THE COAT OF ARMS
Source: Pearsall Genealogy Books
by Clarence Pearsall; 1928
A coat of arms is defined to be a complete achievement;-An achievement is defined
to be a complete heraldic composition, whether of the shield alone, or the shield
with the crest, motto and supporter, in any. All of which, while very learned,
brings us to exactly where we started. It may therefore possibly be more understandable
to say that the coat of arms is the object of heraldrey, that is to say the science of armorial
bearing. The coat of arms is the means by which an individual of noble rank or
his family is distinquished from all other families, his rank and social standing
determined and his ancestry and family connections disclosed and displayed. The expression
originated in the thirteenth century in the fashion followed by nobility of embroidering
the family insignia on the surcoats worn over the hauberk or coat of mail. Arms were
similarly embroidered on the jupon,, cyclas and tabard which succeeded the surcoat, a
practice which survived till the time of Henry VIII, when the tabard came to be entirely
disused except by the heralds, who still continue in England to wear on their tabards
the royal arms-which marks a period of only about a century and a half during which
this garment was an article of fashionable apparel. The wearing of metal armour was
introduced into England by William the Conqueror; prior to that the English wore
protective garments made of heavy tanned leather. The Normans used a device or cognizance
in connection with their armed equipement so that no Norman might perish in battle by the hand
of another Norman, nor one Frenchman kill another; and beyond a doubt each knight in the
Conqueror's army had on his shield a representation of his personal insignia,
as is shown most clearly in the celebrated Bayeux tapestry. From the earliest times
the Eastern Nations had distinquished noble families by some fixed sign or mark.
Thus in the Bible in the Book of Numbers, chapter 2, it is recorded:
"And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron saying, Every man of the Children of Israel
shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of his father's house; far off about
the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch."
Thus the banner or ensign ceased to be a personal designation but rather came to mean the
tribe or nation. The reason for this change in the meaning of the word ensign was that the dominion
of the King had become so large that the subject could no longer see the banner. This
therefore came to mean the place where the ruler actually was to be found and in the stead therof
was written orders from the sovereign bearing the impress of the device, which in modern language
we call the arms of the commander. Therefore the ruler possessed himself of a signet,
usually in the form of a ring, with which he stamped or sealed his approval on orders,
charters, or other important records, and this insignia represented to the subject the
imperative seal or signature of his sovereign. Schleimann in his Mycenae, page 359, describes
such rings which he found in the tombs that antedate King Solomon by several centuries.
In speaking of one of them he says-On seeing this marvelous ring Mrs. Schleimann and I
involuntarily exclaimed, "This ring must have been seen by Homer before he described
all the wonders which Hephaestus wrought upon the shield of Achilles."
And in Psalm 74:- It is stated, "They set up their ensigns for signs."
At first these figures of arms appear to have been used on banners to mark the place
of the chief or head of the family, and it came to mean a rallying place, the place of safety,
the place of security, and hence represented tribal strength and unity of purpose. So
in Isaiah 11:10 we read, "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall
stand for an ensign of the people, to it shall the gentile seek and his rest shall be
glorious"; and in the same book, 18:13, "When he lifeth up an ensign in the mountains
and when he bloweth a trumpet, hear you."
There he wrought earth, sea and heaven
There he set th' unwearying sun,
And the waxing moon, and stars that
Crown the blue vault every one
Pleiads, Hyads, strong Orion,
Arctos, hight to booth the Wain.
He upon Orion waiting,
Only he of all the train
Shunning still the baths of ocean
Wheels and wheels his round again.
And likewise Judges used their signets to attest their written testimony of witnesses.
Therfore we read in John 3:33, "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal
that God is true."
The Norsemen were Aryans who left Asia about the time of Christ. They were careful
to maintain the old customs, specially those which related to the rank and power
of the rulers. A most careful examination has failed to disclose any pictorial
representations made by them, indicative of the Royal family, which did not contain
the insignia which disclosed at least the name of his family. There may have been some
that did not disclose this, but the Norsemen were exceedingly fond of genealogy
and carefully retained everything which would enable them to prove their ancestry,
if for no other reason than that ancestry meant in their time the authority and power
of the ruler and willing obedience to him.
As we are writing about a family which existed long before coats of arms were known,
it must seem clear that we are consequently more interested to learn, if possible,
what was the representation of arms, i.e. insignia, which signified this
family. All historians argree that the recorded history in Norway began with
Rognvald, Earl of More. We shall therefore begin our studies of this subject with him.
His son Rollo was banished by King Harold Fairhair about 900, and his mother going
before the king to intercede in his behalf said:
Bethink thee Monarch it is ill
With such a wolf at wolf to play
Who driven to the wild woods away
May make the King's best deer his prey.
Here we have a very beautiful play upon words. The Clan of this Rognvald was represented
by a Wolf head; whereas an outlaw was represented in the Norse law as a wolf, i.e. a bad,
savage, wild animal whom it was a good thing to kill and which in time would do all the damage
possible before he was killed. We can therefore well comprehend the veiled threat that to
outlaw a real wolf was only to bid him play havoc with the King's subjects and to license
him to make himself free with the King's property.
The arms, i.e. the name of the family of Rognvald was a wolf. See figure No. 1