Sunday, 9 October 2016

Report from the College of Arms

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am so Thankful for my wonderful family - my aunt who patiently answers all my questions, my children, siblings and cousins who encourage me in my genealogical endeavors and help out from time to time, and my new-found cousins that help to fill in the blanks and prove that in research two (or three or four) heads are better than one!

This Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I am giving a gift to all my relatives of this information on our Seale Coat of Arms. At the same time it serves to tell my readers what they can expect if they want go this route.

I had contacted the College of Arms in London a couple of years ago but didn't go ahead with any followup.  This year, after receiving an image of our family Coat of Arms from a cousin I decided to contact them again to see if I can get any information.

You may remember from my post on heraldry titled Disclaimed Gentlemen that the Heralds also do genealogies to be sure a person is entitled to the Coat of Arms. For meanings of terms see the Dictionary of Coats of Arms Vol 1 & 2 referred to in that post (check index in beginning of Vol 1) ...

I paid the sum of $200 CDN for them to do a thorough search (easy through PayPal). My contact was Mr Clive Cheesman, the Richmond Herald for the College of Arms in London. It may take a while depending on how busy the Herald is, and you may have to give him a nudge.

I charged him with finding out if we are entitled to the coat of arms, and if they have any genealogy for the Seale family connecting our Pedigree of Seales done in the 1900's.

This is the coat of arms:

This is the report the herald sent back:

Your picture shows a rather faded coat of arms, making the colours slightly hard to decipher, but in other respects the design is clear. The shield shows a horizontal stripe (or fess) between three wolf’s heads with ragged lower edges representing that they have been torn off or erased rather than cleanly cut off or couped. The field of the shield appears to be gold or Or, and the wolf heads are probably black or sable, but the colour of the fess is uncertain. Above the shield is a crest consisting of another wolf’s head emerging from a coronet; here it seems clear enough that the head is white or argent and the coronet gold or Or. Below the shield is the motto AMOR PATRIAE OMNIA VINCIT (‘Patriotism conquers all’); but mottoes are rarely useful diagnostic tools in the identification of coats of arms and were hardly ever recorded here before the late eighteenth century. The coat of arms is ascribed in the picture to the name SEALE.

A search in our records has revealed that this coat of arms was granted on 9 July 1599 by William Camden (Clarenceux King of Arms) to Robert Seale, clerk of the cheque (essentially adjutant of the Yeomen of the Guard) in the reign of Elizabeth I. We have several entries relating to the grant, but the fullest by far is a full text entry with the reference ICB101 / 68. The text of the grant states that..
Robert Seale was lineally descended from “the auncient famylie of Seale in the Countie of Northumberland” and that “he for manye yeares hath faithfully served his Prince [i.e. the Queen] in place of especiall truste in the Garde and defence of her Majesties person, and for his circumspection, carefull diligence providence and assured fidelitie in that Service is now advanced by her Majestie to be the Clarke of the Cheque of her Garde”.

The grant purports to confirm or ‘exemplify’ to Robert Seale the shield long used by his Northumberland ancestors and to grant him a new crest to go with the shield. However the sketch of the arms in the margin is accompanied by the annotation “This Armes and Creast was never borne by any before this gifte 1599”. It is not at all uncommon for grants of arms in this period to pretend to be confirming old coats of arms when in fact they were creating new ones; to do so was flattering to the recipient, suggesting that he was descended from ancestors with a coat of arms, and it also had some procedural or administrative advantages. Even without the annotation I would not advise spending much time looking for evidence of an earlier Northumberland family called Seale using these arms; the annotation (which is apparently contemporary with the rest of the document) makes it highly likely that it would be a forlorn search.

The shield granted in the grant of 1599 can be described as Or a fess azure between three wolf’s heads erased sable with a crescent gules in chief for difference, in other words the shield that appears in your picture, with a blue fess; the only difference is a small red crescent added to indicate that Robert Seale (or his father, grandfather or some earlier male-line ancestor) was a second son. This ‘mark of difference’ is not part of the substantive design of the granted coat of arms. It also appears on the crest, which is described as Issuant from a coronet Or a wolf’s head couped argent his mouth and jaws ‘sanguinolent’. The last word is the one used in the grant text; its meaning is obvious, though I have not observed it in heraldry before.

Other references to entries in our records relating to the 1599 grant of arms are Camden 1/20, Camden 2/25 and Miscellaneous Grants 7/387. In the last of these three entries the grantee is referred to as ‘Thomas or Robert Seale’; this uncertainty over his Christian name ties in with the fact that in Burke’s General Armory (1884 – a standard unofficial dictionary of authorized and unauthorized coats of arms alphabetically listed by surname) the relevant entry refers to the grantee as Thomas. But all the other evidence points to him being called Robert.

No further information survives in our records regarding Robert Seale, clerk of the cheque, or his family. However it is clear that other Seale families subsequently came to use the coat of arms granted to him. This is typical; when one family with a given surname starts using a coat of arms, some others of the same name inevitably adopt either the same arms or similar ones, even where there is no relationship. This is as old as heraldry itself, though unauthorized. Accordingly it seems that a Jersey family called Seale (treated in Payne’s Armorial of Jersey, pp. 330-3) used very similar arms to those granted in 1599: shield Azure a fess between three wolf’s heads sable and crest A wolf’s head erased sable. In other words, a white shield with a black fess, but three black wolf heads as in the grant; and a black erased wolf head, without the coronet, in the crest. According to Payne one branch of the Jersey family went to Devon, and when in 1838 a member of this branch (John Henry Seale, of Mount Boone) was made a baronet and granted arms the family’s unofficial usage of the 1599 arms was mentioned in his grant (reference here: Grants 43/119):
“… his family has been seated for some generations in the said County of Devon and has hitherto used the Arms exemplified in 1599 to Robert Seale then Clerk of the Cheque but being unable at this time from the absence of family evidence to establish by strict proof his descent from the said Robert Seale …”

John Henry Seale of Mount Boone was duly granted different, though similar, arms.

Payne dismisses any suggestion that the Jersey family was descended from Robert Seale the clerk of the cheque; but he does approve the notion that the Northumberland family might have been an offshoot of a Devon branch of the Jersey family – in other words, that the link was the other way round. In reality this too is exceedingly unlikely and the similarity of the coat of arms is likely to reflect the simple fact that one Seale family observed the other using arms with a fess between three wolf heads and started doing the same.

The upshot of all this is that the right to the coat of arms in your picture depends is limited to those descended from Robert Seale, clerk of the cheque and recipient of the 1599 grant of arms. Other families called Seale have used the arms – such as the Jersey one and the Devon family who may have been a branch of the Jersey Seales – but without authority or right.

I could find no evidence in our records, I am afraid, that the Irish Seales you refer to (Richard of Oldtown and John of Clonard) were related to or descended from the grantee of 1599. Possibly they were, but it does not emerge from our records. I have checked our photographic copies of the records of Ulster King of Arms, whose jurisdiction was the whole of Ireland, and not found any grant or confirmation of arms to anyone of the name of Seale, or any pedigree of a family of that name.

So, we are still seeking a link between our Richard Seale that was born in Ireland in 1689 and presumably his father that fought in the Battle of the Boyne, and the Robert Seale that was granted the coat of arms by the Herald Office in 1599. 

The search is on....

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