English arms
June 2008 / August 2012

English arms : overview

THIS overview contains a description of the arms, places them in their historical context, and makes some comments about claiming the arms.

Description of the arms

The English Halliday/Holliday arms, which date from the early 16th century if not earlier, depict three silver helmets on a black shield framed in a silver border. The crest, dating from 1605, is a golden demi-lion holding an anchor. A Latin motto associated with the arms since the 1620s or '30s is "Quarta salutis".

Meaning? — Does the design have any particular meaning? Well, the helmets and the colour combination no doubt appealed to the original owner of the arms, whoever he was. Whether the helmets held any special significance for him, or he simply liked the look of them, we shall never know.

It's interesting that very few medieval English arms featured helmets as charges. Foster's Some Feudal Coats of Arms (1902), compiled from 14th- and 15th-century rolls of knights' arms, lists only six coats of arms which depicted helmets.

Centuries ago, some writers of heraldry books invented specific meanings for colours and charges, but these existed only in their imaginations and were not used in practice. To quote Sir Anthony Wagner, arguably England's foremost heraldry scholar of the 20th century : "Contrary to popular belief, most coats of arms have no known meaning. Their primary purpose was and is to be distinctive, not significant".WHHB

Crest — As the crest of a golden demi-lion holding an anchor was designed specifically for Sir Leonard Holliday in 1605, it may very well have a meaning. The lion ('leo' in Latin) may refer to his name, and the anchor to his prominence in maritime trade. This is pure speculation on my part.

Motto — The motto 'Quarta salutis' ("the fourth for salvation") appears to have been adopted by William Holliday or his family in the 1620s or '30s. It is said to refer to the Helmet of Salvation mentioned in the New Testament, i.e. three helmets on the shield and an unseen fourth helmet, being the Helmet of Salvation. 'Salutis' comes from 'salus', which also means 'health', 'welfare', and other related words.

Burke's publications give the motto without the final 's', and the translation as "the fourth to health", which doesn't make as much sense as the original.

Historical context

The origins of the arms are lost in the mists of time. They have evidently been in existence for around six hundred years, although they have probably not been in continuous use for all that time.

They can be traced to Lincolnshire in the early 15th century. They appeared again in London in 1600 and, reportedly, in Oxford some time later. Since the 18th century, they have been used in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, and in Virginia and Maryland in America. How many users of the arms actually had a legal claim to them is unclear.

15th centuryRobert Halliday, who lived in Burgh (Lincolnshire) in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, appears to be the earliest identifiable user of the arms. This can be deduced from the use of the arms as a quartering by his Massingberd descendants. His daughter Agnes, who was his sole heiress, had married a Massingberd.MMS

At that time, English gentlemen who wanted coats of arms simply devised their own and took them into use. It was not until the 1430s that the kings of arms (senior royal heralds) began granting arms as a form of honour. Even then, devising one's own arms remained legal until the 18th century.

Did any other male Halliday use the arms during the 15th century? It's been claimed that the arms were granted to someone during the reign of King Edward IV (1461-83),BC but this is not proven and the College of Arms says it has no record of any such grant.BPR

16th century — In the 16th century, the royal heralds began conducting periodic county-by-county visitations, to record the coats of arms in use, and the pedigrees of their users. There were six rounds of visitations between 1530 and 1597. The visitation records are kept at the College of Arms and are not accessible to the public. However, unofficial copies are to be found in libraries and collections, and many have been published. While the Massingberds were recorded as using the Halliday quartering,BPR apparently no male Hallidays were found to be using them.

17th century — By 1600, however, London merchant Leonard Holliday was using the arms. The shield with the helmets, less the border, was stamped on the bindings of some books which he presented to St John's College, Oxford.UBAB How he acquired the arms is unclear, but his use of them evidently satisfied the College of Arms when he placed his arms (with the border) on record in 1605, and obtained a grant of a crest to go with them.BPR, MGDH, MSG

In 1624, the College granted the arms and crest, both suitably differenced, to Sir Leonard's cousin William Holliday. As William had no son, his arms were inherited by his daughters Anne Mildmay and Margaret Hungerford, and passed to his Mildmay descendants as a quartering.

Both Sir Leonard's and William's arms were displayed in various buildings and memorials connected with their children and grandchildren.

There were six further rounds of visitations between 1611 and 1687. Sir Leonard's grandson, John Holliday of Bromley (Middlesex), was recorded in the visitation of Middlesex in 1664,BPR, VCM but no other male Hallidays appear to have been using the arms. Nevertheless, Archdeacon Barten Holyday of Oxford is said to have used the arms.MGDH

The system of visitations ended in 1687.

18th and 19th centuries — After the visitations ended, the arms began to appear in unofficially published, and often inaccurate, reference books, such as Edmondson's Complete Body of Heraldry (1780), Berry's Enyclopaedia Heraldica (1828), Robson's British Herald (1830), and Burke's General Armory (1844 and later editions).

While the sources of some of the published arms is clear, others appear to be descriptions of incorrect or discoloured depictions of the arms, or of other families' arms, or the results of copying or printing errors. As some of the authors pirated material from the others, the errors were repeated.

Burke's Commoners of England, Scotland and Ireland (1836) revealed that Hallidays in Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire were using the arms and claiming that they had been granted in the time of King Edward IV. As the College of Arms has no record of any such grant, and no Halliday appears to have recorded the arms at any of the visitations of those counties between 1530 and 1682, this claim might be regarded as unproven.

By then, too, some Hallidays had migrated to North America and established families there. Two early 20th-century American reference books attribute arms to Virginia and Maryland branches,BAA, CGA and there is reportedly also 18th-century evidence of the use of the arms.

The story of the grant in the time of King Edward IV has been embellished to make out that the king himself granted the arms, and a knighthood, to his "master of the revels" Walter Halliday, for bravery in the battle of Tewkesbury in 1470/71.CGA, HHF In the absence of hard evidence, this might be regarded as a romantic fantasy.

Claim to the arms

Who today can rightfully claim any of these historical Halliday arms? Only the College of Arms can say for certain. Their website contains general guidelines about inheritance, and proving claims to historical arms.

Principles of inheritance — The general principle in England is that a coat of arms and its crest belong to the original owner and to all his legitimate male descendants. Daughters have courtesy use of the arms – but not the crest – for their lifetimes.

Daughters do not pass on the arms to their children unless they are heraldic heiresses, i.e. their fathers have died, and they have no living brothers or brother's children to continue the arms. Even then, an heiress can transmit the arms to her children only if they also inherit a coat of arms from their father. The two arms are then quartered on single shield.

Proving descent from a Halliday/Holliday armiger — To establish a clear right to inherit any of the historical Halliday arms, one would need to compile a pedigree showing descent from a lawful owner of one of those arms. Each generation (except one's father and grandfather) would need to be verified by means of documents such as birth, baptism, or marriage records. The services of a professional genealogist might be needed for such a project.

Who were the lawful owners of the historical Halliday arms? The official view is that only people on record at the College of Arms are the lawful owners of English arms.

The only historical Halliday arms which appear to fit that bill are Robert's (as a quartering used by the Massingberds), Sir Leonard's and William's. Of these three, only Sir Leonard had male descendants.

Sir Leonard's descendants, i.e. his son John (1682-1610), his grandson John [II] (b 1610), and his great-grandson John [III] (1641-65), were placed on record at the College in 1664. AVM, BPR

Did the male line continue beyond them? If not, perhaps his arms could have passed as a quartering through John [II]'s daughter Elizabeth (b 1662) or even his sister Elizabeth (1608-31), who married John Jacob.

If some American publications are correct, Sir Leonard also had a great-grandson named Thomas, who migrated to America and founded a branch of the family there. However no such Thomas is listed in the pedigree recorded at the College.

Clearly there is scope for further research into Sir Leonard's descendants.

Anyone wanting to claim the arms on the basis of the supposed grant dating from the reign of King Edward IV, would need to prove that the grant really did exist, and to identify the grantee. The College of Arms has stated that it has no record of such a grant.BPR However, if someone were to produce the original document, or solid proof that it existed, the College would no doubt be very interested to examine it.

These are merely my views, and should not be taken as anything more than that. Only thorough and well-documented research into an individual's ancestry can provide any conclusive results.

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