Coat of arms of Sussex

Coat of arms of Sussex

A coat of arms has been associated with the historic county of Sussex since the seventeenth century. The device, displaying six martlets or heraldic swallows on a shield, later formed the basis of the flag of Sussex and the armorial bearings granted to the county councils of East and West Sussex.


Origins of the arms

Arms of Sussex according to John Speed

The earliest recorded use of the arms appears to be in the atlas Theatrum Imperii Maganae Britanniae produced by John Speed in 1622. The book displays arms for each of the seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, and that shown for the Kingdom of the South Saxons was six golden martlets on both a blue (azure) or red (gules) shield. In both cases the arms were ensigned by an ancient crown. It is possible that the device had a much earlier origin, as arms were attributed to other Saxon kingdoms by the heralds in the later Middle Ages. These attributed arms were a prochronism, as heraldry did not develop until some centuries after the existence of the kingdoms. The arms later used by local authorities in Essex, Middlesex, Kent, Northumberland and County Durham all owe their origins to the medieval heralds.[1]

Adoption by county authorities

By the nineteenth century the blue shield bearing gold martlets had become accepted as an emblem of the county of Sussex. The seal of the clerk of the peace of the county bore the arms, as did the badges of the East Sussex Constabulary and the Sussex Yeomanry.[2][3]

1889 - 1974

The Local Government Act 1888 introduced administrative counties each governed by an elected county council. Sussex was divided into two administrative counties: East and West Sussex. Each county council was required to adopt a common seal.

Coat of arms granted to West Sussex County Council in 1889

West Sussex County Council promptly applied to the College of Arms for a grant of arms, which were granted on May 18, 1889.[4] The cost of the grant was met by the Duke of Norfolk, a member of the council and titular head of the College of Arms. West Sussex was the first county council to become armigerous.

The arms were the same as those associated with the historic county with the addition of a gold "chief" or band at the top of the shield. The blazon or technical description was:

Azure, six martlets, three, two and one a chief or.[5]

Coat of arms granted to East Sussex County Council in 1937

East Sussex County Council adopted a seal in 1889. The seal bore a quartered shield.

  • The first quarter bore the traditional six gold martlets on blue of Sussex,
  • The second quarter consisted of gold and blue checks from tha arms of the De Warenne family, Earls of Surrey and lords of the barony of Lewes.
  • The third quarter was gold with a red displayed eagle, arms of the De Aquila family, lords of Pevensey
  • The fourth quarter bore the arms of the Cinque Ports.

These unofficial arms remained in use until 1937 when an a grant of arms from the College of Arms was obtained on September 10. A red shield was adopted and a gold Saxon crown was added for heraldic difference. The arms were blazoned as: Gules, six martlets three, two and one, and in chief a Saxon crown or[6]

Since 1974

The Local Government Act 1972 reorganised councils throughout England and Wales from 1974. In Sussex two new non-metropolitan counties of East Sussex and West Sussex were created, but with different boundaries to the administrative counties abolished by the 1972 Act. Accordingly the two county councils had to apply for new arms. Both county councils were granted arms in 1975, based on those previously used.

West Sussex County Council was granted arms on January 14, 1975. The gold chief of the 1889 shield was modified by being given an "indented" edge. A crest was added, shown atop a helm and decorative mantling. The crest represented the areas transferred from East Sussex and Surrey in 1974: the Saxon crown was taken from the East Sussex arms and the acorns from those of Surrey.[7]

The blazon of the arms is: Azure six martlets three two and one and a chief indented or, and for a crest on a wreath of the colours a sprig of oak proper fructed with two acorns or within a Saxon crown also or.[8]

Coat of arms granted to East Sussex County Council in 1975

East Sussex County Council was granted a new coat of arms on August 29, 1975. The arms are identical to the 1937 grant with the addition of a silver wavy line, representative of the coastal county boroughs of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings added to the county in 1974.[9]

Other Sussex organisations

The Sussex Police Authority was granted arms on May 30, 1969: a blue shield bearing a gold tower between five gold martlets.[6] The Sussex County Cricket Club uses the traditional county arms as its badge.

See also


  1. ^ Charles Wilfrid Scott-Giles, The Romance of Heraldry, London, 1929
  2. ^ Francis W Steer, The arms of the County Councils of East and West Sussex and the Diocese of Chichester, jointly issued by the two county councils, 1959
  3. ^ A L King and H L Kipling, Head-dress badges of the British Army, Volume 1, reprinted Uckfield 2006
  4. ^ Letters Patent sealed by Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy Kings of Arms.
  5. ^ Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition, London 1915
  6. ^ a b Geoffrey Briggs, Civic and Corporate Heraldry, London, 1971
  7. ^ West Sussex County Council Archive Gallery, accessed August 24, 2007
  8. ^ Civic Heraldry of England and Wales - West Sussex, accessed August 24, 2007
  9. ^ Letters Patent dated August 29, 1975

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