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Boswell Coat of Arms Meaning

The three main devices (symbols) in the Boswell blazon are the cinquefoil, fusil and fesse. The two main tinctures (colors) are sable and argent.

Sable, the deep black so often found in Heraldry is believed to named from an animal of the marten family know in the middle ages as a Sabellinœ and noted for its very black fur 1. In engravings, when colors cannot be shown it is represented as closely spaced horizontal and vertical lines, and appropriately is thus the darkest form of hatching, as this method is known 2. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 3.

Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 4. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 5.

Natural objects abound in heraldry, and one category that gives especial delight are the many flowers and flowering plants that frequently occur 6. The cinquefoil is also of this type, being drawn, at least a little, realistically and often to very pleasing effect. It is shown as five-petalled flower, each petal quite rounded but with a distinct tip. It is sometimes pierced with a hole in the centre and usually appears on its own, without any leaves. 7 It has no fixed colour but can appear in any of the available heraldic tinctures.

The fusil is a shape rather like a lozenge but taller and narrower, hence fusily refers to a field of similar shapes arranged in a regulat pattern. 8 It is though that the shape originally derived from that of a spindle of yarn. Wade believes that the symbol is of very great age and quotes an earlier writer, Morgan who ascribes it the meaning of “Negotiation”. 9

The fesse (also found as fess) is one of the major ordinaries to found in heraldry, being a bold, broad, horizontal band across the centre of the shield. It may originally have arisen from the planks of which a wooden shield can be constructed, the centremost plank being painted a different colour 10. It is instantly recognisable as a symbol, for example the arms of COLEVILLE granted during the reign of Hery III are simply or, a fesse gules. With this clear association with the construction of the shield itself, Wade believes that the fesse can be taken to be associated with the military, as a “girdle of honour”.

Origin, Meaning, Family History and Boswell Coat of Arms and Family Crest


The name Boswell is Scottish but thought to be Norman-French in origin. The name is believed to have come over with the Norman invasion and is considered topographical, as having been derived from the town Beuzeville in the province Seine Martime in Normandy. The translation means “community of Beuze”, Beuze is a medieval French proper or given name, which was given the suffix of “ville” which translated to village. Many of the ancient surnames, actually acted as an indicator or representation of the birthplace of the individual by identifying easily recognizable landmarks or regions. This worked well for the small settlements which existed at this time because people rarely traveled far from their homes and were familiar with the surrounding landscape and local regions.

When the name immigrated to Britain after the Norman invasion it was converted to the more Anglicized Boswell. Other variations of the name include; Boswall, Boseville, Boswald, Bosswald, Bosville, Boeseille, Bosvile, Bovill, and Bowelle among others. The variation in spelling of names during this time period can be attributed to a lack of continuity regarding guidelines for spelling which was compounded by the diversity of languages in use in European countries at this time.

After the Norman invasion, the Boswell surname or variations in its spelling appears throughout the history of Britain and Scotland, where Clan Boswell, a Scottish Lowland Clan, still exists. While the Clan currently is without a chief, they are recognized by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

The first record of the bearer of any variation of the surname Boswell in British records is that of Lord de Bosville who came over with William the Conqueror and was believed to have fought at the Battle of Hastings. Another variation of the name, Robert de Boseuille, appears as a witness to a number of charters signed during William I, King of Scotland’s reign. Robert de Boseuille is also thought to have been one of the knight which escorted David I to Scotland after the end of his exile and helped him reclaim the throne of Scotland.

Records show in the 13th century, Walter de Bosville, the Clan Chief, fought against the English in the Scottish War for Independence and was taken prisoner. In 1296, William de Bosville is recorded as having pledged fealty to King Edward I, King of England and his son, Richard de Bosville, was granted land in south-western Scotland by Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots.

It is recorded that during the Anglo-Scottish wars of the 16th century, Chief Sir Alexander Boswell was killed in 1513 while leading his clan at the Battle of Flodden Field. In 1651, after losing many clan members at the Battle of Worcester, the Boswell family married into the Auchinleck clan; therefore, coming into possession of their lands and property. Robert Boswell became a prominent lawyer during this time. He was made a High Court Judge and given the title of Lord Balmuto.

In the 18th century, the Boswell legacy of eminent lawyers continued. In 1756, Alexander Boswell, the 8th Laird of Auchinleck was elevated to the bench. James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck and son of Alexander, was a noted author and biographer. In 1821, Alexander Boswell, 10th Laird of Auchinleck, was created a baronet.

The first recorded immigrant to America bearing the surname Boswell or any variation of the spelling was John Boswell who landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1630. Jonathan Boswell landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1632. Samuel Boswell landed and settled Virginia in 1635.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Boswell are found in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and Canada. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Boswell live in Mississippi.

There are many persons of note who bear the surname Boswell. John Boswell was a noted American historian. He attended the College of William and Mary and Harvard University where he earned his PhD. He taught history at Yale University. Dr. Boswell was a medieval philologist and could read and/or speak seventeen languages. He was also the author of several award winning books.

Lewis Archer Boswell was an American and a pioneer in aviation. It has often been contested that Boswell, not the Wright brothers made the first heavy than air flight. While he began his experiments with flight and aviation in 1868, no verifiable documentation has been presented to prove the claim. James Griffin Boswell is an American businessman and owner and founder of J. G. Boswell Company which operates the world’s largest privately owned farm comprising over 135,000 acres. The farm produces wheat, cotton, onions, tomatoes, hay and alfalfa for world wide distribution.

Blazons & Genealogy Notes

1) (Balmuto, co. Fife). Motto—Vraye foi. Quarterly, 1st and 4th, ar. on a fess sa. three cinquefoils of the field; 2nd and 3rd, or, a lion ramp. gu. surmounted of a ribbon sa., for Abebnethy. Crest—A falcon ppr. hooded gu. jessed and belled or.
2) (Dowen). Motto—I hope for better. Quarterly, as Balmuto, within a bordure indented gu.
3) (Glasmount). Motto—Nothing venture nothing have. Quarterly, 1st and 4th, ar. on a fess invecked sa. three cinquefoils of the first; 2nd and 3rd, or, a lion ramp. gu. surmounted of a ribbon sa., for Abebnethy.
4) (Auchinleck, a cadet of Balmuto, bart. 1821. Baronetcy extinct; Arms recorded 1809). Motto—Vraye foi. Quarterly, 1st and 4th, grand quarters, ar. on a fess sa. three cinquefoils of the field on a canton az. a ship at anchor, her sails furled within the Royal tressure or; 2nd grand quarter, counterquartered, 1st and 4th, ar. a lion ramp. az., 2nd and 3rd, or, a saltire and chief gu., 3rd grand quarter, ar. three bars sa., for Auchinleck. Crest—A falcon ppr. hooded gu. jessed and belled or. Supporters—Two greyhounds ppr. collared sa. each collar charged with three cinquefoils ar. and thereto affixed a leash passing betw. the forelegs and reflexed over the back gu.
5) (Robert Boswell, Lyon Depute, 1773). Motto—Vraye foi. Quarterly, 1st, 2nd, and 4th grand quarters as the last, 3rd grand quarter, az. a bend betw. three pelicans in their piety ar. Crest—A falcon ppr. hooded and belled or.
6) (Balmuto, as confirmed, 1875, to the heir of line of the later family, a cadet of Auchinleck). Motto—Vraye foi. Quarterly, 1st and 4th, ar. on a fesse sa. three cinquefoils of the field; 2nd and 3rd or, a lion ramp. gu. surmounted of a ribbon sa., for Abebnethy, all within a bordure engr. sa. Crest—A falcon ppr. hooded gu. jessed and belled or.
7) (Blackadder, co. Berwick, 1784; the heiress m. 1847, Sir G. A. F. Houston, Bart.). Motto—Fortiter. Quarterly, 1st and 4th, ar. on a fess sa. betw. two thistles in chief ppr. and a garb in base gu. banded or, three cinquefoils of the field; 2nd and 3rd, or, a lion ramp. gu. surmounted of a ribbon sa., for Abebnethy. Crest—A dexter hand grasping a scymetar ppr.
8) (Yorkshire). Ar. five fusils in fesse, and three boars’ heads in chief, erased sa. Crest—Out of a wood ppr. a bull pass. ar.
9) Ar. a fesse engr. gu. in chief three mullets sa.
10) Ar. five fusils in fesse gu. in chief three griffins’ heads erased sa.
11) (Ballycurry, co. Wicklow. John Boswell, of that place, d. 1631; he was son of Ralph Boswell, a captain in the army in Ireland, younger son of Ralph Bosvile, Esq., of Bradbourne, co. Kent, Clerk of Wards and Liveries, temp. Queen Elizabeth, ninth in descent from Sir John Bosvile, Knt., of Erdesley, co. York, d. 1234). Ar. five fusils in fess gu. in chief three bears’ heads erased sa. muzzled or.

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  • 1 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Sable
  • 2 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 26
  • 3 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P35
  • 4 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 5 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P11
  • 6 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P262
  • 7 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Cinquefoil
  • 8 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Fusil
  • 9 The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P117
  • 10 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Fesse