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Animals In Heraldry: Symbolism and Meaning (Part Three)

Animals in heraldry and heraldic symbolism featuring creatures both real and mythological is commonly found in heraldry and here are just a few examples. Is there an animal feature on your coat of arms?

The Ape – Animals In Heraldry

In heraldry, the ape is a symbol of sin, malice, craftiness and lust. It is thought to have indicated a moral obligation on the part of the bearer to conquer all sins, and been a reminder of one’s morals, ethics and religion. The ape is not a very common symbol in heraldry but when it is found it is usually ‘collared and chained’, with the collar encircling its waist rather than its neck. It is found as a charge on shields and crests, and also as a supported in coats of arms. A story exists that centuries ago, Thomas, the infant son of Maurice Fitzgerald, was snatched from his cradle by a tame ape, carried to the edge of the battlements at the top of the castle and safely retuned to his cradle. The Fitzgerald crest commemorates this even with the image of an ape.

The Crab – Animals In Heraldry

This is a heraldic symbol of great strength and power in gripping and holding. It occurs on the coats of arms of several families. The sign of the lobster in heraldry is also a symbol of prodigious gripping and holding power in its bearer and the symbols of its claws occur in arms more frequently than its entire body. Allied to these two charges is the crayfish, which is also referred to as a crevice.

The Elephant – Animals In Heraldry

This is a symbol of huge strength and stature, wisdom and courage. In heraldry, it is a very appropriate bearing for those who have distinguished themselves in the East. The elephant’s head or tusks are more common that the whole elephant, but you can find this on some crests and in coats of arms.

The Horse – Animals In Heraldry

These are considered to be very spirited, powerful and beautiful animals. They were thought of like brave warriors: highly skilled fighters who loved victory and were miserable when conquered. The horse signifies readiness to act for one’s country. In heraldry, it is also a symbol of speed, intellect and virility. As a result the horse will be found in arms as rampant or salient (in a fighting position), courant (running), as well as passant (walking) and trotting. It may be drawn saddled and bridled, with a rider or without. Horses are also often found in heraldry as supporters of a crest. The peacock: In ancient times, it was believed that the flesh of the peacock would not decay. It was therefore used in heraldry as a symbol of resurrection and immortality.

The Peacock – Animals In Heraldry

represented in pride refers to a peacock observed from the front with its tail feathers splayed. You usually find it in this position but there are also some occasions where its tail feathers are folded, particularly when it’s a supporter in a coat of arms.

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