Per fesse dancetté Or and Azure a chief per pale Gules and of the second charged on the dexter with two keys in saltire Or and Argent and on the sinister with a Cross Flory between five martlets of the first.

College of Heralds, London 1922



THIS IS THE COAT which was issued to Ampleforth in 1922 by the College of Arms when application was made to it to regularise Ampleforth's armorial position as the lineal descendantof Westminster. The purpose of this move was to conform to proper authority and thus not be open to the charge of lack of consideration for post-Reformation bodies already bearing Westminster Arms in their own line of descent.

Pre-Reformation Westminster sometimes used gules two keys in saltire, for St. 'Peter, to whom 'the abbey was dedicated, or azure a Cross Flory between five martlets or, a medieval coat used for the Royal Anglo-Saxon arms, for St. Edward the Confessor, who was always regarded as the principal patron and founder of the abbey and is so regarded at Ampleforth to-day. Both these figure in chief in the Ampleforth coat. But more usually the abbey used the same coat as was granted again. to Ampleforth, which is described as per fesse dancetté or and azure, or azure a chief indented or.

In medieval times this coat was used with a crozier dexter and a mitre sinister in the chief, both gules; and in this form it may be seen in the abbey on the tombs of Abbot Fascet and Cardinal Langham, and on two or three bosses and corbels. But there is a manuscript (Vincent 187, 74A) in the archives of the College of Arms which throws further light on the subject. Augustine Vincent who wrote it was born about 1584, and was successively Rouge Rose Extraordinary; Rouge Croix, and Windsor Herald. He records first the coat as used by Ampleforth to-day (save that both keys are blazoned or) and secondly the coat per fesse dancetté or and azure a crozier and mitre in chief both gules. The difference between the two coats is only in the chief.

Above the second coat he notes Abbates Westmonasterii haec insignia suis coniunxerunt, prioribus illis relictis, and attaches the note to the first coat by a line. This may be translated, The Abbots of Westminster joined these arms to their own, the former arms having fallen into disuse.

The line might be taken to mean either that the first or the second chief is the earlier. Both may be argued. From its appearance the second coat looks more archaic. But whichever coat is earlier it is clear that the crozier and mitre, rather than the keys and martlets, were more widely used as the chief and continued in use until the dissolution of the monastery.

It would be interesting to find medieval exemplifications for the use of the keys and martlets in chief. Vincent at least must have seen examples of this marshalling when he made his record and wrote his note, for he would not have invented them. But the only example so far discovered is the coat used by Thomas Thirleby who became the first and only Bishop of Westminster (1540-50) when Henry VIII created the see to cover the disappearance of the abbey on its first surrender. This is to be found in Bedford's Blazon of Episcopacy and his reference is to the Wriothesley MSS. in the library at Clumber, since dispersed.

From these notes it will be seen that the coat used by Ampleforth still keeps on record the armorial traditions of the Westminster family of monks and that there can be no doubt, if Augustine Vincent is believed, that it was an early coat of the abbey. Thus heraldry bears its witness to a living tradition.

From J.McCann & C.Cary-Elwes, edd., Ampleforth and its Origins, London 1952

Westminster Shield
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5 Feb 2014