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Old Screeds


Gules, Three Sagittary In Pale Or [10 Oct 14] King Stephen's Sagittaries.

I've blogged about King Stephen of England and his wemic coat of arms before, here and here. I had already found one version of his arms, displaying a single "sagittary," and now I've found an illustration of the other version, displaying three. Here's a link, but you have to scroll down, or search for "Stephen." Here are both heraldic devices:

Coat of Arms of King Stephen I of England Coat of Arms of King Stephen I of England

I've got three definitive sources for this heraldric lore.

First, a fellow named Nicholas Upton described the coat of arms in his work on heraldry and war, "Libellus de Officio Militari," written some time before 1446. Here's the relevant quote in Latin, with a very crude translation by me and Google Translate following:

Scutum rubeum, in quo habuit trium leonum penditantium corpora, usque ad collum cum corporibus humanis superius, aa modum signi Sagittarii, de auro.

The shield of red, on which he had of the three lions below bodies, even to the neck with the human body to the top, and, after the manner of the sign of Sagittarius, of the gold.
It's that leonum that makes my heart race, of course!

Second, there's "The regal armorie of Great Britain, from the time of the ancient Britons to the reign of queen Victoria," by Alexander M. Brunet, published in 1839. I have screen grabs of the actual Frontispiece as well as a relevant excerpt, which says:

The city of Blois, capital of Blesois (a county of France), used the ensign of a sagittary, as an emblem of hunting, much practised in that woody country, watered by the great river Loire. Stephen adopted the banner of the sagittary, in the civil war which he carried on in England against the rights of the empress Matilda. His residence being in London .... her partizans gave to Stephen the name of the Sagittary of London Park.
This is remarkable for the idea that Stephen adopted the sagittary from Blois -- note that history also recalls him as "Étienne de Blois" -- so it will be interesting to try to track that down. Also, note that lions were the sign of his royal house, so it will be interesting to find out if it was Stephen who added the lion to the sagittary, or if it was already a leonine centaur in its original form in Blois. BTW, my source for "The regal armorie of Great Britain" is this page at ForgottenBooks.com.

Third, I have a book from the dawn of the Twentieth Century, "Fictitious & Symbolic Creatures in Art," by John Vinycomb, published in 1906. The entire text of the book is available at Project Gutenberg, and I have screen grabs of the Frontispiece and the key excerpt, courtesy Google Books. This is my source for the Upton quote above, and Vinycomb goes on to say

In this, as in some other early examples, it is represented as half man, half lion. .... The arms of Stephen are sometimes represented with but one sagittary, and is said to have been assumed by him in consequence of his having commenced his reign under the sign of Sagittarius. Others say because he gained a battle by the aid of his archers on entering the kingdom. Others, again, say that the City of Blois used the ensign of a sagittary as an emblem of the chase; and Stephen, son of the Compte de Blois, assumed that ensign in his contest with the Empress Maude or Matilda. There is no contemporary authority, however, it must be confessed, for any of these derivations. A sagittary is seen upon the seal of William de Mandeville (temp. Henry III.), but not as an heraldic bearing.
This is interesting not only for the alternative ideas on why Stephen used a sagittary for his crest, but also for the reference to William de Mandeville, which gives me a project for some other rainy day. Note, though that the constellation theory and the good archers theory are not verifiable; in theory, at least, I can find out if the City of Blois ever used a sagittary as an "ensign."

And on a personal note, I have to say I am sad that Stephen lost his civil war to Matilda. Just think -- if history had just turned the other way, there might have been a wemic smack dab in the middle of the Union Jack!


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