Armorial Bearings


To quote a comment made in 1887 by A.M. Crellin in Manx Note Book vol III p 114

ARMORIAL BEARINGS OF MANX FAMILIES.-It is a well-known fact that, with very few exceptions, none of the older Manx families possess Armorial Bearings. I am not, of course, speaking of later settlers here: neither is there anything to prevent Manx people from assuming them at their pleasure, as is done, but this is a mere modern arrangement, establishing nothing, and worthless.

I think possibly the only exception is the Christian family of Milntown and Uwanrigg Cumberland though Burke's Landed Gentry also includes the Quayle family of Crogga.

The Right to bear Arms

Before looking at a few with true Manx connection it may be worth re-emphasising the last point made by Crellin - the following extracts are from The Right to bear Arms by X [i.e. A C Fox-Davies] 2nd edition, published 1900. After a preface which certainly would not be acceptable in today's age of political correctness he goes on:

I am not quite sure whether the proportion of bogus arms in use is greatest amongst High Sheriffs, Q.C.'s, Jubilee Knights, Fellows of the Society of Antiqueries, or City Aldermen. The proportion is about 50 per cent. bad, all round. Why do people object to have their arms described as bogus ? Because every one knows that the chief glory and the great beauty of arms and crests are that they are both hereditary,—because in the frantic struggle to get into Society nine men out of ten will tell lie upon lie to prove that their fathers were not labourers or 'dans cette galere,' and will therefore use bogus arms in the vain endeavour to show that they and ' their people' are not of the vulgar crowd. That is snobbery, rank, utter, and absolute. It takes a gentleman of birth and of ancestry to admit ' in Society' that his father swept a crossing for a living, or that his mother took in lodgers or washing. So we get back to the fact that the use of armorial bearings or of a coronet is merely the assertion or advertisement of gentility or Peerage rank. Every Peer uses his coronet, every pseudo-gentleman sports arms in some way or other.

Of course lodging house keeping is an honourable Manx occupation - or it was until the tourist industry collapsed. He goes on in like vein - I cannot resist the following:

Here is the origin of many of the arms and crests in use. A man who, as far as he himself knows, is of no ancestry, begins to rise in the Social Scale. He must do the same as his betters, so he starts a crest or coat of arms. He simply gets it put on his property by some tradesman with whom he is dealing. Either his tradesman selects it, or he chooses it himself over the counter out of a book of illustrations, all of which, by the way, already belong to other people. From one article it is transferred to another, till all his belongings are decorated with it. His son, one generation further away from 'the people,' asks about it. The father probably shuffles—he is ashamed to own it only originated in a tradesman's shop—and vaguely tells his son 'it came to him from his father,' or 'he didn't know much about it, but his people had used it,' or some other such gorgeous fairy tale, garnished to suit the taste. So the son accepts, as one of his articles of faith, the divine belief in his own descent from gentle ancestors, for faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen. And he swears by all his little tin gods, and by the sacred ashes of his sainted forefathers, that the arms he uses are his by right, and one has to call his attention to the fact publicly in black and white before he can be even induced to make the least inquiry about the arms in question. That he doesn't know who his forefathers were or where may be their ashes are merely details. His son in his turn, it may be, does take a fleeting interest in the matter. There is usually an amateur herald in a family about every third generation. But he always starts his inquiries from the wrong end. He takes his own right to the arms for granted. When he finds that the arms were registered 250 years ago to some family, this family are at once claimed as ancestors. ' The arms are the same, you know; we must be descended from them.' Prove to him that he is not, or that it is unlikely, what then does he do ? Spin you a sweet little story about missing registers, which perhaps you may believe, and perhaps not. I have been told of so many 'crucial ' parish registers that are missing that the wonder is there is a solitary one left in the kingdom. Or he will swear his people were omitted at the Visitations through the stupidity of the Heralds. Probably they were respectable yeomen who knew better than to presume to bear arms—or he will tell you a story of a mesalliance, a Gretna Green marriage, and a disinheritance; there have been more of such heirs disinherited than have ever existed to quarrel with their fathers. Or perhaps his ancestors dropped the use of arms through religious scruples (whilst even Quakers have accepted baronetcies, and been made Lords- Lieutenants); or else he will abuse the Heralds and Kings of Arms for granting his arms —HIS, if you please—to some other family 250 years ago, which family were in no way related to his people. Wherefore he thinks the Heralds ought to be called to book. And all the time the whole thing is merely a colossal delusion, for it is quite possible he can't tell you even the name of his own great-grandfather.

My apologies to any third generation genealogist who is still reading. However the serious point made here is that to bear arms you must prove legitimate descent in the male line from some one who had the undoubted right to do so. He goes on to decribe the visitations:

The Visitations were perambulations throughout the country performed by the Officers of Arms acting under a Royal Commission, in virtue of which they enrolled and confirmed the arms legally in use at that period by the landowning and arms-bearing families then in existence, together with pedigrees. The arms submitted to them were allowed and confirmed, or respited for proof, or else rejected. The definite production of a specific grant for the arms in question was not necessarily insisted upon by the Heralds, who allowed and confirmed arms as borne by right when the right to these was established to their satisfaction. There were three principal Visitations throughout the whole of the kingdom. Of course the actual years vary in different localities, but roughly they took place about the years ,1580, 1620, and 1666. There were some number of counties visited also about the year ,1680.

As few, if any, Manx (other than the Christians) would have any significant landholding outside of the Island (on which no arms were granted) it is unlikely that, bearing a Manx name, you will find an ancestor amongst these. Those Manx with English names, especially those whose families immigrated as Stanley retainers in the 15th century or later may have a little more luck but lack of early Manx records will usually prevent proof of pedigree.

Arms could have been granted at a later date by Patent of Arms which will be recorded in the College of Arms.

Those of Scotish descent will find it even harder as under Scotish Armorial Law arms only pass down via the heir male (the eldest son) though other sons can register with a sign of cadence. Irish law is similar to English but, as 'X' admits, the various rebellions against the English invaders have somewhat damaged the records so many appear to have been accepted on custom and practice arguments.

Many books list arms and pedigrees - Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry had reached its 15th edition c.1850 and has been reprinted many times since (possibly under slightly different titles) - the British Library catalogue shows at least 10 further printings/updatings from then until 1937.

I will conclude this section with another quote from 'X' (Fox-Davies):

Many would have us to think that a coat of arms has no value and no meaning, and that there is no ownership in arms. An equally prevalent idea is that everybody has got a coat of arms, and that it is only a question of 'finding it.' A more fallacious idea could hardly exist.

Descent of Arms

Again another quote from Fox-Davies makes the point quite forceably

A Patent of Arms in England usually grants arms (and as a consequence confers gentility) to a man 'and his descendants according to the laws of arms.' Often 'the other descendants of his Father' are added, as in the above instance: and occasionally, but very exceptionally, the limitation has been still further widened. Such arms then equally descend to all legitimate descendants in the male line of those persons to whom the arms are granted. Daughters of the house being heiresses and co-heiresses in blood have a right to the arms during their lifetime, and transmit the right to them as quarterings (but only as quarterings) to their descendants. Daughters not being heiresses have the right only during life, and can in no way transmit a right to those or any other arms. Daughters, whether heiresses or not, neither inherit nor transmit the crest. Unless an undoubted right to arms exist in the direct male line, all rights to quarterings, etc., become dormant, unless or until a lawful right to arms in the male line has been established. The son of a plebeian father is plebeian and 'ignobilis,' no matter even if his mother were a Peeress in her own right.



 X [i.e. A C Fox-Davies] The Right to bear Arms 2nd ed London 1900


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001