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Smyth and the Unicorn - Page 1
The Starting Point

David Smyth of the Irish Huchinson Smyth line writes: "This website contains illustrations of eighteen Smith and or Smith/e Smyth/e coats of arms. My father had a signet ring with a coat of arms incised. He did not seem to know anything much about its origin. The motto is Exaltabit Honore. The design resembles the various Smyth coats of arms with the unicorn on top. However, it does not coincide in all its details with any of them. We have the unicorn on the crest - rampant, head left-facing and legs prancing but the shield itself is not split by a diagonal band or with chevrons, as some Smyth shields are. It is divided horizontally across the middle with the unicorn (identical to the unicorn above it) in the top half, and a crown in the bottom half. "

David continues, "It has been told to me, by the present Chief of the Irish Smyth family (Staples Smyth) that the motto "Exaltabit Honore" comes from Psalm 112 "His horn shall be exalted like the horn of an unicorn" and that the arms are supposed to have been gained at the Siege of Acre where an ancestor behaved with such courage that Richard Coeur de Lion took off his crown and placed it over his helm - which bore a unicorn's head. I wonder if the crown in my father's signet ring refers to the incident at the siege of Acre? We are talking now about the Crusades and long before Rosedale Abbey (Yorkshire) and Ireland. So who was this early Smyth?"

David Smyth's comprehensive family history - and thus the history of many others of the Smyth family - containing also his detailed analysis of the various lineages, may be accessed via the map link above.

Recently discovered (by this family site, at least) in America is a family site with SMITH relatives who clearly belong to the "unicorn erased" Smith, Smyth, Smythe family. As is known, members of the Irish (via Yorkshire) Smyth/e family had arms bearing the unicorn device in much the same style. This coat of arms belonged (see link) to Peter SMITH who "was born on 11 Aug 1651 in Swallowfield, Berkshire, England. He died on 29 Jun 1691 in Northumberland, Virginia."

A question has to be asked about the significance of the three acorns "replacing" the three lozenges. Probably renewal - "Mighty oaks from ..." symbolic of a new Smith line 'in the plantation'. The rose and the second floral badge - perhaps of Scottish origin - wrapped around the hilt of a broken sword seems to suggest a "lost battle" or, at very least, a forlorn struggle.

The motto "Esto Tibi Ipsi Fidelis" - interpreted by family Maxtone Graham cousins, Robert and his wife, Claudia, as meaning "To Thyself be True" - might perhaps be more appropriately understood as "Look after #1" - also proffered by Robert and Claudia in the light of a suggestion that some form of a rejoinder might be implicated by it; a sense of something that has gone before.

If Peter Smith migrated to America with his parents and the arms shown here were of his father's or forebear's doing, then it would fit in well enough with the kind of struggles going on in England at that time - the Civil War and its later rumblings; presumably Peter Smith senior was on the losing side!

The 'lost' family of Smythe ...Peter Smith (junior) would have been conceived soon after the Battle of Dunbar and was born less than a month before the Battle of Worcester. Perhaps connected, and the target of that rejoinder motto, is the fact that there is also a Smythe achievement (Smith/e - Smyth/e) bearing the motto "Regi Semper Fidelis" - Always (faithful) True to the King - which is said to belong to 'the lost family of Smythe', having a stag as its crest (click on the image for further details) and three Tudor roses on the shield. The Stag is known to be the emblem of an early Irish Chieftaincy.

Thus, Peter Smith (senior) or his descendants may well have been waving the proverbial farewell to his kinsman with the intent, "You can stay and be faithful to Charles, James or a lost cause; me, I'm going to be true to myself ... in the New World."

If the two achievements of arms are connected then one element of the 'lost family of Smythe' puzzle is put in place. It also links the Stag Smith/e - Smyth/es with the Unicorn Smith/e - Smyth/es - and perhaps even the 'Three Tudor Rose' design of the "Stags" links with other Tudor and Stuart "Three Rose" Smith/e - Smyth/es. Other Smyth/Smith arms bear the three faces of 'pards' - Captain John Smith of Virginia, for example. The three 'pards' have heraldic connections going back to a time when the Scottish throne (the physical seat) was removed to London.

From Fox-Davies (1909/1969)Other families known to have adopted the unicorn are Cunningham of Scotland, Brooke-Little of Canada (The Smith/e and Smyth/e and Brooke family were historically associated in England. Link also gives access to the "Heraldry Society" web site, containing a wealth of detail about heraldic devices, relationship and protocol.) John Philip Brooke-Little, CVO, MA, FSA, FHS, recently retired Clarenceux King of Arms, Founder and until 1997 Chairman of The Heraldry Society - Argent guttée de sang three unicorns' heads erased Sable, armed and crined Or, langued Azure. Crest: On a wreath Argent and Gules, a demi-unicorn erased Sable armed, crined and unguled Or, langued Azure and collared gobony Or and Gules with a chain Or.

Scottish Clans Melville and Oliphant (the latter known to be collateral cousins via other lines treated on this site, inter alia, Maxtone Graham.) Chapman  - out of a crescent, per pale or and gu., a unicorn's head of the last, maned, homed and guttée of the first a fleur-de-lis or, between two olive branches, vert.

Also Edwards - an antelope rampant, sa., bezantée, attired or; a unicorn sa., double-horned or on a mount vert, a horse's head erased, or, charged on the neck with a chevron gu., between two oak branches, ppr. and Gale - a unicorn's head, paly of six or and az., attired of the first a greyhound's head erased, bendy-wavy of six, or and sa. Grey - on a mount vert, a bear or; a unicorn erect, erm., armed, crested and unguled, or, behind it a full sun, ppr.

Hyde - a unicorn's head, gorged with a collar compony - Law - a dove and olive branch, all ppr. a unicorn's head, ppr. and Poole (associated with Hanbury collateral family treated on this site) - a unicorn passant, az., tufted, maned and armed or, ducally gorged ar. and Ramsay - a unicorn's head couped ar., armed or, within two laurel branches in orle, ppr.

Palmer family - related to Smyth of Ireland and McGuiness - has an interesting background to its heraldry which may be viewed here. It is possible - subject to research - that the Col. Daniel McGenis who rnarried Mary Smyth, a daughter of Ralph Smyth, is related to this line. The family name of Ralphson (son of Ralph) ... raises a question mark also!

"To be a Palmer meant that you had traveled to the Holy Land.  The word comes from the thirteenth century when a pilgrim would wear two crossed palm leaves to show they had made the pilgrimage (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 1997, 837). ...

The Palmer arms are very elaborate and tell a genealogical story of the relationship between the Anglo-Irish Palmer, Smyth, and Ralphson families.  (Woodcock 1980)."

Another Smith - a heron's head erased, in the beak a fish, ppr. a saltire gu., surmounted of a fleur-de-lis, ar. a demi-unicorn gu., maned, homed, unguled and tufted, ar., holding a lozenge or an elephant's head couped, or - and Smyth - on a chapeau gu., turned up erm., two wings az., billettée or, on each a bend, erm. and Young - an ibex ar., attired or, issuing from a ducal coronet or; a lion rampant guardant, per fess or and gu., supporting a battle-axe, or; a demi-unicorn couped erm., armed, crined, and unguled, or, gorged with a naval coronet, az., supporting an anchor erect sa.

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South Africa Smith/Smyth family: From Johan Smith who is searching to show his family's link with the Smyth families of Ireland which is currently anecdotal - thus any information would be gratefully received and may be transmitted to this site for onward advice.

"The earliest record I have is of my great grandfather His name was Martin Sarel Johannes Smith. I inherited a glass sheet and his name was the first on it. He was born in 1889 at Bekendberg in the Klein Karoo (Cape Province). My full name is Flores Johannes Gerhardes Smith. I don't know much about the meaning and origin of names and for the life of me don't see the Irish in our names. What I do know is that according to my late grandfather our family did come to this country from Ireland. Somewhere I heard that our family used to be farmers or woodsmen back in Ireland but this could never be confirmed. Attached is a copy of what my family crest is supposed to look like."

This second example comes from the home of an uncle to Johan. Johan says: "I went to visit an uncle of mine and he had on his wall a crest that looks the same as the one I have with a few differences. He said that he bought it in 1970 from a person that had a book of the South African family names and that this was the only one that referred to our family. He can't remember the history that was written in this book. Who this person might have been is also long forgotten."

Of family traditions in South Africa, Johan Smith writes ...

"Back in the days when a young man came to call on your daughter they used to visit by what was called "'n opsitkers" - this is a candle of some sort that was lit and the young man could visit as long as there was a flame. As soon as the flame went out he had to leave.

As you can imagine it was a very short candle. If it happened that the young man could not go home due to weather or distance he was sewn into a sheet with just his head sticking out. This was to make sure that he didn't get any fancy ideas and the young lady's virtue would also still be intact. The next morning he was let out after the sheet was first inspected by the mother."

A Brief Heraldic Excursion

Coats of arms are awarded to an individual and not to a family or a name. This is why there is often more than one coat of arms associated with a given surname but a coat of arms passed down through the ages will probably hold a generic similarity which links back to an original grant of arms. As the College of Arms in London advises, "For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past. Armorial bearings are hereditary. They can be borne and used by all the descendants in the legitimate male line of the person to whom they were originally granted or confirmed. Many people of the same surname will often be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and many of that surname will be entitled to no coat of arms."

The 'coat of arms', as such, was the linen surcoat worn over the armour to protect it from the direct rays of the sun. In time, this garment came to be decorated on the front and back with the arms exactly as they were on the shield. Many people use the expression coat-of-arms to indicate either a shield or the crest, or else the whole heraldic achievement, which is the shield with all its adjuncts; thus, in the first two cases, the term 'coat-of-arms' is inexact. An 'achievement' normally consists of the shield, helmet, mantling, wreath, crest, supporters and motto.

The shield proper is the warrior's piece of equipment that designates who he is. For that reason, the armorial insignia which depicts a warrior's ancestry, as well as his individual identification, is displayed here. All other accoutrements, such as the crest, mantling, and supporters serve merely to enhance and draw attention to the armorial insignia. The shield may be of any form, with the exception of the diamond shape, termed the lozenge, which is the only form women may use. The lozenge, often with the husband's insignia, is displayed as a badge on clothing or appropriate possessions and reflects her husband or father's honour.  A woman descended from a noble family on her own account may have her insignia displayed alongside her husband's in a "quartering" of the lozenge, where the two families insignia or "arms" are displayed in alternating quarter panels of the shield. The arms of the family were embroidered on the mantels of the women.

Smyth of Ireland, seen also in Smith of South Africa.
Smith of America. Three acorns replace the three yellow lozenges.
Another Smith of South Africa. The three gold lozenges appear also.

In several instances, the arms of the "unicorn erased" Smith/e - Smyth/e display three gold lozenges. This may suggest that there was somewhere in the line, an incident of 'de jure uxor' - held by right of a wife - or perhaps three generations of female descent are involved here - or even the marriage of a "noble" Smyth/e male with an equally "noble" Smyth/e daughter. Further advice and confirmation sought.

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Smyth Motto and The Siege of Acre

These are the pertinent lines from Psalm 112

Dispersit dedit pauperibus iustitia eius manet in saeculum saeculi cornu eius exaltabitur in gloria
Peccator videbit et irascetur dentibus suis fremet et tabescet desiderium peccatorum peribit.
He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor: his justice remaineth for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory.
The wicked shall see, and shall be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

However, it is more likely that the motto is derived from Psalm 92 which would seem to be more appropriate if the honour was won by a knight Smyth ancestor at the siege of Acre in 1191. Additionally, the actual words horn shall be exalted like that of the unicorn appear.

1 Psalmus cantici in die sabbati 1 A psalm of a canticle on the sabbath day.
2 Bonum est confiteri Domino et psallere nomini tuo Altissime 2 It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to thy name, O most High.
3 Ad adnuntiandum mane misericordiam tuam et veritatem tuam per noctem 3 To shew forth thy mercy in the morning, and thy truth in the night:
4 In decacordo psalterio cum cantico in cithara 4 Upon an instrument of ten strings, upon the psaltery: with a canticle upon the harp.
5 Quia delectasti me Domine in factura tua et in operibus manuum tuarum exultabo 5 For thou hast given me, O Lord, a delight in thy doings: and in the works of thy hands I shall rejoice.
6 Quam magnificata sunt opera tua Domine nimis profundae factae sunt cogitationes tuae 6 O Lord, how great are thy works! thy thoughts are exceeding deep.
7 Vir insipiens non cognoscet et stultus non intelleget haec 7 The senseless man shall not know: nor will the fool understand these things.
8 Cum exorti fuerint peccatores sicut faenum et apparuerint omnes qui operantur iniquitatem ut intereant in saeculum saeculi 8 When the wicked shall spring up as grass: and all the workers of iniquity shall appear: That they may perish for ever and ever:
9 Tu autem Altissimus in aeternum Domine 9 but thou, O Lord, art most high for evermore.
10 quoniam ecce inimici tui Domine quoniam ecce inimici tui peribunt et dispergentur omnes qui operantur iniquitatem 10 For behold thy enemies, O Lord, for behold thy enemies shall perish: and all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
11 Et exaltabitur sicut unicornis cornu meum et senectus mea in misericordia uberi 11 But my horn shall be exalted like that of the unicorn: and my old age in plentiful mercy.
12 Et despexit oculus meus inimicis meis et insurgentibus in me malignantibus audiet auris mea 12 My eye also hath looked down upon my enemies: and my ear shall hear of the downfall of the malignant that rise up against me.
13 Iustus ut palma florebit ut cedrus Libani multiplicabitur 13 The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.
14 Plantati in domo Domini in atriis Dei nostri florebunt 14 They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of the house of our God.
15 Adhuc multiplicabuntur in senecta uberi et bene patientes erunt 15 They shall still increase in a fruitful old age: and shall be well treated,
16 Ut adnuntient quoniam rectus Dominus Deus noster et non est iniquitas in eo 16 that they may shew, That the Lord our God is righteous, and there is no iniquity in him.

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Ireland, Scotland and the Middle East

One source, discussing heraldry and the early history of Ireland and Scotland has this to say - "The Scottish Nation is generally acknowledged to have come together between the sixth and fourteenth centuries, absorbing several races in the process of creating what certain individuals like to think of as the pure Scot. In fact, there is no such being. The early Scots were a post-Roman Gaelic-speaking people who invaded and settled the west coast, known then as Dalriada, having travelled over the sea from Ireland, and before that, it is fancifully suggested, although not as yet proven, the Middle East." The same source comments that "The Royal House of Scotland arose from the union in 843 of the Kingdom of the Scots, Dalriada, with Caledonia, the Kingdom of the Picts, which later comprised the northern and eastern parts of the country. The Kings of the Picts, ARD RIGH ALBANN, (Albany) according to their chroniclers, derived from CRUITHNE, King of the Picts (from whose seven younger sons the original Seven Earls or provincial Kings of Caledonia were deduced) through seventy kings (of whom the 49th, BRUDE MacMAELCON, 565, and NECTAN MacDERILI, 596-617, were converted to Christianity."

Christianity, in addition to its early, small beginnings with Joseph of Aramathea and Glastonbury, entered "the British Isles", some centuries later, spreading via Ireland. Commenting further, the same source explains that in Scotland, "The original pre-Roman inhabitants were collectively known as Picts, because their language was pictorial and, through colonisation and marriage, and because they had no written language with which to record what was happening to them, they simply disappeared. Meanwhile, Scandinavian Viking people invaded the far north, west coast and offshore islands and stayed on. In the south, Strathclyde Britons, a Welsh speaking people, and early Saxon settlers, put down encampments. With the first overseas trade initiatives appeared merchants, and following William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, Norman-born fortune hunters arrived in Scotland. Finally we have the influence of the English in more modern times." The Arms of Scotland

The use of the unicorn as a device in heraldry was most apparent in Scotland. Geographically, Scotland and the north of England were very isolated from any government centred in the south and, politically, fiercely independent. The Arms of the King of Scots, before the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 had two unicorns as supporters - unicorns identical to the unicorn of Ephraim, bearing the gold collar and the chain of his father, Joseph. Today, one of the supporters of the royal arms of Great Britain is also the unicorn; but this has not always been the case.

With the unicorn so closely associated with Scotland, it may be fairly surmised that 'knight Smyth of Acre' came from the northern parts of the British Isles - probably Lancaster, or even Scotland, bearing in mind also that there was a Thomas Smyth - of the Methven Braco Smyth line, who was appointed Apothecary to James III of Scotland, as appears in a charter dated 29 January 1477. Another Smyth - William Smyth - was an apothecary in Shrewsbury. He married a Corbett and his daughter, Corbetah (Corbetta) was the mother of the illigitimate sons of Lord William Manners, second son of the second Duke of Rutland, lineal ancestors in the maternal line treated on this site.Unicorn device of King James V of Scotland

In Scotland, after 1603 - when the crowns of England and Scotland were united under James VI of Scotland, (James I of England) - one unicorn was replaced by a lion in each country. The former represents Scotland and the latter England. In Scotland the unicorn is on the right (dexter) while the lion is on the left (sinister). In England the positioning is reversed.

The following information comes from the web site of
HRH Prince Michael James Alexander Stewart of Albany - link details at base of page.

The arms of King James V of Scotland (Born 1512 - Acceded 1513 - Died 1542) can be seen outside the Palace of Holyrood - a single 'Unicorn Sejant Erect' on the dexter holding the royal shield of Scotland and flying the saltyre flag showing an open crown at its intersection.

"Prince Charles Edward Stewart - Bonnie Prince Charlie - as the rightful Duke of Rothesay, used the Scottish quartering topped by the Scottish Crown and held by a single 'Unicorn Sejant Erect' on the sinister (left) side. 

This latter Scottish quartered arms were used by the heirs of the Royal House of Stewart, the Counts of Albany, till 1913.  In December 1913, the 5th Count of Albany gave up the right for himself and his descendants (as well as collateral lines) to claim the Crown of St Edward (and that of Great Britain).

Thus, the arms of both England (still quartered with that of France) and Ireland were removed and replaced with the original arms of the High Stewards of Scotland. The present seventh Count (Earl) of Albany, HRH Prince Michael James Alexander Stewart, used the original crest of Scotland and the arms of the High Stewards of Scotland for the first five years of his life. 

Following the death in 1963 of his great uncle, HRH Prince Anthony James Stewart, 6th Count of Albany, Prince Michael has been using a quartering showing in quarters 1 and 4 'Or, a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter-flory gules', while quarters 2 and 3 show the original arms 'Or, a fess checky azure and argent' of the High Stewards of Scotland.  Prince Michael uses, as a supporter on the dexter side, a 'Unicorn Sejant Erect' holding the quartered royal shield and, flying from a pole, the saltyre flag of Scotland, showing a thistle at the intersection of the cross of Saint Andrew."

The romance surrounding the Knights Templars and of the Crusades has mostly been viewed as a glorious quest but it may well be seen soon that this was not exactly so. H.R.H. Prince Michael of Albany is to launch a new book, titled The Knights Templars of the Middle East.

He states "When my first book The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland was published in 1998, I mentioned throughout the work the achievements of the Templars and that of Freemasonry. I particularly emphasized the fact that the latter evolved from the former over two hundred years of secret political undertakings in Scotland where they, the Templars, fled following the 1307 demise of the Order in Europe. The book became a Scottish second bestseller after 3 weeks of publication and reached number 7 UK two weeks later. It also set the Masonic Templar world rocking on its heels and I was inundated with letters from freemasons and Templar enthusiasts alike from all over the world. The Grand Lodge of Australia gave the book a terrific review and the Grand Lodge of Scotland decided to mention it on its website. All correspondence said the same thing 'tell us more'. I suppose that it was a normal progression to do so. I come from a Templar family, so why not write about it from a family point of view? But should this be enough to interest the public?

By fate, my best friend Walid Salhab is a Lebanese filmmaker and Lecturer at Queen Margaret College University (Edinburgh) and I mentioned to him the new project. This discussion proceeded to the small hours of the morning and gave me that special twist that would make the book 'unique' among all the works written about the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. I would not draw primarily from Christian sources but from an Islamic one ..."

He comments that the book "will, I have no doubt, rock the foundation of the world of Freemasonry and the Vatican itself. Indeed Islam, particularly its origin, will emerge as something quite different to the rather naïve, preconceived understanding most of the Western world has of a Faith against which many of our ancestors fought and lost their lives. They need not have fought, nor died. Their being sent to the Middle East was nothing more than a ploy to, firstly, eradicate Rome's rival Papal Seat, the Orthodox Byzantine Church. Secondly, to rid Europe of a strata of society which the Church had deemed to be too much of a financial burden and therefore to be expendable. While the Church of Rome failed in its attempt to destroy the Byzantine Orthodox Church, it certainly succeeded in sending thousands of the less fortunate of society to their death in Asia Minor under the leadership of Peter the Hermit."Page 2 - Smythe and the Unicorn - and ancient ancestry ...

Prince Michael then explains, "It is true to say that history is often hidden until, usually out of the blue and when the time happens to be right, a treasure-trove of forgotten documents and archives is suddenly discovered and springs to life. The 'status quo' is then thrown out of the window and a new facet of history can then be presented to readers starving for new interpretations of past history.

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This is what happened when, during the past two years research, I came across what is referred to as 'The Charles Morrisson Collection' (about 2000 works), housed at the library of Scottish Grand Lodge in Edinburgh, Scotland. The collection's oldest script dates back to 1615, extending into the 19th century. Some of these scripts were handwritten in Old French, some of which had been published privately, all of which had been forgotten and never consulted. It is the lack of most English speaking researchers' understanding of the French language that is at fault here. Being bilingual, the language was not a problem for me and I was thus given a unique opportunity to bring these new finds to the world at large. These forgotten archives have greatly helped me to understand where the Templar myth ends and where masonic history begins. In 'The Knights Templars of the Middle East', an absorbing quest will be fulfilled in an historical subject which has long exerted a strange fascination over academics and laymen alike."

More about the heraldic device of the unicorn - and a study of the unicorn itself - with reference to Canada.

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