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Author: Dr John S Plant (
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Plant Heraldry

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Plant Heraldry

The blazon

The PLANT Coat of Arms illustrated alongside is officially documented in Burke's General Armory (1884).

The original description of the arms (shield) is as follows:-
"AR. A LABEL IN BEND AZ. IN CHIEF A ROSE GU."
When translated, this blazon describes the original colours of the Plant Arms as:-
"SILVER; A BLUE LABEL PLACED DIAGONALLY IN UPPER THIRD A RED ROSE."

Above the shield and helmet is the Crest which is described as:-
"STAG TRIPPANT GU." or a "RED STAG WALKING".
I am grateful to Member Number 95 of the Plant FHG, the late Linda Wheeler, and her sister, Ronelle Shields, for producing the colour rendering alongside of the arms.

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Possible Explanations

Starting in the 12th century, strict rules were added in England to earlier heraldic arms. There is also evidence that early arms were used to depict a noble family, not just an initiating individual. Stricter rules in England coincided with the introduction of tournaments here in 1140, though tournaments were more consistently commonplace in northern France. There was a particular need for heraldic arms in tournaments, on shields and surcoats and horse trappings, to identify knights who were otherwise concealed in their armour. [EUNAK p247] – source – EUNAK: Robert Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 (Clarendon Press Oxford, 2000 reprinted 2013).

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⊳ LABELs are generally a sign of cadetship to the head of the family.

They are not uncommon, though they are usually appended to the blazon, rather than being its initial item as for Plant.
It is also unusual for the label to slope, though the sloping can be interpreted as one of six ancient marks of bastardy.

The first definite evidence that the Plant name had become an hereditary surname in England, explicitly down two generations and apparently a third, is in 1279. It is not certain, however, that the Plant blazon dates back to that early or, alternatively, whether its first element – the label in bend – dates back to earlier still. For example it might date back as early as to Durand Plante in Normandy in 1180. The sloping Plant label raises a question. Whose illegitimate child first bore this heraldic symbol? However, records for early origins are often now missing, even for the nobility, let alone for the natural issue of a lesser intrigue.

Unsubstantiated claims of an early family connection

The ninth-century count Bernard Plantevelu of Aquitaine was, according to a twentieth-century popular mythology, a descendant from a line of Merovingian kings (see french origins). This story is told in a so-called Plantard sub-plot which includes a family line down to the Planta name in England. This story, however, has been debunked as a fiction. Another claim relates to a twelfth-century count of Anjou, Geffrey Plante Genest (sic). In this case, there is full evidence of a line of English kings to connect the Plantagenet name to its next noble appearance, as the name of Richard Plantigenet (sic).

This next noble appearance of the Plantagegenet name, in surviving contemporary evidence, dates to considerably later than to the twelfth-century Plante Genest, also written Plantegenest in contemporary records. It is next recorded for Richard Plantigenet, the 3rd duke of York in the fifteenth century. Though modern use of the name Plantagenet abounds, there is no other contemporary evidence for it as a royal or noble name until the times of this 3rd duke of York and his royal offspring.

In the nineteenth century, there was a claim that the Plants had descended illegitimately from the Plantagenets though this is now regarded to lack sufficient substance to justify such a startling claim. I know of no evidence other than the similarity of name and some early proximities. To outline the first known evidence for each of these two names, it is: for Plantagenet, around 1180 in both Normandy and Anjou (Geffrey Plante Genest or Plantegenest); and, for Plant, in 1180 in Normandy (Durand Plante). The Normandy occurrences, for each name, are both near the English Channel Island of Jersey.

Despite the nineteenth-century claim, recent Y-DNA and other evidence does not support that the sloping Plant label denotes illegitimate descent from a Plantagenet count, or duke, or king.

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Other early and late possibilities of origin

There were other early Plant like-names in northern France, not just Plantagenet. For example, these include Rad de Planteiz in Normandy in 1198 and Eimeric de la Planta in Anjou in 1202. These suggest a locative origin for the Plant name, from a place-name meaning planted place, perhaps denoting a vineyard or an orchard for example. This has no obvious connection to an aristocratic family however which might be thought indicated by the sloping label.

Since these dates are early, it is relevant to consider the evidence for arms generally at this time. Over the course of the second half of the twelfth century, there is increasing evidence for the aristocratic use of arms, as preserved in the wax seals used to make documents closed (i.e. private). The impression in wax was often of a knight on horseback, representing the sender with his heraldic arms on his shield – this then became more commonly just the arms alone. This evidence shows that by the end of the twelfth century, the knightly aristocracy had heraldic arms, despite the fact that no surviving roll of arms exists before one from around 1225. [EUNAK p247] For the arms, Germanic totems of the wolf, bear or boar were being displaced by the lion in particular by around 1200, even though this animal was not native to NW Europe. In eulogising the French kings, Gerald of Wales (ca.1146-ca.1223) wrote that their fleu-de-lys was more peaceful than the heraldic arms of those princes who display savage and predatory beasts, such as bears, leopards and lions [EUNAK p248]. Though heraldic arms never lost their military edge, they became more associated with family. Women could bear them and related families could have related arms. They were introduced amongst the aristocracy as a visual symbol of their class as well as their particular family. Though they percolated from early times down through society, they remained a test of gentility. [EUNAK p248]

The aristocratic Planta family of the northern Alps display as their arms the sole (underside) of a bear's foot, which is clearly a rebus (a play on a possible meaning of the name) since an early secondary meaning of planta is 'sole of the foot'. We can consider similar origins for the Plant arms noting that curiously they do not indicate the ancestral family which is usually displayed before the label. Instead Durand Planta might have been adequately knightly himself to bear arms, since he is recorded in 1180 as having fought 'duel upon duel'. We can add that there is an alternative early meaning for the word plant – 'offshoot' or 'offspring' or 'young person'. This then provides an explanation of the Plant arms as a rebus, since the label similarly implies the meaning 'offspring'. This reasoning stands regardless of whether this was the original meaning to explain the coining of the Plant name, though 1180 is a date at which we might expect that both the name and arms could have originated, if not even earlier.

At a more modern extreme however, I know of no evidence for the Plant blazon before the nineteenth century. This leaves the possibility that the label could have been an early nineteenth-century creation, nearer the times of the publication of Burke's General Armory. If this late, the sloping label could be set in the context of the claim of an illegitimate descent from the Plantagenet name: a claim for Plant which, at that time, was appearing in seemingly scholarly books.

Through a longer span of times, the Plant heraldic label might have just been a rebus (play on words) for the offspring meaning of the Plant name with the name itself perhaps originating from some other meaning of plant, such as from an unrelated locative or occupational meaning. Moreover, the heraldic rose might similarly be seen as another rebus relating to another meaning of plant though, in this case, there could well have been some more particular significance to its red colour.

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Note on Plantagenet Y-DNA and the 1181 Assize of Arms

Plantagenet DNA The DNA signature has encouraged some further scepticism of the tradition that the Plantagenets themselves were an intact male-line family, all with a single Y-DNA signature. Accusations of illegitimacy were sometimes rife for them and, for example, there is an historically sound indication, in original documents, to bring some credance to the claim of maternal infidelity for her child Edward IV, who was the first royal of the House of York. The noble Beaufort-Somerset family, who have long been attested to be Lancastrian male-line descendants of Edward III, have been found not to dna-match with a skeleton for the last Yorkist king, Richard III; though the mismatch can be explained by illegitimacy in the noble Beaufort-Somerset line and this does not prove illegitimacy in the royal line. Perhaps less surprisingly, no Y-DNA matching has been found between the Warrens and the Cornwalls and various others who (rightly or wrongly) have claimed male-line descent from the Plantagenets.

The 1181 Assize of Arms. Durand Plante's fine (or fee) in 1180 for fighting 'duel upon duel' was £1-6s-3d (£1.3125) to be taken from his chattels. For comparison, in the Assize of the following year, a knight or a freeman with over £10-3s-4d in chattels or income was to own a mail-coat, helmet, shield and lance. Freemen with over £6-13s-6d needed a (shorter) mail-shirt, iron cap and lance. Burgesses and those others of the freeman class (which was a higher class than villein which, in turn, was higher than slave) had to have a padded coat, iron cap and lance. Chain mail was especially expensive with, in 1194, a mail-coat being valued at £2 and a mail-shirt at £1. A leather hat and doublet for the king's sailors cost 6s (£0.3). [EUNAK pp252-3]

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⊳ HERALDIC ROSES are not especially uncommon.

However, it is unusual that the Plant red rose should be appended after the label.
As the last item in the blazon, it suggests it is a subsequent badge of allegiance.

The most populous English Plant family is found in east Cheshire where it was well established by around 1360 at which time its first known precise location was alongside the Black Prince's vaccary at Midgeley – this is on the Cheshire-Staffordshire county border. There are also some distant early records for Plant in SE Lincolnshire and these have an apparent early proximity to the Lancastrians – this might hence be considered as a link to the red rose which is commonly assumed to have Lancastrian significance though evidence is lacking for this early. Though the early Lincolnshire Plants have not been established to belong to the main Plant family, there is a 1279 document for early Plants at Burgh near Bolingbrook Castle in SE Lincolnshire which was in the ownership of the first earls of Lancaster. Subsequently, around the times of the Wars of the Roses, there was a clearer affinity to the Lancastrians, at least by some in the region around the main Plant homeland, such as at the time of the 1459 nearby battle of Bloor Heath.

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A possible recipient of the arms

The first element of the Plant heraldry – the label in bend – could date back to as early as to Durand Plante in 1180. The full blazon with the appended red rose, added later, could then perhaps be associated with a Sir John Plant at the times of the Wars of the Roses. There are three explicit documents for him, with a date range of 1479-84. These can perhaps be associated with another record for a moderately high status John Plant jnr in a 1445 attestation for the main English Plant homeland. Sir John Plant is documented in Dublin, in a prominent role as head of the household of the Archbishop Primate of Ireland who was, at least according to English secular authority, under the mainly Yorkist Primates of Ireland at that time. There was some fluctuation of allegiance however to Lancaster or York.

We could perhaps suppose that Sir John received his augmentation, with the red rose, under the Lancastrian Queen Margaret of Anjou around the times of the 1459 battle of Bloor Heath, which was within range of the main Plant family's homeland. Though Sir John's dated presence in Dublin coincides with a succession of Yorkist Primates of Ireland, we may note that, when George of Clarence was the Primate, he was accepted back into the Yorkist fold, after he had joined the 1469-71 Lancastrian rebellion. We can also consider that the red rose might have been appended to Sir John's arms after the victory of the Lancastrian king Henry VII at Bosworth Field in 1485, before the Lancastrian fervour diminished with Henry's marriage to Elizabeth of York. Given the lack of direct evidence, we can only guess at a precise political circumstance.

Note on George, Duke of Clarence. Richard, Duke of York is reputedly the first royal to have used Plantagenet as his family name. He had been demoted, in the eyes of the English, from being Lieutenant of France to Lieutenant of Ireland; his son George was born in Dublin Castle. After 1460, George was the only surviving brother of Edward IV and of he who became Richard III. George is popularly known, following Shakespeare, as one of the famed three sons of York though his dalliance with the Lancastrain cause was not forgotten.

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A neighbouring blazon in the main Plant homeland

Rudyerd Arms
It is known, from the earliest available records around 1360, that the Plant name was settled in Macclesfield Hundred in east Cheshire and also in the adjoining Leek parish to the south. This parish contained Gratton Manor of the north Staffordshire Audley family whose heraldry was a yellow fretty on a red background (subsequently, an Audley lord led the Lancastrians and was killed at Bloor Heath). Out of 80 arms illustrated in John Sleigh's book the Ancient Parish of Leek, only one has a rose and none a label. This more monochrome rose is found on a canton on a monochrome fretty as the heraldry of the Rudyerd family of Leek. It is written that a Ralph Rudyerd was granted this heraldry in recognition of his slaughter of the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at Bosworth Field in 1485 though, to say the least, he would not have acted alone. More certainly in 1504, a Laurence Plonte sold property in Leek parish to Ralph Rudyerd.

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A connection to another label in bend

Curli Arms

The Plant heraldry might relate also to a Simon Plant who had been the baliff (the post was reassigned to another in 1537) of three royal manors around Tur Langton in Leicestershire that had previously been held by the Lancastrian William Viscount Beaumont (1438-1507). There is a 1453 link to Leicestershire of a Plant from the main Plant homeland. There is also a 1512 record of a William Plante at Leicester suing a debtor at Merton Culi. This links this Plant to the Warwickshire estates of the Curli family. Also, an estate at Carlton Curlieu, less than 3 miles from Tur Langton, had belonged to William Curly (d. 1253), whose arms are represented [Dugdale] as a label with 4 points standing in the place of a bend sinister, as illustrated alongside. This is the only family besides Plant that is known to have had a label in bend as the initial item of their blazon.

Y-DNA provides some partial confirmation of the geographical connection, at least between the most populous Plant family and Tur Langton in Leicestershire. This has identified a 'Branch D' of the main Plant family which includes Plants around their main homeland of north Staffordshire as well as a Plant at the aforesaid Tur Langton. An ancestral William Plant of some dna-tested Plants was born at Tur Langton in 1716. Sufficient Plant records are lacking however to reconstruct a detailed genealogy for him before 1716, though Simon Plant was there before 1537 – it hence lacks certainty that the line of the 1726 Plant connects back to the aforesaid 1453-1537 Plant records in Leicestershire. Though parish records became mandatory in 1538, they are sometimes incomplete. This is true especially, for example for: around the Plant homeland of Leek; for unreleased parish records for Langton; as well as for Popist recusants.

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An artistic rendering of the Plant blazon

Blazon in a Seal Ring
This ring can be used to imprint an artistic version of the Plant blazon into a wax seal. It was made by a Plant in Australia who is a hobby jeweller and who modestly prefers to remain anonymous. It is made of silver, gold and a ruby.

An inherited casting of the Plant arms and crest

Plant arms casting
The inscription "England 1127" on this inherited casting is consistent with the nineteenth-century claim of a link between Plant and Plantagenet. In 1127, Geffrey Plante Genest of Anjou married the heiress to the English throne. Though there may well be no genetic connection to living Plants, known dated documentary evidence places Geffrey's legacy alongside the Plant name in Anjou in a 1202 document. Following on from this, there is strong name distribution evidence to suggest that the early Plants were under a Longspee-Audley feudal authority which descended from William Longspee, who was an illegitimate grandson of the aforesaid Geffrey Plantagenet. Photograph of the 15cm metal casting is by courtesy of a group member in Australia.

A commercial site offering products bearing the Plant arms

Commercial rendering of arms

Though I do not generally condone advertising and I cannot speak for the reliability of this company, it offers a range of products bearing this rendering of the Plant coat of arms: coadb.com

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