by Mike Oettle
EVERY coat of arms must be unique – that’s the traditional law of heraldry.
But how exactly does this uniqueness work?
The uniqueness is limited to a particular realm – not the British Empire, because it didn’t exist in the Middle Ages, but for instance England, or Scotland, or Ireland, or France, or the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the Holy Roman Empire, until 1444, a dukedom of Urslingen was to be found in Swabia.
The dukes bore a coat of arms: argent, three inescutcheons gules. (A silver or white shield with three small red shields.)
For only 10 years, from 1371 to 1381, the Urslingens owned the city of Schiltach, but the city council used the duke’s arms on its seal. And although the city belonged to the Dukes (later the Kings) of Württemberg from 1444 to 1918, the city authorities retained the arms of Urslingen because the pun was appropriate (in German, an inescutcheon is ein Schildchen).
These arms were coincidentally also borne by a Norman-British family (of Flemish origin) known originally as De la Haye, and which in Britain gradually became known as Hay.
Which Hay/De la Haye first bore the arms, I have no idea, but the heads of the family in Normandy, England, Scotland and Ireland each bore the identical arms: argent, three inescutcheons gules.
The heralds of England will also vary a family device, but in Ireland and Scotland the clan is seen as important, and complicated (but logical) systems of differences have been worked out.
As a result, any family member wanting title to his arms has a combination that not only indicates that he is a member of the clan, but also indicates which branch of the family he belongs to.
In his father’s lifetime, the eldest son adds a label: Lord Hay (eldest son of the Earl of Erroll) has a blue label. (Read more about the label and how it is used here.)
The current Earl of Errol, who inherited the title in 1978, was the eldest son of Diana Hay (born 1926), Countess of Erroll in her own right. She inherited from her father not only the earldom but the office of High Constable of Scotland. Her arms appear at top right. The shield shape is the lozenge (or “diamond”), mark of the spinster or widow, since for the purposes of her feudal office she was regarded as a single woman. (Read more about the lozenge and how it is used here.) Behind the shield are the crossed staffs and armoured hands holding swords that symbolise the office of Constable, which gave the Countess precedence over all the dukes of Scotland.
But getting back to sons: all younger sons must introduce a permanent difference. Some of the variations appear here:
Hay of Leys changed the field of the shield from argent to ermine; Hay of Broxmouth has green inescutcheons; Hay of Boyne has switched the colours to argent on red; Lord Hay of Yester has argent on blue; Hay of Fudie has a chevron between the inescutcheons; Hay of Park has a yoke in the chief (top) of the shield; Hay in Leith has wheat-sheaves or garbs on his inescutcheons; Hay of Naughton has an invected border, and Hay of Hayfield a border and a mullet, or five-pointed star.
But Hay, Earl of Kinnoull, quarters the simple Hay arms (in the second and third quarters) with the arms of his earldom. (Read more about quartering here.)
Incidentally, the English head of the family is Earl of Carlisle; the Irish, Hay of Slade; and the Norman head is the Sire de la Haye Hue.
These families are pretty far away from South Africa, but during the 19th and early 20th centuries no fewer than five individual Hay men came to settle in South Africa.
Two of them married Afrikaner women: John Henry Hay, from Scotland, and Robert Hay, of Ireland. Two (perhaps all three) of the rest were also Scots.
The descendants of all five who are still surnamed Hay are entitled to bear Hay arms differenced in terms of the laws of Scotland (or in the case of Robert, of Ireland).
Comments, queries: Mike Oettle