The armorial insignia of the city, and the corporation seals, may be briefly referred to as part of our municipal history.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century Glasgow, then growing in importance, began to use armorial bearings: whether under the authority of the Lord Lyon does not appear. The probability is it was done without any official sanction, and certainly the authorities adhered to no fixed blazon. On the contrary, it appears to have been left very much to the caprice of stone-masons and seal engravers to represent the arms from time to time as they thought fit, and this loose practice continued down to a very recent period. The first example, of which I am aware, in which the devices now borne by the corporation appear on a shield, occurs on a stone built into the wall over the entrance to the Tron Church, and which bears the date 1592; and the first mention which is made of “the tounes armes” is in an entry in the council records under date 17th July, 1630. From 1592 down to 1866 the arms appeared at intervals on stones and seals and medals, official and non-official, in every variety of combination, each differing from the other points which in heraldry are essential. In the year last mentioned the whole subject was investigated by order of the magistrates and council, and a report was prepared, which resulted in the blazon being authoritatively settled by a patent from the Lyon office in the form in which it is now borne. Lyon at the same time granted to the city supporters and a crest.¹
The history of the arms is detailed very fully in the report just mentioned. I shall therefore only give here the verbal blazon as contained in the patent: “Argent, on a mount in base vert an oak tree proper, the stem at the base thereof surmounted by a salmon on its back, also proper, with a signet ring in its mouth, or; on the top of the tree a redbreast, and on the sinister fess point an ancient hand bell, both also proper: Above the shield is to be placed a suitable helmet, with a mantling gules, doubled argent, and issuing out of a wreath of the proper liveries is to be set for crest the half length figure of St. Kentigern, affronté, vested and mitred, his right hand raised in the act of benediction, and having in his left hand a crozier, all proper: On a compartment below the shield are to be placed for supporters two salmon proper, each holding in its mouth a signet ring, or; and in the escrol entwined with the compartment this motto, ‘Let Glasgow Flourish.’ “
I have already given the history of the bell and the legends which gave rise to the other “charges” on the shield. In regard to the mount, out of which the tree is represented as growing, Dr. Stevenson says² that it represents the mound which elevated itself beneath the feet of Kentigern on the occasion related by his biographer, when he was preaching, so as to enable him to be better seen and heard. This is a mistake. The mound is quite a modern addition. The original “branch” of the legend having been expanded into a tree, it was natural to induce the mound for it to rest on. The first example in which it is thus represented is on the bell of the Tron Church, which was made in 1631, but the mound did not appear on the seal of the corporation till so late as the end of the last century (1789).
Although Glasgow had no armorial bearings, properly so called, till towards the end of the sixteenth century, it had, from a very early period, a common seal, which the bishop, acting through the magistrates whom he appointed to rule the city for him, caused to be appended to public documents. As I have already mentioned, however, it was never used except in subserviency to the bishop, whose own seal, in all important matters of civic administration, was also appended, and which always took precedence of that of the city. The bishops, as we have seen, obtained their grant of a burgh in 1175, and so early as the century following, there is evidence that the community was using a common seal. In the charter granted by Robert de Methyngby in 1280, the notary states that, besides his own seal, “sigillum commune de Glasgu huic scripto est appensum.” This seal has unfortunately been lost, but we have a description of it by Father Innes, who saw it. His note, appended to a manuscript copy of the charter, is as follows: “Huic carta appensa erant dua sigilla, quorum unum [that of Methyngby the granter] amissum est: alterum, sigillum commune Glasguensæ, remanet, fere integrum, ex cera alba, exhibens caput episcopi cum mitra, scilicet S. Kentigern.”
There can be no doubt that the designs on the seals of the community were adopted from the seals of the bishops. The one just described contained the head of St. Kentigern only. In like manner, on the earliest examples which we have of the seals of the bishops – such as those of Florence in 1200, of Walter in 1208, and of William de Bondington in 1233, there is nothing but the figure of the saint in the act of benediction. The first of the bishops who added to his seal any of the emblems of the miracles was William Wyschard, who was elected to the see in 1270, and immediately afterwards we find the civic seal altered, and to the head of the saint there is added a representation of his bell, which was then, as it continued for a long time afterwards, in use in the Cathedral services. In the beginning of the fourteenth century the city seal was again altered, and to the head of Kentigern and his bell were added the fish, the bird, and the branch. In this also the civic seal was copied from the ecclesiastical, for these emblems were at that time represented on the seal of the prelate who then filled the see. This was Wyschart, the grand old warrior-bishop, who, in the crisis of his country’s liberties, exchanged the crozier for a sword, and buckled on his armour in defence of the cause for which Wallace and Bruce were at that time contending against such terrible odds.
This old seal of the corporation must have continued in use for a very long time. A representation of it is given in the Liber Sancte Marie de Melros, in which the document to which it is appended is printed, being the return or certificate of a service and infeftment of one Thomas de Aula. It is addressed to the Abbot of Melrose, and bears date 8th October, 1325. But I have found in the archives of our own city several impressions of the same seal, attached to charters and seals of cause, in more perfect condition – one in 1445; another, nearly a hundred years after, in 1551; another in 1605, appended to a deed of agreement among the incorporated trades of Glasgow for the support of St. Nicholas’ Hospital, with a ratification by the provost and magistrates; and another relating to the same hospital in 1606. I subjoin a copy of the last-mentioned impression.
This ancient seal continued in use till 1647, so that even assuming that it was not made earlier than 1325, the date of the first document to which it has been found appended, it must have been in use for the long period of three hundred and twenty-two years. I have carefully compared the different examples, and I am satisfied that the one attached to the charter of 1606 is impressed from the same die that was used in 1325.
In 1647 this seal ceased to be used, and a new one of a totally different design was adopted in its place. The change is so complete, indeed, that the two seals have hardly a single feature in common. The bishop’s head is discarded; the miraculous branch is promoted into a full-grown tree; and the salmon, hitherto upright, is placed in a horizontal position. The arrangement of the emblems is almost identical with what now appears on the city arms – the only difference being that the tree is represented eradicated, without any mound, and that the salmon is in the natural position, and not on its back. The representation here given is copied from an impression appended to a charter in favour of the incorporation of Hammermen in Glasgow, dated 16th July, 1650. This seal continued in use for one hundred and forty-three years – a long period also – longer in proportion, perhaps, than that of the previous seal, if judged by the greater number of impressions which must have been taken from it. It was replaced, for what reason I cannot conceive, by a seal in which again the position of the emblems is changed. There is no precedent for it, and the whole arrangement is in the worst possible taste. The field is parted per fess argent and gules; the bell is placed on the wrong side, and the fish is raised up and placed across the centre of the stem of the tree. This seal continued in use till the form of the arms was finally settled by the Lord Lyon in 1866, when the seal now in use was made, showing the city arms as then adopted.
In regard to the “arms of the bishopric” so often spoken of in our local histories, I am satisfied that neither the see of Glasgow nor any other of the bishoprics of Scotland ever had any. Nisbet speaks of the see of Glasgow as having arms, and in the register of the Lyon office there are arms registered which are erroneously called those of the see of St. Andrews. But in both instances the arms blazoned are only those personal to the bishop who filled the office at the time. The first, those referred to by Nisbet, are the arms of Archbishop Cairncross, and the second are those of Archbishop Sharp; and I believe the same will be found in regard to the so-called arms of all the Scottish bishoprics. None of the sees had even a permanent seal. Each bishop varied the devices on the seal according to his taste. Sometimes heraldic bearings occur on them and sometimes not, but in every instance where they are found they are the family arms of the incumbent.
Before leaving the seals and armorial bearings, I must mention the origin of the peculiar motto of the city – “Let Glasgow flourish” – about which there has been a good deal of controversy. It forms part of an old inscription on the bell of the steeple of the Tron Church which bears the date 1592. The entire inscription is “Lord let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of the word and praising thy name.” This certainly never was intended as a heraldic motto, and at no time was it used as such. The city arms no doubt appear on the bell, but the inscription has reference not to them but to the bell itself. It is an invocation in short, – an ecclesiastical inscription, or dedication, or prayer, – examples of which are so common on the bells of churches. In subsequent examples it is curtailed, and reads thus: “Lord let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of thy word.” In 1699 it appeared for the first time occupying the place of a heraldic motto in connection with the city arms over the entrance to Blackfriars church, and here it is still further shortened to the words, “Let Glasgow flourish.” In this form alone was it ever used heraldically. It continued to be so used in all the subsequent examples, and it was approved and confirmed by the Lord Lyon, as what had become, by usage, the motto of the city. When the patent was obtained, some members of the Town Council suggested whether we should not adopt one of the earlier forms of the inscription – “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word” – but it was answered that if we went back to the original, the whole invocation should be adopted, and that the “praising of God” should be included, as a practice calculated to promote the prosperity of the city as well as “preaching.” And the motto as it stands was adopted by the corporation.*