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Supporters and Heraldry

Supporters and Heraldry

Coat of Arms Supporters



The following is an excerpt from Burke's General Armory, pages xviii-xx.



Supporters date from the fourteenth century. Menestrier and other authorities ascribe their opinions seem tenable enough. in those chivalrous pastimes no one was suffered to participate but he who was of noble descent or warlike renown, and each champion, to prove his title to those qualifications his armorial shield upon the barrios and pavilions within the lists. Pages and esquires attended to watch their masters escutcheons, and to report the name and quality of any knight who thought proper to challenge to the encounter. The chroniclers further relate, that on those occasions the armour bearers, who were thus employed, assumed the most grotesque, fantastic costume, enveloping themselves in the skin of lions or bears, and that hence arose the custom of using supporters. Of these masquerade characters, several curious specimens may be found in the illuminated of Froissart, in the British museum.

The appropriation of supporters, as legitimate parts of armorial bearings. does not appear to have been recognised in England earlier that the reign of Edward III. An heraldic document, compiled by Cooke, Clarenceux, in 1572, indicates the various changes the Royal supporters underwent Edward III. adopted dexter, a lion rampant; and sinister, a raven, both crowned; Richard II. a lion and a stag; Henry IV. an antelope and a swan; Henry V. a lion and a antelope; Henry VI an antelope and a leopard; Edward IV. a bull and a lion; Richard III. a lion and a boar; Henry VII. a dragon and a greyhound; Henry VIII. the same; Edward VI. a lion and a dragon. Mary I. an eagle and a dragon; and queen Elizabeth the same as her brother Edward. King James I., on ascending the English throne, introduced the unicorn of Scotland, and from that the monarchs reign to our own times the lion and the unicorn have remained the royal supporters.

The position of the external ornaments of the shield is, in genuine and ancient Heraldry, always erect; and surely nothing can be more at variance with true blazonry than the absurd attempts of some modern artists to display them in picturesque attitudes. Thus the characteristics of a rude and contemporary era are violently destroyed, and the vestiges of the graphic art confused or annihilated.

In England the right to bear supporters is confined to PEERS OF THE REALM. KNIGHTS OF THE GARTER, THE THISTLE, AND ST.PATRICK; KNIGHTS GRAND CROSS OF THE BATH (G.C.B.); KNIGHTS GRAND CROSS OF ST. MICHAEL AND ST. GEORGE(G.C ST. M. Sr. G);and to those Baronet and others (of which the number is extremely limited) who may have obtained them by special grant. the practice of the sovereigns of England granting supporters to the peers of each degree, seems to have commenced in the reign of henry VIII. as did that of granting the like ornaments to the knights of the Garter and Bath. further, in addition to these, Supporters are assumed and horne, but without and lagalright, by the heirs apparent of dukes, marquesses, and arles, and by all the children of peers, to whom allows the prefix of Lord in ancient , too, many eminent though unentitled families used these appurtenances to their shields. Edmonson says, it may be justly concluded that those who use duch additions to their shields, or on their shields, banners, or monuments, or had them carved in stone or wood, or depicted on the glass windows of their mansions, and in the churches, chapels, and religious houses of their foundations, as perspicuous and memorials of their having a possesory right to them, are fully and abserlutly; well entitled to bear them , and that no one of their descendent ever ought to alienate such supporters, or bear their arms without them. Among the distinguished houses that use supporters under these circumstances, we may mention those of Fulford of Great Fulford, Devon, Trevanion of Cornwall, Savage of Cheshire, Stawell and luttrell of Somersetshire, Hilton of Hilton, and Tichborne of Titchborne. In Irlabd, the heads of the different septs assert their claim to them, but no registry of supporters to an Irish cheiftain appears in ulsters office, in right of his chieftaincy only, and without the honour of peerage, nor does any authority to bear them exist. in Scotland, the right to supporters belongs to the representatives of minor barons who had full Baronial rights prior to 1587, and heads of a limited number of important families, including the chiefs of the more considerable clans. Lyon may also confer supporters e gratia, a prerogatives which, generally speaking, has been very sparingly exorcised. nova Scotia baronets have, as such, no right to supporters,though many of them bear them in respect to the baronial qualification.


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last updated on: April 3rd, 2017

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