[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
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
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
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.