The quirks of Livery Company Coats of Arms

One of the most popular of the lectures I deliver for the Arts Society is that on the Heraldry of the City of London and its Livery Companies. When I offered to repeat the lecture for the Heraldry Society in the summer of 2020 it resulted in over 500 enrolments and a sorry looking wait list! Clearly there is substantial interest in the topic - not least because of it's strong visual appeal.

Aside from the immense amount and variety of visual material this topic provides, it is also evergreen as the Livery Companies continue to return to the College of Arms in order to make additions to their armorial achievements or engage the services of heraldic artists to depict their arms in new and innovative ways. Meanwhile new Guilds and Companies without Livery periodically embark on the process of petitioning for arms thereby adding to the emblazoned panoply of corporate arms in the Square Mile.

During my exploration of this topic I have discovered an array of heraldic quirks and foibles that are, I think, quite unique to the City of London. In some cases the origins of these oddities are known, in others they remain a mystery despite the proximity of the College of Arms and its Herald who have been located in the Square Mile since the middle of the 16th century.

In 2019 I commissioned a poster of the Arms of the Livery Companies and the Companies without Livery thinking there would be little change until one of the various Companies without Livery progressed to full Livery company status. What I never imagined is that two Livery Companies would go on to make amendments to their existing armorial bearings in 2020. 

A2 poster of the arms of the City of London's Livery Companies

The most recent livery company to petition for supporters is the Worshipful Company of Fletchers, granted in June 2020. The petition for supporters was initiated as a result of the Company petitioning the Crown for a Royal Charter - itself an exceptional act for such an ancient Company.

Hitherto the company had no grant of supporters but employed two rather curious looking demi-characters plonked into ornate plant pots in lieu of an official grant - these are not in fact supporters since they are not holding the shield, hence offering no 'support'. 

While the new grant is mentioned in the College of Arms newsletter of October 2020 it makes no visual appearance therein and rather annoyingly the blazon isn't reported either. The Company is still awaiting digital imagery of the supporters - so for the time being we'll have to wait to see what the Kings of Arms have approved although my well placed spies and informants tell me the new supporters are not dissimilar to that which has been in use for some years.

Arms of the Fletchers' Company
The supporters employed until June 2020

The Company to have obtained a grant of supporters  is the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders. This livery company has the dubious honour of having gone up in smoke - twice. The first time was on the surrender of its Royal Charter in 1643, and the second time was in 1864. The Company was reformed in 1954 and granted livery status in 1960 - hence an ancient trade finds itself among the Modern livery companies, ranked 82nd in the order of precedence. 

The Tobacco Pipe Makers recently petitioned for a new grant of supporters and were granted two spectacular Phoenixes by the Kings of Arms. The two birds are shown being consumed by and reborn from the fire, a very apt pair of supporters considering the history of the company and the way their product is used.

This new grant was in lieu of a previous one that showed two gentlemen, a North American of African origin dexter [described in the blazon as a Negro] and a native Kenyan sinister as supporters. It should be noted the previous grant was made in 1956 and should be viewed as of its time - not appropriate to the 21st century. It should further be noted that there is no general issue with persons of Afro-Carribean, native American or African origin appearing in arms as is evidenced variously by the coats of arms of Belize, Jamaica, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia - all Commonwealth countries; and those of the Distillers and Gold & Silver Wyre Drawers' companies.

The new supporters to the Tobacco Pipe Makers' Arms

The previous supporters to the Tobacco Pipe Makers' Arms

In both cases the shield shows a good example of a technique known as diapering, an artistic effect to fill the field (background of the shield) with a repeating pattern that gives contrast and depth but is not part of the blazon and therefore not part of the official grant. Diapering also appears on several shields in the Armourers' Hall where past masters were not armigerous and chose to have a plain blue shield depicted with golden diapering alongside those of other Past Masters who were armigerous - a sort of heraldic place holder if you like. There's nothing wrong with this and should the user become armigerous the shield may be replaced.

Examples of diapering in Armourers' Hall

This, in my view is preferable to the display of fantasy arms, which I loosely describe as assumed arms which do not follow the rules of heraldic design. Thankfully such examples are mercifully few among the Livery Companies, but occasionally a heraldic farrago appears, such as the example below.

The least said about this armorial melange, appearing in one Livery Hall, the better

Occasionally a Livery Company will display arms that are lawfully borne by a current or past member, but make an error in the way they are displayed. For example, these arms of HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Gloucester, on display in the Vintners' Hall are displayed back to front! Even Guildhall made a mistake in the attribution of the arms of the first Mayor of London (Henry FitzAilwyn) by describing the owner as Lord Mayor - an error later redacted but visible in Guildhall.

Royal lions 'running away' from battle - hardly a noble image!

Lest the Fletchers and Tobacco Pipe Makers think they are trend setters among the older companies where granting of supporters is concerned, the Fan Makers' Company preceded them both when it petitioned for a grant of supporters in 2015 when a Griffin holding a jet engine fan was added as the dexter supporter, and a Dragon holding a mechanical (or induction) fan as the sinister supporter. These additions illustrate the Company's connection with the modern air movement industries. The Griffin and the Dragon are also appropriate City symbols and it is no surprise that the Company won the Heraldry Society's Corporate Heraldry Award in 2019.

The Fan Makers' Arms with the supporters granted in 2015

Another unusual aspect of livery company heraldry that warrants exploration is the usage of peers helms, ie. those sporting a closed grille. The most prevalent example of corporate heraldry using a peers helm is in the armorial bearings of the City of London, where the presence of the helm is taken to indicate the Lord Mayor's status as ranking with and among the Earls while in office. It should be noted that this status pertains to the office and not to the occupant although he or she may also be a peer of the realm in their own right as was Lord Mountevans in 2016.

Arms of the City of London displaying a peer's helm, but should the underside of the mantling be Ermine?

Four livery companies also display a peers helm; the Fishmongers; Goldsmiths; Apothecaries Society and the Clockmakers. To these I would add the arms of the Armourers and Brasiers' Company which has, in the past, shows an unusual closed helm also with a grille - although the most recent grant of 1970 shows a conventional esquires helm.

The Arms of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers

In the case of the Fishmongers' Company the depiction of a peers helm seems to predate the reign of James I when the various social ranks became associated with particular depictions of a helm. The helm appears without explanation in a grant of 1536 when the Fishmongers merged with the Stockfishmongers (a stockfish is a cod).

The Arms of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths - ancient and modern depictions

The Goldsmiths' Company is another that has no clear reason for displaying a peers helm, certainly it is not in the original grant of crest and supporters from 1571. In 1891 Garter King of Arms issued a certificate of exemplification of the Goldsmiths' Arms which shows a peers helm - but without explanation. Since then the company has more often depicted its arms without a helm at all - very confusing. The Company also uses a monochrome depiction of its arms that positions the buckles in the 2nd and 3rd quarters incorrectly. The blazon clearly states the buckles are in Chief (ie. either side the top of the cup, not either side of the stem).

The Arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

The Society of Apothecaries is another livery company that has a peers helm, again appearing in the official grant but without explanation. As is likely the case for the Fishmongers' Company the appearance of the peers helm is probably just the artists favourite design and predates the usage of distinct helms for different social ranks.

The Arms of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers

The Clockmakers' Company is the last of the livery companies to display a peers helm and while it is clear in the original grant of arms of 1671, the reasoning is not given. Again, it seems this usage is merely the choice of the artist.

Arms of the Armourers & Brasiers' Company - past depiction of the helm

Clearly a peers helm in the depiction of the Company's arms atop Armourers' Hall

The penultimate of the oddities I will explore in this blog is the story of the Cooks' Company's arms. Only the Worshipful Company of Cooks could think that having too many cooks is a good idea, and hence they elect two Masters: The first Master and the second Master. Various stories exist as to why this situation arose, my favourite is that the King and the Lord Mayor both commanded the Master Cook to attend upon them for different banquets on the same day; the expedient solution to this conundrum was to elect a second Master and the custom stuck.

Not content with having two Masters the company has, throughout its history, depicted its arms with supporters that are either pierced by an arrow or free from injury. The Company has as many examples with the buck and the doe shot as it does not... so which is correct?

Some years ago one of the Company's two Masters decided to resolve the matter and took the question to the heralds at the College of Arms. After much deliberation their adjudication was given - NEITHER!

It seems the issue was not so much whether the buck and the doe should be shot with an arrow, but rather the colour of the engrailled chevron was long depicted as gules (red) where it should be sable (black). In theory the Company could have been fined for claiming a right to armorial bearings to which it had no lawful right. I suspect the matter was settled by the Master Cook offering to entertain the heralds at a fine banquet, though were is a mystery for the Company's hall succumbed to fire in the 18th century; I am sure this is no reflection on the Company's cookery skills!

The official history of the Worshipful Company of Cooks depicts the erroneous arms!

The last armorial oddity among the Livery Companies is the simple fact that one among the 110 Livery Companies and the two armigerous Companies without Livery uses arms that have never been lawfully granted, otherwise known as 'assumed' arms. Assumed arms have all the legitimacy of an assumed surname or an assumed title of dignity - while not illegal it is unlawful. I leave it to others to figure out which Company has chosen this path!

Want to learn more about the Livery Companies?

The City of London Freeman's Guide is the definitive concise guide to the City of London and its ancient and modern Livery Companies, their customs, traditions, officers, events and landmarks. Available in full colour hardback and eBook formats and now in its fourth or Masterpiece edition. The guide is available online from Apple (as an eBook), Amazon (in hardback or eBook) Payhip (in ePub format) or Etsy (in hardback or hardback with the author's seal attached). Also available from all major City of London tourist outlets and bookstores.


The City of London Freeman's Guide is available in all major City retail outlets and online

I welcome polite feedback and constructive comment on all my blog articles. If you spot and error or omission, please do let me know (please illustrate with verifiable facts linked to an authoritative source where appropriate).

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