This rather strange charge, uniquely English, is of unknown origin and uncertain name. It is commonly called clarion or rest, but also clavicymbal, clarichord, sufflue, organ-rest; and it is supposed to be a lance-rest, or a musical instrument (keyboard, or wind).
Here are some quotations from various authors:
Woodward's Treatise on Heraldry:
"... the old coat of Granville (afterwards Earls of Bath) which is blazoned as: Gules three clarions or; sometimes as rests, or organ-rests, otherwise as sufflues or clarichords, etc. Some have supposed it was a rest to support the end of the lance carried by a mounted knight. But that no such contrivance was ever in use is shown by the evidence of seals, monuments, etc. Planché, in his Pursuivant has an interesting passage on this charge, which he conceives to have been a clarion,a canting badge of the Clares, Earls of Gloucester, under whom the Granvilles held the lordship of Neath. He suggests that the ancient clarion which, as usually drawn, bears little resemblance to a trumpet, may really have been that classical instrument the Pan's pipe or mouth organ. The Clares were lord of Glamorgan [note the cant on organ]. Planché gives a drawing of the charge from Sir Christopher Barker's Heraldic Collections in which it is clearly an organ."
"Rest: this is a puzzling device, but the more probably interpretation is that it represents a spear-rest, though possibly in one or two cases a horn, from bad drawing, has been mistaken for it. The device is called by Leigh [in his Armory of 1562] and others [Boswell, 1572] sufflue, and by Guillim Clarion, though he hints that it may be a rudder. Gibbon  proposes the term organ-rest, but mentions a MS. wherein it is called Claricimbal, or Clavecimbal. Morgan terms it a Clarendon, obviously a mistake for Clarion. It is otherwise called a clavicord. Rest, hovever, is the term generally used for the device.
Bessyng, Staffordshire. Azure three rests or.
Hickes: Gules a chevron ermine between three clarions or.
Carteret, Granville: Gules three clarions [or rests] or.
Greenfield: per saltire gules and vert, three clarions or.
Myles, Dartford, Kent: Gules a chevron argent between three organ-rests proper.
Lingard: Or a fess bendy of eight, sable and argent between three rests gules.
Sir Thomas Arthur: Gules a chevron argent between three rests or [at the siege of Rouen 1418, according to Foster]."
Gibbon, in Introductio ad Latiniam Blasoniam (1682):
"Rests: I never met with this kind of bearing in any foreign coat, save only Defargues in France, and Arandos of Spain. And indeed our English masters accord not well among themselves what they are. Leigh (p. 51) in the arms of Verst (quartered by my lord de la Ware) calls it a sufflue. So Boswell (p. 124) in the arms of Grenville, and describes it, to serve to carry the wind from the bellows to the pipes of the organ, and if so, the word comes from the French verb "souffler" to blow; yet the same author says, some take it for a rest to a horseman's staff, and accordingly Ralph Brooke (in the arms of Robert the consul Earl of Gloucester, which are the same with Verst and Grenville aforesaid) styles them Restes des Armes.
Guillim places them among musical instruments, and says, in old Rolls they are called Clarions (now Clarion was no other than a trump, and this is a strange shape for a Trump). The same author therefore hints, as if they might more properly be taken for a rudder, indeed they are semblable; but there are here no eyes or ringles to fasten upon the hooks which ought to be in a rudder. An old alphabet I have, as also a delineated manuscript which I have seen (with blasons annexed to each coat) terms them (in the arms of Arthur) Claricimbals or Clavecimbals, which the Latins call Clavecymbala.
Now for my part I am of opinion, that as the author of the Sphere of Gentry (by mistake) calls them, in the arms of the present earl of Bath, Clarendons instead of Clarions: so the old Rolls Guillim speaks of mistook Clarions for Clavicords (claricords or clavicords being by Minsheus and others rendered the English of Clavecymbalum or Clavecordium) who also gives this etymological reason for the name; viz. quia ejus chordae extenduntur et circumvolvuntur clavibus [because its strings are stretched and wrapped around keys], which directly answers to harpsichords and virginals; these two differing only a little in the external form, but nothing in relation to the nature of their strings or manner of playing. The proper Latin blason then, for the said arms of Robert earl of Glocester, Verst and Grenville, is, tria clavecymbala aurea in scuto rubro.
But if any be so wedded to their old Mumpsimus, that they will have them still to be rests, let me request them to let go their opinion for a horsemans' staff or lance; and take up that of a bracket; for such do they really and absolutely resemble, far beyond what they do to a rudder. And because we will continue our relation to music, let them be bracket or rests to an organ (the divinest of instruments) hinted by the fore-cited Sphere of Gentry, and accordingly I will blason the arms of the Worshipful family of Bessing of Straffordshire, tria organorum fulcra cyanea, in solo aureo: Or, three organ rests blue. Defargues bears: de gueules a deux soufflets d'argent en pal (Segoing, p.447). [Note: Rietstap shows these arms for Fargues-Despuys, but those are clearly bellows, not clarions.] The Arando's of Spain bear different coats, but one branch have for arms, d'argent a la bordure d'or chargee de huit arrests de lance d'azure: a bordure or, charges with 8 rests for a lance blue (Favine, tom. 2, p. 170)."
Boswell (Armorie of 1572, vol. 2, p. 124):
"I have heard some boldly affirm it to be called a Rest,..where indeed it serves to an other purpose, as to convey the wind from the Bellows to all the pipes of the Organs: and by proper name is called a Sufflue."
Fuller (Worthies of 1661 (1840) I. 328):
"What usually are termed therein rests, being the handles of spears (most honourable in tilting to break them nearest thereunto) are called by some critics surflues."
Fox-Davies, Boutell, Rothery all mention the charge without adding anything to the above.
Foster's Dictionary of Heraldry cites the Arden Roll for Granville: Gules three clarions or garnished argent. The facsimile shows a rather squarish object, quite different from the later representations of the charge. For Robert Consul, earl of Gloucester, natural son of Henri I, he says: "to him is improperly ascribed gules three clarions or". Which is likely, since he died in 1147. But an effigy from the choir of Tewkesbury Abbey is shown, which shows a coat of arms with the three charges.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines two musical instruments as clarion: "A shrill-sounding trumpet with a narrow tube, formerly much used as a signal in war", and "A four-feet organ-stop of quality of tone similar to that of the clarion". Sufflue is of unknown origin, is only a heraldic term, though Boswell (1572) seems to think it is a piece of the organ which conveys wind from the bellows to the pipes. For the word "rest", the OED says: "In mediaeval armour, a contrivance fixed to the right side of the cuirass to receive the butt-end of the lance when couched for the charge, and to prevent it from being driven back upon impact" and the word is attested as early as 1391.
So I am rather in the dark about this. The term does not appear in Brault's Early Blazon. It is clear that we have a charge which became unrecognizable over time, and therefore various people called it as they saw it: a lance rest, a clavicord. The word clarion seems to be the original name, but the shape of the charge does not correspond in any way to a trumpet. We can rule out clavicord as being too recent an object (it's really a 15th c. instrument), and the charge clearly dates to the 13th c. Planché's story is still the most plausible, it seems.
Carteret, earl of Granville: Quarterly 1 and 4 Carteret, gules four fusils in fess argent; 2 and 3 Granville, gules three clarions or. Supporters (two stags proper winged gules) and the motto: Loyal devoir.
Last modified: Apr 28, 1997
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François R. Velde