Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Queer Achievement : We See More Seymours

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

Following on from my article which included the sculptor and political campaigner Anne Seymour Damer we look today at something she shares with two other lgbt members of her family, the Seymour coat of arms. Here they are –

These arms have been borne by all three of our queer Seymours:
Mrs. Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1796),
George Seymour, 7th Marquess of Hertford (1871-1940), and
George Seymour of Thrumpton Hall, Nottinghamshire (1924-1994).
This chart shows how they are related –
Let’s take a tour of the coat of arms (below). The shield is divided into four quarters (in heraldry you can actually have more than four; they’re called quarters because four is the minimum). In the top left quarter (the senior quarter) is a design known as an augmentation of honour. We came across another of these last time in the coat of arms of Lady Eleanor Butler. In the case of the Seymours the augmentation was granted to the family to recognise a royal wedding of a certain royal called Harry. Not that one, I refer to King Henry VIII (I can’t wait to find out if Meghan Markle gets a coat of arms for her family next month, as is customary).
In 1536 Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. As with his other non-royal-born wives he granted augmentations of honour to them and their families. The first quarter is the augmentation granted to Jane Seymour and her family. If you have a basic knowledge of national symbolism you might be able to work out what the lions and fleurs-de-lys refer to. The lions refer to the coat of arms of England, and the fleurs-de-lys to the coat of arms of France (Henry VIII claimed the throne of France). The colours were reversed from the familiar gold fleurs-de-lys on a blue background because it is bad heraldry to have blue next to the red of the lions on the same quarter. It makes the design easier to recognise, especially from a distance (soccer teams wear contrasting colours for the same reason). To confuse matters there are exceptions, which are too complicated to go into today!

The duplicated design in the second and third quarters, the wings, are the Seymour’s family coat of arms, relegated to second place by the augmentation. They look like those strap-on wings you see young people wearing at a Pride march, don’t they? But they actually represent a falconry lure. Falconry was a major activity the medieval aristocracy. You can see modern lures at some modern country fairs where they have falconry displays. The bird handler whirls a cord around with a lump of meat on the end of it. This is the lure. The falcon or other bird of prey, will swoop down and grab the meat as if it were some prey. In medieval times the lure was often made up of two bird wings, just like you see in the Seymour arms.

It’s not certain why the Seymours adopted the lure. It is possible that they were using it on family seals as far back as 1299.

The last quarter on the shield is the coat of arms of the Conway family. In 1683 Popham Seymour inherited the estates of the Earl of Conway, on condition that he adopted the Conway name and coat of arms. He died unmarried but the name, arms and estates passed to his younger brother Francis (see family tree above), who was created 1st Baron Conway in 1703. His descendants have often dropped the Conway name, as all three of our queer Seymours did, though the Conway arms have often been retained.

Finally, the crest. The phoenix is another royal addition to honour the marriage of Jane Seymour to Henry VIII. Jane adopted it as her personal badge and symbolised the rebirth of love following the king’s previous two marriages. Jane’s brother, the Duke of Somerset, was granted the phoenix as his crest issuing from a coronet (not a crown, a crown has arches over the top).

No doubt there are other lgbt Seymours descended from Queen Jane Seymour’s brother who are equally entitled to bear these arms. How ironic it is that the crest and augmentation of honour were granted by the king who introduced the first English law against homosexual acts.

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