‘Augmentations of Honour’ – Seven Emblems from Historic Coats of Arms and the Amazing Stories Behind Them

Long before soldiers were awarded medals for feats of bravery on the battlefield, nobles, knights and fighting men who distinguished themselves in action might receive a special emblem or ‘augmentation of honour’ from their king to be added to their family’s coat of arms. Often these small emblems or symbols, which graphically represented the celebrated deed, would be incorporated onto the larger clan’s crest. Centuries later, the stories behind these insignia continue to fascinate. (Image source: WikiCommons)

“These badges range from fantastic beasts to bizarre body parts.

By Richard Anderton

FOR CENTURIES, NOBLEMEN (and sometimes women) who committed exceptional acts of bravery on the battlefield were rewarded with the addition of a unique emblem to their family’s coat of arms. Known in the language of heraldry as ‘augmentations of honour,’ these badges ranged from fantastic beasts to bizarre body parts. Here are the stories behind some of the strangest and most famous:

The Third Crusade and the Fowler Owl

What heroism did Sir Robert Fowler perform during the Siege of Acre and what animal symbol did he earn for his crest because of it? (Image source: WikiCommons)

In the year 1191 an obscure English knight named Sir Richard Fowler found himself part of the Christian host besieging the city of Acre. The Saracen army sent break the siege was defeated so the Muslim leader Saladin sent a band of Nizalis to infiltrate the Crusaders’ camp and kill the Christians’ best commander: Richard the Lionheart, King of England. The Nizalis were an Islamic religious sect skilled in the art of clandestine warfare and, thanks to their use of hashish in their devotions, they were more commonly known as Assassins. The Nizalis had already succeeded in killing a number of important Crusaders, but on this occasion, they failed thanks to the sharp-eyed Sir Richard. It was the Fowler who spotted the enemy ‘special-ops’ team trying to sneak through the Christian lines in the dead of night, and raised the alarm. As reward for saving his king’s life, he and his family were permitted to display the symbol of an owl, a nocturnal animal known for its watchfulness, above their coat of arms. CLICK HERE TO SEE IT.

The Wars of Scottish Independence and the Dodge Dug

Centuries before making automobiles, the Dodge family was awarded an especially racy emblem for its coat of arms as thanks for services rendered during one of England’s many wars with Scotland. (Image source: WikiCommons)

According to ‘letters patent’ dated 1306, King Edward I granted Sir Peter Dodge the right to affix to his coat of arms the badge of a woman’s dug (breast) squirting milk as a reward for keeping the English army supplied during his invasion of Scotland [1296]. CLICK HERE TO SEE IT. Though this document is probably a Tudor forgery, the Dodge family wore their breast augmentation (no jokes please!) with pride until the Victorian era when this ‘immodest charge’ was changed to a weeping eye. Incidentally, under the rules of heraldry, those entitled to wear coats of arms may display them on anything they own so John and Horace Dodge, founders of the famous car company, could have used the Dodge Dug as a badge for their automobiles. Fortunately, they chose two interlocking triangles, representing the Greek letter D, instead!

The Reconquista and the Douglas Heart

Robert the Bruce’s dying wish was to have his heart carried into battle against God’s enemies. So, one of the Scottish ruler’s lieutenants took it to war with him in Spain. The story was later immortalized in that knight’s own family crest. WikiCommons)

In 1329, as he lay dying, the Scottish king Robert the Bruce asked for his heart be “carried into battle against God’s enemies” to atone for his failure to go on crusade. The task of carrying out the king’s grisly last wish was given to Sir James Douglas who promptly set sail for Spain where the Christian king Alphonso XI was trying to conquer the Muslim Emirate of Granada. Sir James joined the Spanish army besieging the Muslim stronghold of Teba but he was killed riding to the aid of his fellow Scot Sir William Sinclair.

The Douglas coat of arms. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The Scottish poet John Barbour [c.1320-1395] tells us that Sir James’ last action was to hurl the silver casket containing The Bruce’s heart at the enemy with the cry of “A Douglas will follow or die!” but the Spanish chronicle of the battle merely states that “a foreign count died because of his own rash act.” Whatever the truth behind Douglas’ death, both his bones and the casket were returned to Scotland and Bruce’s heart laid to rest in Melrose Abbey. Ever afterwards, Sir James’ descendants have been permitted to display a crimson heart on their coat of arms to honour their ancestor’s devotion to duty.

The Hundred Years War and the Buchanan Coronet

A particularly gruesome incident from the Hundred Years War would be forever represented on one English family’s coat of arms. (Image source:

Following his crushing victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt [1415], Henry V appointed his brother, Thomas of Lancaster Duke of Clarence, to govern his newly conquered lands. Over the next five years, Clarence conducted a series of devastating raids designed to terrify the local peasantry into submission and, having lost so many noble knights at Agincourt, the French could do little to stop him. In desperation, the French king revived the Auld Alliance with Scotland and the Scots were happy to send a large army to fight the hated English. Shortly before Easter 1421, this Franco-Scottish army cornered Clarence’s forces near the town of Baugé but, though many of his archers had left camp in search of loot, it was the duke who decided to attack. In the melee that followed, Clarence was unhorsed by Sir John Carmichael and wounded by Sir John Swinton before, Sir Alexander Buchanan smashed the duke’s skull with his mace. Seizing the dead Clarence’s bloody helmet, Buchanan held it high above his head whereupon the rest of the English army lost heart and fled. Ever since, the Buchanan coat of arms has been surmounted by a hand holding aloft in triumph a ducal coronet decorated with a Lancastrian rose. CLICK HERE TO SEE IT.

The Anglo-Scottish Wars and the Howard Lion

What act of battlefield bravery enabled England’s Howard family to emblazon their crest with the arrow-pierced likeness of the Scottish Lion? (Image source: WikiCommons)

Almost a hundred years after Agincourt, the Tudor King Henry VIII tried to emulate Henry V by reconquering all the French lands lost during the preceding century. To this end, in the spring of 1513, Henry took a large army across the channel and besieged the strategic town of Thérouanne. In retaliation, the French revived the Auld Alliance with Scotland but this time, in an attempt to divide Henry’s forces, they persuaded the Scottish King James IV to open a second front by invading the North of England. In August 1513, James crossed the Anglo-Scottish border at the head of 30,000 men but, at Flodden in Northumberland, the Scots were utterly annihilated by a scratch English force led by Lord Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. King James was killed, along with most of the Scottish nobility, and, in recognition of this decisive victory, Howard was allowed to add to his coat of arms the badge of a red lion rampant (the heraldic symbol for Scotland) cut in half at the waist and pierced through the mouth by an arrow.

The English Civil War and the Lane Lions

The age of the Medieval knight was long over by the time of the English Civil War. Yet the tradition of awarding augmentations was alive and well, as one noble family found after one of its members saved the future ruler during the 1651 Battle of Worster. (Image source: WikiCommons)

After the execution of his father in 1649, Charles II continued to fight Cromwell’s Roundheads until his rag-bag army of Anglo-Scottish Cavaliers was crushed at the Battle of Worcester [1651]. Following this emphatic defeat, the young king was forced to flee England but, 10 years later, the monarchy was restored and Charles II rewarded many of those who’d helped him with augmentations of honour. These awards included the portcullis granted to Colonel Newman , whose heroic charge allowed Charles to escape from the battlefield (CLICK HERE TO SEE IT), as well as the ‘Three Lions of England and the ‘Roan Horse’ granted to the Lane family (CLICK HERE TO SEE IT). Both these badges commemorate Mistress Jane Lane, who helped Charles elude his Parliamentarian pursers by disguising the fugitive king as her maid and they’re particularly notable for two reasons. Apart from being among the few augmentations to recognise a woman’s courage, the Lanes are still the only commoners legally allowed to display the Royal Arms of England.

The Clark Eagle of Waterloo

The family of a British dragoon still bears a French flag on its coat of arms following an act of bravery during the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars. (Image source: WikiCommons)

After the Battle of Waterloo [1815], a captain of dragoons named Alexander Clark (later Kennedy-Clark) was allowed to add the French tricolour to his coat of arms to honour his capture of a French eagle standard. CLICK HERE TO SEE IT. However, Clark’s claim that he’d seized such a highly-prized trophy was disputed by his jealous rivals in the mess who insisted that it was an English corporal named Styles who’d actually captured the enemy battle-flag. In his defence, Clark agreed that Styles had indeed carried the standard back to the English lines but argued that it was he who’d given it to the corporal, for safekeeping, in the first place. Eventually, the matter was settled in the captain’s favour and his career prospered. Besides his augmentation of honour, Clark was presented with a commemorative baton and immortalised in Jan Pieneman’s epic painting of Wellington’s victory. Clark ended his military career as a lieutenant-general but all poor Styles received was a brief promotion to ensign before he was pensioned off on half pay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Anderton is the author of The Devilstone Chronicles, a new series of historical novels set during the Italian Wars of the 16th Century. Volume 1, The Devil’s Band, uses as its backdrop the true story of Richard de la Pole’s attempts to depose Henry VIII and  restore the House of York to the English throne whilst Volume II The Devil’s Lance, features the historical Dracula’s grandson and a plot to steal the spear used at the Crucifixion from the treasury of the Holy Roman Emperor. Both books are available from Amazon in either paperback or eBook formats and there’s more information about these titles on Richard’s website: www.thedevilstonechronicles.com

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