Medieval Armorial Pendants

By T.B.Jenkins  Coat of Arms No.36, October 1958.
Harness pendants with thirteenth century English royal arms and the arms of Erpingham from a pendant found at Dunwich, Suffolk

The small heraldic ornaments, commonly known as armorial pendants, appear to have come into popular use during the latter part of the medieval ages. They were usually small heater – shaped shields made of copper or bronze, and measured on the average about one inch across the top, with a loop for the purpose of suspension. In some instances the shield was depicted on a square piece of metal, with the suspension loop at one corner or on one of the edges.

Sometimes the field of the shield was cut out of the metal and filled in with a coloured enamel, while the charges were incised on the exposed metal and probably silvered or gilded. In other cases the charges were cut away and filled with enamel, leaving the field exposed. Unfortunately, very few of those now in existence have retained the enamel, due to erosion through the ages, thus frequently making it difficult to identify them with any particular person or family.

Although they have lost much of their original charm, they are nevertheless of considerable interest to the heraldic student, and are a credit to the craftsmanship of that period.

It has been supposed that one of their uses was on the trappings of horses. In a MS at Trinity College, Cambridge, there is a drawing representing a charger with a row of these shields suspended around the breast band.1 Also a few specimens have an adjustment by which they appear to have been attached to leather. One can, however, examine numerous contemporary illustrations without finding any sign of them on the trappings, so perhaps their use in this direction was rather the exception than the rule.

Moreover, one may search in vain for them on scores of seals, monumental effigies, brasses and illustrations of men in armour or otherwise, as well as those of women.

The palimpsest brass of a lady, found at Lupitt, Devon,2 shows two heraldic shields used to fasten the cord of the mantle. But it is clear that they are not in the nature of pendants. Neither can the shield affixed to the camail on the chest of the effigy on the Cockayne monument in the Church at Ashbourne, Derbyshire,3 nor that of a similar shield on the effigy of a knight preserved in the Zurich public library,4 be considered in this category. Both are larger than the average size pendant, and they have no loops for suspension.

This would tend to suggest that these pendants were probably used more in the nature of badges for retainers, messengers or other representatives of noblemen, rather than for themselves personally.

There are few museums in this country that do not possess at least one of these pendants. Some, of course, have a large number, and there are several private collections. From time to time, during the past century some have have been exhibited or referred to at the proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries.

Two fine specimens are preserved in the small but excellent one-roomed museum at Dunwich, Suffolk. They were found in this village, which at one time was a capital city of East Anglia, but has now almost disappeared into the sea. One of them is made of bronze, measuring 1¼ inches across the top of the shield, and 1½ inches in length, with a loop for suspension. The Arms depicted are — an inescutcheon and an orle of 6 martlets. The inescutcheon and the martlets have been cut out of the metal, leaving the field exposed. At one time these charges would have been filled with coloured enamel, but there is no sign of any now.

The Arms are attributed to the celebrated Norfolk man, Thomas Erpingham (1357-1428), who usually bore an orle of 8 martlets, i.e.  Vert, an inescutcheon and an orle of (8) martlets Argent. Burke’s Armory gives others of this name, with different tinctures. Also, William de Redham (or Reedham) bore Gules, an inesutcheon and an orle of (9) martlets Argent.5



  1. Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries, 2nd Series, Vol. VII, p. 141.
  2. Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries, 2nd Series, Vol. XXI, p. 479.
  3. Journal of British Archaeological Assoc. Vol. VII, Plate xxxix.
  4. Archaeological Journal, Vol. XIX, p. 2.
  5. Charles’ Roll — Hen III and Edw I (circa 1285).