Heraldry and Medieval Towns

Heraldry and Medieval Towns

There was a very strong link between heraldry and medieval towns, as cities and towns would use heraldic devices for reflecting their associated characteristics. There are a few heraldic shields that reveal the story behind that particular town, e.g. Colchester, Stepney and Bury St. Edmunds.

Older towns desired to associate themselves with the king in order to show their loyalty with older heraldic devices. Towns frequently had a lion portrayed somewhere - York had five gold lions on a red cross background which connected them with the king and England’s patron saint, St. George.

Around the southeastern coast, the Cinque Ports were found and used the lion to demonstrate a link with them and the Crown. Individually, a Cinque Port would provide ships for England’s defence and so gave protection to the king. A heraldic process was formed by the Cinque Ports which divided a shield in two with a line going vertically down the shield’s centre. One side featured half a lion’s body and the other section was a charge representing the port. The Cinque Port known as Sandwich had three half lions on its shield and three half warships formed together in the middle. Great Yarmouth (which was not a Cinque Port but the Cinque Ports Corporation still ran it) had three half lions and three half fish (tail ends). This may have produced an interesting combination but it showed that the town was loyal towards the king and that it was an important fishing port.

Medieval Town
Medieval Town

Bristol’s shield was a one-off image showing a ship at sea (as it was an important Middle Age port) along with a castle on cliff top to reflect the city’s trading importance.

Towns which had a secure connection to abbeys or monasteries had heraldic shields which were a reflection of this and many included a mitre or cross.

London’s shield featured a sword, representing the sword which killed St Paul who was the patron saint of London. A city called Stepney which was located near the east of London had two tongs on its shield with a ship which highlighted the significance of shipping to Stepney. Both tongs were used by St Dunstan to pinch the devil’s nose.

Colchester’s heraldic shield had a rough cross with three crowns - one at the base, and two each side of the cross’ horizontal branch. The three crowns showed how loyal the town was to the monarchy and the cross referred to Helena, daughter of Coel, where Colchester’s name came from. Coel discovered Christ’s cross during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and Helena preserved it by building a church in Jerusalem. Because of this she was honoured within the city’s heraldic shield.

The heraldic shield of Bury St. Edmunds consisted of three crowns and two arrows going through the crowns individually. These crowns were a representative of the last king of East Anglia’s ancient kingdom (Edmund) and the arrows showed his death by the Danish when he would not deny his Christian faith.

See also:


Medieval Towns

MLA Citation/Reference

"Heraldry and Medieval Towns". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.