Sunday, May 08, 2011

Question from Candice - Differences in The Six Wives' coats of arms

When comparing the coat of arms of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to those of him and his other wives, I noticed that the lion supporter is different. It is an uncrowned lion that is chained with a crown around the neck. All his other coat of arms have a crowned, unchained lion. Do you know why there is a difference? What is the significance of the chain? I also noticed that only Anne Boleyn's falcon, Jane Seymore's unicorn and Catherine Parr's lioness are chained. Thank you.


Foose said...

I did find a reference in An Introduction to Heraldry, by Hugh Clark (an older book) that chains can "signify servitude and captivity, and sometimes temperance and chastity, which bridle unruly passions."

However, I'm not sure that in the case of the Anne Boleyn coat of arms that these interpretations are intended to allude to Anne herself (the falcon badge might be different). According to a couple of older sources that addressed this subject, the lion is actually a leopard and in its chained form is the representative of Guyenne, a French territory periodically subject to England (perhaps thus "in chains"?) during the Plantagenet era, particularly the Hundred Years War.


"The royal English coat is impaled with the Queen's coats of augmentation and some collateral coats - that of Butler being left out ...

"The dexter supporter, called a lion ... is really the leopard of Guyenne, with a collar and chain; the sinister supporter is the griffin of the Boleyns. The coats given are those of the Earls of Lancaster, Engolesme [Angouleme?], Guyenne - all coats of augmentation, then those of Butler and Rochford quartered, Brotherton, and the Earls of Warren. Henry VIII conferred these coats on Anne Boleyn when he created her Marchioness [sic] of Pembroke."

This was the analysis of Bagford's Notes on Bookbinding, found in Volume 7 of the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society of Great Britain, October 1902-March 1904. I couldn't find anything much more recent, unfortunately. If you look at the animal supporter, you can see tiny spots running down his side and he has no mane.

A Treatise on Heraldry, British and Foreign, by John Woodward and George Burnett (1892), condemns the royal coat of arms as a perversion of proper heraldic rules, observing that "Anne's own coat, that of Boleyn ... does not appear at all! Brotherton and Warren were quarterings taken from the coat of Anne's own mother, Elizabeth Howard, but were borne here against all heraldic rule, while the two paternal coats of Butler and Rochford were brought in equally improperly, being the arms of Margaret Butler of Ormond [Anne's grandmother]..."

I'm not well up in heraldry, so I don't know how the various formulations in the wives' coats of arms were arrived at. Some of the wives seem to have had input into the process, but Henry actually granted them, "augmenting" the existing coats as a mark of honor, so it can be presumed he wanted these emblems to look a certain way and communicate a certain message to the people who could read heraldry and calculate status accordingly (the aristocrats).

Cate Drewry said...

According to, the chain in a coat of arms symbolizes reward for acceptable or weighty service. As to why it is included in some and not others, you would probably have to research each coat of arms individually. The SCA has people who study heraldry and have almost encyclopedic knowledge of it; you might check with your local chapter to point you in the right direction.