Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Distrust Any Historical Anecdote Offering an Explanation for Allusive Heraldry.

This is, of course a subset of David Friedman's good advice: "Distrust any historical anecdote good enough to have survived on its literary merit." This is only compounded when the tale is told by descendants of the protagonist, who can be expected to particularly enjoy tales of the awesomeness of their ancestors.
That the father of Agnes Hotot, (who was afterwards married to Dudley,) having a dispute with one Ringsdale, about the title to a piece of land, they agreed to meet on the disputed land, and decide it by combat. Hotot, at the day appointed, was laid up with the gout; but his daughter, Agnes, rather than he should lose his land, or suffer in his honour, armed herself cap-a-pee, and mounted her father's steed, went and met Ringsdale, whom, after a stubborn light, she dismounted; and when he was on the ground, the loosen'd her throat-latch, lifted up her helmet, and let down her hair about her shoulders, by that and her breasts, discovered to him she was a woman. In memory of which heroick action, the Crest aforementioned, his always been used by her descendants.
The historical anecdote of Agnes Hotot triggers the Friedman warning from the beginning, because it's like Eowyn with discovered breasts for added literary value. That the story first appears in Collins' The baronettage of England; in 1741, about 350 years after the supposed event, gives additional reason for distrust. Anyone that has worn a good reproduction of late 14th c. armor, or who knows others that have, will have still further reason to distrust the account: discovering breasts in such armor is logistical challenge.

So we should not be surprised to learn that the Visitations of 1564 and 1618 record arms for the Dudleys of Clapton, but no crest, or that the College of Arms in 1826 recorded their crest as "On a wreath of the colours, a woman's bust in profile wearing a helmet of leaves, and wreathed round the temples with alternate leaves and roses, all proper."

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