Armoria ecclesiastica

Bishop Robert Gray

First Anglican Bishop of Cape Town (1847-1872)

Bishop Robert Gray

ROBERT Gray, first Anglican Bishop of Cape Town, used a seal bearing the arms of his See impaled with his paternal arms.

Unfortunately the seal has markings on it that are misleading, and it is just as well that Fred Brownell[1] has provided both a drawing of the arms and a blazon.

The diocesan arms are, as is usual where a bishop’s arms are shown impaled, shown on the dexter side (for the full blazon and an explanation of these arms, see this page).

The family arms are blazoned:


Gules, semy de lis, a lion rampant argent, in a bordure engrailed ermine.


The term semy de lis means “scattered with fleurs de lis”. Since these fleurs de lis are silver, as is the lion, there is no allusion here to the fleurs de lis of France (gold on blue).

The fleur de lis is a common charge which appears to have originated in Flanders, being based on the iris flower (which was known as a type of lily in the Middle Ages). For the most probable derivation of the fleur de lis, see this page.

The border, or bordure, appears only on the outer edge of the shield: it is usual where arms are impaled for the inner part of this charge to be omitted.

Brownell notes: “These arms, which appear on the back of Robert Gray’s simple original throne, and in the much more ornate cathedra[2] of the Archbishop (fashioned from part of the organ screen of Westminster Abbey), which stand in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, are the arms of the Diocese of Cape Town (ancient) impaling Gray’s paternal arms.

“A large similar combination also appears on Robert Gray’s episcopal seal, with the circumscription: THE SEAL OF ROBERT GRAY. D.D. BISHOP OF CAPE TOWN 1847. In this seal the field to the Gray arms is, however, hatched as Azure (instead of Gules) and it is semé of Ermine spots insead of being semé-de-lis.”

In a footnote, Brownell mentions that the book The Blazon of Episcopacy, by W K Riland Bedford, displays the Gray arms as borne by his father, also Robert Gray, who was Bishop of Bristol from 1827 to ’34 – that is to say, the same family coat impaled with the three gold crowns on black of the Bristol Diocese.

[1] In Heraldry of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, 1847-2000, by F G Brownell, published by Heraldsholme CC, Pretoria 2002.

[2] The term cathedral is derived from this piece of furniture, the bishop’s throne, and indicates the church building where it is normally kept.


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Comments, queries: Mike Oettle