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Heraldic Note



     Arms of Lake: Sable, a bend between six crosses-crosslet fitchy argent. Crest: A sea-horse's head argent.

     To the student of heraldry, three features of this blazon give evidence of a considerable antiquity. First, its extreme sim plicity. To one used only to the fioridities of modern heraldry— since the Tudor period, the most surprising characteristic of the shields on early rolls of arms is the general absence of complications of design and varieties of tincture. The old apothegm quoted by Guillim quickly becomes clear: Slinpilcitas fornzae antiquitatis nota. Like a great number of the early feudal shields, the design of the Lake arms consists simply of an "ordinary" (the "bend," or diagonal stripe) and a repeated small charge (the "cross-crosslet fitchy," or recrossed cross with sharpened shaft); the tinctures are rigidly restricted to two, a single metal ("argent," or silver) and a single colour ("sable," or black). The whole forms a readily grasped pattern obviously designed, like the earliest "field heraldry," to be easily perspicuous at a distance, thus conforming to the oldest canon of heraldry:

     "Ar,na sunt distinguendi causa."

     Secondly, the crosses-crosslet themselves suggest that their ap.. pearance in the design is due to the ancient practice of "gerat ting." This practice is described in detail in "The Boke of Saint Albans," 1486, the first work on heraldry published in English and itself based upon an earlier Latin treatise by Nicholas Upton, 1440. "Geratting" consists of "differencing" a simple shield—to distinguish the arms of cadets, by powdering the field with small charges additional to the original design. The first of the nine modes of geratting given by the Boke of Saint Albans is that of sowing the field with small crosses. A vast number of examples of this practice can be found in the early rolls. For a single example, Sir John L'Estrange, of Knockyn, sealed the Baron's letter to the Pope, 1301, with his arms: Gules, two lions passant argent. Robert L'Estrange (Harleian MS. 6137, fo. 7Th) bore the same with the addition of "crusily fitchée," or powdered with crosslets similar to those in the Lake arms. So very many instances of this form of geratting can be found, and so well established a method was it of merely "differencing" cadet shields, that the later theory of fanciful heraldic writers—that this form of staked cross indicated a journey to the Holy Land, presuma bly on a Crusade-falls into the vast scrap-basket of heraldic sciolism. By the sixteenth century geratting had practically dis appeared, and in its place the system of "differencing" by single small charges became the dominant one and still persists.

     Finally, the Lake crest is highly characteristic of the spirit of the earliest and best heraldry, which delighted in any form of rebus or any allusive connection, no matter how recondite, vague, or far-fetched, between the family name and the heraldic charges. A horse's head often appears among early crests, for reasons purely arbitrary with the bearer; but a Lake, by assum ing a marine form of head was simply following the natural bent of the early heralds to endow an ornament with an appro priately "canting" significance.

     A brief glance at three of the several crests recently borne by Lakes may be interesting (Fairbairn's Book of Crests, 1905). 1, Viscount Lake has: "A horse's head couped argent, charged on the neck with a bar gemelle gules." 2, Sir St. Vincent Atwell Lake, Bart., of Edmonton, Middlesex, has: "A sea-horse's head argent, finned or, gorged with a fess cottised gules. 3, George Lake, esquire, of Rushey, Herts, has: "A sea-horse's head and neck couped argent, holding in the mouth an annulet or."

     Now without any consideration of the genealogies involved, there can be no doubt in my mind that these three crests had one and the same common heraldic ancestor in the form as I have drawn it. That No. 1 is called a "horse" and No. 2 a "sea-horse" has no significance when one realises the endless mutations of such figures under the hands of a long series of insufficiently instructed heraldic draughtsmen. Indeed with the best intentions in the world a modern draughtsman might go astray. In "A Complete Guide to Heraldry," by A. C. Fox-Davies, 1909, the illustrator, Mr. Graham Johnston, Herald Painter to the Lyon Court, gives (p. 202) as a model for a sea-horse a spirited draw ing which almost adequately represents the animal as drawn by medkeval heralds, but gives the head a mane of hair instead of the dorsal, crest-like fin. Obviously if, following such a para digm, we give simply the head and omit the fish tail and webbed feet, we have no characteristic left which would differentiate our drawing from the head of the more familiar land animal. But a recourse to any sixteenth century example would restore at once the fin, which, through successive carelessness of rendering, might easily be confused with a mane; and soon the blazon would become changed and the variation fixed. Many examples of sim ilar heraldic mutations could be adduced. The additions of the bar gemelle and the cottised fess are merely "differences" familiar to modern heraldry but, on crests, unknown to early practice. The annulet, again, is obviously also a "difference," similar to the annulet now placed on a shield to denote a third son. And as between a head of a single tincture and one with a mane or fin of a second, the latter form may safely be regarded as a secondary one, the variation being also a "difference."


Cambridge, 10 February, 1915.




10 February, 1915.


     I am sending you under separate cover the coloured drawing of the Lake arms. On it you will note that I have drawn no motto. You will look in vain in the early rolls for any mottoes with arms—they are a comparatively late invention and change able at will. Furthermore there are now so many different Lake mottoes that it would be foolish to try to determine which one would have precedence.

     I enclose with this such heraldic notes as occurred to me as significant. I feel they belong in an appendix because of their length—if you use them at all.

     As for assigning any date to the arms, that seems to me out of the question. I can only give the indications that lead me to regard the coat as an early and extremely good one.

     Kindly let me know if anything isn't clear, and believe me,


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