Introduction

 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.

 An Achievement of Arms such as the Higginson arms depicted on the left typically consists of these parts: the Escrolls, displaying the family motto and name, the family crest (if any) seen above the helmet, the actual Coat of arms (also known as ‘arms,’ or ‘the shield’), the Helmet depicted below the crest, the Torse on top of the helmet, and the Mantle draped from the helmet. Each of these elements will be described below. Supporters were a Achievement of Arms of Higginson Mantle of Higginson later addition to the Achievement; they are somewhat rare, and are usually personal to the grantee.

 The mantle was spread over and draped from the helmet and served as a protection, ‘to repel the extremities of wet, cold, and heat, and to preserve the armour from rust.’ The numerous cuts and slits suggest that it had been torn and hacked on the field of battle. The style or design of the mantling is up to the individual heraldic artist, and it is usually depicted in the main color and metal from the shield. The helmet (or Helm) varied in shape in different ages and countries, often depicting rank. The Esquire’s Helm, as depicted here, is generally shown silver, with a closed visor and facing to the dexter (its right). On top of the helmet is a Torse or wreath which was formed by two pieces of silk twisted together. Its purpose was to hold the crest and mantle on the Helm.

Motto

 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. 

Shield

 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:

 HIGGINSON ARMS

 A black shield with three silver towers in fesse between three gold trefoils in chief and three in base.

 BLACK SHIELD

 Sable (Archaic or literary English for black), the coldest of the colors, corresponds to lead. Black, or “sable,” is symbolic of sadness. It also corresponds with winter and is a humble color, suitable for the deeply religious. It denotes the qualities of knowledge, piety, serenity and work. Engravers represent it with numerous horizontal and vertical lines crossing each other. Symbolic Virtues: Sable symbolizes the virtues of prudence and wisdom. The bearer of sable is obliged to protect widows and to guard the possessions of those who are absent. It is associated with serenity, pity and grief. Precious Stone: Diamond Planet: Saturn Obligations: Protect widows and guard the possessions of those who are absent.

THREE

 “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.

 SILVER

 Argent (from the French for silver), or silver is one of the two metals used in heraldry. It is usually represented on a shield by the colors gray or white. This metal represents nobility, peace and serenity. It is associated with the qualities of purity and chastity, because the metal withstands the test of fire.

 

TOWER

 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.

 FESSE

 The fesse is a broad, horizontal band across the center of the shield that represents the military belt and girdle of honor of the ancients. It signifies that the bearer must always be in readiness to act for the well being of the people. It is supposed to occupy a full third of the height of the shield, though it is seldom drawn this way, and it is subject to the lines of partition. Its position is directly across the center of the shield unless the fesse is described as enhanced or abased. There can only be one fesse on a shield. If more than one is present then they are termed bars.

GOLD

 “Or” (from the French word for gold) is the tincture of gold, or in heraldic terms “or,” was considered the noblest color. One of only two metals used in heraldry, it exceeds all others in value, purity and finesse. It represents the light of the sun, and was once borne only by princes. Gold is said to gladden the heart and destroy all works of magic. It is also associated with excellence and achievement, and the bearer surpasses all others in valor. It is represented on coats of arms by the color yellow, and in engravings by an indefinite number of small points.

 

 TREFOIL

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.

 IN CHIEF

 Any charge that is said to be ‘in chief’ is placed in the upper 1/3 of the shield. A chief itself stands for authority and domination of will.

IN BASE

When a charge is placed at the bottom of a shield it is said to be ‘in base.’

THE CREST

 The Crest was worn on top of the helmet, and was usually made of wood, metal, or boiled leather. It provided the double advantage of easy identification and the addition of height to the wearer. The Crest for the surname Higginson is described as follows:

GREEN

 “Vert” (from the French word for green) signifies felicity and pleasure. It was symbolic of joy, youth and beauty. Green was also associated with the spring. The bearer of the green is obliged to defend the peasant and all who work on the land. It is expressed in engravings by lines in bend, or slanting to the right.

 GRIFFIN SEGREANT

 The griffin is a mythical creature, with the head, wings and talons of an eagle and the body and hind legs of a lion. It is thus composed of the most royal of the birds and the beasts. The griffin was thought to find and guard mines of gold and hidden treasures. It is a principal device in heraldry, signifying valor, strength, vigilance, and perseverance. The symbolism of the griffin was described by Alexander Nisbet in his System of Heraldry (1722) translated from Latin as: “The griffin represents wisdom joined to fortitude, but wisdom should lead, and fortitude follow.” A distinctive feature of the griffin is that it has ears, which are large and stand up from its head. This is the only feature that differentiates a griffin’s head from an eagle’s. The griffin can be found in all the heraldic positions (segreant, passant, sejant etc.). A male griffin, for some reason, does not have wings; instead it is adorned with spikes at various points. The male griffin is a much rarer heraldic charge than the winged female. In the middle ages hybrids such as this one were assumed to be possible and to actually exist, just as a mule, which is a cross between a horse and a donkey, existed. It then followed logically that as mules were unable to reproduce, neither would the griffin. This explained why griffins were so rare and hardly ever seen. A griffin segreant is one shown rearing up, facing the dexter (its right), and standing on one hind leg with the other legs and the claws raised. Segreant, is the equivalent of rampant, but the word is uniquely applied to griffins.

DEMI

 Demi refers to a charge of which only the upper half is shown.

TOWER

 The tower is an emblem of strength and fortitude. It some cases, towers were located at each corner of the castle offering greater sight 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.’

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