Heraldry of the West of England

White feathers for Charlemagne?

I am very reluctant to say that any coat of arms found “in the field” is in error.  I have found that such statements often come back to bite me, or at least show up my ignorance.  After all, heraldry predates the College of Heralds by some centuries and their first task was description of what was, not prescription of what should be.

However, in this case, I think the lad has drawn my attention to a genuine mistake – the sort of thing that, were it on a postage stamp, would make the stamp very rare and valuable.

It concerns the Royal Arms as shown in the church at Poughill, near Bude.  These arms were (probably) first painted in 1635, showing the Stuart arms, and repainted as we see them now in 1805 with the arms of George III – almost.

Because of shifts of power and politics in Europe, George III used three different arrangements of his coat of arms during his reign. The version he used between 1801 and 1816, may be seen correctly displayed in St. Andrew’s church in nearby Stratton.


George III arms at Stratton

Over the arms of Great Britain & Ireland is placed an escutcheon showing King George’s arms as ruler of Hanover; Duke, that is, of what is loosely termed “Hanover,”  but represented in the escutcheon by the arms of Brunswick, Luneburg and Saxony. Over the top of the escutcheon is an Elector’s hat, showing George’s right to take part in electing the Holy Roman Emperor.  The Holy Roman Emperors took their title from Charlemagne.  In the middle of the arms of Hanover is a small escutcheon showing the Emperor’s crown, a distinction worn by George as hereditary Arch-Treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire.



The arms displayed in Poughill church have two subtle differences.

A simple omission of small hearts from the arms of Luneburg is, except perhaps to Luneburgers, a trivial loss of detail that need not be noticed in a coat of arms placed high on a wall.

The placing of the Prince of Wales’ feathers on the escutcheon that ought to be showing the crown of Charlemagne, well!  That is an insult to Hanover and the Empire and an act of laise majesté against the King himself.  Maybe even high treason, if it was meant to hint that it was time the King should be replaced by his son the Prince of Wales.  Unless, of course, the artist could excuse himself by pleading that it was just a simple mistake.

I for one would give him the benefit of the doubt, and save the cost of a yard or two of best hemp.  I can imagine that, given the job of over-painting the shield, the artist trotted across to Stratton and made a sketch of what he saw, or thought he saw, there.  Getting back to Poughill he painted that somewhat crude version of the Electoral Hat, never noticed that there should be hearts scattered over the field of Luneburg, and in place of the unfamiliar and totally misunderstood Crown of the Holy Roman Empire he put the well known badge of Our Fat Friend.

A little note, to save my faithful Reader from having to ask the question – the Prince of Wales did not become Regent until about five years after these arms were painted, and, as Regent his arms included, as well as the white label of the eldest son, the arms of Hanover with no electoral hat and with a blank red escutcheon where Charlemagne’s crown would be.