Medieval Armorial Harness Fittings Relating to Surrey– and Problems of Identification

During the 13th and 14th centuries a fashion for decorative metalwork on the horse harness of the well-to- do saw widespread use of armorial decorations. These took the form of individual pendants and more elaborate sets which included miniature banners, pendants, mounts and bosses (Ward Perkins, 1940; Ashley, 2002). Elements of these are widely recorded as stray detector finds on the PAS database and there are now more than 90 recorded examples from Surrey.

The blazons on these decorative objects are highly diverse, although most often they relate to the royal arms of England (gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or) as well as the arms of the major noble families of the day. A large portion of the finds we record carry devices which are indeterminate as to origin and meaning, perhaps in many cases being “pseudo” heraldic and imitative, but also frequently relating to arms which are unidentifiable.

This issue of attribution is complicated by the effects of corrosion on the combination of techniques used to convey the various key elements of tincture on these copper alloy objects. The fields of the blazon were often represented with coloured enamels either laid directly on the surface or in recessed cells (champlevé); the charges were often represented by raised retained areas of metal which were then polished, gilded or tinned to convey either of the two heraldic metal colours (or and argent). Obviously seven centuries or more underground usually reduce these subtleties to a homogeneity of corroded metal. This presents particular problems for untangling the heraldry – as the colours represented are absolutely key in differentiating blazons which may be otherwise identical in design.

Two examples which demonstrate this conundrum have been recently recorded, both of which have particular local relevance to the history of Surrey. HAMP-2EAD62, from over the border in Old Basing, Hampshire, is an example of one of the more common blazons seen in harness pendants of the period, with something like thirty examples on the database known from all over the country as well as others published elsewhere (e.g. Ashley, 2002: p13, number 92). This blazon, described as checky a metal and azure, is one of the simplest (and oldest) arms recorded. Key to the identification of the family is the treatment of the metal on the retained check square elements which might have been either gilded (or) or tinned (argent). If the latter, the arms may relate to the Gatton family (left shield, below), with a local connection in the period being Hamo Gatton, of Gatton in Surrey, who served as sheriff of Kent in 1286. If the former, the blazon is most likely to relate to the Warenne earls of Surrey (right shield, below), who were one of the most powerful families of magnates of the 12th and 13th centuries, holding a title created during the reign of William II for the first earl, William de Warenne, a Norman who fought at Hastings.

HAMP-2EAD62 and two alternative interpretations of the blazon (images courtesy of Portable Antiquities Scheme and Wikipedia contributors).

A second example, SUR-B77C92, from Betchworth carries another very simple blazon (ten bezants 4, 3, 2, 1) on a mount which is possibly a carriage fitting. In this case the arms are most likely of the Zouche family but the colour of the field is key. If blue (azure) it would relate to the junior family line (right shield, below) and a possible local connection in the form of William la Zouche who was appointed Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1261. If red (gules) however, it will relate to the senior line (left shield, below) and the Barons Zouche, possible Alan la Zouche, 1st Baron la Zouche of Ashby (1267-1314). In an intriguing segue from the previously discussed example, Alan la Zouche actually died in 1270 as a result of injuries sustained in a fight with John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and his retainers in Westminster Hall!

SUR-B77C92 and two alternative interpretations of the blazon (images courtesy of Portable Antiquities Scheme and Wikipedia contributors).

These artefacts represent finds of considerable potential local interest, both for archaeologists and Medieval historians. In many cases further research with scientific techniques to determine traces of chemical and metallic residues could potentially help resolve some of these questions of identity, however such facilities are generally beyond the reach of finders and FLOs. Through careful recording we hope to add to the growing corpus of these finds and generate opportunities for further multi-disciplinary research to unpick these types of local associations using documentary, archaeological and other sources of evidence.


Ward Perkins, J.B. 1940, The London Museum Medieval Catalogue, London: HMSO

Ashley, S.  2002, Medieval Armorial Horse Furniture in Norfolk, Dereham: East Anglian Archaeology            101