The Symbolism of Heraldry, part 1

Symbolism of heraldryHeraldry has used a language supposed to have symbolic meaning but very often this meaning existed only in the minds and imagination of 16th and 17th century writers. This symbolism was the product of the natural history of the Middle Ages which sprang from an over reliance on studying the works of Aristotle and Pliny through the medium of bad translations and uncertain texts which often produced views that would have amused those great authors.

Only occasionally can the specific origin of a charge on a coat of arms be ascertained with certainty. One example where the true original meaning of a coat of arms can be deduced is that of the arms of Lord Stourton, see below. The description of these arms is  Sable a bend or between six fountains proper. The fountain in Heraldry is very different to a real fountain. There is a charge known as a roundel, a plain circle, an Heraldic fountain is a roundel with wavy lines in blue and white signifying water and is describes as  barry wavy argent and azure. The fountains can be seen in the illustration of the Strouton arms below. The name Strouton is a locative name, derived from the place name where the family had their property, situated in Wiltshire in England. The manor of Stourton derives it’s name from the River Stour and the source of the river is the six wells found in Stourton Park. The six fountains of the Stourton Arms are borne to signify six springs, from which the river Stour has it’s beginnings. Three of the springs were inside the park and three were outside and we see that in the coat of arms the six fountains are divided into equal numbers by the bend.

The origins of many of the oldest heraldic charges which are known has been lost in the mists of  time. In the instances we can trace the meaning of early coat of arms,  it can be seen that frequently the origin of the arms is not something grand and heroic but quite prosaic and ordinary. The family of Gorges, one of the greatest in English Medieval History, bears a whirlpool in it’s coat of arms. The reason is a play or pun on the name, known in Heraldic parlance as “Canting”.

 Arms of GorgesArms of Stourton




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