In the days when princes and knights were encased in armor while leading their soldiers in battle it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe. It finally became the custom to place upon the shield or breastplate of a leader some distinctive mark or design by which the soldiers could readily identify and follow him.
During winter, armor being cold, princes often wore coats which obscured the markings on the breastplate. Hence these markings were embroidered on their coats. In this manner the term, Coat of Arms originated, the word, Arms being applied to the particular design denoting the individual or family entitled by royal authority to use it. Thus the Coat of Arms, as we know it today, is a relic of the old armorial insignia, divested of the coat on which it was embroidered.
In course of time the simple marks on shields, armor or coat, acting like a name plate on a door, as one writer expressed it, grew into elaborate and frequently beautiful designs, in which the markings or emblems often indicated the habits, characteristics and achievements of an individual and his descendants.
Among Coat of Arms granted to English nobility during the days of Chivalry few were equal in beauty of design and color, or richer in meaning than the emblem bestowed by royal authority upon those of the Shapleigh name.An old reproduction of the Shapleigh Coat of Arms, representing the immediate ancestors of Alexander Shapleigh the Immigrant, is located in St. Savior's Church, Dartmouth, Devonshire, England. This church stand across the Dart River from Kingsweare, Alexander's birthplace and early residence. King Edward in 1286 gave permission to build a chapel near the river. This chapel, now the Church of St. Savior, was dedicated on October 13th, 1372. In its gallery, rebuilt in 1630-1635, windows were made and used for heraldic display. In the North Aisle were the Arms of Hopkins, of John Shapleigh, and of King Charles the First. These windows were damaged by enemy bombers in 1941, during World War II, and only fragments of the Coats of Arms now remain. John, a relative of Alexander Shapleigh, lived at nearby Totnes, where he was a prominent business man and a leader in local political affairs.
The Shapleigh Coat of Arms is described as follows in standard works on Heraldry: Arms: Vert, a chevron between three escallops argent (sometimes or). Crest: An arm couped at the wrist, vested gules cuffed argent, holding in the hand proper, a wreath vert, fructea gules.
To the reader unfamiliar with the Latin language and the terms used in Heraldry the above description of the Shapleigh Coat of Arms would be of little value without an explanation. The following may therefore be helpful. Latin words used in the description are: vert, meaning green; argent, meaning silver, depicted by white; or, meaning gold, depicted by yellow; gules, meaning red. Other expressions are: couped, cut off, not extending to the shield; vested, clothed; cuffed, wrapped around with cloth, as a cuff; propery, natural color, as flesh color on the hand; fructea, flowers.
Arms refers to the Shield, green in color, upon which is a chevron consisting of two bars meeting at an angle at the top, and silver in color. The three scallop shells surrounding the chevron are usually silver in color, but on the Coat of Arms of John Shapleigh of Totnes, from whose ancestors the Shapleighs of America descended, the scallop shells are gold in color.
Crest refers to the design rising above the warrior's helmet, which is represented in the Shapleigh Coat of Arms by a circular gold band fringed with golden tassels. The Crest consists of an arm, clothed in red, with a white cuff, and holding in its hand of flesh color a green wreath having red flowers. The flowers are red roses, emblem of the House of Lancaster with whom the Shapleighs were allied during the long Wars of the Roses. During these wars (1453-1471), the Shapleighs allied themselves with the House of Lancaster whose symbol was the red rose. They were extremely defeated by the House of York (who chose the white rose as its emblem) and the Shapleigh nobility lost their wealth and political power. Those who survived turned to trade and commerce.
To the elementary design of the Shapleigh Coat of Arms were added other features which indicated the rank of the person to whom it was granted by royal decree. Among these were the following:
The bars shown diagonally on the panel below the arm represent the openings in the visor of a nobleman's helmet. These indicate by their number and shape that the Shapleigh to whom the design was given was a nobleman of high rank, as also attested by the accompanying robe or coat of royal purple, with its facings and linings of white fur from the ermine dotted with the animals black-tipped tails, and the binding cords of golden threads.
The crossed branches of the broom plant, below the shield, suggest that the Shapleighs were related by marriage to King Henry II, a descendant of Geoffrey of Anjou who had adopted the family name of Plantagenet through his habit of wearing in his helmet sprigs of the broom plant, Planta Genista. This relationship would explain the presence of royal purple and other symbols of royalty in the Shapleigh Coat of Arms.
The following fanciful meanings of the various markings on the Shapleigh Coat of Arms have been suggested by a writer: Vert, or green, signifies Hope, Joy and Loyalty in Love; Argent, or silver, betokens Peace and Sincerity; Or, representing gold, denotes Generosity and Elevation of Mind; Chevron, resembling house rafters, signifies Protection which has been granted as a Reward for some unusual Achievement of Faithful Service; Escallop Shells, denoting a Pilgrimage, or seafaring activities. The description of the Coat of Arms brings the reader to the Motto inscribed upon the Scroll beneath the Shield: Fideli Certa Merces, Translated from the Latin, its words are: "To the Faithful, Reward is Certain."
The Shapleigh Coat of Arms depicted here is an exact reproduction of the Coat of Arms owned by Frederick E. Shapleigh, who inherited it from his father, Elisha Stacy Shapleigh.
Charles Augustine Shapleigh was born and lived many years in Eliot, Maine, in or near the Shapleigh House built by Captain Elisha Shapleigh in 1802, which stands on the site of the original Kittery House. No longer having near relatives living, Charles spent his last years in the home of his distant cousin, Elisha Stacy Shapleigh, in East Rochester, New Hampshire, and to whom he bequeathed his remaining possessions. These included the Shapleigh Coat of Arms, a replica of which is shown here, and also the Rollins Coat of Arms, both of which he inherited from his parents, Andrew Fernald Shapleigh and Caroline (Rollins) Shapleigh.
The origin of the two paintings is at present unknown. It is possible, and quite probable that the great grandfather of Charles Augustine Shapleigh, Captain Elisha Shapleigh, born in 1749, who was a business man with extensive property, ample means, wide interests and with more leisure than other ancestors of Charles Augustine, acquired a copy of the Shapleigh Coat of Arms which at that time adorned one of the windows in St. Savior's Church, Dartmouth, Devonshire, England. This church was located across the Dart River from Kingsweare, early home of Alexander Shapleigh, Captain Elisha's ancestor. The painting apparently passed to one of his son's, to a grandson, and finally to his great grandson, Charles Augustine Shapleigh.
The Rollins Coat of Arms came to Charles Augustine Shapleigh through his mother Caroline (Rollins) Shapleigh, granddaughter of Captain Elisha Shapleigh whose Eldest daughter, Betsy, christened Elizabeth, had married John Rollins of Great Falls (now Somersworth), New Hampshire in 1791 and moved in that year to Lebanon, Maine. Caroline Rollins, their oldest daughter, married Andrew Fernald Shapleigh of Eliot, Maine and they dwelt the remainder of their lives in that town, where their son, Charles Augustine was born.
The original of the Shapleigh Coat of Arms shown on here on our website may be over 200 years old.