Strawberry Leaves and other Fruitful Images

Nicola here. Perhaps it’s because everything feels so serious at the moment with political upheavals all around the world, but today I decided to be a bit frivolous and blog about fruit. Way back in 2015 I wrote a blog on the Word Wenches about pineapples and their significance as symbols of wealth and status. I was reminded about this a week ago when I went on a special tour of the Ashdown estate, into the nooks and crannies where we are normally not allowed to visit. There, tucked away in a barn, were some truly enormous stone pineapples which used to adorn the gateposts at the bottom of the drive! I’d never seen them before, or even any pictures of them, so it was amazing to see this throwback to an earlier age of the house. If you were meant to judge a family’s wealth and its prestige by the size of their pineapples, then the Craven family had some huge ones!

This led me on to another fruity symbol of status, the strawberry, or in this instance the strawberry leaf. On the clock tower of the Ashdown House stables is a rather fine weather vane of a carriage and horses. Below that is an earl’s coronet! So, every time you checked the weather you would be reminded – if you needed to be – that this was an aristocratic household. Now, the coronets worn by royalty and the upper ranks of the nobility were decorated with strawberry leaves. (I used to think it was only dukes who were entitled to them but apparently marquesses and earls have them too.) The coronet was first introduced in the 14th century although it’s not clear when the fruity leaves first appeared on it. But they were considered to have religious overtones and be a symbol of purity as well as high status. However, as is often the way with symbolism, the strawberry plant had a completely different interpretation as well; they were considered sensuous but giving fleeting pleasure. One historian wrote about “the vanity and glory and passing taste of strawberries… hardly remembered once it was passed.” Being vain and being eminently forgettable is perhaps not the message an earl wants to wear on his head!

Family crests and coats of arms would sometimes contain a picture of fruit such as grapes on a vine. Again, this could be a risky device as it could be taken in a number of different ways. Whilst grapes were a sign of hard work and plenty, the vine was also the symbol of Bacchus, the Roman God of indulgence and debauchery.

Sometimes families would try to be amusing on their coat of arms by creating something called “canting arms” which were a visual pun on the family name. So, the Perry family used a pear on their arms not only because it was a symbol of abundance but also because the juice of the pear is called Perry, like their surname! It all depends on your sense of humour, I suppose, as to whether you find this funny and/or clever!

Sometimes the fruit reference would be more direct, such as in the coat of arms of the English County, Westmorland, which contain a golden apple tree to represent the borough of Appleby. The Cheriton family featured cherries in their shield and the same idea was used by the Peachey family with peaches. Unfortunately, whilst the peach symbolized longevity, a fine thing for an aristocratic family, it also symbolized immorality. Not so great.

Finally, the pomegranate. Katherine of Aragon had this ancient device, the symbol of the Kingdom of Granada, included in her coat of arms and it would have felt very apt as it represented fertility and regeneration. It’s hard to see the pomegranate in the shield on the left because there were so many royal emblems for a Queen of England to pack in, but it’s down at the very bottom on the right!

It’s not just fruit that got in of the architectural act, though; the artichoke is another ancient symbol that appealed to people as decoration on their gates, walls and gardens. Representing hope, prosperity and love, the artichoke was said to open up to reveal a tender heart. Perhaps it was popular with stone carvers because like the pineapple, it was another intricate item that would show off the designer’s skill. Vegetables, being considered less “pretty” than fruit generally, were not as popular in heraldry and symbolism.

So in the spirit of frivolity, my question is this. If you were to choose a fruit to represent you on your coat of arms (or on your gateposts), what would you choose? Remember it could be a small part of the design or a great big mango or apple right in the middle! Or perhaps you may feel that you prefer a flower, a vegetable or even an animal? I have a neighbour who has carved teddy bears on her gateposts! I do like the idea of peas and sweet pea flowers entwined on my coat of arms, and I’m trying to come up with “canting arms” that are a pun on Nicola or Cornick… Hmmm… That might take some work! What about you?

30 thoughts on “Strawberry Leaves and other Fruitful Images”

  1. I love strawberries and your post reminded me of having to pick them as a child out on the farm. Seemed like hard work in the hot sun, but popping what seemed like half of them in my mouth (while picking them) made it worth while.

    If I had a coat of arms (something I have never thought of) I think I would have to choose flowers instead. Roses and hibiscus for sure, but I would probably add others too.

    Interesting post.

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    • Roses and hibiscus would look lovely, Mary!
      We used to pick strawberries as children too. I still love the taste of them.

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  2. I suppose I would choose lily of the valley, because May is my birth month, and they are a distinctive flower, easy to identify.

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    • How beautiful, Karin! it’s just a shame that a coat of arms can’t have a fragrance attached to it too as I love the scent of lily of the valley.

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  3. What a lovely post, Nicola! I think I’ll have to steal your idea though as part of my name is Pia and my spell-checker often converts that to “Pea” LOL. Having said that, if I had a coat of arms I’d love to have an eagle on it as they are so magnificent, or possibly a snake/serpent – I like those. Adding a fruit, I’d choose raspberry as that is my absolute favourite.

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    • Haha, how funny! Sweet peas would be perfect for you, Pia! I love your dramatic eagles and snakes as well.

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  4. A delightful post, Nicola, and it’s cheering that so many fruits and flowers feature in people’s lives. Plump golden apricots and ruby red raspberries are my favourite fruits. For a coat of arms I’d have four bees around an apricot with perhaps a few raspberries as well.

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    • That sounds like a beautiful combination, Beth. The colours of the fruit plus those industrious bees would look great!

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  5. What a fun and informative post, Nicola…thank you.
    For my family crest, I think I’d eschew fruits altogether and go with a book as I love reading. If I had to choose something edible, I’d pick chocolate (or a cocoa bean, not that I know what one looks like!)

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    • Oh, I love that, Kareni. You can have whatever combination you choose so a book and cocoa beans would be fab!

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  6. Fun post, Nicola! I’d have to pick strawberries, being descended from Frasers. The Fraser arms, crest, and banners feature strawberries and/or strawberry flowers in the many heraldic variations. The name originated centuries ago from the French – “fraise” for strawberry. Besides, I love fresh strawberries, yum!

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  7. My coat of arms would feature dogs running rampant, each with something in his mouth. One Airedale of ours loved apples. Another loved to “pick” green tomatoes and chomp on them. One of my sister’s dogs would pluck yellow hibiscus flowers to eat. Only yellow. I once saw a herd of dachshund puppies running and fighting over a mango pit.

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  8. I’d like a combination as a crest if I was important enough to have one, which I’m not:) An owl definitely, as I love them, a bluebell for my favourite flower and a raspberry for my favourite fruit.
    This was a fun post trying to plan a crest!!

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  9. What a fun post! If i got to design a coat of arms, it would have a dalmation and a Unicorn rampant with daisies surrounding a pineapple( the colonial symbol of hospitality) on a field of an open book and maybe a row of raspberries on the top.
    I wish i could fit more in but room is scarce!

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    • Wow, that’s very imaginative and picturesque. I particularly like that it is all crowned with a row of raspberries!

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  10. Mine would feature cats, books, and flowers. Can’t think of any fruit I would include. I love fruit to eat and rarely think of it symbolically. I didn’t eat strawberries from the garden as a child. However, one summer a group of college students spent 3 hours picking strawberries at a commercial establishment to understand something of what the regular workers underwent. Of course, some berries made it to our mouths with no thought of pesticides or fertilizers. The berries wee excellent berries, but what I remember most about that day so many scores of years in the past, was how hard it was on the back and knees and how hot it was even early in the morning in Connecticut. A very interesting blog.

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    • That’s a lovely combination, Nancy. Cats have an innately regal stance to them. Your strawberry picking outing sounds delicious but hard work. I don’t think I would last more than a few minutes doing something like that these days!

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  11. Thanks, Nicola, for such a beautiful post to see many coat of arms and the meanings. I used to have a small book about it. I think it was called Heraldry.

    I would have sea shells, Tree of Life, dolphins.

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    • What a lovely combination, Pat. I love sea shells and sea shell imagery. That would look great on a shield.
      The heraldry books are so interesting. The language is completely different and unusual. I often have to look up the meanings, as I did with “canting arms.”

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  12. Great post! One of my favourite’s is the turkey emblem used by William Strickland who is supposed to have brought the birds back from a voyage to the Americas in the 1520s and sold them in Bristol market for tuppence each.

    For myself I’d choose either a sprig of rosemary for my name, or perhaps a little known tropical fruit called sapodilla (tastes wonderful — like a cinnamon pear) as a reminder of the time I spent in Central America.

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    • I hadn’t realized Strickland had used a turkey as his emblem, Rosemary! How funny. I love your choice of a sprig of rosemary for your crest and I’ve never heard of a sapodilla, but it looks rather lovely and sounds delicious!

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