Page images

Of these the Romans used the eagle alone, until the taking of Byzantium (Constantinople,) after which the sovereigns of the lower empire assumed also the use of the (1) Labarum; this was a standard with a cross-bearer, to which was appended a small banner of silk, usually having on it the famous monogram, which expresses at once the figure of the cross, and the initials of the name of our Saviour. In the New Testament we find a more definite appropriation of an ensign, although it be assigned to a ship, as we thus read in Acts xxviii. 11:

Μετά δε τρεις μήνας ανήχθημεν εν πλοίω παρακεχειμακότι έν τη νήσω, Αλεξανδρίνω, παρασήμα Διοσκούροις.

“ And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in this isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.

Thus then we have an appropriate ensign of an individual ship.

That the Saxons on their landing in this country bore before them their ensign with the (2) Horse is generally believed, and such standards imparted personal names to the two first Saxon Leaders, if we may credit Nicholson as cited by Wise: “ No one,” says the latter, “ can be ignorant, that the horse was the standard, which the Saxons used, both before and after their coming hither. This is so well known and allowed, that the very names of the two first Saxon Leaders are supposed by Bp. Nicholson * not to be

not to be proper, but typical and emblematical only: and that as the Emperor of Germany is sometimes stiled The Eagle, and

English Atlas, Vol. 2, Tom. 1, p. 52.

the King of France The Lilly, from the arms they bear; so these were stiled Horses from their Banner. For Hengst in Saxon signifies no more than a Stone horse, and Horsa need not be explained to an English Reader.”*

It is now time to digress to the subject of shields, on which at later periods the personal arms of the bearer were often pourtrayed. Nature points out the use of the shield, and, so far as the purposes of war are concerned, we may regard its usage as at least coeval with that of the general standard. In the earliest ages the most rude, and uncivilized, nations adopted the shield as a defence. In its first dawn it was probably of wicker-work, and advanced through the several stages of wood, of wood covered with hide, or metal, and lastly of solid metal. To render themselves formidable in the eyes of those, to whom they were opposed, we may well presume, that men in nearly an uncivilized state would pourtray on their shields the most terrific forms of animals, and monsters, but probably conceived in momentary caprice, and not as a personal appropriation. Thus Plutarch in his life of Marius speaking of the Cimbri, Teutones, &c., says, that they “ gesisse in armis pictas ferarum imagines." In more ci. vilized nations, as the Grecians, &c., instances might be adduced of (3) shields more elaborate in design, and ornament, but in this we have no proof of any thing like personal insignia.

That nations in very early ages generally did adopt distinctive insignia, shortly subse

• Wise on “ Berkshire Antiquities," p. 26.

A ge

quent to the individual use of the shield, is, I think, a fact, which may be relied on. neral ensign with its peculiar bearing served to distinguish the one army from its hostile foe; the waving flag inspirited its followers; and, if the superior strength of the adversary threw its ranks into disorder, it promptly served as a rallying point. At first we may suppose, that an army was guided by the one, and general, standard ; yet, as the art of war improved, the army, hitherto tumultuous, and probably under but one, or a few commanders, became divided, and sub-divided, and its several portions fell more especially beneath the guidance of, and were marshalled under, their own peculiar officers ; thus order was established throughout the ranks. The feudal system brought in by William, the First, greatly forwarded this state of things. “ A feudal kingdom," says

Robertson,“ resembled a military establishment rather than a civil institution."* All society was bonded together in one social, and warlike, system. On a call to arms, every disposable man (impelled by a plan, which under a gradation of numerous links connected the highest, and the lowest,—the king, on the throne, and the humble villain) stepped forth, and fell into rank under the banner of the baron, or the knight, led on by the national standard. Surely a more beautiful web was never woven by the most civilised state, than was the feudal system by these semi-barbarians.

• Hist. of Charles V., Vol. 1, p. 17.


The ensigns of the army, we may thus well suppose, became much multiplied in number, and, as we may justly presume, they varied in peculiar character. Here then we have an approximation to, nay, probably, we may have arrived at, the origin of personal arms borne under the feudal system on the banner, and shield, of the chieftain.

This is the most probable origin of heraldry, or the appropriation of arms to individuals.

The progress of heraldry was much advanced without doubt by the jousts and tournaments established in Germany (the cradle of the feudal system,) in the tenth century by the Emperor, Henry, the Sixth, sirnamed the Fowler. These martial exercises were held on a very extensive scale, and subject to ordained laws. The joust was the combat between two alone, and the tournament was that between several knights on each side. At these engagements, (requiring both skill and prowess,) the knights were attended by those principal persons, who held lands wider them on the subfeudatory conditions, that they should aid them in the wars. Whether the baron bold, or chivalrous knight, rode o'er the hostile field, where army was opposed to army, or entered within the lists prepared for the more personal encounter of the joust, or tournament, it was their duty, when called on, to accompany their superior lords, and to bear on foot the lance, the shield, and the pennon, and from hence they obtained the appellations of Armigeri, and Scutiferi, i, e. Arms Bearers, and Shield Bearers :

[ocr errors]


Knights, Squires, and Steeds, must enter on the stage."


Under the feudal system they were the gentry of the land, subordinate only to the knights, and superior nobles, and holding their lands under them, as the latter did in capite under their Sovereign. Such a retainer was called in the French, or heraldic, language, an * Escuire, from whence our English word Esquire (or, corruptedly, Squire,) a title, now very generally assumed, and, by courtesy, as generally granted. From the ancient usage of depicting the arms of its bearer on the shield arises the still continued custom of pourtraying the heraldic insignia on one, which is merely imitative.

The feudal system, we may suppose, spread rapidly through the countries of Germany, Italy, and France, and, accompanied with the usage of armorial bearings, made its way into the Dukedom of Normandy, from whence they were together in the eleventh century, 1066, brought into England by William, the First.

We have thus at length arrived, gentle reader, at a definite æra, when we may believe, that personal arms were here in use—an æra more eventful to this country, in its changes, and consequences, than perhaps any other. At this time were introduced the feudal system, personal arms, and the double name, and, together with these, were endeavoured to be in

. For this orthography see Spelman's Aspilogia.

« PreviousContinue »