I noticed some time back that the headmaster of my school—great guy, actually, surname Murphy—wears a signet ring. At length, I asked him what it depicts and he said, alas, "My family crest." It happens that the image is a crest (with a motto, "Fortis et hospitalis"), rather than a shield or a full achievement, so there was no faulting his heraldic literacy on that count, but inwardly, I suspected that in Ireland as elsewhere, the norm has been for arms to be the property of individuals rather than families. Is that not the case? Or is this "family crest"—looked like a lion rampant—some kind of legit adaptation of a clan identifier?
Ireland is a funny place. While normally arms identify a single person, there also appears to be "sept arms" which, if one can demonstrate their descent from a certain family, one may bear. Do a search on sept arms here: there have been several discussions.
Patrick Williams;50821 wrote:
While normally arms identify a single person, there also appears to be "sept arms" which, if one can demonstrate their descent from a certain family, one may bear.
Ummm… this sounds an awful lot like the same thing as "arms," which, if one can demonstrate his descent from a certain family (defined as the descendants of a common ancestor who bore the arms), one may bear.
Outside Scotland, the idea that arms identify a single person is a myth.
Do a search on sept arms here: there have been several discussions.
As I understand it, the concept of sept arms is based on the premise that Irish people of the same surname living in (or originating from) the same district probably share a common ancestry and therefore are presumed to have some murky sort of right to the same arms, but not really, but…
The same principle underlies the Scottish system of designing arms on a common pattern for everyone with the same surname, but the two systems (Irish sept arms and the Scottish principle of indeterminate cadetship) both trail off into silliness in opposite directions.
(The silliness of the Scottish system lying in the fiction that everyone with the same last name is somehow related and should have similar arms—so if Bret Favre anglicized his name [favre = "smith" in French], moved to Scotland, and applied for a grant of arms, the arms would have to be based on the undifferenced arms of MacGowan or Gow [gobh = Gaelic for "smith"]. The more sensible approach would be to combine the Irish notion of district sept arms and the Scottish system of indeterminate cadetship in both countries. So someone named Murphy whose ancestors were from a particular part of Co. Meath would bear arms similar to but not the same as the "sept arms."
But I was neither the longest-serving Lord Lyon in modern history nor the first Chief Herald of Ireland, so I don’t get to make up the rules in either place. Alas.)
Alas, indeed. Keeping track of all the different systems, however, makes our hobby a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, though. And that can be fun in and of itself.
I won’t address the Irish silliness of sept arms here; but the Scottish version IIRC has two related but more-or-less distinct jutifications—one, as Joe says, is the notion that same name likely means some historic (or pre-historic? ) connection. In some cases—e.g. my wife’s Scottish Conquergoods—this is not at all unlikely—they were too obscure and poor to attract would-be social climbers!; but with the various patronymical "Mac’s" the notion is as Joe notes silly.
The other reason is that, at certain periods in Scottish history, tenants & other lesser folk would sometimes adopt the local nabob’s surname to signify they they were giving allegiance &/or seeking his protection; and that the grander chiefs were held legally accountable for the behavior of all who bore their name, at least in the same general neighborhood. Basing the arms of lesser men on those of their greater namesakes in that context is similar to the common practice in England (& maybe other places) of tenants adopting arms that were variants of those borne by their feudal superiors, though in England AFAIK the adoption of the great man’s surname was not part of the deal.
So is the consensus that it is possible that this crest/motto device on my headmaster’s signet ring is one that all Murphys are entitled to? (Not that I’d be the one to tell him otherwise, and it is, after all, a handsome ring with sentimental value to him whether it’s heraldically valid or not.) I think it’s more or less identical to the crest shown in this bucket shop COA: http://www.4crests.com/murcoatofarf.html
If I understand MacLysaght’s theory of sept arms correctly (and it’s entirely possible that I don’t), all members of the sept (not everyone of the same name, but those of the name from a particular district) have the right to display the arms as those of the sept, but not to use them in a way that suggests they are personally the bearer of the arms. That is, they are a symbol of the hypothetical extended family, but the property of the chiefly house alone.
In other words, a painting on the library wall, yes; engraving them on the family silver, or your bookplate, no. And a signet is about as personal a use of armorial bearings as there can be.
It’s worth mentioning that MacLysaght’s views are disputed by many other scholars of Irish heraldry.
My recollection of MacL’s approach (from the intro to his book on Irish surnames) squares with Joe’s.
Joe also noted that not all heraldists agree with MacL, which is certainly true. However, no one I’m aware of (except perhaps for those "in the business" of selling "your family crest" goodies) is more liberal than MacL; rather, they would allow even less use by unrelated (or at least unproven) namesakes than he did.
Now for a hypothetical—- if your friend or his family were to assume personal or family arms (real family, not just "same name") it is quite likely they would base them more or less on those of "the" historical Murphy chiefs (though they could ignore those & start afresh if they prefer). And if so, they might also choose a crest that would look a lot like the old chief’s, with hopefully at least some difference(s). If the only difference were the color(s), your friend’s seal ring would be technically OK; but I suspect we would encourage him/his family to do something with the crest that would show in B&W or other monochrome e.g. seal matrix. (I don’t recall if that’s covered in our "best practices" guidelines, but if we at some point adopt similar guidelines for designing new arms, we might want to encourage it for both shield and crest.)
If they took that advice, the difference could easily be something that would only require a bit of extra engraving to bring the seal ring into compliance—e.g. add a wreath of laurel or olive or whatever around the lion & sheaf.
Now if you will encourage them to "go armorial" we can play with the shield & crest both!
Michael F. McCartney;50911 wrote:
I suspect we would encourage him/his family to do something with the crest that would show in B&W or other monochrome e.g. seal matrix.
Speaking of which, I think I asked this in another thread and didn’t hear back: Who is a good provider of the artwork I’d need for stationery (monochrome shield, right?), and is there a standard source for heraldic stationery? I guess there wouldn’t necessarily be a difference between corporate logos and CsofA from the stationer’s standpoint, but . . .