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Crests and other heraldic badges

by Mike Oettle

OKAY, so we’ve established that the crest is a part of the heraldic composition, or achievement.
crest of Drummond Drummond retainer with his crest badge

But it also functions as a badge, and can be one of a number of badges used by an armigerous person.

Let’s look again at the way Moncreiffe and Pottinger[1] discuss the issue:

crest-badge of Drummond

“The crest is often depicted for convenience on the wreath alone, without the helmet, as a mark of ownership.
plant badge of Drummond

“In Scotland, a metal plate showing a chief’s crest and motto used to be suspended by a strap and buckle around the necks of his retainers.

“So nowadays a chief’s crest, when encircled by a strap and buckle bearing his motto, may be worn as a badge by all his staff and family or clan.
caltrap, badge of Drummond sleuth-hound, badge of Drummond

“Many chiefs have plant-badges as well, which may also be worn by their clan.

“A small shield of the arms was worn as a badge in some countries, and a number of great men have other heraldic badges – used to mark their property and to distinguish their followers.

To part 2

How Drummond got the caltrap for his badge
standard of of Drummond, Earl of Perth

“These badges are sometimes displayed on a background of the ‘liveries’ (usually the two principal tinctures of the shield), on a headquarters flag called the ‘standard’.

“All peers, and those Scots lairds who are territorial barons, may place a chapeau[2] above their shields – peers always put it inside their coronets.
Drummond, Earl of Perth and a murderous baron Drummond’s shield with cap of maintenance (left) and with coronet and cap of maintenance

“Mantlings are normally of the livery colours, but the Sovereign’s[3] is gold, lined with ermine, and those of Scots peers and certain Officers of State are red, lined with ermine.

“Certain prominent men are also allowed to depict their shields held up by ‘supporters’, which stand on a mound called a ‘compartment’.

“So the full achievement of a peer is made up of his coat of arms, chapeau, coronet, helmet, crest, mantling, motto, supporters and compartment.”

armorial achievement of Drummond, Earl of Perth

This is true, at any rate, of the arms of British peers. On the European Continent, the mantle or robe of estate – or, in the case of sovereigns, the pavilion – is an important part of the display of an important lord. (See here for an example of a mantle, here for a pavilion.) Usually lined with ermine, it hangs behind the achievement, and enough of its outside is turned, left and right, to allow the viewer to see its colour.

The pavilion is effectively a more elaborate mantle. At its topmost point is the sovereign’s crown, resting on a bell-like tent structure out of which flows the mantle.

Often, where there is no pavilion, the mantle is topped by a crown, a coronet or sometimes a special cap, and in the case of both pavilions and crowned mantles the robe is knotted on either side, so as to draw it back and display the armorial achievement more effectively.

Carl Alexander von Volborth, in his book Heraldry of the World,[4] writes:

“The origins of the robe of estate can be traced back at least to the sixteenth century. Used sometimes as an alternative to mantling, it stems perhaps from the robes of honour or office that princes and important officials wore on ceremonial occasions or from the draperies around a throne.

“The robe of estate is especially used by princes, the high aristocracy and the holders of certain important offices, but not by all in these categories.
Drummond’s bedroom

“The outside of a robe of estate is usually purple or red, but may also be black or blue, as found at times in Sweden and France. It sometimes has a pattern of fleurs-de-lys, crowns or Napoleonic bees or repeats the charges from the arms. The inside is usually ermine, but yellow (gold) and white (silver) may also be used.”

armorial emblems on household treasures

But all this is getting pretty far away from armory as used by ordinary mortals (and Scottish peers are much more ordinary mortals than their Continental cousins). Back to Moncreiffe and Pottinger, and continuing from the last quote concerning a heraldic gentleman (Drummond, Earl of Perth):

“His heraldic emblems can be used in innumerable ways to mark his property.
Drummond in traditional Scots dress including his crest-badge, with three eagles’ feathers

“They can appear on such things as curtains, furniture, brushes, cuff-links, buttons, brooches, silver, china and writing paper.

“They are also used to identify him. Scotsmen wear their own personal crest or their chief’s crest-badge in their bonnets (chiefs add three eagle’s feathers and chieftains two).

“Livery colours are often used, especially as Racing Colours.

“He can fly his banner over his house, and on his motor car.”

a banner over his house, and on his motor car

To see how a coat of arms appears in different guises for different members of a family, click here.



[1] Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated, by Iain Moncreiffe of Easter Moncreiffe, O St J, MA, LlB, FSA Scot, Advocate, Kintyre Pursuivant of Arms, and Don Pottinger, MA DA, Herald Painter Extraordinary to the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms (Thomas Nelson and Sons, London, first published 1953). Moncreiffe was later chief of Clan Moncreiffe and a baronet (Sir Iain) as well as Albany Herald.

A pursuivant is a junior officer of arms. The rank structure in the British heraldic offices comprises a king of arms (for Scotland, Lord Lyon King of Arms) or kings of arms (for England, Garter Principal King of Arms, and Clarenceaux and Norroy Kings of Arms, and for (Northern) Ireland, Ulster King of Arms), heralds and pursuivants. In the 20th century, the offices of Norroy and Ulster were combined.

[2] Also called a cap of maintenance or cap of estate.

[3] The British sovereign; other crowned European rulers have other arrangements.

[4] Heraldry of the World, written and illustrated by Carl Alexander von Volborth, K St J, AIH, edited by D H B Chesshyre, MA, FSA, Rouge Croix Pursuivant (Blandford Press, Poole, Dorset, 1973), translated from Danish by Bob and Inge Gosney.


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  • Acknowledgement: scans from Simple Heraldry by Howard Lancaster.


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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle

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