Arms in heraldry signify the Armorial bearings(fr. Armoiries), and strictly speaking the term is applied only to those borne upon the shield. Crests, badges, and the like are not properly so described. The origin, or even date, of the earliest examples of armorial bearings has occasioned much dispute, so that the subject requires a treatise to itself.
The various modes of acquiring, and reasons for bearing arms are differently described by different writers, but the following varieties will be found to represent the more usual classification.
Arms of Dominion are those borne by sovereign princes; being those of the states over which they reign: while Arms of Pretension are those borne by sovereigns who have no actual authority over the states to which such arms belong, but who quarter them to express their prescriptive right thereunto.
Arms of Succession, otherwise called feudal arms, are those borne by the possessors of certain lordship or estates: while Arms of Family are hereditary, being borne(with proper differences) by all the descendants of the first bearer.
Arms of Assumption are such as might rightfully be taken, according to certain laws, from the original bearer otherwise than by grant or descent: and Arms of Alliance are those of a wife, which a man impales with his own, or those which he quarters, being the arms of heiresses who have married into his family. Arms of Adoption are those borne by a stranger, when the last of a family grants him the right to bear his name and arms, as well as to possess his estates: and Arms of Concession are granted when an important service has been rendered to the Sovereign. The grant almost always consists of an Augmentation, q.v. Arms of Patronage: those of the lesser nobility or gentry derived from the arms of the greater.
Arms of Community, those borne by cities, towns, abbeys, universities, colleges, guilds, mercantile companies, &c. The arms of abbeys and colleges are generally those of their founders, to which the abbeys usually added some charge of an ecclesiastical character, as a crosier, mitre, or key. Such arms, as well as those borne by Sovereigns, are more properly termed Insignia.
The Royal Arms. Arms have been assigned in subsequent times to all the early kings of England from Alfred the Great onwards, but the earliest English sovereign for whose insignia we have any contemporary authority is Richard Cœur-de-Lion. From that time onwards the series is complete; and in most cases the great seal of each successive reign affords a good illustration. The following notes will be found to represent a brief summary of the more important changes.
Though we have no authority for the arms of WILLIAM I., WILLIAM RUFUS, or HENRY I., writers agree in ascribing to them the following.
Gules, two lions[or leopards] passant gardant in pale or.
Some ingenious writer, knowing that the Sagittarius was ascribed as the badge of KING STEPHEN, substituted it for the lions in the Royal arms, but following late examples, placed three instead of two upon the shield.
According to a theory of comparatively late date, HENRY II., upon his marriage with Eleanor, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Aquitaine and Guyenne, added another lion, and hence the Insignia of England(q.v.)
Gules, three lions passant gardant in pale[called the lions of England] or.
These arms appear very distinctly upon the great seal of his successor, RICHARD I., but there is a second great seal of this king(perhaps even earlier), in which a portion of the shield is shewn, and(possibly by carelessness of the die-cutter) this contains a lion counter-rampant.
The great seals of JOHN, HENRY III., and EDWARD I. exhibit the arms of England very clearly. The seal of EDWARD II. is without a coat of arms, but there is abundance of other evidence for ascribing the same to him.
Le Roy de ENGLETERRE, porte de goules a iij lupars passauns de or--Roll, temp. ED. II.
EDWARD III., for some years after his accession, bore the same arms, but after 1340 he bore--
Quarterly 1 and 4; azure semy of fleur-de-lis or[for France] 2 and 3, arms of ENGLAND.
On the seal is represented, for the first time, a distinct crest(a lion passant on a chapeau).
There are several authorities for the same arms being borne by RICHARD II.; but towards the end of his reign he impaled the imaginary arms of EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, his patron Saint.
Azure, a cross patonce between five martlets or.
HENRY V. bears the same arms, but CHARLES VI. of France having reduced the number of fleur-de-lys in the arms of that kingdom to three, the arms of HENRY V. were then altered, and appear so in the great seal.
EDWARD IV., EDWARD V., and RICHARD III., the same arms, with supporters 'a lion rampant argent, and a bull sable armed and unguled or;' and in one case 'two white boars armed, unguled, and bristled or.'
HENRY VII. and HENRY VIII., EDWARD VI., MARY and ELIZABETH the same arms, excepting that after Mary's marriage with king Philip, she bore the arms of the two sovereigns impaled, viz. with that of PHILIP on the dexter.
Throughout the supporters appear varied. A dragon gules and a greyhound argent appear with the arms of HENRY VII. A dragon and greyhound, also a lion and greyhound, with those of HENRY VIII. A lion and dragon with those of EDWARD VI. A lion and greyhound with those of MARY, and a lion and dragon with those of ELIZABETH. But the authorities, chiefly in sculpture and painting, are not much to be depended on.
JAMES I. On his great seal we find the following:--
Quarterly, I. and IV. counter quartered: 1 and 4 FRANCE; 2 and 3 ENGLAND. II. Or, a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter flory gules--SCOTLAND. III. Azure, a harp or stringed argent--IRELAND.
These arms were continued to be used by CHARLES I., CHARLES II., and JAMES II., and are usually represented in carving, painting, &c., with the same supporters, namely, the lion and the unicorn. It may be noted, however, that CROMWELL, as Protector, bore:--
Quarterly 1 and 4; argent a cross gules[i.e. of St.George, for ENGLAND]. 2, Azure, a saltire argent[i.e. of St.Andrew, for SCOTLAND]. 3, Azure, a harp or, stringed argent[for IRELAND], and on an escutcheon surtout sable a lion rampant gardant argent[for CROMWELL].
Queen ANNE bore the arms of JAMES II., but on the union with Scotland in 1707 the Royal Arms were marshalled:--
Quarterly 1 and 4, ENGLAND impaled with SCOTLAND; 2 FRANCE; 3 IRELAND;
GEORGE I. and GEORGE II. the same, except that in the fourth quartering the arms of HANOVER were substituted for ENGLAND.
GEORGE III. After the Treaty of Amiens in 1801 the Arms of France were abandoned and the Royal Arms were:--
Quarterly 1 and 4 ENGLAND; 2 SCOTLAND; 3 IRELAND; an escutcheon with the arms of HANOVER surtout ensigned with the electoral bonnet[afterwards with a crown].
GEORGE IV. and WILLIAM IV. the same. VICTORIA as follows:--
Quarterly 1 and 4 ENGLAND; 2 SCOTLAND; 3 IRELAND.
From JAMES I. onwards the Lion and Unicorn remained the supporters, generally with the same motto, Dieu et mon droit.