Saturday, April 04, 2009

Question from Calamity Bob - Symbols on armor

Why might a piece of armor incorporate both English and French symbols in its decoration? The armor in question was a helmet dated to 1590 and belonging to George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland. It was decorated with fleur de lis and what appear to be tudor roses. My knowledge of sixteenth century heraldry is virtually non-existent, so any help would be much appreciated.


Kathy said...

Bob, I don't know much about heraldry either, but those symbols weren't part of his arms which, as best I can describe it consisted of a broad red horizontal stripe with checked blue and yellow above and below it.

There is one possibility I can think of though. His father, George Clifford, the second earl of Cumberland was married first to Eleanor Brandon, the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and his wife, Mary Tudor Brandon, sister of Henry VIII and Dowager Queen of France.

Eleanor died leaving only a daughter, Margaret Clifford, and George Clifford, the second earl married again to the woman who became the third earl's mother. But I would think it would be possible that the helmet came down in the family through Eleanor as her family, her mother anyway, was certainly entitled to them.

Just out of curiosity, where is the helmet you are talking about. Is it in an exhibit somewhere or is there a photo of it on the net?

PhD Historian said...

This is just an educated guess, but here goes:

Kings of England claimed the crown of France off and on beginning with Edward III in the mid-14th century. But after Henry V repeatedly defeated the French early in the 15th century, the Treaty of Troyes made Henry and his issue the legal heirs to the crown of France. Henry V's son Henry VI was the only King of England who was also crowned King of France at Notre Dame.

The English royal arms had incorporated the gold English lions on a field of red quartered with the gold French fleur-de-lis on a field of blue since 1340. Though the crown of France was reclaimed by Charles VII in 1453, English kings continued to claim the crown and throne of France and to quarter the French arms until the French monarchy was deposed during the French Revolution of 1789.

Kathy is correct in noting the connection between the Cliffords and the female Brandon line descending from Mary Tudor Brandon. And by the 1590s, Elizabeth's reign was drawing to an obvious end and male claimants were beginning to posture for the crown. I have to wonder if George Clifford's use of the Tudor roses and fleur-de-lis was a way around the laws barring persons from displaying the royal arms directly. By displaying royal badges rather than royal arms, he stayed on the edge of the law and still reminded people of his indirect claim, through his father, to the crown. It would have been a claim in right of his stepmother as oen of her heirs ... a very tenuous claim, at that ... but a claim nonetheless. Obviously he did not press the claim, but it was an era when simply posturing could lead to notice and advancement.