The Culpeper/Colepeper Coat of Arms
The Coat of Arms of John Lord Colepeper
(Culpeper) of Thoresway. Note that this falcon, unlike
some versions, has
its wings inverted. Note also, the motto, "J'espère".
The supporters are two dragons, ducally gorged, which means, not
that they have their bellies full of dukes, but that they have
ducal coronets around their necks. Only peers are entitled to
supporters, and in their case, the helm faces towards the front,
whereas in all those below the rank of baron, it is seen from the
side. The helm rests on a baron's coronet. (Source: Glen N.
Colepeper of South Africa)
This color rendering was provided to Culpepper Connections! by
James Thomas Culpepper of Memphis, TN.
A complete Coat of Arms consists of a shield, crest and motto (if one exists). The
shield, or escutcheon, is the main element. The crest is usually an animal and rests on
top of the shield. The motto may be in any language, but is usually in Latin, French or
Note that while many people may refer to a coat of arms as a "crest", the
crest is only one element of the coat.
Where Coats of Arms have existed, they have always been associated with a
specific family and the right to display the Coat passed from generation to
generation through the male line. Thus, there has never been a single Coat of
Arms that could be said to belong to all with a given surname.
However, in connection with the historical Colepepers and Culpepers of
England, one specific Coat of Arms has generally been connected with the family.
While no modern day Culpepper could be said to have the "right" to
display this Coat, many have adopted it as if it were theirs, and the remainder
of this discourse will deal with that Coat of Arms.
The Culpeper Blazon
The description of a Coat of Arms is known as its "blazon." The
Culpeper blazon [with abbreviations spelled out] from Burke's General Amory1 is:
Argent, a bend engrailed, gules
Some background material will help explain the meaning of this cryptic blazon. First,
from Britannica On-Line2:
Coat of Arms, also called Shield of Arms, heraldic device dating back to 12th-century
Europe, used primarily to establish identity in battle but evolving to denote family
descent, adoption, alliance, property ownership, or profession--the oldest extant document
being a copy of a roll of arms of the king of England from about 1240. The coat of arms
consists of a shield, or escutcheon, and surface, or field. It is divided into nine parts
(called points) in order to properly position bearings. It is further divided into chief
and base, or top and bottom, and it is often ornamented with helmet, mantling, wreath,
crest, badge, motto, supporters, crown, or coronet. The left, or sinister, side is to the
observer's right; the right, or dexter, side to the left; and the entire display is
designated the achievement. At first simply assumed, the coat of arms was later given
under royal grant, the College of Arms being established in London in 1484 by England's
King Richard III.
Originally the coat of arms was a cloth tunic worn over, or occasionally to conceal,
armour; or, in place of armour, it was padded and worn for protection but marked with the
shield's identical emblem to aid identification. Just as shields themselves were
artistically embellished to record personal or family themes or history, so too were they
chosen as emblems for organizations far removed from war--e.g., schools, universities,
guilds, churches, fraternal societies, and even modern corporations--to reflect their
mottoes or histories. Closely related to the science of heraldry and the study of
genealogy, coat-of-arms design reflects historical tradition, relying on established
patterns, positioning, symbols, and colours....
Continuing, under "heraldry"3,
according to Britannica On-Line:
The principal vehicle for displaying the heraldic devices is the shield. The crest, a
subsidiary device, emerged in the late 14th century; it was modelled onto the helm. In
pictorial representations the shield, on which the arms are borne, is surmounted by helm
and crest; the latter is usually placed within a wreath or coronet, or rests upon a
chapeau (a crimson cap turned up with ermine). The type and position of the helm indicates
the rank of the bearer. In the late 15th century great nobles, and later certain
corporations, were accorded supporters, creatures on either side of their shields to
support them. At the same time insignia were used with arms; the garter of the Order of
the Garter surrounded the shield; peers placed their coronets above their shields; and
later orders and decorations were shown below the shield. The whole display is called an
achievement of arms.
In the design of arms a wide variety of symbols are used, depicted and arranged
according to a series of conventions. Arms are hereditary; all male descendants of the
first person to whom arms were granted or allowed bear the arms. Younger sons add small
symbols, called marks of cadency, to their arms and crests. Arms are insignia of honour
and so are protected by law. Today only the European monarchies, Ireland, Switzerland,
South Africa, and Zimbabwe control the use of arms. In some countries there is non-noble
or burgher heraldry, but this generally enjoys no protection.
Tinctures are hues used in heraldry, which are denoted colours, metals, and furs. The
colours are gules (red), azure (blue), sable (black), vert (green), and
purpure (purple). Rarely used are murrey (sanguine), tenné (an orange-tawny colour), and
bleu celeste (sky blue). The metals are or (gold, often represented by yellow) and argent
(silver, invariably depicted as white). The furs are ermine (black spots on
white) and such variations as erminois (black spots on gold) and vair (small symbolic
squirrel pellets), alternately white and blue.
The symbols used in heraldry are called charges. The principal charges are
ordinaries--geometrical shapes such as the pale (a broad vertical strip), the fess (a
horizontal strip), and the bend (a diagonal strip). [The Culpeper shield is a
bend.] Other charges are animate--beasts, monsters, humans, birds, fish,
reptiles, and insects--or inanimate, which includes almost everything else.
The field, the background of the shield, is "charged" with the charges. It
may be plain, patterned (checkered), semé (strewn with little charges), or divided by a
line or lines following the direction of the ordinaries. A shield divided into halves
vertically is per pale, horizontally, per fess, and diagonally, per bend dexter (from
upper right) or per bend sinister (from upper left). The dividing lines may be embattled
(crenellated), wavy, or indented (zigzag). [Another pattern for the dividing
lines is "engrailed", which means indented with small concave curves.4 This
is the style used in the Culpeper shield.] The top area of the field is the
chief and the bottom the base. The shield is viewed as if being borne, so the viewer's
left is the right, or dexter, and the viewer's right, the sinister. The top centre is the
honour point, the middle centre the fess point, and the base centre the nombril point.
To describe an achievement is to blazon it. The terms of blazon are in general a
mixture of English and old French. Blazon is based in conventions that make it terse and
unequivocal. Charges always face dexter, for example, and three charges on a shield are
placed two in chief and one in base unless otherwise blazoned. There are many such
conventions. The basic rules of blazon are to describe, in this order, the field, the
principal charge (often an ordinary), other charges, and charges on charges. Adjectives
follow the nouns they qualify, the tincture coming last; a red rampant lion on a gold
shield is blazoned "Or a lion rampant gules."
From the foregoing. the Culpeper blazon, "Argent, a bend engrailed, gules"
may now be translated as
A silver shield with a diagonal red stripe indented with small concave curves.
Above the shield and a helmet is the crest, which is described in Burke's5 as:
A silver falcon with extended wings whose beak and bells are gold.
Another source, an old pedigree chart for the Colepepers of Bedgebury,
crest that is more elaborate:
On a trunk of a tree, lying fessways, a branch issuant from the dexter end, proper,
a falcon, wings expanded, argent, beaked, belled and legged, or.
To define 4 some of the more obscure terms: fess:
a broad horizontal bar across the middle of a heraldic field; dexter: to
the right of the person bearing it; proper: represented heridically in
natural color; argent: silver or white; or.: gold.
"In England, mottos do not form part of the patent and can vary
within families, within generations of the same families, etc. Usage
varied from next to none early on, to primarily in French during the
Tudor Era, to mainly in Latin by the 16th Century. The more they were
used, the more the appeared in the actual paperwork on grants of
arms." (Source: Bill Russell)
We have been able to identify three different mottos that have
appeared with the Culpeper Coat of Arms:
Jesu Christe fili Dei miserere mei
Fides fortitudio fastio
Glen Colepeper, a university professor in South Africa, reports that the motto of
his ancestors, the Barbados
Culpepers, as well as that of John, Lord Culpeper, was the French:
Translation: I hope.
Glen also called our attention to a reference to the
Culpeper Coat of
Arms in Michael Drayton's The Barons Warres, Canto 2, Verse 23? It
reads as follows:
And Culpeper, in Silver Arms enrayl'd
Bare thereupon a bloudie Bend engrayl'd
("Enrayl'd" means "enclosed".)
2. Jesu Christe fili Dei miserere mei
On a pedigree chart for the Colepepers of Bedgebury,
there was the following notation
about the colors of the shield and the motto:
As I have hearde my ffather Sr
Allexr Colepeper saye thatt Rede and White are
the cullers of us the Colepepers of Bedgebury, and thatt owr
worde is "Jesu Christe fili Dei miserere mei."
Teste Antho: Colepepyr
Translation: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy
However, as Glen Colepeper points out, this is rather
long for a normal motto, so its authenticity is in doubt.
3. Fides fortitudio fastio
One motto that has appeared with the Coat of Arms contained a Latin-sounding
Fides fortitudio fastio. It's origin is uncertain; we found it on the photograph of a needlepointed version of the Coat.
Dr. Sarah Culpepper Stroup obtained her Ph. D. in Classics
(Greek and Latin) from the University of California at Berkeley in 2000
and is now a Professor of Classics at the University of Washington in
Seattle. A few years ago (late 1998) she was kind enough to offer a suggested translation and explanation.
As the reader will see, Sarah had to strain to translate
it. Given her expertise in Latin and the lack of any evidence for the
motto older than our photograph, Warren Culpepper and Glen Colepeper both
believe that this is probably not the authentic motto of one who was
entitled to the Coat.
Fides fortitudio fastio = Faith, Courage, Dignity
Fides = 'faith'. No question here.
This isn't a Latin word, but perhaps what it says (or means to say)
is 'Fortitudo,' which would be just fine, and means 'bravery' or
'courage' (it can also mean brute physical strength, but I'm favoring
a more poetic translation).
'Fastio' is not found in classical Latin (which I study). It
appears neither in the Latin vulgate nor in any medieval Latin
lexicon. This means that either:
The word appears only in very late Latin, when all sorts of
strange things start happening to the language, or
The word was invented by someone who maybe knew a little Latin and
wanted another noun that begins with 'f'. (Mottos like assonance:
the motto of the clan Stewart is virtus vulnere virescit:
"excellence grows verdant from the wound").
In either case, I think that the word must mean (or, was intended to
mean) something like 'pride' or 'dignity.' In classical and medieval
Latin the word 'fastus' appears, and it means something like 'haughty
contempt' or 'arrogance'--in general, it has negative connotations, but
may occasionally mean something like 'pride' in a relatively positive
sense. The -io ending for a noun is perfectly valid, but occurs only
with nouns that are formed from *verbs* (for instance, 'actio' "an
action" comes from the verb 'agere, actus' = "to do"; but
fastus / fastio cannot be thus formed: there is no verb from which they
What is possible, I think, is that the formation of 'fastio' was an
attempt to create a positive or favorable term for 'pride' or 'dignity,'
which begins with an 'f,' and is therefore a neologism formed from 'fastus'
(just as 'actio' comes from 'actus'; except that 'actus' "having
done" is a participle, whereas 'fastus' is a noun). Grammatically
and orthographically, this formation is totally bogus; it is like using
the ending of the word 'Marathon,' which is actually a place name, and
applying it to any extended activity: dance-athon, bike-athon, eat-athon,
etc. These words don't really 'mean' anything, but they are perfectly
understandable, because anyone for whom English is the primary language
can figure out the connection. Ditto with Latin, and especially late
Latin, when the rules become very flexible.
If you are aware of other mottos that have appeared with the
Culpeper Coat of Arms, please contact
The Culpeper Coat of Arms6
The armorial bearings of the family, Arg: a bend engrailed, gu., may possibly
furnish a clue to its origin. Papworth, in his Ordinary of British Armorials, mentions
some sixty families as bearing the bend engrailed, but apparently only two of them, viz.,
Chitcroft and Walrand, displayed identically the same coat as the Colepepers.
By Col. F. W. T. Attree
As Robert Walrand, in the Roll of Arms, temp. Henry III., appears as the owner of this
coat, the Colepepers probably got it somehow through him, and they were using it as early
as 3 Edward III. (1329), when John, the son of Sir Thomas Colepeper, is recorded as
bearing it, and his brother Richard differenced it with a label of three points.
The Chitcrofts also were probably either Colepepers or closely connected with them, as
not only are their arms identical, but we find the two families associated together at a
very early period. In 1299 Benedicta, daughter of Thomas de Chitcroft, granted land in
Beghal, with a mill in Pepinbury, to Thomas, son of Thomas Colepeper, and Margery his
wife, while in ll Henry IV (1409) the names of John Chitcroft and Thomas Colepeper
chivaler, appear coupled as defendants in an action brought by John Mortymer, relating to
the manor of Asshen, co. Northants.
An investigation of the early Walrand and Chitcroft pedigrees would doubtless reveal
some connection with Colepeper, but would probably give no clue to the origin of the name,
which may, therefore, be left to the choice of the reader or to his further researches.
Burke and John Bernard Burke: General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
London: Harrison and Sons, 1884.
coat of" Britannica Online.
[Accessed 04 September 1998].
"heraldry" Britannica Online.
[Accessed 04 September 1998].
Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc, Springfield, MA, 1983.
5 Burke. Ibid.
6 Colonel F. W. T. Attree, R.E., F.S.A., and
The Rev. J. H. L. Booker, M.A, "The Sussex Colepepers",
from Sussex Archaeological Collections,
Vol. XLVII, 1904.
01 Apr 2010