Sunday, December 27, 2020

Robert the Bruce, the 'Outlaw King' movie and the Arms of the De Burghs

I watched this 2018 movie again a few days ago, and was struck by how accurate the imagery and heraldry is. This still is from the wedding ceremony where Robert the Bruce (played by Chris Pine) marries Elizabeth De Burgh (played by Florence Pugh). You can see the two very similar family arms on the background banners - the Bruce saltire above the De Burgh cross. 

The De Burghs were the Anglo-Norman Earls of Ulster, and so their family arms came to represent the entire province. The yellow provincial flag of Ulster is based on the De Burgh arms and it is generally viewed as a 'nationalist' symbol these days. However pre-1921 it was a mainstream symbol that was widely used by everyone, such as for the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905. And, as per this recent post, it was used for decades post-1921 too.

Ironically of course, having married Elizabeth in 1302, Robert the Bruce would eventually go to war with her father...

Below is artist John Vinycomb's cover design for the Ulster Journal of Archaeology which he first drew in 1894. Vinycomb was an outstanding commercial artist of his generation; among his vast output he also designed the commemorative medal to mark the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1922.

In an online PDF document entitled Heraldry in Ireland, the National Library of Ireland provides this detail:

Heraldry of the Provinces of Ireland - Armas na gCúigí
The four provinces of modern Ireland – Ulster in the north, Leinster in the east, Munster in the south and Connacht in the west – have their origins in pre-Christian Ireland and form the largest units of geographical reference in Ireland today. In the post-Norman period the historic province of Leinster and a fifth province, Meath, gradually merged, mainly due to the impact of the Pale which straddled both, thereby forming our present-day province of Leinster. In the Irish Annals these five ancient political divisions were invariably referred to as Cúigí, i.e. ‘fifth parts’, such as the fifth of Munster, the fifth of Ulster and so on. The English administrators and record-makers, on the other hand, dubbed them ‘provinces’, in imitation of the Roman imperial provinciae and occasionally used them as entities for official surveys of land and estates. 
The arms of the historic province of Ulster are a composite achievement, combining the heraldic symbols of two of that province’s best known families, namely the cross of de Burgo and the dexter hand of Ó Néill. 
Active participants in the First Crusade (1096-99), which ushered in the heraldic era, among them members of the de Burgo family of Tonsburg in Normandy, fashioned crosses in fabric on their apparel before leaving for the Holy Land. One Walter de Burghe is recorded in a thirteenth century roll of arms (Walford Roll) as bearing a red cross on his shield.
When Walter de Burgh, Lord of Connacht, became Earl of Ulster in 1243 the de Burgo cross became inseparably linked with the province of Ulster. The seal of his son Richard, for example, appended to a deed dated 1282, shows the heraldic cross in triplicate together with what may well be a portrait head of the Earl himself.
The celebrated ‘Red Hand’ of Ó Néill may have been based on a mythological motif. On the other hand it may be based on the Dextra Dei, which had long been employed as a Christian symbol. In early Christian iconography God the Father was frequently represented by the open right hand, sometimes within a halo or nimbus. An example of this motif can be seen on the ring of the 10th century High Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice, County Louth. An early heraldic use in Ireland of the open right hand can be seen in the seal of Aodh Ó Néill, King of the Irish of Ulster, 1344-1364. 

  This illustration is from the 1570s-80s Book of the de Burgos, from the library of Trinity College Dublin (Wikipedia here)