St Edmundsbury Coat of Arms
St Edmundsbury Borough Coat of Arms
The Armorial Bearings of
the Borough of St Edmundsbury

A look at the Council's coat of arms granted in 1975, and the heraldry involved in it.

The Need For a New Identity Following The Re-organisation of Local Government in 1974.

By the Local Government Act 1972, four local authority areas were combined to become the District of St Edmundsbury with effect from 1st April 1974. These were the former Borough of Bury St Edmunds, Urban district of Haverhill, Rural District of Clare and the Rural District of Thingoe.
On 15th May 1974 the Queen granted a Charter conferring Borough status upon the new District.

Bury Borough Coat of Arms
Old Bury Borough Coat of Arms

Thingoe Coat of Arms

Thingoe Coat of Arms

Haverhill Badge

Haverhill Badge
Up to the date of this re-organisation Bury St Edmunds Council used a coat of Arms granted in 1606.

Thingoe Council was granted Arms in 1958.

Neither Haverhill nor Clare Council were granted Arms, but the former used a badge depicting a loom.

With four former authorities in the new Borough neither of the armorial bearings could identify the new authority and areas.

Therefore the Borough Council of St Edmundsbury petitioned for a Grant of Armorial Bearings. The Arms designed by the College of Arms, were approved by the Council and with effect from 13th February 1975, were reserved to the Borough Council. Letters patent by which a right to Arms is established, were granted by the Garter, Clarenceux and Norry and Ulster Kings of Arms on 21st June 1977.

What is the purpose of Armorial Bearings?

The functional purpose of Arms is identification. It therefore follows that they must be unique in order to identify one particular person or, as in this instance, a local authority and area. Heraldry is believed to have begun in the period 1130 to 1160.

In the days before gunpowder, Knights fought on horseback and wore steel armour and a helmet, and carried a shield.
As the helmet completely covered their faces they were unrecognisable. Hence the practice arose of wearing a distinctive crest on a cloak or mantle worn over the helmet and painting a design and motto on the shield, to show people who they were. Later these crests, designs and mottoes were registered by the College of Arms. They were handed down from father to son and became, the Crest, Arms and Motto of the family.

The right to bear Arms is regarded as being in the nature of a dignity. Like all dignities, Arms emanate from the Sovereign, as the fount of all honour.

Armorial Bearings may be granted to local authorities, universities, colleges, hospitals, learned societies, dioceses and the like, all of which have an existence recognisable at law. Such a grant of Arms has to be registered by the College of Arms in the same way as Arms granted to an individual.

The College of Arms uses a complicated system of technical terms to describe a grant of arms in order that they can be registered totally accurately, but in the fewest possible words. Many words derive from Latin or Norman French and go back to Medieval times. This description is known as a Blazon.

Blazon in respect of the grant of Armorial Bearings to The Borough Council of St Edmundsbury

ArmsAzure, a representation of the Sword in its Scabbard of the St Edmundsbury Borough Council proper between in fess, two pairs of arrows each in saltire points downwards, Argent enfiling an Ancient Crown Or.
CrestOn a Wreath of the colours upon a grassy mount a Wolf sejant proper resting the dexter paw upon a King's head couped at the neck also proper crowned Or, mantled Gules doubled Argent.
SupportersDexter, a Lion per chevronny Or and Gules charged on the shoulder with a roundel Gules fretty Or; Sinister, an Ounce Sable bezanty gorged with a collar compony counter compony Argent and Azure and charged on the shoulder with a roundel Or fretty Sable.
MottoSacrarium Regis Cunabula Legis

Glossary of Terms

The modern equivalents of some of the words in the blazon are as follows:-

Azureblue - usually dark
Bezantyrepeated coin-like circles in rows
Chevronnywith inverted V's
Componya chequered band coloured alternately metal (gold or silver) and tincture (one of the colours)
Coupedcut - the point of severence
Dexterright hand. Hence the left hand side as viewed, (armed man carrying shield is behind it)
Doubledmantling turned back to reveal some of the reverse side
Fess, inin the centre of the shield
Frettyinterlaced, as in weaving
Gorgedbeasts neck encircled with some object
MantledFronds of fabric falling from below the wreath and draped on each side of the Helm
Ouncename applied to members of the cat family - mountain panther, snow leopard or cheetah
Properin natural colour
Saltire, inin the form of an X
Sejantsitting on haunches
Sinisterleft hand. Hence the right hand side as viewed
Wreath of the
two lengths of fabric twisted like the strands of a rope with which the helmet of rank is encircled and upon which the crest is set. The wreath is of six segments alternate metal and tincture being the major colours of the shield. In this instance, Azure and Or - namely dark blue and gold

Translation of the Blazon into English

A modern description might run as follows:-


The colour of the shield is blue. In the centre of the shield is the Sword of the St Edmundsbury Borough Council in its natural colours. It has a red velvet scabbard trimmed with gilt ornaments. The spirally twisted grip of the sword is also of gilt.

On either side of the Sword is an ancient gold crown encircling two silver arrows in the form of an X with their points downwards.


The wreath is of silver and blue.

Above this is a grassy hill on which sits a wolf in profile and natural colour facing left. Its right paw rests on the gold crowned head of a King which has been cut off at the neck. The mantling is coloured red on the outside and silver on the inside.

All of this is in turn placed upon a Helm appropriate to a corporation - steel, with the visor closed facing the viewers left.


On the dexter side (the viewer's left) is a lion on which gold and red inverted V's are superimposed. Its claws and tongue are blue. On the shoulder is a roundel with interlaced lines of red and gold.

On the sinister side (the viewer's right) is a black panther with rows of gold coin-like circles. Around its neck is a collar or band in checks of blue and silver. On the shoulder is a roundel with interlaced lines of gold and black. The tongue and claws are red.


The Latin: "Sacrarium Regis Cunabula legis" may be translated "Shrine of the King, Cradle of the Law". This was also the motto of the former Borough of Bury St Edmunds.

Interpretation, or what does it all mean?

Let's look at why the Kings of Arms designed the Council's coat of arms the way they did. There is an explanation and a reason, for each item included.


Whereas the possession of a mace or maces was a legitimate ambition of every corporation - a right granted to Bury St Edmunds by the Charter of Incorporation in 1606 - the right to have a Sword has always been more sparingly granted. Bury St Edmunds was one of the few towns to be granted the right for a Sword of State in the 17th Century, by Letters Patent of Charles II dated 3rd July 1684.

The Mace & Sword The former Corporation's Minute Book records that on 2nd October 1684 thanks were given to Sir Thomas Hervey for the gift of the Mayor's Sword which he presented upon the King creating Bury St Edmunds a "Mayor Town". A Minute of 29th December in the same year recorded that the Mayor shall have the Sword and Maces carried before him on such days as the Maces were formerly carried before the Alderman. Although Charles II's Charter of 1684 was declared null and void when his brother James II fled the country in 1688, the Sword continued to form part of the insignia of the Borough. The Charter of 1974 perpetuated the right to have a Sword and Maces, and to appoint "local officers of dignity" - Sword and Mace Bearers.

Today the sword and maces are still displayed at meetings of the full Council, and are carried during any civic procession.

The ancient crowns and crossed arrows were in the arms of the former Borough Council of Bury St Edmunds. They depict the crown of Edmund, the Martyr King of East Anglia from whom the town takes its name; the arrows refer to the manner of his death in 869 at the hands of the Danish invaders for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. Similar crowns are contained in the arms of the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and were also included in the Arms of the former West Suffolk County Council.


Edmund is said to have become King when only a boy in 855. His Kingdom roughly corresponded to Norfolk and Suffolk.

In 869 the Danes marched on East Anglia and took up their quarters at Thetford.

According to traditional accounts King Edmund went with his army and fought a battle with them but was defeated and captured. The Danes tied him to a tree and shot him to death with arrows.

Legend has it that after the Danes had gone the King's subjects returned to bury him and found his body, but the head was missing. Searching for the head they heard a voice in the forest cry out "Here I am." Moving towards the voice they saw a wolf standing over the head, as if guarding it. On their approach the wolf disappeared and they took up the head which was afterwards miraculously joined to the body, which was eventually brought to Bury St Edmunds for burial. The story is told in the writings of Abbo of Fleury, a French scholar who died in 1004 so it must have been believed soon after it is said to have happened.

Hence the Crest of a wolf guarding a crowned head of a King.

The grassy mount or hill may be taken as a reference to Haverhill.


To the viewer's left is a gold lion - a royal beast. The chevrons are inspired by the fact that the Arms of de Clare, a family from whom the rural district derived its name, included a similar device.

The supporter to the viewer's right is based upon the crest of the former Thingoe Rural District Council and is also included in the arms of the Marquis of Bristol of Ickworth.

Each of the Supporters has been charged on the shoulder with a roundel on which is a fretty design. These are an allusion to Haverhill - a fret being reminiscent of weaving - an industry which was once carried on in the town to a greater extent than at present.

The aim here is to include elements from each of the old councils who were joined together in 1974.


St Edmunds Shrine This emphasises the historic importance of Bury St Edmunds. The first part "Shrine of the King" refers to the burial place of King Edmund, around whose shrine was built the greatest ever Benedictine Abbey.

"Cradle of the Law" refers to Magna Carta and the legend that the law which gave Englishmen their freedom had its origin at Bury St Edmunds.

Towards the end of 1214, according to the Chronicler, Roger of Wendover, a number of Barons, disguised as pilgrims, took an oath before the High Altar in the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, that they would make King John put his seal to the Great Charter. This he did at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames near Windsor in June 1215.

From the provisions of Magna Carta, developed and amended from time to time, have come many laws to prevent oppression and injustice.

The Arms and Motto of the Borough tell us of a thousand years of history in which there is considerable local pride. The Arms remind us too, of the four former local authorities that now make up the Borough of St Edmundsbury - the whole area of which was once the property of the Abbey of St Edmund.

How are the Arms used today?

The bearing of arms may be seen as a symbol of power and authority derived from the crown, and perhaps could be seen to represent control and even oppression from above. In the modern state, the power and legitimacy of government and a Council mainly derives from the democratic election of its Members.

The use of the arms as symbol of the Council has changed since 1974, so that by the 1990's it is used solely by the Mayor on his letterhead, and on mayoral occasions.

For the normal day to day business of the Council, a logo derived from the arms is used. The colours blue and gold are used with the logo to reflect the corporate identity of St Edmundsbury Council. This practice began in 1988. The Budget Book for 1989/90 was the last one to display the coat of arms. The logo was displayed from 1990/91 onwards.

This 'Armorial Bearings' section was based on a pamphlet first produced by the Council in 1975 written by
L E H Payne, and has been adapted for the website by David Addy in 1997.

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