Becon Arms?

(I am in the process of moving the informatioin about Becon arms from the page of Thomas Becon to this separate page; until complete see that page for what I think the arms were like and for sources referrred to here)

Evidence for Arms

That the Becon family used a coat of arms is indicated by the memorial floor slab in memory of Thomas’s son Basil, and by the will of his son Theodore. In addition, Harris’s “History of Kent” (1719) describes the arms of “Beacon of Canterbury”. I did enquire of the College of Arms (9 Aug 2011) what it would cost to learn about the arms described by Faussett as on Basil’s memorial stone and who was granted them etc.; as I was quoted £750 I wouldn’t be pursuing this! But I have also discovered since then that H. Beken Thomas seems to have researched this as he noted that the College of Arms has no record of arms being granted or allowed to the family. Given that the arms were borne by both Basil and Theodore they would appear to have inherited them from their father.

Was Thomas armigerous?

Whether Thomas had assumed them illegally or the necessary paperwork has not survived I know not.

In 1530 Henry VIII conferred on the College its duty of the heraldic visitation. The provincial Kings of Arms were commissioned under a royal warrant to enter all houses and churches and given authority to deface and destroy all arms unlawfully used by any knight, esquire, or gentleman. These visitations resulted in many individuals being charged and heavily fined for breaking the law of arms. Hundreds of these visitations were carried out well into the 17th century; the last being in 1686.

From the Wikipedia article about the College of Arms it is interesting to note that in 1805 it was written that the College “at no time since its establishment, was in higher estimation, nor in fuller employment, than in this reign.” Henry VIII’s fondness of pomp gave the heralds plenty to do, but that did not mean the King treated them well, and he having granted their chapter house to his mother they were forced to gather as a chapter in whichever palace the Royal Court was in at a given time, or any other convenient building – sometimes the home of one of them. Under such circumstances it is easy to imagine that the records of some grants could have gone missing.

With Thomas frequently complaining of a lack of money it seems most improbable that he would have risked further penury and suffering to his family for such a vanity as displaying a coat of arms. But maybe he genuinely believed he had a right to arms or  maybe it was just his sons who assumed them.

The Becon arms – appearance

Faussett records the arms on Basil’s memorial as being “Arg[ent]. 2 pales sa[ble]. each charged with 3 pins or.” – similar though not identical to the description provided by Harris “Argent two pales sable on each two palmer’s staves or.” Given that Faussett also noted that the inscription was “almost gone” it is easy to imagine that the palmer’s staves had become sufficiently worn as to appear to be simple pins. The main question concerning the design of the arms then is whether there were 2 or 3 on each pale.

In addition a coat of arms consists of a shield with mantle, helmet, wreath and sometimes a crest and supporters.
All I believe we have for the Becon’s is the description of the shield.

These are the arms that appear also to have been used by John Becon, Chancellor of Norwich; they appear on the quarterd coat on a portrait of his grandson Sir Robert Stone, as described by Margaret Toynbee in a note in Notes and Queries, vol. CC, 1955, p.382-3. However, Toynbee seems to interpret them as the arms of John Becon because they match the description of the arms of ‘Beacon of Canterbury’ in Harris’s ‘History of Kent’. Before she heard of this description she was relying on quite a different description of Beacon arms in Burke’s Armoury, and thought the arms in the portrait were wrong.

She interprets this match as proving ‘beyond question the relationship of John and Thomas Becon, which their common associations with East Anglia and St. John’s College, Cambridge made likely enough, but which has not hitherto been established.’

Toynbee concluded that the Becons must have failed to submit their claim to arms to the visiting heralds.

Further light is shed on the matter by Bailey, not in his biography of Thomas Becon but in Notes and Queries, vol. CCXXVII, 1982, in an item based on information he had not had when he wrote the biography, and which had been discovered by H Beken Thomas. The most significant of this was a pedigree of the Becon family among the Harleian manuscripts in the British Museum. This was among the ‘loose and independent Arms and Pedigrees fastened to a printed book’, comprising MS 1196 (item no. 189b). A note on another sheet in the same item shows that is was ‘delivered to Mr. Drury this 25th February for Mr. C?? the fee the sum of 3l. [signed] Wm. Beswicke.’ It appears that William Beswicke, Theodore’s brother-in-law, was submitting the claim of entitlement to bear arms on Theodore’s behalf.

The pedigree has on it two arms, the Becon ones (as above, with three palmer’s staves on each pale) on the left, and the Smyth (i.e. Theodore’s wife’s) on the right.

However, I believe he may have misread Toynbee when he says ‘the arms … have been shown to correspond with those of John Becon, …’; the only source he gives for this statement is Toynbee’s 1955 article, in which she recognised John Becon’s arms only because they matched those of Beacon of Canterbury. From this Bailey goes on to say ‘The identity between John Becon’s arms and those claimed by Theodore Becon, does not imply a family connection; Theodore presumably assumed (as have many since, and still do) that identity of surname implied a common armigerous ancestor.’

It seems to me that in the absence of further evidence, with the arms not known to the college of arms for John Becon either, then we can’t know who was copying who, and it could equally be that John was assuming a link between himself and Thomas’s family.

The Becon arms – meaning

To me a more interesting than whether they had a right to arms  is to consider the meaning:

The meaning in the arms is primarily in the design elements. In the case of the Becon’s there are 2 main elements:
1. the pales (i.e. the two black vertical stripes)
Pales indicate military strength.

2. the palmer’s (or pilgrim’s) staves
The shepherd’s watchfulness; Christian faith; pastoral authority; also, Episcopal jurisdiction and authority; often refers to early pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

But the colours used also have something to say. In the case of the Becon arms the background is argent (silver or white) – this indicates peace and sincerity; the pales are sable (black) – for constancy or grief and the staves or (gold) – for generosity and elevation of the mind.

Last updated: 18 October, 2014

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