Thursday, May 25, 2023

A Final Armorial Memorial in Grantchester Church

Our final stop in the little Church of St. Andrew and St. Mary in Grantchester, England, is a carved armorial stone slab to Mary Robson.

The inscription in its entirety reads:

Here Lies ye Body of
Daughter of Mr. JAMES ROBSON
(Late ALDERMAN of Cambridge)
Who lived, and died,
like a good Christian,
on the 23d. day of Decemr.
Aged 53 Years.

But of course, the main attraction to me was the nicely carved coat of arms at the top of the slab.

A blazon of what the arms look like: On a fess between two chevrons three billets. (No hatching, so no guessing at the colors of the field or any of the charges.)*

So I went hunting.

In Burke’s General Armorial I found:

Robson (co. Essex). Or a fess counter-componée gules and sable between two chevrons sable.
Robson. Or a fess paly gules and sable between two chevrons sable.

The Dictionary of British Arms, Vol. 3, p. 386, gave me:

Robson, William, of Essex. Argent a fess compony gules and sable between two chevron sable; and
Robsun, William, of Essex, Or a fess compony or and sable between two chevrons sable.

(Note the differences in the tinctures of the field and of the fess.)

My best guess at this point is that the stonecarver (or the surviving family, or both) didn't know the difference between a fess paly and a fess charged with three billets.

Fairbairn’s Crests gives no Robsons with this crest. The closest is: Robson: Out of a mural coronet azure a boar’s head erminois crined azure. Mural coronet? Check! Demi-lion rampant? Uh, no.

Is this a legitimately borne coat of arms? Well, maybe. It is very similar to Robson of Essex, and Essex abuts Cambridgeshire to the north.

But the inability to find the crest, and the potential issue of whether the fess is paly or charged with three billets, leaves me wondering whether it was simply adopted by James Robson (or one of his forbears) on the assumption that because the surname is the same, therefore the arms must be also.

That is not the case. As American heraldic author William H. Whitmore pointed out more than a century and a half ago: "Identity of surname raises no presumption of identity of origin." But it is a common misconception, one that heralds and heraldic authors have been fighting for several centuries now, in England, in America, and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, that issue should not distract us from the fact that this is a nice heraldic memorial to a lady who lived and died over three centuries ago.

* And in all of the discussion here, I am going to ignore the fact that, since this is a memorial to a woman, the coat of arms should by all rights, especially given the time, be displayed on a lozenge, and that without helmet, crest, and mantling.

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