Keep it in the family...

Coat of arms as a reflection of family histories

St Nicolas' Church, Freefolk. Close up of a decorative structure with Coat of Arms of Sir Richard Powlett.When a couple marry, if they are both entitled to bear arms then the shield is impaled with the husband’s arms on the dexter side and the wife’s on the sinister side.

If the wife has no brothers, she becomes an heraldic heiress when her father dies. Only then can her arms be placed in the middle of her husband’s shield as a shield of pretence.

More importantly, when she dies her arms can be included or quartered with the family arms. This results in some of the older English families having extremely complicated coats of arms as they are keen to show all the important families that they Duke of St Albans coat of Arms size 3married into over the centuries.


Where marks of illegitimacy were used, they were not used to denote punishment or disgrace.  They were used simply to indicate (particulalry if it was a first born male) that he was establishing a separate branch of the family without any right of succession.

Some of the illegitimate sons of Charles II bore the Royal Arms marked with a “baton sinister” on top of it, such as the Dukes of St Albans. 

Duke of St Albans coat of Arms wiki graphic size 2The Arms show the Stuart Royal Arms with a red bar lying diagonally across the middle with three silver roses on it.  It was created in 1684 for a fourteen year old Charles Beauclerk, 1st Earl of Burford. Charles II had accepted that Burford was his illegitimate son by Eleanor (Nell) Gwynn, an actress, and awarded him the Dukedom.

Another way to difference and mark illegitimacy was a wavy border around the shield.

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