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The helmet, originally a piece of defensive armor, became in course of time one of the usual accompaniments of the shield and placed over the arms it came to mark by its form the rank of the wearer. Thus the royal family bear the helmet full faced with six gold bars. The helmet of the lesser nobility are borne in profile, those of dukes and marquises being of gold with five steel bars, those of lower rank being of silver with gold ornaments and four silver bars. The helmets of baronets and knights are of steel full faced and open visor. The esquire's or gentleman'^ helmet is of steel represented in profile with the visor closed. The helmet on the King family seal is of the last class, indicating the rank of a gentleman merely without other title.
The mantling is supposed to represent a sort of cloak or mantle, torn in shreds by frequent contests and sufficiently ample to include the whole achievement. It is in fact an embellishment of scroll work flowing down on both sides of the shield. Some claim that it .originated in the contoise or scarf wrapped round the body in the days of coat armor. The mantling on the King seal is much worn and some connecting lines are so faint as to be scarcely perceptible, yet it is quite ample and envelops the whole achievement.
From the top of the helmet, within a wreath of two pieces of silk twisted together of the first two colors (alternating) of the armorial bearings, there now-a-days usually issues a crest. Originally the crest was a special mark of honor worn only by heroes of great valor or advanced to high military command. In late years it has become an almost inseparable adjunct of the Coat of Arms in English, though not so in Continental heraldry. We find, however, very many old English families who bear arms without any crest.
In the grant of arms in 1611 to King of London the crest blazoned therein was "A cubit arm in armour per pale or and sable, the gauntlet wholly of the last grasping a broken spear ppr. in bend sinister point to the sinister."
This crest does not appear on our King seal. Some of the English families bearing these arms, such as the Kings of Loxwood House, County Sussex, have retained the original crest but others have substituted therefor different crests, as for instance the Kings of Midhurst, County Sussex, of whose crest we shall speak presently.
It is very noticeable that in England crests are often assumed or changed arbitrarily and without any proper authority. This is apparently done quite frequently to distinguish branches of the same family. So we find the Kings of Midhurst, County Sussex, whom we have mentioned above, while they preserved carefully the arms granted to King of London in 1611 yet they rejected the crest granted with those arms and substituted therefor "An ostrich head argent ducally gorged or" to distinguish or difference their own family from the other families bearing the same arms. It may be that James King of Suffield or his ancestor discarded the original crest, the armored arm and broken spear, for the same reason and in order to difference his immediate family, not being the oldest son.
There are also armorial bearings where the crest consists merely of the helmet alone. Such is the case with the King family of Hampshire, England, whose crest is merely "An Esquire's helmet ppr garnished or." It may be therefore that the esquire's helmet on the King seal was intended for the crest though there is no wreath beneath it.
As we have said above, the custom of changing crests arbitrarily and without any proper authority or even omitting it altogether (which was sometimes done) has been so frequent in England among different branches and members of the same family that we can, at this late day, scarcely say in the case of the King seal, whether there is an intentional omission of a crest or whether the helmet alone constitutes the crest.
If there was any other crest it would of course appear above the helmet. In England such a question would have little interest for female descendants because women (except the sovereign) do not have either helmets or crests as a part of their armorial bearings. The reason given for this rule in England is that females did not wear helmets and hence could have no crests but this is hardly logical for neither did they bear shields, yet their right to the paternal arms, except the crest, is conceded by all and their use by female descendants is general. In America the custom seems to be that females bear the crests as well as the arms of their paternal ancestors.
As to the coat of arms of the King family of Suffield, Connecticut, we can confidently and safely assert the undoubted right of the descendants of that family (who have been or are of the surname King) to bear arms "Sable, on a chevron or, between three crosses-crosslet of the last, three escallops of the first" with a gentleman's helmet surmounting and resting upon the shield.
No lineal descendant of the Suffield family whose father bore the name King need fear that he, or she, is infringing upon the title of any one else or that he or she, is assuming any questionable right in gratifying "that harmless vanity" of displaying upon his or her stationery, book-plate, etc., the King Coat of Arms just as it has appeared upon the seals of our ancestors for two centuries in America and just as it was used by our immigrant ancestor, James King of Suffield, Connecticut, who undoubtedly brought it here from the mother country. We suggest, however, that these arms should conform strictly to those displayed on the old King seal, without either augmentation or diminution unless it may be the omission of the mantling, which is in fact no part of the arms but merely an embellishment, proper enough for a seal if desired by the possessor.
Pride in a long and honorable lineage, combined with respect for the name, is, and we think should be, quite sufficient to justify and even to prompt the members of our King family to continue to use this ancient coat of arms even here in our own democratic America, where although titles and rank have given way to political equality, yet there still remains that instinctive and proper valuation of a descent from distinguished or gentle ancestors.