The Yale: Heraldic Beast

The yale is a beast of medieval heraldry. While researching the yale, I couldn't find anything about it on the WWW -- a situation which I am rectifying.

According to the sources I consulted (see below) the yale was an antelope-like beast about the size of a horse with tusks, long horns, and the tail of a lion or goat. The horns were able to swivel independently and are virtually always shown parted rather than parallel. It was first described by Pliny.

It was used as a supporter by John, third son of Henry IV, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal (1389-1435). When the Earldom of Kendal passed to John Beaufort, he adopted the yale as a supporter. It eventually worked its way into the British Royal Family. (See details of all of this below.) I have been unable to find any evidence of its use as a medieval heraldic charge.

The yale shown here displays the Beaufort markings: white, powdered with gold bezants. The Bedford yale was black or very dark brown.

Below you will find a series of extractions from an assortment of heraldic reference books, with augmentations from the web and scanned images.

Natural History by Pliny the Elder

Pliny Britannica Biography.
Pliny's Natural History online in Latin -- look for "eale".

Thanks to John Brinegar (SCA: Gwion ap Bleiddyn) and Dorothy J Heydt (SCA: Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin) for the translation.

Among the same people is also a beast called the yale, which is the size of a hippopotamus, with the tail of an elephant, is black or dark brown in color, and has the jaws of a boar. It has mobile horns, more than a cubit in length. Which in battle it alternately holds them firm and moves them, so that they are either dangerous or turned aside, however reason dictates.

An Heraldic Alphabet

J.P. Booke-Little, Richmond Herald of Arms
Arco Publishing Co. Inc, New York, 1973, ISBN 0-668-002941-2

Yale (also Eale and Jall)

Representations of this monster, called eale by Pliny, vary. Its principal attributes are large tusks and long, usually curved horns which can swivel at will. For the rest the yale sometimes has a body like an antelope's with a lion's tail, as in the Bedford Book of Hours where it is a supporter of the arms of John, Duke of Bedford (died 1435), and sometimes it is a more thickset beast with a goat's tail. The yales on the roof of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, have the hind-paws of a lion, but in this they would appear to be unique.

(Although Brooke-Little mentions large, long tusks as being one of the principal attributes of a yale, there are no teeth at all showing in the illustration accompanying the article. It was small and poorly drawn and isn't included here.)

A Dictionary of Heraldry

Edited by Stephen Friar
Illustrations by John Ferguson, Andrew Jamieson, and Anthony Wood
Harmony Books/Crown Publishers, New York, 1987, ISBN 0-517-56665-6

The first-recorded description of the yale was by Pliny, and it is thought that he had in mind the antelope Gnu. A number of natural animals are quoted as being the possible origin of the yale, but the more important feature of the mythical beast is that it can swivel its horns in any direction. In a twelfth century bestiary it is described as being the size of a horse and having the tusks of a boar. It had extremely long horns which were not fixed but could be moved according to necessity in fights. If the first one got broken, the second could still be brought into use. But in a very fierce battle, both horns could be used at once to meet aggression from any direction.

The yale of armory has retained the swiveling horns and the tusks of a boar, but has become more like an antelope than a horse. It was used as a supporter by John, Duke of Bedford, third son of Henry IV and so became one of the Royal Beasts of England. It was represented as a dainty creature with very long, thin horns. Later, members of the Beaufort family adopted it as supporters, although in appearance it became a much heavier, goat-like animal, and its horns, instead of being straight, were curved and serrated. The two yale supporters of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, are well known, as her arms are carved above the gateways of Christ's College and St. John's College, Cambridge.

Basic Heraldry

By Stephen Friar and John Ferguson, W.W. Norton & Company, London, 1993, ISBN 0-393-03463-1

Heraldry - Customs, Rules and Styles

Carl-Alexander von Volborth
Blandford Press, Dorset, 1981, ISBN 0-7137-0940-5

The yale appears for the first time in heraldry as a supporter of the arms of John, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal, 1389-1435. His earldom of Kendal and the dukedom of Somerset were granted in 1443 to Sir John Beaufort who took the eagle and Bedford yale as supporters. The Beaufort yale was white, semé of bezants, maned, unguled and armed Or.

The Heraldic Imagination

by Rodney Dennys
Clarkson N. Potter, New York, 1975, ISBN 0-517-526298

The Yale

[Image: The Bedford Yale. Its tusks distinguish it from the "Elke" of Fastolf.]

This creature was known to Pliny and the medieval bestiarists and is probably a garbled version of a real animal. The Yale has intrigued many writers on heraldry and the late Hugh Stanford London wrote a most interesting article on it a few years ago (H. Stanford London, 'Minor Monsters I, The Yale', "Coat of Arms", vol. iii, pp. 90-2). The Yale first appears in heraldry as one of the supporters of the arms of Henry IV's third son, John, Duke of Bedford. Created a Knight of the Garter and Constable of England by the age of fourteen, and Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal in 1414, he was one of the great magnates of his time. A successful general, both on land and sea, he was Protector of the Kingdom of England during the military expeditions of Henry V in France and, on the death of that king in 1422, was made Regent of France, and commanded the English and Burgundian armies at Verneuil. While he was Regent, the officers of arms on duty in France would have come under his authority, and there is reason to think that he took an informed interest in armory. He was a great patron of the arts, and died in 1435. His arms, supported by and Eagle and a Yale, are to be seen in the magnificent Bedford Book of Hours, which was produced during his Regency and is now in the British Museum.

[Image: The Beaufort Yale (drawn by A. Colin Cole from the Garter Stall Plate of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset)]

The great Duke died childless, and in 1443 Sir John Beaufort, K.G., Earl of Somerset (John of Gaunt's grandson) was created Duke of Somerset and Earl of Kendal. With the earldom, he adopted the Bedford supporters, the Eagle and the Yale, and these are to be seen on his beautifully enamelled Garter stall-plate; but here the Yale has been slightly altered and has become rather more ram-like, with curved horns and a short tail.

Beaufort died in 1444, without male issue, and his daughter and heiress Margaret married Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and became the mother of King Henry VII. Although she used the Eagle and Yale supporters of her father, she more frequently used to Yales of the Beaufort pattern, and these are to be seen above the gateway of her foundation, St. John's College, Cambridge as well as above the gateway of Christ's College, which was greatly enriched from her estate.

The Bedford Yale is more the build of an antelope with a lion's tail and is black or very dark brown in colour; but it has, of course, the fierce tushes in the lower jaw and the swivelling horns, which are its distinguishing feature, though in this case they are long and straight. The Beaufort Yale is white, powdered with gold bezants, and has gold horns, tushes, hooves, and tufts; one of the ram-like horns is swivelled forwards. Through Lady Margaret the Yale descended to her son, Henry VII, and her grandson Henry VIII, and it remains a royal badge. In 1525 Henry Fitzroy, the bastard son of Henry VIII, was created Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and was granted a Beaufort-type Yale as one of his supporters, differenced with a gold coronet about its neck, with a gold chain; it was stated to be for his Dukedom of Somerset. In 1559 Queen Elizabeth created her cousin Sir Henry Cary, Lord Hunsdon, and he was granted a Yale as a supporter, but differenced by being powdered with royndels of many colours.

The Coat of Arms -- An Heraldic Quarterly Magazine
Vol. III. - No. 19 July, 1954

Minor Monsters

By H. Stanford London, F.S.A.
Norfolk Herald Extraordinary

1. The Yale

A year or so ago Sir George Bellew contributed to The Coat of Arms notes on some well-known monsters such as the dragon and the unicorn. This series will invite attention to some less familiar inventions. But before coming to such outlandish creatures as the pantheon and the calygreyhound, it will be well to consider one which attracted no little attention at the time of the Queen's Coronation.

The yale, jall or eale has been known to Western Europe from the time of Pliny, and a gentleman learned in the archaeology of India and Ceylon, Mr. A.H. Longhurst, has recently suggested, with many plausible arguments, that it is no other than the y{a-}li, a mythical creature known for more than two thousand years to the religious art of southern India, where it is invoked against witchcraft, the evil eye and so forth. This in its most typical form resembles a lion with a goat's horns.(1) That however is far outside the scope of these papers.

The first known appearance of the yale in armory is as a supporter of Henry IV's younger son John, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal, and Regent of France during the infancy of Henry VI. In that magnificent prayer-book which was illuminated for the duke and which is known as "The Bedford Book of Hours", the duke's arms are supported by an eagle and a yale.(2) The duke died childless in 1435, and in 1443 his earldom of Kendal was granted, with the dukedom of Somerset, to John of Gaunt's grandson, Sir John Beaufort, K.G. Beaufort thereupon took as his supporters the eagle and the yale which had been used by Bedford. Those two beasts were also used by his daughter and heiress, Margaret Countess of Richmond, though she preferred to use two yales as supporters and set the eagle as a badge above her shield.

There is much uncertainty as to the yale's appearance. The descriptions in the bestiaries vary little, but the accompanying illustrations are very diverse,(3) and it is not surprising to find that the Beaufort yale is by no means identical with Bedford's. The latter, fig. 1, is black, or very dark brown in colour, and looks like an antelope with a lion's tail, a boar's snout and tushes, and two long, straight horns which point respectively forward and backward. There can be little doubt that for the duke the creature was a variant of his mother's antelope, but the position of the horns proves conclusively that it is a yale, for, however much the appearance of the creature may have varied, one feature is constant: its ability to swivel its horns about at will, turning one back if it got damaged and swinging the other forward to continue the fight, as may be seen in this and many another illustration.

The Beaufort yale was of stockier build, and has sometimes been mistaken for a goat. Apart from the swivelling horns and the porcine tushes it has little in common with Bedford's beast. Representations of it are not uncommon. It may be seen for instance on Sir John Beaufort's Garter Stall-Plate, on Lady Margaret Beaufort's seals, and on the gatehouses of Christ's and St. John's Colleges at Cambridge. In all these cases it has the body and legs of a goat; the head too is goatlike apart from the horns and tushes. Sir John's yale, fig. 2, even has a goat's stumpy tail, though Lady Margaret's flourish magnificent, tufted appendages borrowed from the royal lion. The horns point fore and aft in the approved yale manner, but on the Garter Plate and on the gate-houses they are rather short and sickle-shaped; on Lady Margaret's seals they are longer and the curve is less pronounced. In colour the Beaufort yale was white, sprinkled with golden bezants and with golden horns, tushes, hooves, and tufts.(4)

From Lady Margaret the yale passed to her son, King Henry VII. It was however never prominent as a royal beast save in Henry VIII's work at Hampton Court, and noteably on the new bridge which he had built over the moat there.

In 1525 when Henry VIII made his bastard Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond and Somerset, he gave him a yale as one of his supporters. This was of the Beaufort type and was argent bezanty; but it was distinguished by having about its neck a gold coronet and chain. It was expressly said to be for the dukedom of Somerset, no doubt because Sir John Beaufort had that title.(5) Fitzroy dying as a mere lad, the dukedom of Somerset was afterwards conferred on Queen Jane Seymour's brother Edward, and, although, so far as is known, a yale has never been used for any of the Seymour peerages, it was held in 1909 that the yale on the Hampton Court bridge must have been set there for Queen Jane rather than for Henry VIII. The new yale which was then set up on the parapet was consequently given a crown and chain as in Fitzroy's case, and its shield was carved with Queen Jane's coat of augmentation: Or, a pile of England between six fleurs de lis azure.(6)

The yale was also included among the King's Beasts which were reinstated on the roof of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in 1925, and, as readers of The Coat of Arms are well aware, it was one of the ten Queen's Beasts which stood outside Westminster Abbey at the time of Her Majesty's Coronation, and which now stand in the Great Hall at Hampton Court. In both those cases the yale's Beaufort origin was recognized. At Windsor it holds a shield of Lady Margaret Beaufort's arms: France and England quarterly in a bordure gobony argent and azure. (7) The Coronation yale was given a shield party of the Beaufort white and blue charged with a golden portcullis royally crowned, the royal version of the well-known Beaufort badge.

The yale's Beaufort associations were also recalled in 1559 when Queen Elizabeth made her cousin Sir Henry Cary Lord Hunsdon. Sir Henry then took as his supporters a yale and the male griffin of Ormonde, alluding thereby to his descent from the families of Beaufort and Boleyn. His yale was of the familiar Beaufort type, but the roundels which bespatter it were of many colours instead of being all gold, and as a further difference from the royal beast it was given a collar and chain. (8)

A yale supports the royal arms on seals of the Court of Great Sessions for Carmarthen, Cardigan and Pembroke in the reigns of James I and Charles I, the dexter supporter being a dragon. This yale too follows the Beaufort pattern. (9) Apart from those seals the yale does note seem to have been used as a supporter of the royal arms.

Although the yale's 15th and 16th century owners were persons of such prominence, members of or closely allied to the royal family, the creature was quickly forgotten, and the fact that neither Edmondson's Complete Body of Heraldry nor Fox-Davies's Complete Guide to Heraldry so much as mentions the yale, shows the emptiness of the claim made in those titles. The yale seems indeed to have been totally unknown to the makers of heraldry books until G.C. Druce and Sir William Hope invited attention to it in 1911 in The Archaeological Journal.

The two drawings of the yale were specially made by Mr. A.C. Cole, F.S.A., Fitzalan Pursuivant, the one from the Bedford Book of Hours, the other from Sir John Beaufort's Garter Stall Plate.


Footnote 1: According to Mr. Longhurst yali is pronounced yar-lee. That must be very much how Pliny pronounced his {ev}{a-}le, and probably that is how we ought to pronounce yale. Jall too comes to much the same thing if the initial j is read as a medieval form of i and therefore pronounced, as in German, like y.

Footnote 2: Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 18850 fo. 256b; Country Life, April 30th, 1953, letter on "The Queen's Beasts".

Footnote 3: Letter "The Queen's Beasts" from Mr. F.A. Greenhill in Country Life, June 11th, 1953; G.C. Druce and W.H. St. J. Hope, "Notes on the History of the Heraldic Jall or Yale" in The Archaeological Journal, vol. 68, 1911, p. 173 etc.; Sir A.E. Shipley, "The Hunting of the Yale" in Cambridge Cameos, 1924, p. 64, etc.

Footnote 4: Hope, Stall Plates of the Knights of the Garter pl. lviij; Heraldry for Craftsmen and Designers pp. 206, 209, 394-6; casts of seals in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries.

Footnote 5: Banners, Standards and Badges, De Walden Library, 1904, pp. 29, 276.

Footnote 6: E.E. Dorling, Leopards of England, 1913, pp. 48-50

Footnote 7: "The King's Beasts on St. George's Chapel" in the Annual Report of the Friends of St. George's Chapel for 1953, p. 16, Pl. vii.

Footnote 8: Dart's Westminster Abbey p. 188; Lamborn, The Armorial Glass of the Oxford Diocese pl8; Brit. Mus. MS. Harl. 2076 fo. 52; College of Arms MS. L. 14 Misc. Curiosa fo. 191.

Footnote 9: Sir Hilary Jenkinson "The Great Seal of England: Deputed or Departmental Seals" in Archaeologia vol. 85, 1936, pl. 96 nos. 5, 6.

Medieval Manuscripts in the British Library: The Bedford Hours

Janet Backhouse
New Amsterdam Books, 1991. ISBN 1-56131-021-2.

The Duke [John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford] bore the royal arms of England, suitably differenced, and these are surrounded by the golden roots which were his personal badge (adopted when he became Regent of France, apparently to reflect the rebus of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince) and accompanied by his motto 'a vous entier'.

Small image of whole page from the Bedford Hours, showing John of Lancaster.


Henry Bedingfeld, Rouge Croix Pursuivant, and Peter Gwynn-Jones, Lancaster Herald
Chartwell Books, New Jersey, 1993. ISBN 1-55521-932-2.

During the sixteenth century, heralds became bolder and more imaginative; and, by the end of the Tudor period, remarkable changes had taken place. The results can therefore be regarded as heraldic monsters in their own right. One of the new arrivals, dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century, is the yale. Bestiary accounts provided it with the remarkable ability of being able to swivel its horns at will, laying one back in battle, keeping it in reserve in case the forward attacking horn was damaged. Apparently it also enjoyed wallowing in water. Although some tend to favour the wildebeest (sic) as the origin of the yale, medieval mapmakers consistently depict it as an animal of the East. Its physical characteristics point to the water buffalo, which attacks with sudden swipes of the horn, and this possibly accounts for the swivelling characteristics.

Although comparatively slight, the evolution of the yale in heraldry can be discerned in the treatment of the animal's horns in the fifteenth century. It first appears as a supporter to the arms of John, Duke of Bedford, who intended it to be a punning allusion to his earldom of Kendal, or Kend-eale. The Bedford yale had straight horns and a long tail. It subsequently passed with the earldom to Sir John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset; and two yales were used by the latter's daughter and heir Margaret, Countess of Richmond, the mother of Henry VII. The Beaufort yale is slightly different, with convoluted horns and a short tail.

Image of whole achievement.

The Art of Heraldry - Origins, Symbols and Designs

Peter Gwynn-Jones. Prospero Books/Parkgate Books, 1998. ISBN 1-894102-34-7.
[Note: the text here is very similar to the text from Heraldry above. No doubt because Peter Gwynn-Jones is an author of both books. Also, other sources say that the yale granted to Henry Carey (shown to right), had multi-coloured spots not the gold spots of the Beaufort yale.]

[...] During the sixteenth century, heralds became bolder and more imaginative; and, by the end of the Tudor period, remarkable changes had taken place. Animals that had a natural origin were fancified and developed into creatures far removed from this original and can therefore be regarded as heraldic monsters in their own right.

One of the new arrivals, dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century, was the yale. The is first found as a supporter in the arms of John, Duke of Bedford, who adopted it as a punning allusion to his Earldom of Kendal or Kend-eale. Bestiary writers report that the yale had the remarkable characteristic of being able to swivel its horns at will, laying one back in battle and keeping it in reserve in case the forward attacking horn sustained damage. The yale is also reported to have enjoyed wallowing in water. Medieval mapmakers frequently scattered drawings of animals over their land masses. In these drawings the yale is consistently depicted as an animal of the East. This does not suggest the African wildebeest which has often been favoured as the origin of the yale. Its appearance in the East and its liking for water point instead to the water buffalo. This creature attacks with sudden swipes of the horn, which perhaps accounts for the swivelling characteristics found with the yale.

Although comparatively slight, the evolution of the yale in heraldry can be found in the treatment of its horns and tail during the course of the fifteenth century. The early Bedford yale had straight horns and a long tail. It subsequently passed with the earldom to Sir John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and thence to the latter's daughter Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII. By the end of the fifteenth century, this Beaufort yale had evolved into a creature with convoluted horns and a short tail. As such it featured as one of the Queen's beasts chosen from past Royal Heraldry to stand in sculptured form at the entrance of Westminster Abbey at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

A Glossary Of Terms Used In Heraldry

by James Parker, First published in 1894.
Available online.

Yale: a beast so called was the sinister supporter of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, natural son of Henry VIII.

A yale argent bezanty, accorned, hoofed, gorged with a coronal and chained or.

The late Mr.J. G. Nichols, in "Inventories of the Wardrobe, &c.;, of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond" (in the Camden Miscellany, vol. iii.), says (at p. lxxxviii.), "I am not aware that this animal is elsewhere known either in natural or heraldic zoology .... It differs from the heraldic antelope in having horns like those of a ram, and a tail like a dog's." The term yale occurs in the College records.

Heraldry For the Local Historian and Genealogist

Stephen Friar, Illustrations by Andrew Jamieson. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1992. ISBN 0-7509-1085-2.)

Yale: in a twelfth-century bestiary the yale is described as being the size of a horse and having the tusks of a boar and extremely long horns that could be moved as required -- either singly or together -- to meet aggression from any direction. The yale of armory has retained the tusks and swivelling horns but its body is more that of an antelope than a horse.
[Shown here oddly drawn with a lion's body instead of an antelope's as mentioned in the description.]

St. John's College, Cambridge

An assortment of images of the yale from St. John's College, Cambridge.

The yales of St. John's College come there from Lady Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Sir John Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, and foundress of St. John's.

The Front Gate - "The Front Gate was completed in 1516. The carving is of the coat of arms of the Foundress, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The curious beasts on either side are yales, mythical animals having elephants' tails, antelopes' bodies and goats' heads, with horns which can supposedly swivel from back to front!" [Original, also larger image of gate]
A close-up of the armory above the Front Gate from a pamphlet entitled St. John's College, Cambridge received from the Development Officer of St. John's College, Cambridge.

Modern rendering of the St. John's arms from same pamphlet.

A recent re-drawing of the St. John's arms received from the Development Officer of St. John's Collage, Cambridge.

Christ's College, Cambridge

The yales of Christ's College, Cambridge, also come from Lady Margaret Beaufort, who bequeathed a great deal of money to the college.

Above the gateway of Christ's College [Original].

And elsewhere at the college -- I believe from an "elaborate oriel window over the door to the Master's Lodge is from the time of Lady Margaret Beaufort. It shows the arms [...], badges and motto (`Souvent Me Souvient' - `I often remember') of the Foundress." [Original] (Image from Heraldry For the Local Historian and Genealogist by Stephen Friar, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1992. ISBN 0-7509-1085-2.)

A modern rendering of the college arms -- oddly showing the yale horns together instead of splayed as is common elsewhere. [Original]

This page created: 20 Aug 1998
Donna M. Hrynkiw/ Elizabeth Braidwood