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Cleveland Coat-of-Arms

Coat-of-Arms Image Courtesy of Fred Reese

A coat-of-arms can be an important genealogical source. Unfortunately, not all coats-of-arms are genuine. Some companies mass produce artistic representations of coats-of-arms and sell them to an unsuspecting public. In a case reported by Angus Baxter in Do's and Don'ts for Ancestor Hunters, a lady and her two brothers, who lived in different parts of the country, ordered their family coat-of-arms at different times but from the same company. The problem was that each of the three received a different coat-of-arms for the same family name!

According to Baxter, it is important to remember that "over the centuries the ruler of a country granted the right to a coat-of-arms to a man who had done him some service--lent him money, raised a troop of soldiers to fight for him, procured ladies for the royal bed, or even just made him laugh. The odds are that your ancestors and mine were far too low on the social scale to have ever even met the ruler, much less having done him or her a service."

The Cleveland coat-of-arms presents an interesting dilemma. The history of early Clevelands would seem to qualify our family for the honor. Furthermore, the coat-of-arms obtained by various of our current family members throughout the United States has been consistently the same, excepting the motto. According to the College of Arms in London, England, however, there is no record of any "armorial bearing" granted to anyone with a surname of Cleveland. Nor is the Cleveland pedigree registered with that agency. Although a Cleveland coat and crest appears in Burke's General Armory, J.P. Brooke-Little, a Bluemantle Pursuivant of Arms with the College of Arms, told Cleveland descendant Richard Walker of Dayton, OH, "One must, however, always bear in mind that probably between 50% and 75% of the arms given in Burke's...are bogus."

It is possible to register a family pedigree with the College of Arms, but the process is costly. Baxter recommends to "forget all the nonsense and concentrate your time and money on tracing back your ancestors--those men and women with no titles but of equal or greater nobility."

Despite the information from London, John William Baker in History of Hart County maintains that the Cleveland family is entitled to a coat-of-arms through Sir Guy de Cleveland, who was knighted by King George III at the siege of Boulogne, a seaport of the English Channel on the coast of northern France, where Napoleon collected a fleet for his proposed invasion of England. On this matter, Mr. Brooke-Little told Richard Walker, "It may be that there was a Sir Guy de Cleveland who bore this coat, but I can find no mention of him, nor of the coat, either in the Complete List of Knights, or in the old Rolls. At this date, however, the records are necessarily not complete, and it is just possible that such a coat existed. However, it is certain that no family of Cleveland exhibited this coat during the period of the Heralds' Visitations (ie. c. 1530 to c. 1685), nor have any family subsequently established a right to it."

Whether genuine or fabricated, the Cleveland coat-of-arms does seem to reflect what we know or can logically surmise about our family's early history. Characteristics and tendencies exemplified by the various symbols also mirror what we know of prominent Clevelands whose lives have been permanently chronicled by historians, friends, and family.

In A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland by John Burke and John Bernard Burke of London, the Cleveland coat-of-arms is described as "Per chevron sable and ermine, a chevron engrailed counterchanged. Crest--A demi old man proper, habited azure, having on a cap gules turned up with a hair front holding in the dexter hand a spear, headed argent, on the top of which is fixed a line proper, passing behind him, and coiled up in the sinister hand." A dissection of the coat-of-arms makes this description easier to understand.


The shield part of the coat-of-arms represents the warrior's shield that was hung on the wall between battles. Shields are divided into partitions which have their origin in the circumstance of a shield being broken and hacked in combat. These fractures proved that the bearer was courageous and that he had sustained his cause against an enemy in the hottest of the fight. Consequently, such devices were forevermore borne upon the shield as marks of honorable achievement.

Our shield is "per chevron sable and ermine, a chevron engrailed counterchanged." The chevron is the pyramidal form placed in the middle of the shield, extending upward from the base to the "honor point" and indicating the ribs or rafters of a house. The chevron implies that the bearer has accomplished some important business or memorable work, assimilated to the completion of a building by covering it with a roof. It could also represent a saddle--the symbol of a horse soldier of chivalrous and brave character.

The "chevron engrailed" is formed by pointed curves like the edges of a holly leaf. It implies that the bearer, like the holly leaf, is armed at all points in the Christian cause. Anyone who dares to approach in hostility may expect conflict. Engrailed is another accident of form that is believed to derive from feats of chivalry achieved during a journey to the Holy Lands, either on a pilgrimage or in the Holy Wars. It could also represent religious persecutions.

The "ermine" symbol represents the fur that covered early heralds. Ermine is the principal fur. Egyptians used it as an emblem of chastity. In heraldry the bearing of ermine is the mark of great dignity because ermine has long been used as the lining of royal robes and the decoration of robes of the nobility. The use of ermine is restricted according to the degree of dignity.

"Sable" (black), our principal family color, is an emblem of antiquity. This color was rarely, and never properly used to any great extent in the arms of any but the most ancient families. Representing worthiness, wisdom, riches, prudence, honesty, constancy, veneration, and piety, sable is closely associated with the diamond, the most venerable of all stones.


The crest is the symbol that emerges from the torse, which is the top portion of the helmet. It was designed to make the bearer conspicuous in the confusion of battle so that his followers could rally around to support him in danger.

Our crest is "a demi (half a charge) old man habited azure on his head a cap gules, turned up with a hair front, holding in his hand a spear, headed argent on top of which is a line proper passing behind him and coiled up in sinister (left) hand." The colors predominating in this crest are azure (blue) and gules (red). The blue represents the color of the pure sky and implies justice, humility, loyalty, and perseverance. It also symbolizes heaven, the highest of all things created. Red is a royal color denoting martial prowess, boldness, valor, and magnanimity. It is considered the most noble of all colors and is associated with the ruby and the rose.

Argent (silver) is our family metal, implying in the bearer purity, innocence, chastity, truth, justice, and humility. In a combination with the sable on our shield, it signifies the rejecting of pleasures of this life for the study and contemplation of divine things.

The spear is the emblem of military achievement. There are many instances of the spear's being traceable to achievements in the Crusades and Holy Wars. The fact that the spear is held in the right hand signifies faith.


A family motto is believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times. Three mottos have appeared on the banner beneath the Cleveland coat-of-arms:
Semel et Semper (Once and Always)
Vincit Amor Patriae (Love of Country Conquers)
Pro Deo et Patria (For God and Country)

Semel et Semper seems to be the one to recur most frequently.

[Sources: A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland by John Burke and John Bernard Burke; Do's and Don'ts for Ancestor Hunters by Angus Baxter; American Armory by Crozier; Coat of Arms Encyclopedic Dictionary by Henry E. Rainaud; History of Hart County by John William Baker; letter from P.L. Gwynn-Jones of the College of Arms to Grace Lee Smith Green; letter from J.P. Brooke-Little of the College of Arms to Richard B. Walker.]

c1994 by Vikki Lyn Cleveland and Cleveland Family Chronicles
All rights reserved.

Links to Other Clevelands

Cleveland Family Chronicles
Cleveland Family Forum
Edmund Janes Cleveland and Horace Gillette Cleveland
Original Immigrant of the Southern Clevelands
Original Immigrant of the Northern Clevelands
In Memory of L. Jeanne Cleveland
The Cleveland Connection to Black Hawk Down: SSG William David Cleveland, Jr.
Colonel Benjamin Cleveland
"Sweet Lips: The Battle of King's Mountain"
President Grover Cleveland
Early History of the Cleveland Family
The Cleveland/Cromwell Connection
The Prevost Novel on "The Natural Son of Cromwell"
More Genealogical Links
Rooting Out Your AnceStory: A Primer for Beginning Genealogy

Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland at

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