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Borough of Bedford Coat of Arms

The Arms and Seals of the Borough of Bedford

Variations were made by the heralds from the end of the fifteenth century until 1688 in order to record coats of arms and stop their unauthorised use. The earliest for Bedfordshire was made in 1556, when the following were recorded.

These Armes are of auncentie belonginge and apperteynynge to the Towne and Boroughe of Bedforde tyme owt of mynde.

Will: Hervy alias Clarencieulx King of Armes

These Armes here depicted are belonginge and apperteynynge to the Mayor Bayllyffes Burgesses and Comunaltie of the towne and boroughe of Bedforde.  Whiche Armes I Clarencieulx kinge of armes of the Sowthe Easte and Weaste parties of Englande have not onlie ratefied and confirmed the same unto the Mayor Bayllyfees burgisses and comunaltie of the towne and boroughe of Bedforde but also recorded the same, in the registers of my vystacion now made within the countie of Bedford.  And at this present vysytacion was Robert Paradyne Mayor, Sir John Gascoigne Knyghte recorder, Henry Albanye, Thomas Leighe, William Bull, Rycharde Laurence, Humfrey Lawrence, Henry Lawrence, Symonde Beckettt and Alexander Hunte associate to the saide mayor who have byn mayors, Edward Smythe and Robert Goodalle Bayllyffes, George Huxley and William Ladde Chamberleynes.  In wyttnes whereof, I have hereunto subscrybed my name the seventhe of June 1566.

William Hervy alias Clarencieulx King of Armes

The Certificate given by the Heralds at this visitation is still in the possession of the Corporation.

The heraldic descriptions are:-

Per pale argent and gules, a fesse azure


Argent, an eagle displayed, wings inverted and 
head turned towards the sinister sable,
ducally crowned and surmounted by a castle of three tiers.

The term "of auncentie" means that the first coat was the ancient one having been replaced by a later (or modern) one, derived from the design of the seal.  However, the ancient arms were revived about 1800, when they were carved on a stone for the gates to the House of Industry in Kimbolton Road and have been in use ever since.  The modern arms were confirmed (not granted) in 1566, and must therefore have been in use then, or a new grant would have been needed.  They have been shown in various corrupt forms with a semi-eagle rising from the castle, of which the earliest version appears on Speed's plan (1610) and another has even found a place on the Corporation Prayer Books.  None has any authority, and none is in use now.

The certificate was produced at the visitation of 1634 and is endorsed:

Entred in the Visitation of Bedford made Ao Dni 1634

Geo: Owen, Yorke

Hen: Lily, Rouge-Rose

At the visitation the Common Seal of the town was noted.

Below is a neat pen and ink drawing of the common seale of the Towne of Bedford:

The seal is assigned to the fifteenth century by Gale Pedrick in his "Borough Seals of the Gothic Period".  The original is lost, but "our common seal" is mentioned in a grant made by the Corporation in 1430 and some impressions survive, the earliest being attached to a document of 1481.

A Royal Warrant dated 29 April 1977 and granted on the petition of Thomas Robert Donnelly, then Mayor of the Borough, authorised the Earl Marshall to grant to the Borough Council licence to use the two coats of arms described above and an exemplification dated 30th December 1977 was made accordingly.  The design of the eagle and castle was redrawn and is reproduced on the front cover.  The exemplification was presented to the Council by the Lord Lieutenant of the County on 27th April 1978.

The Mayor's seal shows two wyvern-like monsters or salamanders, which is not unusual in seals of this kind.  It also is lost, but is known from impressions from 1348 onwards. A copy with mistakes in the inscription was sometimes used in place of the common seal in the eighteenth century.

The Bailiff's seal had a design very like the Mayor's.  It was applied to the paper, not fixed by a seal-tag, and was used to authenticate writs issuing out of Bedford Court of Pleas.  There are no impressions good enough to reproduce.

New seals were ordered by the reformed Corporation in 1836.  They were designed by Benjamin Wyon, medallist to the King and Chief Engraver of his Majesty's Seals.  Of these, one was designed as a stamp and the others for use on wax.  They show the eagle and castle design on a shield with Sigillum Villae Bedefordiae instead of a motto.  A lever press seal was provided in 1898 and a rubber stamp for the mayor's seal in 1856.

The seals now in use were presented by Alderman Gilbert Henry Barford in 1923 and are closely copied from the original designs.

Conjectures about the symbolic meaning of heraldic charges are mostly fanciful; yet their use must imply a reason, if it could be recovered.  The last male of the Beauchamps of Bedford, who held the barony, was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and is said to have borne a shield with an eagle, unlike the rest of his family.  Since the barony then fell into abeyance, the town may have adopted the eagle to remind themselves that they had no overlord.

The very ancient design of the first coat of arms may have been used on a banner, being intended to suggest a town divided north and south by the highway, east and west by the river.

The version of the second coat of arms, which is shown below, was made in 1963 at the College of Arms, in a greatly improved style.  Both shields are without crest, motto and supporters.

Like any other arms, these belong to the grantees or other proprietors, in this case the Council, and may not be used by others.


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