Coat of Arms

Use and Meaning of a Coat of Arms

The following information comes from the World Book Encyclopedia and was quoted in the 1981 RBFO book The Ancestors of Richard Brough and Mary Horleston, pp.43-44:

A "Coat of Arms" is a heraldic design, used to distinguish individual families and to authenticate official documents. The Coat of Arms comes from the custom of embroidering the emblem of a knight on the surcoat which he wore over his armor.

Heraldic symbols as we know them today developed with the use of armor in the Middle Ages. The suit of armor made it difficult to distinguish friend from foe during violent hand-to-hand combat, and knights developed heraldic symbols so they could identify each other. The symbols usually commemorated an event in the knight's life, or some outstanding quality.

During the Middle Ages, heraldic symbols were also used in everyday life. Most persons did not know how to write, so they had to develop some way of proving the authenticity of various documents. It became common practice to use a seal with a person's heraldic design as a signature. The introduction of gunpowder into warfare made armor obsolete. As a result, heraldic symbols were no longer needed as a means of recognition on the battlefield. These symbols became more useful as an emblem distinguishing a particular family than as a mark of an individual knight. [Similarly, the College of Arms has stated: "With the introduction of gunpowder and artillery the use of arms on the jousting field and in battle eventually decreased, while the use of arms in civilian activities and social endeavors increased."]

In England, Richard III established the Herald's College (College of Arms) in 1484 AD. The Herald's College decided(s) who is entitled to wear coats of arms. Also, in such [areas] as Great Britain, heraldic symbols usually depict the ancestry of a particular individual, rather than an element of his life.

A complete coat of arms consists of a shield, crest, and motto. The shield, or escutcheon, is the basic element. A helmet, or supporters, or both may be added. Accessories include the wreath, mantling and scroll. The wreath represents a device used to cover the point where the crest was attached to the knight's helmet. The mantling originally protected the knight from the direct rays of the sun and also protected the helmet from stains and rust.

College of Arms in London, England

January 2016, the College of Arms website stated the following:

Heraldry: "There is no such thing as a 'coat of arms for a surname'. Many people of the same surname will often be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and many of that surname will be entitled to no coat of arms. Coats of arms belong to individuals. For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past."

Coats of Arms: "Coats of arms belong to specific individuals and families and there is no such thing as a coat of arms for a family name. From their origins in the twelfth century to the present day arms have been borne by individuals, and by corporate bodies, as marks of identification. They have also been used to denote other characteristics, which have changed over the centuries as society and culture have evolved. New coats of arms have since the fifteenth century been granted both to individuals and corporate bodies by the senior heralds in Royal service, the Kings of Arms."

Granting of Arms: "As of 1 January 2016 the fees payable [to the College of Arms] upon a personal grant of arms and crest are £5,750, a similar grant to an impersonal but non-profit making body, £12,100, and to a commercial company, £17,950."

"Brough" Coat of Arms in the British Isles

Over hundreds of years, various Brough families in the British Isles used different coats of arms. The following graphic, compiled by Sir Bernard Burke and first published in 1842, describes the types of arms that were used by these Brough families.

From the above listing by Burke, it is obvious that one of the most prevalent Brough coat of arms used in England was the one which displayed "five swans". In fact, it is historically known that these "five swans" were used by a number of Brough families residing in England--especially those who lived in Staffordshire (as identified by Burke in the above graphic and explained below), Lincolnshire (also identified by Burke in the above graphic) and Yorkshire (as mentioned in the following paragraph).

For example, in the book A History of Yorkshire North Riding: The Victoria History of the Counties of England (by William Page, London, England, 1968, Volume 1, page 75; FHL Book # 942, H2vyn), the Brough shield of "five swans" is shown and accompanied by the following text: "In 1435-1436, John Brough was returned as holding one knight's fee in North and South Cowton. From him the manor [of Gilling] descended through his son William, his grandson and great-grandson of the same name to his great-great-grandson William Brough, who left daughters and co-heirs Anne and Elizabeth. Anne was married to Thomas Tempest, who died seised of North Cowton Manor about 1544, leaving a daughter and heir Anne wife of Sir Ralph Bulmer...."

Other Brough Arms in England that display the Brough shield containing "five swans" are shown below:

Based on the usage of the "five swans" coat of arms by a number of Brough families in Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, and other areas, Ann Brough Hind of England stated in May 2010: "We can't dismiss anyone who has the five swans of the field on their Arms as so many of the Houses of Broughs offshoot from the basics. The bearers of different Arms were granted their own for their accomplishments, but the bloodline is for the most part descended." Whether these probable family relationships are specifically based on blood, adoption, inheritance, occupation, land ownership or something else, is presently being researched.

Brough Coat of Arms of Staffordshire, England

Five hundred years ago, the Broughs of Leekfirth, Staffordshire, used a coat of arms shield of "Argent [silver], on a saltire [diagonal cross] sable [of black], five swans of the first [five white swans]." This "Brough" Coat of Arms shield appears in Staffordshire pedigrees and records of the 1500's and 1600's.

In the early 1500's, Thomas Burgh (born about 1480) of Brewood, Staffordshire, moved to Windygates, Leek, Staffordshire. Initially, Thomas was a "leaseholder of land." But while his sons or serving men worked his fields, Thomas, being a literate and able man capable of administration and government, eventually achieved the position of "Gentleman." Although Thomas apparently never took upon himself the title of knighthood--possibly because he was reluctant to incur the expenses involved--he was known as a Gentleman and used the Brough Coat of Arms shield of "Argent [silver], on a saltire [diagonal cross] sable [of black], five swans of the first [five white swans]." This Coat of Arms shield was described (in the "red box" below) and displayed (as shown in the photo on the right, below) by John Sleigh in his well-known book The History of the Ancient Parish of Leek, published in 1883 by Bemrose & Sons, London, England. From the 1500's to the present day, Thomas Burgh's descendants have used this Brough Coat of Arms shield.

According to some Brough family members the five "swans" shown on the Brough coat of arms shield symbolize "peace and fidelity", while the saltire cross represents the determination to defend family and faith with "strength". Therefore, the Brough Family Organiztion has accepted "Peace and Strength" as its family motto.

In 1949, Catharine Ann Brough Hind visited the College of Arms in London for confirmation of the Brough arms shown in Staffordshire pedigrees and records. The Herald to whom she spoke said that no formal permission was needed for her family to use the Brough arms provided the family possessed genealogical confirmation of who they were. Interestingly, it was the Herald's belief that the Brough "swans" coat of arms were granted for service in wars in Ireland, in which their close blood kinsman, Lord Walter de Burgh and his sons, were leading noblemen and administrators, and whose descendants now make up the widespread de Burgh/Burke family clan of Ireland. Subsequently, Ann Brough's father, Edgar Brough, commissioned original art work for a Brough "swan" coat of arms, which was done by a London printer in 1949 (and shown above in the top image, center).

In 1999, Catharine Ann Brough Hind provided the RBFO with the following facts and information about the Brough Coat of Arms:

"During the 16th and 19th Centuries, Visitations were made in every county by heralds and recorders. These individuals recorded the descent--or pedigree--of each nobleman, gentry and landed family, and described or portrayed the crest or arms of its founder and ancestor as noted in deeds and grants of their family seat in the county concerned. This is the sense in which a family recognizes--or is indeed recognized--by the arms of its ancestors and is held to have 'a family crest.' The more simple the form of the crests portrayed, the more likely the grant was earlier--and thus the earlier was the family recognized.

"You note that I am...sending the 'original' Brough crest [taken from Sleigh's book of 1883]...The more elaborate the crest the 'newer' the family. The 'cruder' and more simple, the older! The elaborations came in time, when every simple formula and shape had been claimed; and then with self-aggrandizement by later risen gentry and nobility. ...With time of course there came those who prefer the more floriated design and a belief that simplicity suggests rusticity or a lesser worth...and if 'the world' judges by worth and lesser worth then who is to say who is wrong or right? I'm proud of proofs of the antiquity of our grant-of-arms and recognition of worth.

"The 19th Century publication of Joseph Foster's Dictionary of Heraldry depicts in words seven 13th Century de Burgh coats of arms--several of them in color. All holders are related by blood and cover the counties of the Midlands and of Norfolk, Richmondshire (the modern North Yorkshire on its Cumberland border), and Ulster in Northern Ireland. In later centuries, individual Broughs achieved the right to their own arms, not the least of whom was the 18th Century, Admiral Brough of Rollestone Hall in Mappleton, East Yorkshire. Among the Middle Hulme and Leekfrith Houses of the Broughs the 'swan' crest--or in some cases just one individual swan--was used to seal papers, and was often displayed by the Broughs of Waterhouse."

In recent years, Ann Hind--because of her fourteen years of research work and archaeological excavation of Moated Wood Hall at Womersley, North Yorkshire, and the related heraldry of its nobility, gentry and military owners--has spoken with a Rouge Pursuivant Herald of the College of Arms. Nothing that he advised and explained to her has cancelled or altered the perception of recognition of a House by the coat of arms of its founding ancestor.

Brough "Shield" of 2009

In July 2009, the RBFO commissioned Juan Maestas, a professional graphic artist to produce a new and computerized version of the Brough Coat of Arms "Shield". According to Fairbairn's Book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland (published in 1905), the Brough crest contained "a swan ppr"--as shown above (left, in Plate 99.2 of the book). Using Fairbairn's swan, Juan Maestas produced a new version of the Brough Coat of Arms "Shield"--shown below (right).

Brough "Arms" and Logo" of 2010

In July 2010, the Richard Brough Family Organization (RBFO) commissioned Julie Rebecca Thorup, a professional graphic-artist living in Utah, to design three professional-looking Brough Family Organization (BFO) “Arms” and “Logos”. Using well-known Brough-related documents and heraldic symbols, Julie incorporated historic Brough family art into her three drawings that were true to their heraldic past while presenting a new and vibrant display of Brough family heritage and tradition.

These three artistic drawings are now used to represent the BFO and are part of the intellectual property of the RBFO. These unique drawings appear on the BFO website, on its official flag, and on its stationary, publications, clothing, plaques and other endorsed merchandise items. BFO members and others wishing to use any of these three drawings should contact the BFO for permission to copy or use them.

Brough "Plaque" of 2015

Cavalier Heraldry website:

Brough "Tile" of 2016

In 2016, the Brough shield was made available on Tile (6" x 6") from This item can found and ordered here from is based in California, USA.

Brough "Clothing" of 2016-2017

In June 2016 the Brough Family Organization authorized its BFO Arms to be placed on light gray tee shirts (shown below). These tee shirts contain a permanent color screen-printed image of the BFO Arms on the front and back of the shirts. The tee shirts are 50% cotton and 50% polyester and come in sizes S, M, L, XL and XXL. They are available at a cost of $25.00 per tee shirt and can be ordered directly through the BFO.

Brough Arms on FamilySearch Family Tree, 2018

In 2018, the Brough Family Organization placed its Organizational Arms on FamilySearch Family Tree in an effort to identify and maintain the integrity of its two main Brough ancestral lineages in England that span hundreds of years and whose descendants and relatives occasionally used the same coat of arms that contained five swans on a black saltire cross.