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Bracey Arms

compiled by Edwin C. Dunn


"Heraldry, has been defined as the systematic hereditary use of an arrangement of charges or devices on a shield, emerged at about the same moment in the mid-twelfth century over a wide area of Europe." These devices were adopted in England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, but the reason for this development is not entirely clear.1

In the 11th and 12th centuries, normal warfare involved the massing of a cavalry charge with lance and shield. There was a need to identify knights in armor on the battlefield. At the time of the Conquest (1066) there was no evidence of the display of arms, or heraldic devices. William the Conqueror was forced to remove his helmet during the Battle of Hastings in order to identify himself to his followers. By painting one’s arms on his shield, a knight could make his identity known to his companions.

Other theories of the possible origin of heraldry claim that the development was a result of individual vanity or a desire for display, rather than a military need. These status symbols would have been popularized by the tournaments instead of in real warfare.

The earliest documented example of arms on a shield in Europe is when Henry I of England knighted his new son-in-law, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in 1127, when he hung about the latter’s neck a shield painted with gold lions on an azure ground.

Whatever the reason for the development of heraldry, its hereditary nature probably is a reflection of the feudal system, and particularly if it resulted from military needs.. A man held his land from a lord in return for military service to the lord. The right of inheritance was an understood condition of feudal tenure. Just as "the right to lead or the duty to follow in battle was inherited, so too was it likely that a coat of arms was also to become hereditary."2

The earliest arms were simply assumed by the bearer. Henry V (1412/3-1421/2) founded the College of Arms in England, but it was not until 1484 that Richard III incorporated the institution for the purpose of controlling and granting armorial bearings. The duties of the heralds go back before the days of heraldry, when they acted as royal messengers. They counted and identified the dead in battle, controlled the ceremonial at tournaments, and therefore, became most familiar with the coats of arms worn by the nobility. It was logical that the King should give to them the responsibility of controlling armory, or heraldry as it came to be called. The Kings of Arms (3) and the Heralds (6) are the officers which comprise the College of Arms in England.

The coat of arms was actually a surcoat which was worn over the armor to protect it from the heat of the sun. It came to be decorated exactly as the shield was decorated. A heraldic "achievement" consists of six basic parts: 1) the shield, without which nothing else can exist, and often just called the "arms"; 2) the helmet; 3) the mantling or lambrequin; 4) the wreath; 5) the crest; 6) the motto. By reason of rank and honor, other parts of the heraldic achievement may include: 7) a cap of maintenance, or chapeau; 8) a crest coronet; 9) supporters; 10) a compartment; 11) a slogan; 12) a standard or ensign; 13) a coronet of rank (for peers); 14) the insignia of orders of chivalry; 15) a badge.3

The College of Arms in England remains the only such European institution on the full medieval model which existed in virtually all the monarchies of Europe. It is part of the Royal Household, and is charged with many ceremonial duties, along with the granting of arms or heraldic achievements. As already stated, a heraldic achievement (or coat of arms) is hereditary. It is granted, or inherited, by individuals, and it does not belong to a person just because they have the same or a similar surname. Hereditary descent and the right to bear arms must be proven before one can rightfully (and legally in Britain) display a particular coat of arms.


A commission by the author of the present narrative in 1992 to research the family of Bracey (and its variants) in the College of Arms brought the following reply from Thomas Woodcock, Somerset Herald:4
"Originally families assumed their own arms and in cases where two families used the same coat there would be proceedings in the High Court of Chivalry to decide which family had the greater right by proving that they had used the arms for a longer period. The best known case is that of Scrope v. Grosvenor which lasted from 1385 to 1390. In 1417 King Henry V issued writs to the sheriffs of various counties stating that in future men might not assume their own arms. Thereafter, a right to arms could only be acquired either by proof of descent from someone using arms before 1417 or by a new grant from the Kings of Arms who were the senior heralds to whom the Sovereign delegated the power to grant new arms. In 1484 the heralds were formed into a College of Arms, which became the official registry and in 1530 the Sovereign issued commissions to the two provincial Kings of Arms to visit the counties in their provinces and record the arms and pedigrees of families of gentry resident in each county.

"This system was known as the Herald’s Visitations and lasted till 1689. The Visitation Books form part of the College’s official records and the first entry in a Herald’s Visitation is a pedigree recorded at the Herald’s Visitation of Cheshire in 1567 (College of Arms MS D3, 109). I enclose a photocopy of a printed version of the pedigree published as the Visitation of Cheshire 1580 on page 39 of that printed edition. This is based on a Harleian manuscript in the British Library and not on an official record in the College. The arms shown in the official record do not have any tinctures in the first and fourth quarter but are quarterly per fess indented in the first quarter a mallard quartering two and three Vert on a fess Or three leaves Vert and on a canton Or a leopards face Gules. The College of Arms copy of the 1580 Visitation of Cheshire is MS MJD 14. This does not include a Bressy pedigree. However, the family of Bressy of Bulkeley recorded a pedigree at the 1613 Visitation with arms of quarterly per fess indented Sable and Argent in the first quarter a mallard Argent beaked Gules. The pedigree recorded is an extended version of that printed on page 38 of the printed version of the 1580 Visitation and I enclose an annotated version of this. No crest is shown in the record. The College manuscript record reference is C6, 31b.

"The next Cheshire Visitation record is at the 1663 Visitation of Cheshire when both the Bressey family of Buckley and the Bressy family of Tiverton recorded pedigrees. The first is registered here under the reference C38, 7 and the second is under the reference C38, 51a. I enclose a photocopy of the printed version of the record which I have annotated against the College record. The Buckley branch of the family differenced the arms with a crescent Gules in the centre point. I enclose a photocopy from Burke’s Peerage 1932 which states that the family of Brassey claim descent from the Cheshire Visitation family. There are a number of pedigrees of the family recorded at the College of Arms under the references Peers 10, 182; Peers 9, 175: Peers 7, 181; 19D14, 100 and Surrey 9, 326.

"These show that Thomas Brassey who is stated to have been born on 7th November 1805 in Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage, was the son of John Brassey of Buerton in the parish of Aldford in Cheshire, who was born on 19th May and baptised on 20th July 1778. He was the son of George Brassey of Buerton baptised 31 May 1744 buried 17 November 1803, both at Aldford, the son of Thomas Brassie of Bulkley who died at Saighton on 2nd May 1776 aged 74, the son of Richard Brassie of Bulkeley who was aged 68 at the Herald’s Visitation of 1663 as shown in the annotation to the printed pedigree. Part of the pedigree of the family is also recorded under the reference Norfolk Vol IX, 196. As peers are entitled to supporters, there is a grant dated 17th December 1886 (Grants 63, 309) of supporters to Thomas who was subsequently first and only Earl Brassey. The supporters granted were on either side a mallard Argent beaked legged and gorged with a collar Gules pendant therefrom an escutcheon of the arms of Bulkeley vis Sable a chevron between three bulls heads caboshed also Argent."

"The 1st Earl Brassey’s nephew, Sir Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey, was subsequently created a peer and there is a grant of supporters to him (Grants 105, 5). This is blazoned on either side a mallard holding in its beak an ear of wheat slipped and leaved proper. He was granted a badge of an ear of wheat slipped proper enfiled by a circlet Or on 20th February 1923. This is recorded under the reference Standards I, 243. He was subsequently granted a badge of an ear of wheat slipped and leaved Or enfiled with a circlet of the last charged with four pearls Argent in the same grant as the supporters on 5th July 1938 (Grants 105, 5)."

"The Heralds Visitation of Oxfordshire in 1634 (C29, 87) a three generation pedigree was recorded. Richard Brasey of Thame described as free of the Vintners in London is shown as the son of John Brasey of Hathfield in Worcestershire. By his wife Mary daughter of Richard Danderidge of Berkshire, Richard Brasey had a daughter and sole heir Anne wife of Alexander Crooke. There is a note that he did not prove a right to arms. At the Heralds Visitation of Bedfordshire in 1634 a pedigree was recorded by a family of Bressey and I enclose a photocopy of a printed version. The arms quarterly per fess indented Sable and Argent in the first quarter a martlet Argent with a mullet for difference Or, with a crest of out of a mural crown Sable purfled Or a demi eagle displayed Argent beaked gold, stated in the margin of the Visitation record to have been granted to Edmund Bressy by Sir William Segar Garter King of Arms in the 11th of King James, which I take to mean the 11th year of the reign of King James VI of Scotland and I of England, ie. 1613 or 1614.

"Since 1673 the College has the complete text of every grant of arms. Before that date we have to rely on the notebooks of the Kings of Arms and heralds and sometimes records of grants only appear in the margin of a Visitation record as in this case. The first grant to anyone with a variant of the surname is a grant dated 3rd June 1836 (Grants 41, 314) to Vice Admiral Sir Edward Brace. The arms granted to him were Or within two bendlets Azure between a lion rampant and a scaling ladder three rams passant Sable a chief wavy thereon upon a neck of land projecting into the sea a fortified circular lighthouse with a red flag flying towards the sinister all proper being intended to represent that part of the work’s defending the town and port of Algiers to which His Majesty’s ship Impregnable commanded by the said Sir Edward Brace was opposed in the memorable battle of the 27th of August 1816 and for the crest out of a naval crown Or a dexter arm embowed in chain armour the hand holding the flag of the Kingdom of Holland in the year 1808 all proper.

"The text of the Patent states that the said arms without the chief but together with the said crest was to be borne by his nephew Francis Brace, a captain in the Royal Navy, and by his descendants and the said arms without the chief and with the crest following that is say on a wreath of the colours a dexter arm embowed in chain armour the hand grasping a sword proper pommel and hilt Or attached to the blade a flag Azure charged with an anchor gold to be borne by the other descendants of the grantee’s late father Francis Brace. A brief pedigree of the family was recorded under the reference Surrey 3, 191 and commences with this Francis Brace who is described as of Stagbatch in the parish of Leominster and formerly Kimbolton both in the County of Hereford who by his wife Ann was father of Sir Edward Brace baptised on 2nd June 1770 at Kimbolton who died unmarried on 6th January 1844.

"There is an extensive pedigree registered under the reference Norfolk 17, 146 commencing with William Brace of Doverdale, Co: Worcester who was presented to the living of Doverdale in 1505 and 1529 living 10 August 1549 died before 17 September 1560. The pedigree continues for 14 generations. We are not permitted to photograph or photocopy our records, so that the only way I could let you have a copy of this would be by having it copied out by hand, unless there is a version in a printed source which I have not been able to find. I have found no official registration of arms for this family of Brace of Worcestershire and no entry for arms of Bracey of Yarmouth, although arms attributed to them in Burke’s General Armory which is an unofficial printed source.

"The only other grant of arms is a grant dated 27th September 1944 to Robert Bingham Brassey (Grants 107,311). He is described as of The Node, Codicote, Co Hertford, Esquire and he was granted varied arms of quarterly per fess indented Sable an Argent in the first quarter a mallard of the last beaked and legged Gules and in the second quarter a human heart Gules ducally crowned Or and supported by two hands couped proper. He was a son of Albert Brassey ands therefore a first cousin of Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey.

"Medieval rolls of arms do not form part of the College’s official records but I could if you wish undertake further work in medieval sources to see whether there are records of use of arms by families of the name between 1245 and 1530."

No further research was ordered. The printed pedigrees that are mentioned in the Herald’s letter will be discussed elsewhere.


Let’s now look at the various arms which have been recorded in printed publications.  A blazon is a written description of armorial bearings or achievements.

European Continent

Rietstap’s Armorial Gènèral (in French) lists the following surnames which could possibly be variant spellings of names on the European Continent pronounced similarly to a place name in Normandy.5 With a single exception, no effort is made by quoting these blazons to imply a familial relationship with any English family. Translation is given in brackets. Illustrations are from Rolland's Illustrations to the Armorial Gènèral.6

Arms of Bressey Bressey - Lorr., Franche-Comtè, D'azure à deux fasces d'or, acc. d'une ètoile d'arg. au canton sen. du chef.; au fr.-q. du sec., ch. d'une clè de gu. [Azure, two fesses or, an estoile argent a canton sinister in chief; the first quarter, charged with a key gules]
Arms of Bressi Bressi -Dordrecht, Ec.: au 1 c.-èc. de sa. et d'arg., la ligne du coupè denchèe et le premier guartier ch. d'un cuiller (oiseau) d'arg.; au 2 de gu. à une main dextre appaumèe d'arg., surm. de trois ètoiles rangèes du mème; au 3 de sa. au chev. d'arg., acc. en chef de deux tètes et cols de boeuf d'arg. et en p. d'un rencontre de boeuf du mème; au 4 d'arg. au chev. de sa., ch. de trois trèfles d'or. [Quarterly.: the 1st quarter quarterly sable and argent, the line of coupè dancetty, and the first quarter charged with one spoon (bird) argent; the 2nd quarter gules a hand dexter appaumee argent, over it three estoiles in a row of the same; the 3rd quarter sable a chevron argent, in chief two oxheads and collars argent and in base a cabossed oxhead of the same; the 4th quarter argent a chevron sable, charged with three clovers gold]
Note: The arms of Bressi in Holland (Dordrecht), above, are the same as those for Brassey of Bulkeley in Cheshire, about whom more elsewhere. The quartered arms are the ancient arms of Bressey in the first quarter, the arms of Hadley in the second quarter, the arms of Bulkeley in the third quarter, and the arms of Brett in the fourth quarter. How these arms came to be recorded in Dutch records has not been determined.
Arms of Bressi (Milan) Bressi - Milan, D'or à la fasce d'azur, ch. de trois ètoiles (8) du champ et acc. en chef d'une aigle de sa. et en p. d'un dragon ailè à duex pattes de sin., crète et barbè de gu. Cq. cour. C.: une aigle iss. de sa. L.: à dextre d'or et de sa., à sen. d'arg. et d'azur. [Gold a fesse azure, charged with three estoiles with eight points of the field and charged in chief one eagle sable and in base a winged dragon with two paws sinister, crested and barbed gules. Cq. court. C.: one eagle iss. sable L.: dexter gold and sable, sinister argent and azure]
Bressè - Marquis de, v. de Vassy marquis de Bresse. [see de Vassy marquis of Bresse]
Arms of Bresse dit Portier Bresse dit Portier - Maine, V. Ad., France, D'arg. à la bande d'azur, acc. de deux lions du mème. [Argent a bend azure, two lions of the same]

Additions et Corrections: Bresse dit Portier - Au lieu de: France, lisez; Maine: et au lieu de: deux lions du mème, lisez: deux lions de sa. [instead of: France, read: Maine; and instead of: two lions of the same, read: two lions sable]

Bressy, v. Bressi. [see Bressi]
Arms of Bressy de Sablons Bressy de Sablons - Bret., Norm., De gu., d'herm. chaussè. [Gules, ermine base]
Arms of Brecey Brecey - Bret., Norm., V. Ad., De gu. à deux badelaires d'arg., passès en saut. [Gules, two badelaires argent, passe en sautoir]

Additions et Corrections: Brecey - Bret., Norm., Les badelaires, passès en saut., ont les pointes en bas. [badelaires, passe en sautoir, points in base]

Arms of Brecey Marquis d'Isigny Brecey Marquis d'Isigny - Norm., V. Ad., D'or à la croix de sa. cant. de quatre merlettes du mème. [Gold, a cross of sable, cantoned four merlettes of the same]

Additions et Corrections: Brecey d'Isigny - Norm., D'or à la croix, etc. Lisez: Brecey: marquis d'Isigny - Norm. Les armes d'Isigny, qui sont d'or à la croix etc. [Gold, a cross, etc. Read: Brecey: marquis of Isigny - Norm. Weapons of Isigny, that are gold a cross etc.]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Burke’s General Armory7 lists the following arms for Bracey and variants.

Brace (Worcestershire) - Sa. a bend betw. two hands and arms couped at the elbows ar. habited in mail ppr. Crest- an arm embowed habited in mail in the hand all ppr a sword ar. hilt or.
Brace - Sa. a bend ar. betw. three dexter hands couped ppr.
Bracey (co. Yarmouth) - Sa. two bends braced betw. two dexter arms, habited ar. the hands apaumee ppr.
Bracey, or Brassey - Sa. a bend betw. two dexter hands ar. Crest- a unicorn sejant resting the dexter paw against an oak tree ppr.
Arms of Brassy Brassy - Gu. a fesse or, in chief two mullets ar.
Bracy - Gu. a fesse in chief, two mullets pierced ar.
Bracy - Gu. a fesse ar. in chief, two mullets with six point or.
Arms of Brassy Brassy - Ar. on a chief gu. two mullets of the field.
Bracy - Ar. on a chief gu. three mullets of the first.
Brescy - Ar. a bend engr. az. fimbriated or.
Brassey - Vert on a fesse betw. three mullets pierced in chief and one in base or, two others of the field. Crest- a hand throwing a dart ppr.
Arms of Bracy/Brassy

Bracy - Quarterly, per fesse indented sa. and ar.

Brassy - Quarterly, per fesse, indented sa. and ar.
Arms of Brasye Brasye (Cornwall) - Quarterly, per fesse indented ar. and sa.
Bracy - Quarterly, per fesse indented ar. and sa. in the second quarter a swan ppr.
Arms of Bressy/Brescy Brescy, or Bressy (Wistaston, co. Chester) - Quarterly, per fesse indented sa. and ar. in the first quarter a mallard of the second.
Brassey (Thomas Brassey, Esq., of Bulkeley Grange, co. Chester, and Normanhurst, co. Sussex, M.P., Henry Arthur Brassey, Esq., M.P., of Preston Hall, Kent, and Albert Brassey, Esq., Lord of the Manor of Heythrop, co. Oxford) - Quarterly, per fesse indented sa. and ar. in first quarter a mallard of the last. Crest- a mallard ppr. Motto- Arduis Saepe metu nunquam.
Bressey - See Brassey.

Individual Achievements

Additional blazons will be given elsewhere as related to individuals or heads-of-families.  It should be remembered that arms do not belong to a surname or to a family.  They are granted to individuals and may be inherited, but they cannot, or should not, be assumed by someone of similar name who is not entitled to bear them.

Below are published illustrations of arms for several persons descended from the Brasseys of Bulkeley.

Arms of Albert Brassey Arms of Albert Brassey (1844-1870), youngest son of Thomas Brassey (1805-1870), the railroad contractor, . Quarterly, first quarter the arms of Bressey, second quarter the arms of Hadley, third quarter the arms of Bulkeley, fourth quarter the arms of Brett, impaling the arms of Bingham.  Motto translates: Often in difficulty, never in fear.

Source: Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (ed.), Armorial Families. A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat Armour (London, 1910), p. 181.

Arms of Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey. Quartered arms of Bressey, impaling the arms of Gordon-Lennox , which include the quartered arms of England, France, Scotland, Ireland, and Gordon, Badenoch, Seton, Fraser.

Source: Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (ed.), Armorial Families. A Directory of Gentlemen of Coat Armour (London, 1910), p. 182.

Arms of Henry Leonard Campbell Brassey
Arms of David Henry Brassey  Arms of Sir David Henry Brassey, 3rd Baron Brassey of Apethorpe.

Source: Peter Townend (ed.), Burke's Peerage Baronetage and Knightage (London: Burke's Peerage Ltd., 1970, p. 339.

Arms of Thomas Baron Brassey.

Source: Frederick Arthur Crisp (ed.), Visitation of England and Wales (1906), vol. 14.


Arms of Thomas Baron Brassey
Arms of David Henry Brassey Arms of David Henry Brassey, 3rd Baron Brassey of Apethorpe.

Source: Charles Kidd & David Williamson (eds.), Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage (London: Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 1990, 1995).

Bracey Crests

The crest was a device that was mounted on the helmet and was a symbol of knightly superiority. The ornate crests of the medieval tournaments were made of paste board, cloth, wire, and boiled leather and were fastened to the helmets by rivets or laces.8  It is still so displayed in a heraldic achievement today.  Fairborn’s Crests9 shows the following illustrated crests for Bracey and variants:

Bracy/Bracey Bracy, or Bracey - Eng., a garb, environed by two snakes, ppr.
Brassey Brassey - Eng., a hand throwing a dart, ppr.
Brasy Brasy - a bird, ar., legged gu.
Bressey Bressey - on a mount, vert, a teal,ar.
Bracey/Brassy Bracey, or Brassy - a unicorn, sejant, resting dexter paw against an oak-tree, ppr.


1Thomas Woodcock & John Martin Robinson, The Oxford Guide to Heraldry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 1.

2Ibid., pp. 1-12.

3Charles MacKinnon, The Observer’s Book of Heraldry (New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Inc., 1966)

4Thomas Woodcock, Somerset Herald, to Edwin C. Dunn, Letter dtd. 26 August 1992 at The College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4BT, England. In possession of Edwin Dunn, 1924 Dakota NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 ( April 2000).

5J.B. Rietstap, Armorial Gènèral (London, 1965; reprint of 1884 second edition; first published in Paris in 1861).

6V. & A.V. Rolland's Illustrations to the Armorial Gènèral by J.B Rietstap (Ramsbury, Wilts.: Heraldry Today, 1967 & 1991; orig. publ. 1903/26), plates CCCXIV, CCCIX.  [Bret.=Bretagne; Norm.=Normandie; Lorr.=Lorraine; V.Ad. Voyez Additions et Corrections].

7Sir Bernard Burke, General Armory (Baltimore, 1976; orig. publ. 1884); The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Sir Bernard Burke (Baltimore, 1976 (orig. publ. 1842 & 1884).

8Stephen Friar & John Ferguson, Basic Heraldry (London: The Herbert Press, 1993), p. 34.

9James Fairborn, Fairborn’s Crests of the Leading Families in Great Britain & Ireland (Baltimore, 1963; orig. publ. New York, 1911).

© 2000 Edwin C. Dunn