Reprinted from Newsletter 128, dated 2009 April

Glastonbury heraldry: the Abbey, the Crown and the town

Adrian Pearse

A talk by David Orchard

“Glastonbury heraldry: the Abbey, the Crown and the town — some confusions” was the full title of David Orchard’s talk to the Antiquarian Society on November 28.

Two coats of arms. Both have a cross with decorative tips, and and a woman holding a child and a sceptre in the top-left quadrant. The left coat of arms additionally has a shaded background (other than behind the woman), and crowns in the remaining three quadrants.

Two forms of the Abbey arms: bottonee (left) and fleury. (The terms come from French: “budded” and “flowery”.)

The Abbey. Several forms of the Abbey shield of arms have been given over the centuries. It is possible to account for the appearance of the various heraldic devices used, but it is not possible to establish a definitive form.

The shield of arms used just prior to the Dissolution was green, a silver cross bottonee, with a virgin (seated) and child in the first quarter, and the shield surmounted by a mitre pretiosa — this last device having been acquired by Bishop Savaric in 1193. Abbot Whiting incorporated this form of the arms in his personal arms.

However, there are carved examples of these arms surviving from the previous three abbots — Chinnock, Selwood and Beere — which have a cross fleury instead of a cross bottonee as well as variations in the form of the virgin and child, which might suggest the form of the arms was changed in Whiting’s time. In fact, the cross bottonee does occur occasionally throughout this earlier period — such as in the Sherborne Missal of Chinnock’s abbacy [and also in the east window of East Pennard church c.1420 —AVP].

Post-Dissolution and more recent versions of the arms sometimes include crowns in the second, third and fourth quarters, which appear to derive from the arms ascribed to King Arthur. The symbolism of the cross and virgin and child also appear to be based on Arthurian myth as recorded by Blihis in the early 13th century and later by John of Glastonbury; an actual crystal cross survived at the Abbey until the Dissolution period.

The Crown. Many examples of royal arms can be found in Glastonbury — four in the High Street. On the post office are carved the arms of George VI; in St John’s church are splendid Stuart arms — recycled with various Hanoverian versions on the back. The George and Pilgrim has a fine tournament shield from the late 15th or early 16th century bearing the arms of Edward III, and the Tribunal has above its door a Tudor rose and the arms of Henry VII. These decorations as well as the architectural features of the tribunal façade were probably taken from the ruins of the Abbot’s lodging in the early 18th century, David Orchard said, as unauthorized use of royal arms during the Tudor period was a risky undertaking.

The Town — the Borough regalia. Each Glastonbury mace bears the royal arms of Queen Anne. In 1870 Alexander Bailey gave the mayor’s badge, which bears arms of Glastonbury not officially recognized by the College of Heralds. The arms themselves are beautifully executed, but the surrounding metalwork is less competent or has been poorly repaired.