How to Interpret the Heraldry
Women & Arms
The arms of a
woman, except one who is in her own right a sovereign,
are not shown on
a shield, but on a lozenge (a diamond shaped frame). When arms had a
utilitarian purpose, the shield was part of the armor of a warrior and
it was obviously improper for the feminine sex to use armor.
A woman would not use in her armorial insignia either a helmet, a crest or the mantling. The reason for this is the crest was to aid in identifying a man in battle when his helmet concealed his face. A woman did not go into battle; she did not wear a helmet; therefore she needed no such identification.
The mantling, which represented another portion of a knight's equipment, was also considered inappropriate for the use of women.
The motto, being a war cry, was not to be used by women.
The arms, however, were different. An unmarried woman might with propriety use her father's arms. If she was a widow she could use her late husband's arms to show the family to which she belonged. However, to make it clear that the articles so marked were those of a woman and not of a warrior, the arms were shown in a lozenge. This form was in common use as early as 1400 and was a definite requirement by 1561.
The lozenge form is used by both unmarried women and by widows. If it bears a single coat of arms it is either that of an unmarried woman or of a widow whose father used no arms and who therefore bears her late husband's arms alone.
The unmarried lady bears her father's arms upon a lozenge. She also uses her father's marks of cadency and often surmounts the shield with a true lover's knot of light blue ribbon, however, has no official sanction.
Before considering the arms used by widows one should remember that a woman did not have a coat of arms of her own. She used her father's until she married, then she used her husband's after his death, but on a lozenge. If a woman's father did not have arms but married a man who bore arms, on her husband's death she would use the arms he had used when living, (i.e., the arms of his family) but on a lozenge.
If a woman who had brothers and whose father bore arms, married a man who also bore arms, the arms of both families were used by the husband and therefore by his wife or widow. At an early date this was represented by placing the two shields side by side, but by the end of the 15th century the present rule, using only one shield, was being followed. The arms of the husband are placed on the dexter or right side and the arms of the wife's father on the sinister, or left side.
This placing side by side of the arms is called "impailing," - the recognized manner for a man to show that his wife came from an arms-bearing family. A husband, however, is not required to impale his wife's father's arms with his own. In the majority of cases it would appear that, on marrying, a man did not alter his own arms, but continued to use the same coat of arms he had borne when unmarried, even though he had the right to impale the arms of his wife's family. In such a case the widow usually used the arms of the husband's family alone.
In the case of a man who had a coat of arms and no sons, and therefore no male descendants, it is obvious that his coat of arms could not be perpetuated unless his daughters carried it to their descendants. In such cases, the following was done: when the wife was an heiress or co-heiress ( the word heiress used in the heraldic sense means a daughter who is an only child, and co-heiress means one of several sisters having no brothers) the husband did not impale her arms. Instead, he placed them in the center of his own arms. This is called an escutcheon of pretense - a small shield over all on which were displayed the arms of the wife's father. It indicated that the husband was, through his wife, the representative of her father's family and was, therefore, carrying his arms for the benefit of his grandchildren.
On the death of the husband, the wife bore her husband's escutcheon and all, but in lozenge form. Their children inherited both arms, which were then quartered. This, by the way, is of great value to the genealogist, indicating as it does, the origin of the wife, her particular family and even whether she had brothers.
The arms of a peeress in her own right appear complicated but can be narrowed down to the following rules. If unmarried, her arms are placed upon a lozenge, with her supporters on each side and her coronet of rank placed above the lozenge. If she is married, her arms are placed in an escutcheon of pretense in the center of those of her husband, and this escutcheon of pretense is ensigned with her coronet of rank. The complete arms will be surmounted by her husband's helmet and crest. If he himself is a peer, then his supporters are shown, together with his coronet of rank. By the side of the husbands arms, (to the sinister) the peeress' arms are placed in the same form that she bore them before marriage.
The wife's coronet and supporters are personal to herself and cannot be used by her husband. If she is a widow, a similar arrangement is necessary: on the dexter side, in a lozenge, will appear her late husband's arms, bearing thereon her own arms in an escutcheon of pretense surmounted by her coronet; while on the sinister side will be placed her own arms, as before.
According to Wheeler Holohan's revised edition of Boutell's "Manual of Heraldry,",
Some authorities consider that a divorcee (that is, one who has been divorced), should revert to her paternal arms upon a lozenge, and should not make use of a lover's knot. The absence of the knot and the fact that the arms on the lozenge are not impaled, indicate that she is neither unmarried nor a widow. Since, however, the use of this is by no means universal among unmarried ladies, this proposed device would not always be an intelligible index to the lady's condition.
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