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Does English Heraldry Permit Arms of a Family?

On various discussion groups on the internet, some people are adamant that Heraldry does not have arms that belong to a name and further that its does not even have arms that belong to a family. The theory behind this is that arms are unique to an individual and cannot be shared.

Curiously in our extended Powys family there are clear acts by the English College of Arms that show that they clearly allow arms of a family, shared between many individuals. There were, though one has died out, three significant branches of the Powys family. The ancestor of them all was one William Powys who lived and died in Ludlow Shropshire, probably from 1494 to 1577. The senior branch is the Lilfords, descended from William's second son Thomas. The two junior branches are ours, previously known as "of Hardwick", Oxon and the Powyses of Berwick, Salop. Each branch has used and had approved by the College of Arms exactly the same arms.

The arms of the Lilford Powyses were, according to the Harleian Grant Book, granted to Thomas Powys of Hanley in the late 17th century. We do not know what was in the 1660 odd Shropshire visitation for him as this has yet to be published. I have not yet got hold of a copy of the record of the grant by the College of Arms principally due to the cost of so doing; but curiosity will one day get the better of my pocket. Of course these days these arms have supporters and a peer's helmet but the core arms and crest are (from the 1885 Burke's Peerage):

Arms: Or, a lion's gamb, erased, in bend dexter, between two cross-crosslets, Fitchée, in bend sinister, gules.

Crest: A bear's gamb, erased and erect, gules, holding a sceptre, in bend, sinister, headed with a fleur-de-lis, or.

The Powys of Hardwick arms did not get any attention by the heralds until 1907 when my grandfather decided to legitimise the quartering of the Lybbe and Powys arms. This quartering had, judging from some engravings, been practised from soon after the marriage with Isabella Lybbe in 1730. Nothing official had been done about it, nor was anything done when my great-great-grandfather added Lybbe to his name by Royal Licence in 1863. Perhaps my grandfather thought somthing need regularising. Anyhow the royal licence he obtained and which we still have, as well as the exemplification, refers explicitly to the retention of the Powys arms in the quartering as "the arms of his family". Curiously the blazons for the Powys arms and crest are not given, while those of Lybbe are, but the illustration on the Exemplification is precisely that of the Lilfords with one minor difference, that the sceptre on the crest is erect, not bendwise.

The Powys of Berwick arms is the really curious one. They are not descended from the first armiger, Thomas Powys of Hanley, but from his grandfather, William of Ludlow. So when the arms were granted to Thomas of Hanley, they may or may not have been granted also to all the descendants of William of Ludlow. Yet the Berwick Powyses used exactly the same arms and almost the same crest. The definite proof of this is the Exemplification that has come into my hands, for the change of name of Henry Wentworth Feilding to Henry Wentworth Powys on inheriting the Berwick estate. The document explicitly gives the blazon of the arms of Thomas Jelf Powys and of his grandson Henry Wentworth Powys as:

Arms: Or a Lion's jamb in bend erased between two Cross crosslets fitchy gules

Crest: A Lions jamb erased gules grasping a Sceptre surmounted with a Fleur de lis Or.

The difference here is that the crest is a bear's jamb instead of a lion's. But I doubt many people can tell that difference.

I do not think many people would see any difference in the arms of these three Powys families. And it looks very much as if the College of Arms has dropped the supposed requirement that arms should be unique to the current head of each house.

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