Whence Edward the Confessor’s Arms?

Rous Roll
Illustration of arms in the Rous Roll, ca. 1483-5.7

In a recent response to a post regarding the dating of the arms commonly attributed to the members of the family that ruled Wessex in the latter half of the first millennium CE, I stated that the earliest occurrence was in Segar’s Roll, dated to about 1282. This brief investigation aims to correct that statement and to superficially explore these arms in a little more detail.

The Arms in Extant Rolls

It is clear from Goodall’s (1990) that the arms of Edward the Confessor appears in Rolls starting from 1270-1280.  The earliest mention should thus be assigned to the Herald’s Roll, dated to that period.1 The next mention appears in the Camden Roll, dated to about 1280, next followed by Segar’s Roll, thought to be a few years younger still.2

With regard to dating the original creation of these arms, a definitive date cannot be suggested beyond that it must have been before the creation of the Herald’s Roll (unless that roll itself is to be considered the genesis of these arms).  Given that Henry III had great interest in the cult of Edward, and that he had images of St. Edward and St. Edmund painted in his chapel at Woodstock in 1233, it is possible that this could provide a reasonable terminus post quem.3


The Herald’s Roll (Fitzwilliam, MS 297) gives, under the heading “Le Roy Seint Edward,” azure, a cross or between four martlets of the same.4

The Camden Roll (existing in several 16th and 17th century copies; original dated ca. 1280) gives “Seynt Edward le Roy, l’escu de azur, od une croiz d’or, a quatre merloz d’or,” which is to say the same blazon as given in the Herald’s Roll.5

Segar’s Roll, which exists in a copy, by the herald William Segar dated to 1605 (College of Arms, MS L14), of what is thought to be an original dating to about 1282, shows a different variety of the arms. The cross is now patoncé and the martlets have increased by one, making 5 in total.6 The arms here are again, notably, attributed specifically to Edward the Confessor. Whether this is a true depiction of the 1282 original, or if Segar has “improved” the arms is unclear.

Segars Roll
Segar’s Roll, arms of St. Edward lower left.

Attribution to Edward the Confessor

These arms were clearly intended to be attributed to Edward the Confessor personally, and not to his wider family or antecedents. Presumably (and I am here making an assumption) this is due to his saintly status, given that similar arms do not appear to have been attributed to earlier monarchs of that family. The cross and martlets are a direct reference to the device shown on the reverse of coins issued by Edward during his reign.8 It has also been suggested that the arms are based on the seals of Edward, however it transpires that at least one of the known extant depictions was a forgery and so this cannot be said with any degree of certainty.9

It is a simple matter to cross-reference the arms with contemporary coinage:

Coin Edward Confessor
Coin of Edward the Confessor, dated ca. 1056-59.10

It is noteworthy here that the cross patoncé is nowhere to be seen, and that this appears, along with the fifth martlet, to be a much later addition to the device in general. The arms of Edward the Confessor are nevertheless surprisingly accurate in depicting a motif that was contemporary, and associated, with the man himself and his iconography.

Do you have any further information or comments – leave a note below and I’ll be happy to respond!



1. Goodall, 1990, p. 84.
2. Goodall, ibid.; Greenstreet, 1882, p. 312.
3. Carpenter, 2007, p. 869.
4. I have been unable to access a primary image.  The description here comes from http://www.aspilogia.com/HE-Heralds_Roll/index.html, accessed 8 Oct 2018.
5. Greenstreet, ibid.
6. Goodall, ibid.; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Segar%27s_Roll.jpg, accessed 8 Oct 2018.
7. BL MS 48976; http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_48976 accessed 8 Oct 2018.
8. Neubecker, 1997, p. 30.
9. Brooks, 1974, pp. 214-215 and therein cited sources.
10. See http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/SE/SE1181.html, accessed 8 Oct 2018.


Brooks, N. (1974) “Anglo-Saxon Charters: The Work of the Last Twenty Years” in Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 3, pp. 211-231.

Carpenter, D. A. (2007) “King Henry III and Saint Edward the Confessor: The Origins of the Cult” in The English Historical Review, vol. 122, pp. 865.891.

Edward, E. (1837) The Great Seals of England. London: Henry Hering, pl. I.

Goodall, J. A. (1990) “Rolls of Arms of Kings: Some Recent Discoveries in the British Library” in The Antiquaries Journal, vol. 70.1, pp. 82-94.

Greenstreet, J. (1882) “The Original Camden Roll of Arms” in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, S. 1, vol. 38.3, pp. 309-328.

Neubecker, O. (1997) Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning. London: Little, Brown, and Company.

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