Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Saturday, 19 February 2011

Heraldry for Bastards


The most recent meeting of the Oxford University Heraldry Society was addressed by Steve Slater from Wiltshire on the subject of the heraldry associated with bastards.

The bastard is a filius nullius, a man with no rights to his father's property, including his arms.

Althogh the bend sinister is the classic symbol of bastardy in heraldry there are really no fixed conventions about the matter, which for some might be sensitive, but the higher up the social scale the more people were prepared to flaunt heraldically their parentage - to be bastard may be awkward, but being aroyal bastard has a cachet all its own - and medieval kings often found their illegitimate offspring more relaible than their legitimate ones

The earliest example of a bastard's use of heraldry is the effigy of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury (d.1226) in Salisbury cathedral. He was the illegitimate son of King Henry II, and bore the arms of the king's father Geoffrey Count of Anjou recorded when he married the Empress Matilda in 1128 Azure, six lions rampant or, 3,2 and 1 and shown on his famous enamelled tomb cover from Le Mans:



Geoffrey Count of Anjou

Image: Wikipedia

Earl William's effigy still has traces of colour to indicate that the arms were of the same tincture. This is an early instance of the heritability of arms, even if it bypasses a generation.


Effigy of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury

Image: Wikipedia

Royal bastards offer some of the best examples. Sir Roger de Clarendon, illegitimate son of Edward Prince of Wales, derived his arms from the arms of peace borne by his father, and bore Or, a bend noir with three ostrich plumes.

Richard Plantagenet, one of the two illegitimate sons of King Richard III, and who lives at Eastwell in Kent until c.1540 is credited with the arms Per pale argent and azure, on a bend sable sanglier blanc [White Boar] His father's livery colours formed the field, and the charge on the bend was his father's badge.

The Beauforts, the familiy of Duke John of Lancaster and his mistress Katherine Swynford, bore a coat based on their father's livery colours of blue and white, with the arms of the Duchy on a bend:


Following their partents marriage in 1396 they were legitimised by both the Pope and the King, and used a coat of arms of France modern and England quarterly ( the Royal arms as used by their half brother King Henry IV) with a bordure company argent and azure:


Following the marriage of Joan Beaufort to King James I of Scots in 1425 the bordure company became, somewhat ironically given that for the Beauforts it was a sign of legitimacy, the norm in Scotland for denoting bastardy.

A manuscript of a herald of the Duke of Burgundy in the fifteenth century shows a bend sinister as the indicator of illegitimacy. The classic sign of bastardy was already established. It can be seen in the arms on the Garter Roll of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle K.G.(d.1542), the son of King Edward IV - 1 France and England quarterly, 2 and 3 de Burgh, 4 Mortimer, and over all a bend sinister.

These early examples tend to show a very narrow bend sinister, minimising its visual effect, and there appears to have been a practice whereby after three generations the bend sinister was discarded. Although not part of official heraldic practice this appears to have been tacitly accepted. Similarly Charles Somerset, first Earl of Worcester, bastard son of Henry Beaufort Duke of Somerset, originally bore his father's arms with a bend sinister, or, on a gold ground the Beaufort arms on a fess, but subsequently he, and certainly his descendants, the Marquesses of Worcester and Dukes of Beaufort, have borne the undifferenced arms of the medieval Beauforts.

The bend sinister came to be shortened to be a baton in the centre of the shield.

The eldest of King Charles II's illegitimate sons, the Duke of Monmouth bore two successive coats of arms, both of which were differenced by a baton sinister. In his case it was plain white, comparable to the label of a legitimate eldest son.



The second coat of arms of the Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch
The Royal arms differenced with the baton sinister and the inescutcheon of Buccleuch

This quartering is still borne as part of the achievement of his descendents the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensbury. Of the other ducal descendants of King Charles II, Grafton and St Albans bear his Royal arms with an appropriate baton, now quartered with those of the de Vere Earls of Oxford in the case of the Dukes of St Albans. The Duke of Richmond bears the Royal arms with a bordure company and an inescutcheon, quartered with other arms:

Duke of richmond.svg


The heraldic blazon is: Quarterly: 1st and 4th grand quarters, the Royal Arms of King Charles II (viz. quarterly: 1st and 4th, France and England quarterly; 2nd, Scotland; 3rd, Ireland); the whole within a bordure company argent charged with roses gules barbed and seeded proper and the last; overall an escutcheon gules charged with three buckles or (the Dukedom of Aubigny); 2nd grand quarter, argent a saltire engrailed gules between four roses of the second barbed and seeded proper (Lennox); 3rd grand quarter, quarterly, 1st, azure three boars' heads couped or (Gordon); 2nd, or three lions' heads erased gules (Badenoch); 3rd, or three crescents within a double tressure flory counter-flory gules (Seton); 4th, azure three cinquefoils argent (Fraser).

The Earls of Munster (title created 1831 and extinct in 2000), descended from King William IV and Mrs Jordan, bore the King's arms, with the inescutcheon of Hanover, differenced with a baton azure, charges with three anchors or.

For those of less exalted parentage the addition of a bordure wavy has become the modern sign of illegitimate descent.

English arms difference the supporters and the crest was well as the arms, but this is not the practice in Scotland.

Today the trend is to design a new coat for those of illegitimate stock using charges from the father's arms rather than to petition the Sovereign to assume the paternal arms. In 1717 the College of Arms held that bastards could can inherit paternal arms arms, but the Garter King of Arms from 1754-73 held that they had no right to their father's quarterings.



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