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The Good and the not-so-Good Magna Carta Blazons

The better blazons are those for which there is good evidence surviving from the times of the Sureties themselves. Please see another page for the full list of blazons and references. We are fortunate to have two excellent reference books from the last fifty years:

First there is the first three volumes of The Dictionary of British Arms (TDBA) - I eagerly await the fourth and probable last volume. Second there is the very scholarly compilation of the Matthew Paris Shields (MP) made by Thomas Tremlett in 1967 from the surviving copies of Matthew Paris' works. These shields were drawn and annotated by Paris between c. 1244 and 1259, not long after the Magna Carta itself and within the lifetime of several of the sureties.

The curious thing is that while TDBA has Matthew Paris Shields as a reference, it does not have all the entries and particularly it does not have the entries that resolve more precisely what arms the Surety had been using.

In the following analysis I have used 'NSMCDB' for 'The National Society of Magna Charta Dames and Barons'.

  • The arms that are well documented both for content and for tinctures are:
    • Roger Bigod 2nd earl of Norfolk, d.1221: Or a cross Gules. NSMCDB agrees.
    • Hugh Bigod 3rd earl of Norfolk, d. 1224: Or a cross Gules. NSMCDB adds to this a label Azure, to show that he was the son but first this was not the practice in those days (MP, pp. 7-8) they used other means to show differences and second there is no evidence to show he and his father were sureties at the same time. I reckon it is much more likely that he was the successor to his father and bore the same undifferenced arms when a Surety.
    • Henry de Bohun, 1st earl of Hereford, 1176-1220: Azure bend Argent cotised between 6 lions Or. NSMCDB agrees.
    • Richard de Clare, 3rd earl of Hereford, c.1162-1217: Or three chevrons Gules. NSMCDB agrees.
    • Gilbert de Clare, 4th earl of Hereford, c.1180-1230: Or three chevrons Gules. NSMCDB agrees but adds a label, see Hugh Bigod above.
    • Robert FitzWalter of Dunmow, d.1235: or a fess between two chevrons Gules. NSMCDB agrees.
    • William de Forz, count of Aumale, d. 1241: Gules cross patonce Vair. NSMCDB agrees.
    • William de Huntingfield of Frampton, d. 1220: Or on a fess gules three roundels argent. NSMCDB agrees.
    • William Marshal, 5th earl of Pembroke, c.1190-1231: Per pale Or and Vert a lion. NSMCDB agrees, though this time it does not add for him any mark to show he was not the current earl.
    • William de Mowbray of Axholme, d.bef.1244: Gules lion Argent. NSMCDB agrees.
    • Richard de Percy of Alnwick, c.1170-c.1244: Azure five fusils Argent. MP categorically identifies these as the arms used by the Surety. In fact he adopted his mother's name and arms, probably because the Percy estates were much larger than his father's. NSMCDB disagrees and shows his father's arms.
    • Robert de Ros of Wark, c.1170-1226: Gules 3 bougets Argent. NSMCDB agrees.

  • The following arms are adequately documented for outline but I have only found the tinctures in Matthew Paris' Shields:
    • William d'Albini of Belvoir, aft.1146-1232: Or 2 chevs border gules. However this is at variance with that from NSMCDB which gives him Gules a lion rampant Or; they provide no source information so this cannot be investigated further; I would imagine that they have misidentified another Albini family.
    • John FitzRobert of Warkworth, d. 1241: Qtly Or and Gules a bend Sable. NSMCDB gives him very different arms which TBDA shows to belong to a different John FitzRobert, of Northants.
    • John de Lacy, 1st earl of Lincoln, c.1192-1240: Qtly Or and Gules a bend Sable a label of four points. TBDA does not give any tinctures, which are from MP. The points on the label are from the illustration of his seal in "Seals of the British Museum" by W de G Birch, pub 1892, vol 2, p. 313. NSMCDB gives Or a lion rampant Azure which is not in any of the early records that I have found.
    • Richard de Montfichet of Stansted, c.1193-c.1268: Or 3 chevs Gules, a label Azure. NSMCDB gives the chevrons but with the tinctures reversed and with no label.

  • The following arms are differently defined in TDBA and MP:
    • Geoffrey de Mandeville, 4th earl of Essex, d.1216: Qtly Or and Gules an escarbuncle Sable. MP illustrates these three times and in none does the escarbuncle appear; equally clearly TDBA does report the escarbuncle but not clearly attributed to this Geoffrey, it may be that plain quartered coats will only appear in Vol 4 of TDBA. NSMCDB agrees with the blazon.
    • Saher (IV) de Quency, 1st earl of Winchester, 1155-1219: A fess and a label of 7, or 8, points (untinc). MP pp. 18, 19 and 62, all give 7 mascles, though the second is for Saher's eldest son Robert who died in 1217, two years before Saher; it is possible that the change of arms was made by Robert, confusing Matthew Paris. Saher IV certainly used the fess and label arms after his father died in 1197, before he was made earl in 1207 and after he was made earl. It is not yet certain whether Saher IV had made the change to the mascles arms let alone whether whether he made it before Magna Carta. NSMCDB give the fess and the label.

  • These arms are unclear in their references to comtemporary documents:
    • William de Lanvalay of Stanway, d. 1217: Gules a lion passant Or. I have only found a reference to this in the anonymously written "History of Colchester Castle"; in its favour is that the great scholar J H Round is noted as the owner of the Castle and might have checked the volume before publication. NSMCDB has Gules a lion statant with dexter paw raised Or, which is close but, as ever, no reference is given.
    • William Malet of Curry Malet, c.1180-c.1215: Ermine a lion passant. The only reference for this is from a seal of William's wife in "Notices of an English Branch of the Malet Family" by Arthur Malet; as yet I have not found any other reference to this charter and its seal so it remains uncorroborated. NSMCDB has Gules a lion rampant Or surmounted by a bend ermine for which I can find no reference. Pierre Laparre in his Early Blazons site omits any reference for William Malet and gave him the charge of three buckles which was used by the French Branch of the Family.
    • Roger de Montbegon of Hornby, d.c.1226: 2 palets 6 plates in orle (untinc). The only Montbegon arms are found in the Cheshire 1580 visitation, a few centuries after Magna Carta. But the volume contains a reference to a charter and give an illustration of its seal, which are clearly for a Roger de Montbegon. NSMCDB has some similar arms but, as ever, with no reference to their source.
    • Geoffrey (II) de Say of Greenwich, c.1180-1230: Quarterly Or and Gules. I have not found his arms in either TBDA or MP but they are given in J H Round's study of the family of Mandeville arms in his "Geoffrey de Mandeville" pp. 392-6. NSMCDB agrees on the arms.
    • Robert de Vere 3rd earl of Oxford, aft.1164-1221: Qtly Gu and Or, a mullet Arg in qtr 1. As with Say, his arms are not in TDBA though they are in MP. NSMCDB agrees on the arms.

  • These arms have no contemorary reference and my current view is that they were invented:
    • William Hardell, mayor of London, living 1215: Vert a fesse flory counterflory Or. I have only found these in Burke's 1884 Armory; I can find no reference to any earlier document; I suspect they were invented; while flory counterflory is in TDBA I have not yet established when this line of partition first appeared.

There is a minor mystery. William Marshal the younger, 5th earl of Pembroke, is on the Enforcer list. His father did not die until 1219, so young William would not have been earl while a Surety. His arms are shown by most modern afficionados without any difference from his father's. However in MP's Shields, the father is shown with a queue fourchée on p. 18 and the son's, on his death in 1231, had a plain tail; this difference may or may not have been intended. So we do not know what arms he used when a Surety and before his father died.

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