Heraldry is the word used to describe anything to do with coats of arms. A coat
of arms is a design on a shield-shaped motif that signifies a particular family.
Originally heraldry referred to the business of a herald. In the early Middle Ages
he was an officer of the king’s army whose job it was to manage the troops. To make
that management easier, important individuals, such as earls, made themselves more
easily identifiable by displaying their own emblems on their shields, banners and
helmets. Before being allowed to display such emblems, though, permission had first
to be granted by the king.
Individual emblems could be passed down from father to son. When there was no male
heir to inherit a coat of arms, it could be passed on to daughters instead. When
two armigers married (an armiger being a person entitled to a coat of arms), their
emblems were placed side by side on the same shield. When four coats of arms were
represented on one shield this was known as quartering. The faces of shields became
busier with successive generations, and their designs also grew in variety with the
number of families entitled to coats of arms constantly increasing. Even so, families
became very proud of them and were keen to retain them even after they ceased to
have any practical purpose. Such emblems, or coats of arms as they came to be called,
became symbols of family honour and the pride that is attached to them still survives
The first king to have his own emblem was Richard I in 1198.
As heraldry became more and more complex it developed a whole new language of its
own, not only with its own specialist vocabulary, but also with its own rules of
classification, and a wide range of symbols and pictures. It reached its maturity
in the fourteenth century, by which time coats of arms might be depicted almost anywhere.
Shields adorned the walls and windows of buildings, embroidered furnishings and
garments, and decorated a whole range of domestic objects.
There are thousands of examples of coats of arms in Norfolk and Suffolk, many depicted
on village signs and some associated with pub signs. The majority, however, are
to be seen on buildings, and in particular on and in churches, where the earliest
surviving examples date from the twelfth century. Shields carved in stone on the
base of towers often denote a wealthy benefactor, usually a member of the nobility.
Coats of arms are frequently seen in stained glass windows and on brasses and memorials.
The most striking examples, however, are often around tombs where the effigies of
an armiger and his wife lie on top, and shields of their own and related families
decorate the sides, as in the example pictured above.
The following are just a few more examples of the many in the region.
Coat of arms on a tomb in East Harling Church in Norfolk, showing twelve different
Above: Detail of a tomb in Framlingham Church in Suffolk showing the coats or arms
of the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk (top left quarter of shield), that of
Brotherton (top right quarter), that of the Warennes (bottom left) and of the Mowbrays
(bottom right). The tomb was erected in 1614 by order of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton,
in memory of his parents. His father, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was executed
in 1547. His mother, Frances de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford,
died in 1577.
Left: Another side of the same tomb as in the picture above. This side has the
shield of the de Vere family with its star in the top left-hand corner.
Note the fine carvings of helmets, swords and drum.
This coat of arms (above) is on the Ancient House in Ipswich. The most famous old
house in the city, it was built in 1567 by George Copping. It is also known as Sparrowe’s
House after the Sparrowe family (who were ardent Royalists) lived in it for two hundred
years. A secret room was apparently discovered in the nineteenth century by a man
falling through the roof, and rumour has it that King Charles II was once hidden
inside. It is the Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II that we see here plastered above
the doorway. Pevsner makes the comment that the plasterwork and pargeting on the
outside, which dates from about 1670, is ‘more ornate and gayer than any other house
of its date in England’, and Arthur Mee describes it as an ‘architectural gem’, which
indeed it is.
The Royal Coat of Arms in Mundesley Church in Norfolk.
These two shields (above) at Long Melford Church in Suffolk decorate the sides of
a tomb belonging to Sir William Clopton, who died in 1446. His son, John Clopton,
was the church’s founder.
The above pictures show two uncoloured heraldic shields in Framlingham Church in
Top left is on the tomb of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Henry was
the son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount. He married Mary Howard, daughter of
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and of Elizabeth Stafford. The four quarterings
on the left half of the shield show the Richmond arms, and those on the right, show
the arms of Brotherton (top right), the Howards (top), the Warennes (bottom) and
the Mowbrays (the lion, bottom right).
The other shield (above right) commemorates the first two of the three wives of Thomas
Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk - Mary, daughter and heir of Henry FitzAlan, Earl of
Arundel, and Margaret, daughter and heir of Thomas, Lord Audley of Walden. The shield
is divided into eight quarters. Along the top from left to right are the coats of
arms of the Howards, Brotherton, the Albini FitzAlans and the FitzAlans. Along the
bottom half of the shield from left to right are the coats of arms of the Warennes,
the Mowbrays, the Woodvilles and the Maltravers.
Two more examples of signs associated with pubs. Above left shows a coat of arms
with a motto on the wall of a pub at Harleston in Norfolk. Above right shows a coat
of arms on a pub sign at Occold in Suffolk. Note the mug of beer in the middle.
The three coats of arms above and above left are painted on the walls of the north
walk in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral. The walk was the scene of a famous banquet
held in 1578 when Queen Elizabeth I visited Norwich, and the arms are those of the
people who entertained her.
Above right: This coat of arms is displayed on a memorial at Thetford that celebrates
the centenary of the death of Maharajah Duleep Singh who lived nearby at Elvedon
Hall. He became a favourite of Queen Victoria, who granted him a coat of arms which
he never registered. Duleep Singh’s kingdom, the Punjab, was taken from him when
it became part of the British Raj of India in 1849. After he was escorted to England,
he settled at Elvedon Hall until his death in 1893.
The two post horns on the village sign at Scole in Norfolk (above left) represent
the Scole Inn (formerly known as the White Hart), which is a prominent building in
the village. Considered to be one of the finest coaching inns in the country it
was built in 1655. As the coaches approached the inn, the outriders blew on their
post horns to announce their arrival to the innkeepers. Above the two post horns
depicted on the sign there is an eagle, representing the Romans who were here centuries
earlier. Below the post horns there is the cross of St. Andrew who is the patron
saint of the local church. The two shields are those of the Cornwallis and Shelton
families. Ideas for the design came from parishioners, including the children. It
was made by Harry Carter of Swaffham, and was erected in 1976.
Above: Under the chancel arch in the church of St. Catherine, Ludham, in Norfolk,
is a parchment covered Tympanum. It was possibly painted during the reign of Queen
Mary (1553-1558). On the west side there are figures of Jesus on the cross, St.
Mary and St. John, and on the east side there is a canvas with the arms of Queen
Elizabeth I (1558-1603) with the inscriptions ‘non me pudet evangelii Christi’ (which
means ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ’) and ‘vivat Regina Elizabeta’. The
boards of the Tympanum and the canvas lay hidden in the blocked-up staircase that
led to the rood loft until it was discovered in 1879 by an archaeological society
on a day out.
Above: Coat of arms carved on a bench end inside Dennington Church in Suffolk.
The two lion supporters on this shield (above) on the village sign at Dersingham
in Norfolk is a reference to the royal estate nearby at Sandringham. Top left on
the shield are the three crowns of East Anglia, top right is a ship representing
Dersingham as an ancient fishing port, bottom left is a dragon rampant, denoting
strength, and bottom right shows three trout. The castellations on the top of the
shield represent the parish church. The sign was designed by S.T. Turner, and was
presented to the parish council by Dersingham Women’s Institute.
The wrought iron village sign at Kenninghall in Norfolk was a gift from the WI in
1972. It was designed by a former stage designer, a Mr. P. MacNamara of Quiddenham,
and made by Mr. Eric Stevenson of Wroxham. Historical research for the sign was
carried out by Mr and Mrs Michael Serpell of Keninghall. The shields were painted
by Mr. A. Thirtle of Norwich. On the apex of the sign is a representation of the
‘Kenninghall brooch’, a type of ornament like one found in the Anglo-Saxon burial
ground excavated at the Butts in 1869, near where the sign stands. Below the name
is depicted the legendary crown and coat of arms of King Edward ‘the Confessor’ to
whom Kenninghall belonged as a royal manor. The two shields below are, left, the
coat of arms of the Howards, Dukes of Norfolk, who built Kenninghall House and, right,
the Earl of Mowbray. The fourth shield belongs to the Earl of Albemarle.
Another interesting village sign is at Kimberley in Norfolk. In the fifteenth century
John de Woodhouse distinguished himself at the Battle of Agincourt and this won him
armorial distinction. His coat of arms consisted of three ermine cinquefoils and
an ermine chevron. After Agincourt the chevron was gilded and scattered with drops
of blood. These four-hundred-year-old arms were once displayed on the gateway to
the park at Kimberley, which is part of an estate. When the owner of the estate,
Lord Kimberley, left in 1960, the coat of arms was re-erected on the village green
for all to see, and became the parishioners’ village sign. The original manor on
the estate was built by Sir John Wodehouse who acquired the estate by marrying the
heiress of Sir Thomas Fastolfe. Above the lettering is the shield, divided between
the Wodehouse arms, and those of the Fastolfes. The supporters are wild men of the
woods (Wodenhouse) and the words ‘the battle of Agincourt’ is on the crest. The
coat of arms is made of painted copper.
The late fifteenth century oak screen at Attleborough Church in Norfolk is fifty-two
feet long with twenty-four ‘bays’. On each bay of the loft (which is unique) there
appears a shield of an English or Welsh bishopric. These were painted on soon after
the Reformation. A text on the upper rail of the loft comes from the Bible book
of Proverbs and reads ‘Put thy trust in God with all thyne heart and leane not unto
thine owne wytt.’
Pevsner describes the south porch of St. Mary’s Church in Pulham St. Mary, Norfolk,
as ‘something phenomenal’. It is two-storeyed and stone-faced, and the frieze of
shields in cusped fields over the doorway includes those of the Passion and the Trinity.
Members of the Kemp family, who were lords of the manor at Gissing in Norfolk from
1324, were buried here up until 1936. In the chancel of the church and in the fourteenth
century north chapel there are memorials to the family, some with shields, one of
which is pictured above. The Latin phrase ‘Spero lucem’ means ‘I hope for light’.
Right: Shields adorn the outside walls of this modern block of offices in Norwich.
Left: The village sign at Needham in Norfolk.
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Left: Shield motifs above the doorway of the building which houses the offices of
Aviva (formerly the Norwich Union Insurance Group) in Norwich.
This tympanum, dated 1587, completely fills the chancel arch of St. Margaret’s Church
at Tivetshall in Norfolk. Located above the fourteenth century rood screen, it is
twenty feet wide and fifteen feet tall. H. Munro Cautley in his ‘Norfolk Churches’
describes it as ‘the most outstanding set of arms in the county...probably the finest
of the reign in the country’.
It displays the achievements of Queen Elizabeth I. At the top is the sun portrayed
to represent God over all. Then comes the Royal Arms with the words ‘O God Save
our Queen Elizabeth.’ The text underneath reads ‘Let every soul be subject unto
the highest powers for there is no power but God. The powers that be are ordained
by God.’ Painted in the shield in the middle of this text is a crowned falcon holding
a sceptre. Henry VIII granted this badge to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. At
the base are written the Ten Commandments. On one side are the names Richard Russell,
Jeffrey Neve and John Freeman, and on the other side are the words ‘In this time
they caused this to be done.’
Royal Coats of Arms
Several parish churches in East Anglia display Royal Coats of Arms. Apart from a
few that date from Victorian times (when there were some that were mass-produced)
they’re all different in their design. In some cases, for example, the animals are
portrayed as fierce wild beasts, and in other instances they are smiling comic creatures.
Materials used are also various: Royal Arms have been carved in stone and in wood,
have been painted in plaster, and have been crafted in cast iron.
The idea of a Royal Coat of Arms originates with king Richard I, who, at the end
of the twelfth century, chose three lions to be depicted on his shield in battle.
Other elements of medieval armoury have since been incorporated into the Royal Arms,
including the shield and the helmet. From 1340 to 1801 the Royal Arms included the
arms of France (consisting of three gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background.) The
accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603 brought together
the Royal Arms of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Royal Arms first appeared in English churches in the sixteenth century after Henry
VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Modern Royal Coats of Arms
Since 1837 Royal Coats of Arms have remained the same, apart from changes in the
initials of the sovereign.
The Royal Coat of Arms depicted in the photo below at Mundesley Church dates from
Victorian times and shows the modern elements. Richard I’s three lions, representing
England, appear in two of the four quarters (the first and the fourth) of the shield.
They are depicted in gold on a red background. In the second quarter there’s a
red lion rearing its hind legs that represents Scotland. In the third quarter there’s
a golden harp on a blue background that represents Ireland. The shield has two supporters:
a lion that, again, represents England, and a unicorn that represents Scotland. The
Latin words of a motto are written around the outside of the shield: Honi soit qui
mal y pense. This is the symbol of the Order of the Garter and translates into English
as ‘Evil to him who evil thinks.’
Another motto - Dieu et mon droit - which means ‘God and my right’ is that of the
Right: Mid-nineteenth-century tiles depicting heraldic shields in the chance floor
of Huntingfield Church in Suffolk.
Below: Royal Coat of Arms carved in stone and dating from 1898. It adorns the top
of the main roof of Colchester Town Hall in Essex.
The porch at St. Mary’s Church in Diss, Norfolk, has a frieze of shields set in quatrefoils.
A bequest for the thirty-four foot high, two-storeyed, stone-faced porch at St. Michael’s
Church in Beccles, Suffolk, was made in 1455. At the base is a frieze of shields
in barbed quatrefoil fields.
On the mid-fifteenth century tower of St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich there’s
a base frieze of flushwork with a stone frieze of shields above. On the arches of
the tower there are shields in cusped fields.
The village sign at Orford in Suffolk, erected to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth
II in 1953, has a shield motif.
The Ancient House’ at Clare in Suffolk which used to be the priest’s house and dates
from 1473 has a shield on an outside wall.
Above: Coats of arms on the village sign at Neatishead in Norfolk. The shield on
the left is that of the Preston family who own much of the land on which the village
is built. The shield in the centre is that of nearby St. Benet’s Abbey. Though
now a ruin, once a year a service is still held here, led by the Bishop of Norwich.
The shield on the right is the badge of the Royal Air Force, who have a radar station
nearby. The sign was designed by Roger Challinor and painted by Roger Challinor
and Alan Brown. The ironwork was done by Eric Stevenson.
The following descriptions are a few of the many other good examples around the region:
The village sign at Weston Longville in Norfolk was given to the village by the 566th
Bomber Group of the 8th American Air Force that was stationed at nearby Attlebridge.
A shield depicted on the top left of the sign belongs to New College, Oxford, which
held the gift of the ‘living’. Parson James Woodforde was appointed rector of the
parish in 1793 by his own college of St. John’s at Oxford. He is renowned for his
diary which spans forty-three years and gives a vivid picture of country life at
the time. Another shield on the sign is that of the Rokewood family who once owned
the estate here. A third shield is that of the Custance family who lived at the
old Hall here.