Heraldry, in its early form, was probably introduced to Ireland by the Anglo-Normans around 1172, but by then the practice of using symbols to identify important individuals would not have been unknown to the Irish. It was not until much later that heraldry was regulated by the English Crown, and Irish symbols were then included in the armory.
The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.
The motto for the Higginson coat of arms displayed here is:
Malo mori quam foedari
This translates as:
I would rather die than be disgraced.
Shields (or Escutcheons) at first were painted simply with one or more bands of color or ‘ordinaries’. Later, the ordinaries were used in conjunction with other figures or symbols. The Coat of Arms for the surname Higginson can be described as follows:
“Three” devices, beasts or ordinaries of the same have a special significance in heraldry. First of all, there is the obvious reference to the Trinity in the design that would signify observance of the Christian doctrine. Secondly, with many Arms it brings balance that is steeped in tradition. To better understand this latter scenario, we must look at the evolution of shield in personal armory. Kite shields that were the most popular from the the 10th-14th century evolved into Heater shields that had flat tops c. 1250. This was the time of heraldry’s beginnings and when “three” objects were used for balance in each corner of the shield. Later, with the advent of the “chief,” “chevron” and “bend” three devices brought balance to these ordinaries too.
The tower is an emblem of strength and fortitude. It some cases, towers were located at each corner of the castle offering greater sigh
t lines of the enemy approaching. In other cases, they were standalone buildings that were scattered throughout the countryside to view an enemy approaching, offering a first line of defense and method of an early alert to the castle. Accordingly, it is a symbol of defense and of a steadfast individual. Visually the difference between a tower and a castle is that a tower is a single column topped by a turret, whereas a castle usually has more towers joined by a wall with a door. This was a distinction that was rarely observed in ancient days, but now it is faithfully adhered to. When smaller towers surmount either a castle or a tower it is called ‘triple-towered.’
A green demi griffin segreant emerging from a tower.
The trefoil is a three leaved plant, resembling a three- leafed clover, usually shown slipped (with a stem at the bottom). It is a symbol of perpetuity, with the three leaves representing the past, present and future. It is also sometimes a symbol of fertility and abundance.