© Christopher Earls Brennen


In 1960 Edith McNutt (nee Earls) (see chapter 3) , the daughter of William Earls and grandaughter of James Earls wrote to an amateur heraldic expert enclosing a photograph of an embroidered coat of arms which she believed belonged to her grandfather, James Earls, and which she had been told were the Earls coat of arms. They were as follows:

The colors of the embroidered arms are now uncertain presumably because the photograph was black and white.

The scallop is the badge of St. James, the apostle and fisherman, the patron saint of Spain. Originally the simple arms of St. James were azure, three gold scallops:

Until the legends about St. Mary Magdalene began to circulate late in the 11th century, St. James was the only prominent new testament figure apart from St. Peter and St. Paul whose grave was agreed to be in Europe. He had important devotees in Southern France and Spain and when King Alphonso of Spain (791-842) built a church on the site of his grave in Santiago (St. James) de Compostela in N.W.Spain this became an important pilgrimage destination (second only to Rome and Jerusalem in the 11th century). The scallop shell of St. James adorns many religious structures in France and Spain including Autun Cathedral in Burgundy, the cloisters of San Domingo de Silos in Spain and Arles in Provence, France.

Whether the de Erlegh family took their name from Earley (near Reading), Berkshire, England or whether they gave their name to that manor is not known; in the second case perhaps their name signifies an origin in Arles en Provence. In either case we know that the arms of John de Erlegh(IV) (1271-1324), the lord of lands in Earley, Reading and Sonning, Berkshire (as well as lands in Somerset and Ireland) were:

Note that this differs from the arms of St. James only in respect to the color and the engrailed bordure which may have been added for differentiation. This de Erlegh coat of arms is identical with the arms of Reading Abbey with which the de Erlegh family were closely associated (though the abbey arms may have lacked the engrailed bordure). In 1960 Peter Calvert wrote to the York Herald in London about the McNutt version of the Earls arms. Apparently the description or photograph he sent included a crest over the arms. The Herald confirmed that the above arms (though not the crest in the McNutt version) belonged to the Erle family of Charborough, County Dorset (at least until 1664) and that these arms dated back to the time of Henry II when the family occupied Beckington, County Somerset. He also stated that the crest of the Erle family was a lion's head erased or transpierced with a spear argent embrued gules (according to Burke's General Armory). These same arms also appear with a pedigree of Earle of Stragglethorpe, County Lincoln though the crest over the arms is different, namely a griffin's head erased gules holding in the mouth a (lion's) jamb or. However according to Burke's Extinct Baronetcies quite different arms are attributed to Earle of County Lincoln but with the same crest as Erle of Dorset! Moreover in 1660 a different coat of arms was granted to Dr. John Earles, the future Bishop of Salisbury.

Parenthetically we should note that the heraldic expert consulted by Edith McNutt stated that about 1450 a Philippe de Commynes had the following arms:

but we do not presently know of any connection between Philippe and the de Erlegh family, unless the ``de Commynes'' should somehow be read as ``de Erlegh''. The York Herald quotes Robson's British Herald (published in 1830) as stating that, with the engrailed bordure added, these were the arms of Erle of Charborough, County Dorset. Thus differenced by the addition of an engrailed bordure the arms would be:

The addition of an annulet or (gold ring) is the cadency mark of a 5th son. Burke's General Armory gives the arms without the chevron but with the annulet or as those of Earle of Boston, County Lincoln. With both the chevron and the annulet or we have the following:

These are the arms which Edith McNutt believed belonged to the Earls family in County Fermanagh.

Last updated 10/10/00.

Christopher E. Brennen