to defy description. Among these, the cross fitchée, or pointed at one end, may reasonably be supposed to have been the first, on account of its convenience for temporary erection in worship, and from its being promptly removable.
Amongst other charges introduced by the crusaders, were passion-nails, palmers' shoes, saracens' heads, crescents, turbans, Moors, Turks, bezants, (so called from a coin struck at Byzantium,) allerions, &c. The very great number and variety of natural, artificial, and even chimerical, figures used in heraldry, are sufficient to preclude the possibility of their being all described or noticed within the limits of a brief essay.
SYMBOLISM-IN ALL AGES
In all ages, men have made use of representations of animals, and other symbols, to distinguish themselves in war ; and human ingenuity has multiplied these marks of distinction into figures almost innumerable. The sun, moon, stars, comets, &c., have been employed to denote glory, grandeur, power ; lions, leopards, tigers, stags, serpents, cocks, doves, &c., have been used as emblems of courage, strength, swiftness, prudence, vigilance, peace- fullness. War, hunting, music, &c., have furnished lances, battle-axes, halberds, swords, pikes, arrows, harps; architecture- has supplied towers, castles, columns, chevrons ; and other arts have contributed various things that relate to them. The human body, or its parts, is of frequent use ; dresses, and ornaments of various kinds, have also found a place in armoury ; with trees, plants, fruits, flowers, and, in short, almost every possible figure or thing, whether natural or artificial ; add to which, many others, both chimerical and imaginary ; as centaurs, hydras, griffins, cockatrices, wyverns, dragons, salamanders, &c.
EARLIEST ACCOUNT IN ENGLAND
The earliest authenticated account on record, of any device being used in England as a mark of distinction, is to be found at about the date of the Saxon conquest. On the establishment of the Heptarchy, a different device was assigned to each principality ; and this was assumed by each successive prince, until Edgar ascended the throne, when he added to the cross patonce, (which is presumed to have been his peculiar ensign,) four martlets ; which number was increased to five by Edward the Confessor. After the Norman invasion, we find the arms of Edward abandoned for those of the Norman conqueror ; namely, " gules, two lions passant, or," to these Richard I. added a third lion, which from that time became the hereditary bearing of his successors, and still continues to be the first and fourth quarterings of the royal arms of Great Britain.
WALES-A VERY EARLY PERIOD
Heraldic symbols appear to have been used at an early period in Wales. Roderic, Prince of Wales, in 843, bore, " azure, a cross pattée fitchée, or." and Cadwallader, his ancestor, who died about 690, is supposed to have borne the same ; which, indeed, is said to be traceable to their common ancestor, Arviragus, A.D. 45!
Heraldry was introduced into Scotland as early, at least, as into England. Some remarkable instances of the origin of some of the Scottish heraldic ensigns, are related by Nisbet, to which, however, we must be content to make reference only.
After the date of the Norman conquest, heraldry made rapid progress in England, and the high estimation in which it was held is attested by its union with other arts, especially with painting and sculpture. The sculpture of the Saxons, especially in bas-relief, was applied by the Normans to armorial figures. Thus was heraldry connected with the lasting monuments of architecture ; and armorial devices were undoubtedly painted in enamel so early as the 12th century, and probably long before. There are escutcheons in several of our cathedrals which afford specimens of this species of decoration ; and numerous armorial illustrations painted on glass, of the 12th and 13th centuries, are to be found in old churches, manor-houses, and other buildings, as well in England as in other countries of Europe.
RICHARD II & III
Several new modes of blazonry were introduced during the reign of Richard II. Armorial ensigns formed a prominent ornament of the habiliments of the court, and were frequently repeated on the bodice, surcoat, and mantle. Crests and cognizances, (of which we shall presently speak more at large,) came now into very general use, and the custom of using supporters became more frequent. Armorial distinctions were now exhibited on household furniture, on floors executed in Mosaic, (as may still be seen in many of our cathedral churches,) on plate, monuments, sepulchral brasses, pilasters, portals to mansions, coins, and in short on almost every article to decorate which they could with any propriety be applied. In the reign of Richard III., the heralds, who until then had been mere attendants upon the court, with nominal jurisdiction in matters of chivalry, were first incorporated as a collegiate body.
The pageants which distinguished the reign of Henry VIII occasioned great heraldic display. In the numerous tournaments, tabards, or coats of arms, were worn by the nobility in preference to the most splendid apparel ; and cognizances were not only generally used by the nobles themselves, but also worn by their retainers and servants.
Many attempts had, before this date, been made to regulate the use and assumption-of arms ; but great confusion still prevailed. Accordingly, in the reign of Philip and Mary, a commission of visitation was appointed "to correct all false crests, arms, and cognizances" ; and two similar commissions were issued during the same reign. Arms were now chiefly used in connexion with architecture, sculpture, and painting, and for purposes of domestic decoration. The mansions of the great exhibited them on various parts of the buildings ; they were placed over the gateway and above the principal entrance ; the hall was decorated with them ; and the large projecting windows displayed escutcheons, single, impaled, and quartered, illustrating minutely the connexions of the family : they frequently also adorned articles of furniture, and were occasionally attached to a series of family portraits.
During the reigns of Elizabeth and James, heraldry continued to be much cultivated. The more ancient and honourable in family were most tenacious of their armorial bearings ; and distinguishing ensigns were eagerly sought after by the wealthy merchant and others, whose gentility was the result of their own exertions or ability. But chivalry had now lost much of its splendour ; and a total change had gradually taken place in character and manners. Hence, no sooner was the use of armorial emblems almost universal, than heraldry, as an art, began to decline. It has been suggested, as the chief cause of this, that the number and interminable variety of armorial bearings, occasioned by their general use, had a natural tendency to impair the respect once felt for the comparatively few, chaste, and simple emblems of preceding reigns ; and it must be admitted that there is a tendency in the human mind to appreciate things in proportion to their rarity. Yet, independently of this, new ideas and new customs will arise with successive generations ; and what has been esteemed for a series of ages, gradually falls into disregard, and is at length treated with disdain.
Visitations continued to be made during the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I., and during part of the last reign, the college of arms was in high repute, and great respect paid to its mandates. An attempt, however, was afterwards made for its abolition ; but this tended to an increased display of armorial ensigns, especially among the nobility and gentry who espoused the royal cause. During the protectorate of Cromwell, the Herald's College appears to have been a nullity ; yet, even then, the emblems of honourable antiquity were not disregarded. Cromwell himself, after he had gained the supreme command of the army, exhibited on his banners and banderols his paternal bearings, amplified with numerous quarterings ; and after his assumption of the protectorship, his arms were constantly displayed in the centre of the national ensigns.
At the Restoration, the heralds were reinstated in all their powers and privileges. In the succeeding reign, an effort was made, though ineffectually, to re-establish the court of chivalry, and heraldry continued to be a subject of interest. Visitations were still made ; the last of which took place in 1683 ; it being then found to be most useless to issue commands without authority to enforce them, and to threaten delinquents without the power to punish them. The times were changed ; and the dictation which had been submitted to in ruder and more warlike ages, was now neither necessary nor possible. With the extinction of this court, therefore, terminated all power of checking the assumption of armorial ensigns, and Heraldry fell rapidly " from its high estate." The ordinances which had been made for regulating the mode of bearing arms, and who were entitled to bear them, were soon disregarded ; they were assumed ad libitum by persons who coveted such distinctions ; and so long as the penal statutes which had hitherto guarded the heralds' office continued inoperative, and confiscations were not enforced, numbers were to be found who, defying ridicule, and under no dread of punishment, arrogated to themselves arms of honour and antiquity, and thus introduced a confusion which has never since been remedied.
Thus have we seen that, though the privilege of using armorial ensigns was first limited and select, gradual encroachments were made, and at length the custom became so common, as to impair the estimation in which heraldry had before been holden. Every person, from the emperor to the mechanic, pretended to something of the kind, founded on real or fictitious claims. All trades, professions, and societies, ecclesiastical as well as temporal, assumed particular emblems ; and these innumerable pretenders to armorial distinction, from the date of which we are speaking, even to the present day, coupled with the fact, that the general bent of men's minds has long since been turned from the ideal to the useful, will sufficiently account for the decadence of Heraldry, and the decreased importance of family dignities.
It must be admitted that the attention of mankind in general is directed towards much nobler objects; yet still there are many who take pleasure in the study of Heraldry, and cherish with pride the honourable emblems which distinguished their ancestors, and have descended undefiled to themselves. The art is undoubtedly valuable as an historical record ; and, although illustrious descent is but a stigma to a man of depraved character ; yet to a respectable and virtuous member of society it may serve as a noble incentive, and the fact that his ancestors were noble or meritorious will add to the lustre of his own name. To distinguish rank, and to preserve the memory of the illustrious, are, as we have before observed, the rational purposes of this science.
Having now taken a general view of the origin, progress, and decline of Heraldry, we proceed to details connected with it as a system, and more particularly to those parts of it which it is the immediate object of this publication to illustrate; namely, the crest, wreath and motto.
CREST, WREATH, MOTTO
Armorial bearings consist in the shield and its accessories. A full coat of arms is made up of the shield, supporters, crest and motto. The other accessories are accidental, and not universally used, except the wreath, which may now be said to form part of the crest. The helmet must also be spoken of as an ordinary, though not indispensable adjunct.
In the earliest ages, and the most barbarous countries, the historian has found man warring with his fellow-man, and provided for this purpose with weapons of destruction, and implements of defence. In studying to protect the human form, the head must naturally have been first and most carefully attended to ; and accordingly, defensive head-gear of one kind or other will be found to have been devised by all nations in the earliest period of their history. In this country, the helmet appears to have been at first a kind of cap, of a conical form, composed of leather or hide, which left the face unprotected. The form and substance were gradually improved ; but it was long ere they attained the elegant figure of which head-armour was afterwards found to be susceptible. Many of the earliest helmets, properly so called, were constructed of a kind of ring-mail, but without front, or vizor, which appears to have been an addition of later date. The first vizors opened horizontally, on hinges, as a door, and it was deemed a vast improvement when they were made to lift up and down. These circumstances are glanced at, because, by many writers it is it is supposed, that the materials of which the helmet consisted denoted the rank of the wearer. The helmets of sovereigns were of burnished gold, damasked ; those of princes and lords, of silver, the bars, breast-plate and ornaments of gold ; those of knights, of steel adorned with silver ; and those of esquires and gentlemen, of plain polished steel.
The peculiar form and position of the helmet have also long been used to distinguish rank. Those of the king and royal family, and of noblemen of Great Britain, are full-faced and grated, the number of bars denoting the quality of the bearer ; that is to say, the helmet appropriated to dukes and marquesses differs from the royal helmet by having a bar exactly in the middle, and two on each side, making five bars in all; whereas, the king's helmet has six. There is but one other kind of grated helmet, and this has four bars only ; is placed side-ways, and is common to all degrees of peerage under a marquess. The full-faced helmet, open and without bars, is peculiar to baronets and knights ; and the close helmet, placed sideways, is for all esquires and gentlemen.
There was usually a projection over the top of a helmet, which is said to have been called crista, or the crest, from its resemblance to the crest on the head of the cock and some other birds. Hence, it is by some supposed, arose the first idea of the crest at present used in heraldry. On this projection, figures of various kinds, closely analogous to the present crests, were frequently worn ; but as, on the one hand, there were certainly many helmets which had no such projection, so, on the other, none but heroes of great valour, or of high military command, had their helmets surmounted as described. The origin of the crest, therefore, must remain, like that of arms, in obscurity ; though it is certain that emblematical or monstrous figures, either for ornament or pre-eminence, to mark identity, or to inspire terror, were worn by ancient heroes on the tops of their helmets. The figures thus used, were of various materials, as metal, leather, or wood, and they were fastened to the top of the helmet.
The date of the first introduction of crests into Britain is uncertain. There are several representations of king Richard I., with a plain round helmet on the head, and other figures representing that monarch with a kind of crest on the helmet, resembling a plume of feathers. After the reign of Richard I., most of the English kings have crowns above their helmets. That of Richard II. was surmounted by a lion on a cap of dignity. In later reigns the crest was regularly borne, as well on the helmets of the kings, as on the head-trappings of their horses.
The Scottish monarch, Alexander III., had a flat helmet, with a square grated vizor, and a plume of feathers by way of crest. The helmet of Robert I. was surmounted by a crown ; and that of James I., in the fifteenth century, by a lion. From this period, crests appear to have been very generally borne, both in England and Scotland. Heraldry, indeed, was then in its most palmy state, as well on the Continent as in Great Britain, and was regulated by ordinances which embraced an infinitude of niceties and peculiarities, now long since neglected, if not forgotten. The art was certainly most assiduously cultivated during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ; at which time the crest was designated in heraldry and armour, as the uppermost part of an armorial bearing, or that part which rises over the casque, or helmet, next to the mantle ; and in heraldry only, the crest was described to be, as it still is, a figure placed upon a wreath, coronet, or cap of maintenance, above both the helmet and the shield.
It were now quite futile to attempt to determine the original purpose of crests, which perhaps were invented for no other use than that to which they are still applied, namely, for ornamental distinction.
The ancient warriors are said to have worn, as crests, the representations of animals they had killed, with the view of intimidating their enemies ; or for the purpose of imparting to themselves a more formidable appearance, by making them appear taller or more martial. Hence, the term crest-fallen is often used, in a figurative sense, to express a want of spirit or courage. The supposition, however, that the original purpose of bearing crests was to identify commanders in the field, that they might be known by their followers in the heat and confusion of battle, seems the most reasonable ; and it is certain that if the use of crests did not thus originate, they have been since applied by sovereigns, as well as military leaders, to that purpose. Edward III. was the first king of England that bore a crest upon his helmet in the field. The crest has also been used as the distinguishing badge of factions ; as the white and red rose of the houses of York and Lancaster.
CREST IN ANTIQUITY
Some Heralds trace the antiquity of the use of crests to the heathen divinities, who, they pretend, wore such devices even before arms were made of iron and steel. Thus, Jupiter Ammon, it is said, bore a goat's head for his crest ; Mars, a lion or tiger, voiding fire from the mouth and nostrils ; Minerva, the mistress of arts and goddess of victory, bore a sphynx between two griffins, the emblem of wisdom and secrecy ; Proteus, whom the fable represents to ns in so many shapes, was a chevalier who every day changed his crest, sometimes having the head of a lion, at others that of a boar, a horse, a bull, a dragon, &c. ; whence he was looked upon as a monster of so many different forms ; as the first horsemen were looked upon to be centaurs, that is, half man, half horse ; Hercules, for his crest, used the head of a lion, and with the skin covered his body : but, descending to mortals, it is stated that Alexander the Great at first adopted a lion for the adornment of his helmet ; and afterwards, intoxicated with flattery and ambition, he arrogantly called himself the son of Jupiter Ammon, and as such assumed the goat's head. Julius Caesar, it is said, chose a star for his crest, to denote his descent from Venus ; at other times he used the head of a bull, an elephant, and also of a she-wolf, by which Romulus and Remus are feigned to have been suckled.
CREST-MANE OF HORSE-HAIR
Herodotus attributes the rise of crests to the Carians, who, according to his authority, first bore feathers on their casques, and painted figures on their bucklers. The Etruscans were also celebrated for their lofty crests, and artists have given similar additions to the helmets of the three Horatii. The mane of horse-hair appended by the Greeks to the projection on the top of their helmets, was called crista, by the Romans. The part which upheld it was called payos (sp) by the Greeks, and conus by the Romans. Antique helmets were sometimes divided from the base, spreading like two horns, while the interval was filled with the flowing mane of a horse, and a plume arose on either side. Such is the crest of Minerva on Mr. Hope's fine antique vase, which contains a painting of the expiation of Orestes.
In the ancient tournaments, the cavaliers had plumes of feathers, especially those of the ostrich and heron, by way of crest; these tufts they called plumarts, and they were fixed in tubes, on the top of high caps or bonnets. Some, however, had their crests of leather; others of parchment, pasteboard, &c., painted or varnished, to keep out the weather ; and others, of steel, wood, tin, or some other substance that could be fashioned into shape, and was at the same time light and convenient. On these were sometimes represented a figure or ordinary of the coat ; as, an eagle, a fleur-de-lis, &c. ; but never any of those called honourable ordinaries, as the pale, fess, &c.
In some drawings of the 13th century, several warriors are represented with a kind of crest on their helmets, but whether meant to be illustrative of the armour of that or a former era is doubtful. In 1292, there is a seal of Hugh le Despencer, with a fan-like figure on the helmet and on the horse's head. On the helmet of Thomas, earl of Leicester, beheaded in 1322, is the figure of a dragon. On the seals attached to written documents of the 14th century, it is very common to find crests ; and those most valuable heraldic remains of antiquity, medals, intaglios, and gems, afford abundant proof that the helmet generally bore a crest.
Some writers are of opinion that our brave Edward III. was the first who introduced such a device ; and that, after the institution of the Order of the Garter, every knight adopted this ornament, in imitation of their heroic sovereign; but, from the foregoing citations, borne out by many corroborative circumstances, it seems unquestionable, that, from the time of the Romans to the present day, the wearing of crests, though not used hereditarily, has suffered very little, if any, interruption.
Among the Egyptians," says Nisbet, " none were allowed to use crests and cognizances, but those that were eminent ; neither did the Romans permit them to be used by any under the degree of knight." Anciently, these devices were arbitrarily taken up, and were not fixed and hereditary marks of families, as afterwards; but, it seems generally supposed that their use sowed the first seeds of armoury in general.
Crests have frequently been assumed, or granted, to perpetuate the memory of some eminent action performed by the bearer, or his progenitors ; or, to represent some special office or employment ; or, as bearing some analogy, in sound or otherwise, to the name, or title, of the assumer or grantee. But, instances are much more numerous of particular crests being assumed, and worn from century to century, (as an eagle's head, or any other simple emblem,) without any intelligible origin, or accountable cause.
Crests of the kind to which we have alluded, as being referable to some eminent action of the bearer, or as relating to his name or designation, are of a class which would be certain to be hereditary ; but, in general, this was not any rule in the heraldry of crests, which were reputed no other than as arbitrary ornaments of coats armorial, and more of the nature of a device than a axed hereditary bearing. Hence, many families of the same stock and name used, and still use, different crests, according to their fancy or circumstances, to illustrate particular dispositions, or on other accounts ; the science of heraldry, by the practice of all nations, having allowed a freedom to change the crest, though not the coat-armorial.
The custom of conferring crests as marks of distinction seems to have originated with king Edward III., who, in 1333, granted to William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, his " tymbre," as it was termed, of the eagle. By a further ordinance in the 13th of the same king, this grant was made hereditary, and the manor of Wodeton given to support its dignity.
As an appendage to sepulchral monuments, crests are placed beneath the head of the armed effigy, attached to the helmet. Upon many of the large altar-tombs so frequent in the 16th and 17th centuries, those both of the man's and of his wife's family are carved at the feet of the recumbent figures. Instances of crests formed of feathers may be seen in that of Sir Henry Percy, in the time of Edward I., and in that of Sir John Harsick, of the time of Richard II., both engraved in Dr. Meyrick's celebrated work on " ancient armour."
LADIES & THE CREST
It has long been a rule that ladies, of whatever rank, are not entitled to crests, though allowed to bear coats armorial. The reason assigned for this is, that no woman could have availed herself of their primary use ; but it seems to have been forgotten that a woman is quite as incapable of bearing a shield as a helmet ; and it must be admitted that there is an inconsistency in this rule of heraldry, for which it is difficult satisfactorily to account. By custom, however, women are excluded from bearing a crest. As to the proper position of the crest, it differs according to the rank of the bearer. By commoners, and all below the peerage, the crest is placed above the helmet, and the latter resting on the shield. Peers carry the coronet on the shield, and the helmet and crest above the coronet. But, with either class, the helmet is frequently omitted altogether.
There remain but few words to be added on the subject of crests. Originally of the highest importance, conceded by royal grant, and confined to very few persons, in process of time their assumption has become universal.
The wreath was a kind of roll, made of two pieces of silk of different colours, twisted together, which the ancient knights wore as a head-dress when habited for tournaments. The colours were regulated by the fancy of the wearer, the tinctures of his arms, or the choice of some favourite lady. They were most usually taken from the principal metal and colour of the coat of arms. The practice of several centuries has now attached the wreath to the crest and helmet : its proper position being between the two. The helmet is frequently dispensed with, but the wreath is always used for the crest to rest on, unless it be supported by a coronet, or a cap of state.
Mottos, devices, and war-cries, are very generally used as an addition to the arms or crest ; frequently to both. The meaning of many of them is now lost, though their origin and elucidation have occupied much of the attention of antiquaries. The device and motto are distinguished from each other. The motto, properly speaking, has no relation either to the name or the arms of the bearer ; but is simply an expression, or saying, carried in a scroll under or above the arms. The device was a private emblem, being properly a figure without explanation ; the motto a public one, being a word or saying without a figure. Devices originated in the tournaments. where they were used as temporary emblems of distinction, instead of the proper crest. After the solemnity, the crest was resumed ; but instances are not uncommon of these devices being retained as the permanent crests of their adopters.
Little regard is now paid to these distinctions, and the motto now in use may be described as a word, or saying, usually of the nature of a proverb or epigraph, expressive of some predominant passion, moral or religious sentiment, and frequently having some reference to part of the achievement, or to some action performed by the bearer. Mottos, though hereditary in the families that first adopted them, have been changed on some particular occasions, and others assumed in their stead, instances of which are frequently met with in genealogical history.
So…it is written.
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