Gloucester: Arms, seals, insignia and plate

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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'Gloucester: Arms, seals, insignia and plate', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, ed. N M Herbert( London, 1988), British History Online [accessed 20 July 2024].

'Gloucester: Arms, seals, insignia and plate', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Edited by N M Herbert( London, 1988), British History Online, accessed July 20, 2024,

"Gloucester: Arms, seals, insignia and plate". A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Ed. N M Herbert(London, 1988), , British History Online. Web. 20 July 2024.

In this section


ARMS. (fn. 1)

Several different coats of arms used by Gloucester after its charter of 1483 depicted a sword between horseshoes and nails, a reference to the town's principal trade. One such coat was displayed on a mayoral seal used in 1492 (fn. 2) and another on the Crypt school building of 1539. (fn. 3) The charges on the latter, a sword with a cap of maintenance on the point, between two horseshoes and six nails, were incorporated in arms granted to the town in 1538. Those arms, obtained through the efforts principally of Alderman Thomas Bell, also referred to Richard III and his violent death and to the Lancastrian and Yorkist houses. (fn. 4)

Another coat of arms, believed to have been borne by Gloucester before 1538, was made up of charges from the blazons of the de Clares, earls of Gloucester, and of Worcester diocese. (fn. 5) It appeared on the monument in Gloucester cathedral to John Jones (d. 1630), a former mayor, (fn. 6) and was adopted by the corporation in place of the Tudor arms in 1647. (fn. 7) In 1652 the city acquired a grant of the new blazon, which had as supporters lions rampant and guardant holding broadswords and on the crest a third lion holding a sword and a trowel, probably to recall Gloucester's part in the Civil War. The motto fides invicta triumphat was adopted at the same time. After the Restoration Gloucester continued to use those arms (fn. 8) but, in the absence of any new grant, its right to crest and supporters was challenged. (fn. 9) The full armorial achievement was conferred on the city in 1945 and was confirmed at local government reorganization in 1974 when Gloucester was accorded honorary borough status. (fn. 10)

Figure 24:

Town of Gloucester. Vert, on a pale or a sword azure, bezanted, the hilt and pommel gules, upon the point a cap of maintenance purpure lined ermine, all between two horseshoes argent pierced sable, each between three nails in triangle argent; on a chief per pale or and purpure a boar's head couped argent, in his mouth a queen apple gules, between two demi-roses, the dexter gules, the sinister argent, both rayed or. [Granted 1538; surrendered 1647]
City of Gloucester. Or, three chevrons between ten torteaux, 3, 3, 3, 1, all gules. [Granted 1652, 1945, and 1974]

SEALS. (fn. 11)

The town's common seal in use by 1245 (fn. 12) was round, 23/8 in. in diameter, with the device of a triangular citadel by a river and the legend, in lombardic lettering, SIGILLVM B[VR]GENSIVM D[E GILDA MERC]ATO[RVM GLOVCE]STRIE. The seal remained in use in 1364 (fn. 13) but had been replaced by 1398 by a circular seal, (fn. 14) 2¼ in., bearing a similar device with a castellated gateway and the same legend in black letter. The latter seal was in use in 1550. (fn. 15) In 1564 the matrix was struck in silver for a new common seal. (fn. 16) That seal, 25/8 in. in diameter, showed the arms of the city on a shield between two pairs of maces in saltire and bore the legend, in renaissance lettering, SIGILLVM MAIORIS ET BVRGENSIVM DE GILDA MERCATORVM CIVITATIS GLOVCESTRIÆ. (fn. 17) In 1654 the corporation broke and sold the matrix (fn. 18) and adopted a new seal depicting the arms granted in 1652 and bearing a different legend. (fn. 19) Its matrix was in turn sold in 1661 when the corporation made a large oval seal, (fn. 20) 3¼ in. × 2¾ in., displaying the arms on a shield with elaborate scroll work and the legend, in renaissance lettering, SIGILLVM MAIORIS ET BVRGENSIVM CIVITATIS GLOVCESTRIÆ IN COMITATV CIVITATIS GLOVCESTRIÆ. From 1800 or 1801 (fn. 21) the corporation used a smaller circular seal, 21/8 in., with the same legend and an unadorned blazon, and at local government reorganization in 1974 the city council acquired a new seal showing the arms on a shield and the legend THE COMMON SEAL OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF GLOUCESTER. (fn. 22) In 1986 the city museum kept the silver matrices struck in 1661 and 1800.

From 1565 the corporation used a new seal for St. Bartholomew's Hospital, (fn. 23) which had come under its control the previous year and remained so until 1836. (fn. 24) The matrix, which was in the city museum in 1986, was made of silver from a cup given to the corporation by Sir Thomas Bell. (fn. 25) The seal, 2½ in. in diameter, bore the legend, in renaissance lettering, SIGILLVM HOSPITALIS SANCTI BARTHOLOMEI GLOVCESTRIÆ EX SECVNDA FVNDACIONE ELISABETHÆ REGINE and depicted St. Bartholomew holding a large knife and a whip, symbols of his martyrdom. (fn. 26) It was also used for the hospitals of St. Margaret and St. Mary Magdalen (fn. 27) and was replaced in 1800 or 1801 (fn. 28) by a smaller seal, 2 in. in diameter, bearing the same device and legend. That seal was in use in 1818 but the corporation had adopted the city's common seal for the hospitals by 1820. (fn. 29)

In 1302 the town's bailiffs used a circular seal, (fn. 30) 13/8 in., with the device of a castellated gateway by a river and the legend, in lombardic lettering, SIGILLVM PREPOSITORVM GLOVCESTRIE. By 1334 they had adopted an almost identical seal (fn. 31) with the legend SIGILLVM BALLIVORVM GLOVCESTRIE; its silver matrix was preserved in the city museum in 1986. A fragmentary impression of the mayor's seal, presumably made when the office was created in 1483, is attached to a deed of 1492. The seal, also employed in 1582 and 1609, (fn. 32) was round, 15/8 in., depicting a shield, charged with a sword in bend between six horseshoes and ten nails, and a lion couchant guardant and bearing the legend, in black letter, SIGILLUM OFFICII MAIORALITATIS VILLE GLOUCESTRIE. The matrix may have been replaced in the early 17th century, for an old mayoral seal was for sale in 1642 to help pay for the city's fortifications, (fn. 33) and one matrix was broken and sold in 1654. (fn. 34) In the late 19th century the mayoral seal was a circular one, 1 3/16; in., bearing as a device the city arms on a shield and the legend, in roman lettering, SIGILLVM MAIORATVS CIVITATIS GLOVCESTRIÆ. The matrix was in the mayor's office in 1986. (fn. 35)

Gloucester was granted a statute merchant seal in 1348. (fn. 36) Of the seal's two pieces that known as the king's seal was round, 2½ in., and showed a half-length figure of the monarch, full-faced and crowned, with a border of annulets on the neck and the lion of England couchant guardant on the breast, and, in an allusion to Gloucester's trade, two horseshoes and thirteen nails in the field. The legend, in lombardic lettering, was SIGILLVM EDWARDI REGIS ANGLIE AD RECOGNICIONEM DEBITORVM APVD GLOVCESTRIAM. The bronze or latten matrix was in the city museum in 1986. Clerks were appointed regularly to keep the smaller counterseal (fn. 37) and that used in 1590 was 7/8 in. in diameter and bore a shield of the city arms granted in 1538. (fn. 38)


The insignia include two swords, a cap of maintenance, four serjeants' maces, chains and badges for the mayor and sheriff, and an oar for the water bailiff. The charter of 1483 provided for a sword to be carried before the mayor in the same manner as in other boroughs and cities. (fn. 39) A sword had presumably been acquired by 1486, when the office of sword bearer was mentioned, (fn. 40) and the city had two swords by 1560. The principal sword, which was redecorated to mark the visit of Elizabeth I in 1574, (fn. 41) was lost in the 19th century. (fn. 42) The other sword, perhaps the first acquired, was known as the mourning sword in 1584. (fn. 43) It is 3 ft. 11½ in. long and has been painted black, retaining the original blade and hilt with curved quillons. A third sword, made for the corporation in 1567 and given a red scabbard, (fn. 44) had become the principal sword by the mid 17th century and was depicted on the monument to John Jones (d. 1630). (fn. 45) It is 4 ft. 3½ in long and retains its original blade and hilt. With the scabbard it was altered in London in 1652 to carry the Commonwealth arms. In 1660 those were replaced by Charles II's arms and the scabbard was partly redecorated, some royal badges being reinstated soon afterwards. (fn. 46) A cap of maintenance, recorded on the arms granted to the borough in 1538, (fn. 47) was replaced several times. (fn. 48) It was identified, questionably, as the sword bearer's hat by the mid 19th century and until 1933 when W. L. Edwards, the mayor, gave the city a new cap of maintenance. (fn. 49)

The town's two serjeants carried maces by 1392 (fn. 50) and their right to bear them before the bailiffs within the precinct of Gloucester Abbey was confirmed in 1429. (fn. 51) Under the charter of 1483 four serjeants-at-mace were appointed, two to serve the mayor and two the two sheriffs. (fn. 52) A mace was purchased for one of the serjeants in 1494 (fn. 53) and repairs to the maces were a frequent item of expenditure for the corporation. (fn. 54) The four maces depicted on the common seal used from 1564 had conical heads and shafts with central knobs. (fn. 55) By the 1620s another four silver maces, having crested heads and long shafts with central encircling bands, had been acquired, (fn. 56) and the older set was sold in 1642 to raise funds for fortifying the city. (fn. 57) The new maces were refashioned in 1652 as Commonwealth maces, apparently by Thomas Maundy of London whose mark appears on two of them. (fn. 58) Four little pocket maces purchased for the serjeants later that year (fn. 59) were sold in 1660 to help pay for the conversion in London of the principal maces back to royal maces by remaking the heads as open crowns surmounted by orbs and crosses and decorated with royal badges. (fn. 60) The maces, which are 2 ft. 5 in. long, were represented in a carving of the city arms and insignia on the new Tolsey in 1751. (fn. 61) All four maces remained in use after the reform of the corporation in 1835 when the number of sheriffs was reduced to one. (fn. 62)

The mayor's gold chain and badge were bought by subscription in 1870. The chain, formed of two rows of links with a horseshoe motif, displays the cap of maintenance on the ornament connecting it to the enamelled badge, which bears the city arms with supporters. (fn. 63) The sheriff's chain and badge, also of gold, were purchased by local freemasons in 1883 for Henry Jeffs, who gave it to the corporation at the expiry of his term of office. Enamelled shields incorporated in the chain include references to a bailiffs' seal and the arms of Gloucester diocese and the enamelled badge shows the city arms with crest and supporters. Freemasons presented badges for the mayoress and sheriff's lady in 1932, and in 1937 a badge was provided for the deputy mayor. (fn. 64) The water bailiff's oar is 4½ in. long and of silver. It was made in 1807 or 1808 for William Brown (fn. 65) and was carried by his successors in that office. (fn. 66) It belonged to Caroline Brain in 1852 when the corporation hired it, probably for the presentation of an address to Queen Victoria, then passing through Gloucester. (fn. 67) Gloucester retained its mayor and sheriff and the use of its civic insignia following the local government reorganization of 1974. (fn. 68)

PLATE. (fn. 69)

The corporation built up a collection of plate mostly from gifts, the earliest known being a cup from Sir Thomas Bell in 1563. (fn. 70) Pieces were given by William Guise of Elmore in 1615, by Thomas Varnam on his appointment in 1617 as surveyor of the city's works, and by Walter Huntley in 1625. (fn. 71) Alderman John Baugh (d. 1621) left a set of apostle spoons (fn. 72) and Richard Keylock (d. 1637) £20 to buy plate for the mayor. (fn. 73) Other donors at that time were Alderman John Thorne (d. 1618), Gervase Smith (d. 1626), Lady (Anne) Porter, James Clent, and John Hanbury, M.P. for the city 1628–9. (fn. 74) In 1642 and 1643 the corporation sold several pieces to help pay for the city's fortifications. (fn. 75) In 1648, when it exchanged the two flagons remaining from Keylock's bequest for smaller vessels, (fn. 76) Captain John Evans gave a bowl and Thomas Barrett, a local cutler, a set of apostle knives. (fn. 77) The knives had been lost by 1675. (fn. 78)

In 1700 the corporation bought a large salver using the recorder's salary repaid by John Somers, Lord Somers, for that purpose. (fn. 79) Between 1742 and 1751 part of the plate, including two salvers of 1743 obtained in exchange for two bowls, was used for holy communion in the corporation's Tolsey chapel. (fn. 80) In 1767 Charles Barrow, M.P. for the city, gave a loving-cup and the following year George Selwyn, his fellow member, (fn. 81) presented a punch bowl, for which a ladle was bought in 1790. The flagons derived from Keylock's gift were replaced in 1713, (fn. 82) the apostle spoons were remade between 1729 and 1732, and the remaining pieces of plate acquired before 1700 were sold or were exchanged for sets of forks and spoons in 1818. (fn. 83) Among plate acquired later by the corporation are pieces originally presented to the prominent London politician Sir Matthew Wood, Bt. (d. 1843), who acquired an estate at Down Hatherley; (fn. 84) to Robert Bransby Cooper, M.P. for Gloucester 1818–30; (fn. 85) to David Mowbray Walker, a local newspaper owner and civic leader, in 1857; (fn. 86) to James Bruton, the mayor, in 1909; and to George Sheffield Blakeway, the town clerk, in 1919. Three silver-gilt roundels given to the corporation in 1906 had evidently once adorned part of the civic insignia or plate. Two display Gloucester's Tudor arms, on one impaling an unidentified blazon. The third roundel, bearing the arms of Sir Thomas Bell and the date 1563, has an inscription evidently marking his gift to the city of a cup. The plate and insignia were displayed at the Guildhall until 1986.


  • 1. This article was written in 1986.
  • 2. B.M. Cal. of Seals, ii. p. 81.
  • 3. Cf. above, Educ.
  • 4. G.B.R., B 3/50, pp. 209–10 (a transcript of original grant in Bodl. MS. Chart. Glos. 13); the apple has sometimes been described erroneously as a quince: Rudder, Glos. 124; Glouc. Official Guide (1980), 128.
  • 5. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 625; Rudder, Glos. 125.
  • 6. Roper, Glos. Effigies, plate facing p. 275; the arms granted in 1538 were used on mons. of c. 1614 and c. 1626: ibid. 266, 313; Fosbrooke, Glouc. plate facing p. 138.
  • 7. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 413, 625.
  • 8. Ibid. F 4/5, f. 456; Rudder, Glos. 125; C. W. ScottGiles, Civic Heraldry in Eng. and Wales (1953), 149; the crest and supporters in J. Dorney, Certain Speeches (Lond. 1653), frontispiece, differ from those displayed later.
  • 9. Trans. B.G.A.S. xxx. 111.
  • 10. Glouc. Official Guide (1980), 45, 128–9; Local Govt. Act, 1972, c. 70, ss. 245–7; inf. from chief executive, Glouc. city council.
  • 11. Unless otherwise stated the accounts of seals, insignia, and plate are based on LI. F. W. Jewitt and W. H. St. John Hope, Corp. Plate and Insignia (1895), i. 221–34; C. H. Dancey, 'Silver Plate and Insignia of City of Glouc.' Trans. B.G.A.S. xxx. 91–122.
  • 12. G.B.R., J 1/351.
  • 13. Ibid. 981.
  • 14. Ibid. 1038.
  • 15. Ibid. 1245.
  • 16. Ibid. F 4/3, f. 107; date on seal.
  • 17. e.g. G.B.R., J 1/1265, 1277, 1282.
  • 18. Ibid. F 4/6, p. 4.
  • 19. Ibid. B 3/2, pp. 625, 771.
  • 20. Ibid. F 4/6, pp. 390, 408; B 3/3, p. 206.
  • 21. Ibid. B 3/12, f. 325; F 4/14, p. 305.
  • 22. Inf. from chief executive, Glouc. city council.
  • 23. Date on seal; cf. G.B.R., J 1/1269–70, 2080B.
  • 24. Above, Char. for Poor, almshouses.
  • 25. G.B.R., F 4/3, ff. 97, 100 and v., 113.
  • 26. The device copied that on the former seal of the hosp.: ibid. J 1/1209; cf. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 121 and plate opposite p. 98.
  • 27. Cf. Glos. R.O., D 3269, St. Marg. Hosp., leases 1757– 1815; the medieval seal of St. Marg. Hosp. was in use in 1559: G.B.R., J 1/1256.
  • 28. G.B.R., B 3/12, f. 325; Glos. R.O., D 3269, St. Barth. Hosp., acct. bk. 1797–1817, f. 18.
  • 29. Glos. R.O., D 3269, St. Mary Magd. Hosp., leases 1762–1878; St. Barth. Hosp., Hare Lane leases 1812–56.
  • 30. G.B.R., J 1/762.
  • 31. Ibid. 873; B.M. Cat. of Seals, ii, p. 81; the seal was probably used by the sheriffs after the charter of 1483: Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 18.
  • 32. B.M. Cat. of Seals, ii, p. 81; G.B.R., J 1/1269, 1277.
  • 33. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 230.
  • 34. Ibid. F 4/6, p. 4.
  • 35. Inf. from chief executive, Glouc. city council.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1348–50, 14.
  • 37. Cf. ibid. 48; 1364–7, 211; 1367–70, 206; 1446–52, 3.
  • 38. B.M. Cat. of Seals, i, p. 144; the clerk's seal had changed by 1640: Glos. R.O., D 4431, bond 27 Jan. 1640.
  • 39. Above, n. 76.
  • 40. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 17.
  • 41. G.B.R., B 2/1, f. 1; cf. ibid. f. 2; F 4/2.
  • 42. Ibid. F 4/3, ff. 78V., 107v., 159; Rudder, Glos. 113.
  • 43. Cf. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 203; Kelly's Dir. Glos. (1889), 783.
  • 44. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 232v.
  • 45. Ibid. ff. 118, 314v.
  • 46. Roper, Glos. Effigies, plate facing p. 275; ibid. 276, mistakes the sword for that lost in the 19th cent.
  • 47. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 456; 6, pp. 370, 443; B 3/3, p. 136.
  • 48. Above.
  • 49. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 113; 5, ff. 138v., 489; 6, p. 367; 8, p. 41; 11, p. 341.
  • 50. Glouc. Jnl. 4 Sept. 1852; 30 Sept. 1933.
  • 51. P.R.O., C 115/K 2/6684, f. 159.
  • 52. G.B.R., B 2/1, ff. 195v., 197.
  • 53. Glouc. Corp. Rec. p. 18.
  • 54. G.B.R., F 4/2.
  • 55. Ibid. 3–16, passim.
  • 56. Cf. ibid. J 1/1265.
  • 57. Ibid. F 4/5, f. 34; description from maces shown on mon. to John Jones (d. 1630): Roper, Glos. Effigies, plate facing p. 275.
  • 58. G.B.R., F 4/5, ff. 168, 202; B 3/2, p. 230.
  • 59. Cf. ibid. B 3/2, p. 685; F 4/5, ff. 456, 471v.; W. J. Cripps, Old Eng. Plate (1967), 408–9.
  • 60. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 689; F 4/5, ff. 486v., 496v.
  • 61. Cf. ibid. B 3/3, p. 136; F 4/6, pp. 339, 370; the mayoral and shrieval maces were apparently altered separately, a fact which may explain why two maces are dated 1652 and two 1660.
  • 62. Ibid. B 3/10, f. 148; Trans. B.G.A.S. xix, plate facing p. 144.
  • 63. Municipal Corporations Act, 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76, s. 61.
  • 64. Above, Plate 23.
  • 65. Glouc. Municipal Year Bk. (1964–5), 94.
  • 66. Cf. G.B.R., F 4/15, p. 2.
  • 67. The oar is engraved with inits. W.B. and S.C., the latter presumably for Stephen Creed, water bailiff in 1836 and 1852: G.B.R., treasurer's acct. bk. 1836–8, f. 27; 1851–5, f. 75.
  • 68. Ibid. B 4/1/7, f. 39; Glouc. Jnl. 4 Sept. 1852.
  • 69. Glouc. Official Guide (1980), 45, 129; Local Govt. Act, 1972, c. 70, ss. 245–7; cf. Citizen, 18 Aug. 1986.
  • 70. Above, n. 76.
  • 71. G.B.R., F 4/3, f. 100 and v.; Bell had redeemed plate pawned by the Dominican friars of Glouc.: Trans. B.G.A.S. liv. 171 n.
  • 72. G.B.R., B 3/1, ff. 270v., 444v.–445, 506.
  • 73. G.D.R. wills 1621/53. The spoons, said in Baugh's will to be a dozen, numbered thirteen: G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 119v.
  • 74. Glos. R.O., P 154/9/CH 3/1; G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 79.
  • 75. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 119v.; for Thorne, P.R.O., C 142/377, no. 96; for Smith, son of Miles Smith, bp. of Glouc., Fosbrooke, Glouc. 135; for Lady Porter and Clent, below, Outlying Hamlets, man.; for Hanbury, Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 193.
  • 76. G.B.R., B 3/2, pp. 230, 240, 253, 257–8, 270–1.
  • 77. Ibid. p. 476; F 4/5, f. 391AV.
  • 78. Ibid. F 4/5, ff. 365, 384v.; a bowl lost by the mayor in 1648 had been replaced by 1650: ibid. 384v., 422v.
  • 79. Cf. ibid. F 4/7, p. 83.
  • 80. Ibid. B 3/7, f. 232; F 4/7, pp. 723, 731.
  • 81. Ibid. F 4/10, p. 43; above, Glouc. 1720–1835, city govt.; Churches and Chapels, ancient par. ch., All Saints.
  • 82. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 210–11.
  • 83. Cf. G.B.R., B 3/8, p. 526.
  • 84. Cf. ibid. 13, f. 231v.
  • 85. D.N.B.
  • 86. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 213.
  • 87. Glouc. Jnl. 15 July 1871.