British Ancestry


A client asked the College of Arms to search for an illustration of the arms of Major General John SEVERNE of Wallop Hall, Shropshire. No record of his use of authorized arms was found. The likelihood of being able to find an illustration outside of the College of Arms would probably be limited to silverware, porcelain and some monument, perhaps that to the General's father, Thomas SEVERNE. The family gave rise to Sheriffs of Shropshire. There is, perhaps, the alternative that one of the family may once have been a subscriber to one of those great county histories, perhaps Montgomeryshire or elsewhere, and his arms might be illustrated in the subscribers' lists. There is an index to such lists (by no means comprehensive) prepared by the late Professor R.C. Gale, a former Trustee of this Institute, but it should remembered that any illustration depends upon the interpretation of the blazon (written description). A search might be made in the collections of The Institute ( There should not be more than one written description of what is basically a simple coat of arms, but variations are found.

Obviously, I became somewhat suspicious that the coat of arms and crest may not have been officially approved. It all looks a lot too simple and medieval in its origins. In fact, with that impression, it did not taken me long to find that these are the arms borne by the ancient family of DU BOIS in the 13th century, no doubt appropriated by the Sheriff with the assistance of some local "expert" in a stationery shop or silversmiths, or from a local coach painter with some rudimentary knowledge of the etymology of surnames. It is then fairly easy to work out.

The surname SEVERNE probably has its roots in the same source as SYLVAENE (and variants, sylvan), meaning, of course, woods, as does BOIS! - I am almost tempted to say Q.E.D. With such imagination, and without the assistance of the official heralds, many 17th, 18th, 19th and even 20th century County Sheriffs acquired their arms by misappropriation or slightly differencing older ones. Sadly the heralds neglected their duties and left their tasks to coach painters and "bucket shops" of varying artistic quality.

Contact me on if you have an heraldic problem or wish to pursue the genuine use of a coat of arms. Cecil R. Humphery-Smith
1 September 2007

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