« PreviousContinue »
i De Britannzcarum Ecclesiarum Primordiis," composed probably at the request of sir Robert, who left eight volumes of collections for the continuation of the work. Many of the compositions last mentioned are seill in MS. There are a few papers, moreover, among the “ Discourses of Eminent Antiquaries,” published by Hearne. One of these, as. being short and complete, is well adapted for a specimen.
Of the Antiquity of Motts and Words, with Arms of
Noblemen and Gentlemen of England.
If I strait this question to the common acceptance, my discourse must be to you, as the question is to me, slender and strait. But if I take liberty to wrest it whither the letter will lead me, as to impresses of which nature, arms, with their words, are, it will grow more tedious than the time wherein sö many must deliver their opinion, will permit. And therefore, to fashion the one to the other, 'both to my own ignorance, I shall fit the time though not the question. And first, I must intreat you to allow for antiquity of arms, which is the supportation of our mott or word, that all significant porfratures painted in shields, were and are accounted arms and insignia. The original doubtless, whereof, first grow from the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks, by which means, purposes were delivered by natural cha: racters : as in writing, for fortitude, they formed a lion; lust, a goat; watchfulness, an owl. Hence men, to depicture their virtuous affections, used on their shields some of these significant figures, adding no mott nor word at the first, in that so long as the tradition of that natural learning lived in men's practice, it was needless; but after the secret mysteries of those bodies (for so Jovius termeth the painted forms) were worn from their true understanding, to serve only for a distinction of person or families, (for so now arms are) they were allured to add thereunto a soul toʻthat senseless body; for so he entitleth the mott or word, concluding it now necessary that the one must accompany the other, under certain li. mitation, as that the one must not be above three words, the other not charged with many differing signs or colours, which we hold still a secret of good heraldry. These arms or impresses are either to private persons, or famiļies; the first more ancient, for he thắt did formerly person a king, bore in his shield, as note of sovereignty, some beast or bird royal. So did Agamemnon' at Troy, a lion; the like did Fergusius® the Scott, since received by the kings
of that country; Cæsar an eagle, as emperor, since appropered to the Empire to this day. Amongst all our English, king Arthur is by Vincentius said to bear ensign of sanctity and religion, the figure of our lady, upon his shield. Cadwalador, for his fierceness, a drago!1. Divers of our Saxon kings, for their devotion, a cross; as St. Edward. And some for their principality and rule, leopards and lions; as our kings since the Norman conquest. But for a word annex-, ed to any impress or arms, I cannot remember any, here, before Henry II. who is by some writers observed to bear a sword aud olive branch together, wreathed with this word, utrumque. Such a like in regard of the connexity, though not in like sense, was that dolphin twisted upçn an anchor on Vespa, sian's coin, with this word, festina lente. Richard I. used a mailed arm, holding a shivered lance, the word, labor viris convenit. Edward IV. his white rose close ed in an imperial crown, the word, rosa sine spind. Edward VI. a sun shining, the word, idem per diversa. Queen Mary, a sword erected upon an altar, pro ar& et regni custodiả; but more subtle than any of these, was that of the last Scotch queen Mary, who, after her French marriage, stamped a coin whereon the one side was the impaled arms of Scotland and France, on the other, between two Islands and a starry heaven, two crowns imperial, the word, alianque moratur. Thus much for impresses personal and not hereditary. For such as follow families, I think they cannot prove very ancient, since Paulus Jovius plainly delivereth, that the first that annexed that note of dignity to a family, was Frederick Barbarossa to his best deserving soldiers, which falleth to be in anno 1152, and the 17 of our king Stephen; from which ground it may seem our kings assumed it near that time, før I find no badge of any family until king John; no, not of any of our kings upon their seals, before Richard I; and for any mott or word used to any such arms, I note none before that of Edward III, Honi soit qui mal y pense, proper only to his order, until Henry the Eighth's time; whence from, I take, we borrow those sentences or words which I pass to remember, in regard of their inultitude, since they fall fitter to those better students of arms to observe.
Though the praise of extraordinary industry and of considerable learning cannot justly be withheld from sir Robert Cotton; still, it is unquestionable, that posterity is infinitely more indebted to him as a collector of ancient literary monuments, than as an author; and he is accordingly more celebrated for his invaluable library, than for all his writings, The subject of the Cotton-library is familiar to every informed reader; but as its history is so closely connected with that of our national literature, particularly the historical department of it, a page or two may not be deemed improperly employed, in a work of this nature, in giving a brief account of that famous collection.
Sir Robert began his collections as early as his eighteenth year; and Camden, whom he accompanied to Carlisle in 1600, acknowledges his services in the compilation of his Britannia. The Cotton-library consists wholly of manuscripts. At the time of their purchase, many of them were in loose skins, small tracts, or very thin volumes; of such he caused several' to be bound in a single cover. They relate especially to the history and antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland; enriched, however, with whatever could be procured, ihat was curious or valuable, in every other branch of literature. At this period, the contents of our monastic libraries, as likewise many other vaļuable remains of ancient learning, (saved from the wreck of the university and college libra» ries at the puritanical visitations of those sex minaries,) lay dispersed in numerous hands,