Bernard Raymond van Wickevoort Crommelin
Aspects of the Origin of the Arms of
the Crommelin Family
So much has been written in the genealogical literature, and is generally known about the history of the Crommelin arms with the French Lily, that it seems there are no further problems with the origin of our heraldry. But some problems still remain especially concerning the sources. If you look in the latest edition of the Nederland‘s Partriciaat (80/1997) and the Jaarboek van het CBG (52 (1998), 258) - considering the limited space - only a few sources could be mentioned. But far more sources still exist in the archives, museums, galleries, etc., not to mention a lot of very different drawings in private ownership, that it should be useful to review the main problems regarding the history of our arms. Perhaps it could be helpful to collect and publish all these sources in a broader context in the future.
To reconstruct the history of the arms of the Crommelin Family we have to go back to the middle ages when the Crommelins settled in one of the most prosperous provinces of the old Kingdom of France and the later Burgundian duchy, the county of Flanders. The Crommelins got their name presumably as a nick-name in the twelfth century when they served near Bruges - for three or more generations - as barons of the counts of Flanders before they became - with the sinking noblesse - citizens of Gent and Kortrijk/Courtrai and members of the newer patriciaat for more than 400 years. Then, when second names were introduced to distinguish a now growing population, they received this attribute from Walter (ca. 1120 - 1140), a so-called 'bent figure' or 'misformed man‘.
This is also the time when the first arms sprang up as a shield-sign for the followers of military units. The origin of heraldry was Flemish and was then - for England - adopted by the Normans which invaded Britanny. Flanders was one of the first regions in Europe where such arms originated, and all the noble families which followed William the Conqueror to Hastings in 1066 were interrelated or linked to Flemish families and not just by their common Normandian origin. This included William's father-in-law, Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, and the Normans took their arms with them to England (Complete Peerage, XII/1). We have no information which arms the Crommelins adopted at that time because the principal heraldic sources date back some hundred years later and also in Flanders we must consider all the great losses over time. But there are signs which do hark back to this time.
Seal of Zegher Crommelin, provost of Kortrijk (proost van Kortrijk),
June 12, 1355 (Stadsfonds; Chartes: O.L. Vrouw, mr. 330 b)
First there are the chevrons and merlettes which we can find in many arms of this region, and near Bruges we find the chevrons de geules (rode keper in dutch). So the Crommelins could have taken these signs from there. But this motif is also connected with some other prominent places in Flanders - especially Courtrai which exhibits the red chevron. The Crommelins lived there from the 13th century as manufacturers in the linen industry for more than a hundred years. They could have adopted the chevron as the sign of their city and perhaps because they had been engaged as assessors (schepen) from the 14th to the 17th century. But also the arms of the greater Seigneuries near Bruges display these red chevrons (chevrons de gueules) and these were adopted by many families. Therefore the origins are perhaps earlier and related to their earlier possessions near Bruges and Ostende.
Near Bruges we also find the chevron in connection with the Chequy, a kind of chess board, which is still seen in the old arms of the other branch of the Crommelincks / Crommelynck / Crommelingk (Crommelinc) which separated earlier in the 14th and 15th century and which still exists in Belgium and France (cf. Rietstap, Armorial Général s.v.). This could be the sign of an older version of the arms which was later replaced by the arms with the chevron and merlettes.
In Kortrijk the old family van (der) Gracht also had the same motifs in common with the old Crommelin arms (d‘argent au chevron de gueules accompagné de trois merlettes de sable), mentioned e.g. in the Carte Héraldique de la Flandre of 1610 (Vaernewyck, Sceaux et Armories de la Flandre (1935), 31) and as a seigneurie in Kortrijk 1632 (L‘Espinoy, Rech. antiq. de Flandre, 288). We find this family with their Seigneuries spread over some other places in Flanders, especially in Gent and near Bruges, e.g. Roborst near Alost. The Crommelins also lived in Gent since the middle of the 12th century and after the great revolution in 1302 were integrated in the newer patriciaat. Thus it could also be that there had been interrelations between these families by which they then shared the same arms.
An interesting aside is that the merlet was also used in medieval England, e.g. by Edward the Confessor (*ca. 1004; crowned 1054, d. 1066) or Edmund, Duke of York (d. 1402). Also the well-known and notable English barons, the Clare-family - honored in 1258 at the aisle arcades at Westminster Abbey - employ these chevrons. Within their related families - also of normandian origin - we again find the same arms with the merlettes of Richard de Stafford (mentioned in the Coll. Arms, Flowers Ordinary, 2 G 9, fos. 155/6) for the mid-sixteenth century.
As for the chevron, "It has been suggested that chevrons originated in battens on the shield which evolved into ‚V‘s due to the pointed convex surface of the shield.“ (Woodcock/Robinson, Oxford Guide to Heraldry (1988), 12). The well-known family Waddington also shows similar arms and could trace back to 1302 (Woodcock, ibid. 129).
The merlette (maarle) also indicates the Medieval origin and represents a very old french heraldic motif. We know them to be a sign and honor for wounded crusaders, a distinction they received after the war. We know that a lot of the crusaders came from Flanders. The Flemish nobility was very active in Palestine, especially the counts as 'Kings of Jerusalem'. Miniatures from the medieval Roman de Godefroid de Bouillon et de Salah ad „Din“ (14th century, Paris, Bibl. Nat.) show Crusaders with these arms.
Other interpretations link the merlet with the chevron (keper in dutch) with water and see a connection with dutch overseas travel in earlier times. The english word merlet could indicate a martinet with shortend feet (zeezwaluw met afgeknotte pooten). The other interpretation ties the keper with the Anglo-Saxon word cipp (stok or paal in dutch) which may indicate relations with the harbor-toll and the right of private ownership or property in connection with rivers, canals (grachten), etc. (Boissevain, Nederl. Leeuw LX (1942), 274). In consequence with this interpretation Boissevain understands the name of the familie Crommelingk in the sense of a bent line (kromme lijn) which members of the van der Gracht-family adopted for their special rights. This interpretation seems to me a trifle audacious as it does not correspond with the earlier sources which show without question an independent origin of the Crommelins near Bruges.
The earliest tangible arms we can see are the seals on documents. The first dates from February 8, 1349 - the one of Zegher Crommelin, a well known deacon of the Church of Onze Lieve Vrouwen (doyen du Chapitre de Notre Dame) in Kortrijk, who was later confirmed by the Pope from Avignon, Clemens VII. Other seals with arms came later, from 1353, 1355 (see Ill.) and 1358. Interesting is the little anchor-cross on the keper which must be interpreted - perhaps as a sign of a monastic order. Other documents from the Rijksarchief of Kortrijk [ which I managed to access with the kind assistance of Ankie Labouchere-Crommelin ] display the same arms but with a rosette on the chevron and these are associated with Willem Crommelin (1364, 1366 and 1368). We also know of another Zegher Crommelin, Licentiaat in de Rechten (for 1442) and later Master and Kanunnik at St. Donaas (1453) which could be the one mentioned in the Nederland‘s Patriciaat.
The Crommelins, who where among the greatest merchants of the sixteenth century in Flanders and France, used their arms over the following centuries, not only as a sign of their nobility and properties, but also when they left for France after 1579 when they fled the religious wars of Flanders, having lost their proofs of nobility. This is mentioned in the confirmation of the nobility for André Crommelin by Louis XIV (Versailles, Nov. 1708) in regard of their old nobility:„an confirmant dans leurs noblesse ceux dont les anciens titres ont esté esgarés Notre amé André Crommelin voulant profiter de cette grace Nous a tres humblement fait remontrer qu‘il est originaire de Flandres ou ses ancestres ont toujours vecu noblement“.
In this document the family is also given the right to use their old arms in any traditional form which should be registered by the royal heraldic administrator Hozier (cf. Nouveau d‘Hozier, vol 111 (Ms.fr.: 31336)) and what we can find today in the Grand Armorial de France by Jouglas de Morenas (1935).
What is puzzling is that there is no indication for the right to use the French Lily as it was conferred by Madame Marie Catherine de France a hundred years ago. There is only mention of the naturalization of Jean Crommelin in 1595 by Henri IV. as in another confirmation for the relative Adrien Crommelin, Seigneur des Mezières, in 1698 with the right of arms:„un écu de gueules, à un chevron d‘or, accompagné de trois merlettes d‘argent posées deux en chef, et une en pointe, cet écu timbré d‘un casque de profil, orné de ses lambrequins d‘or, de gueles et d‘argent.“
We also cannot find the attribute of the Lily (Lely) on any of many seals or arms of our French relations which are preserved at French archives from several now-extinct branches. But what we can deduce is that they had ongoing problems with their status of nobility and later with their living conditions under the growing resentment and restrictions placed against the Huguenots - something they couldn't avoid even by becoming catholic. I would conclude, therefore, that the enlargement of their arms were later no longer recognized or pursued because this enlargement was - after the Edict of Fontainebleau - inopportune considering its protestant connections with Henri IV and his sister, and also on financial grounds when there was war against the (catholic) League (Liga).
The reorganization of the Nobility under Louis XIV after 1660 also tried to exclude the old protestant nobility, especially many of the newer rich nobles. It is a pity that we currently have no other sources which can give us an idea of what really happened in the years between 1590 and 1595/6 when Jean Crommelin was naturalized, perhaps enobled, and had Catherine de France (sister of Henry IV) to be godmother for his child, Pierre. But what corroborates this event, and perhaps also the enlargement of the Crommelin-Arms, is that the wedding of Jean Crommelin and Marie de Semeries has been prominently recorded. I hope to give more detailed information about these events in future.
The close connections with the French King were still an important part of our family's memory in the Huguenot exodus. In any case the golden lily in blue with a silver and golden border („goulden lelie op blauw à la bordure d‘azur et d‘or de 8 p.“ - Steenkamp, De Nav. 63 (1914)) was adopted by the children of Pierre and his brothers, as his uncles and their descendents did also. This was perhaps a sign of their identity and solidarity with French royalty after they had emigrated to the Netherlands where they found themselves under better living conditions.
This is displayed many times as we can see, for example, in the Pieterskerk in Leiden where the arms of Elisabeth Anne Crommelin and Nicolaas de Bye can be seen, or on the crystal glass in the Frans Hals Museum where the arms appear of Mr. Pieter Samuel Crommelin (1700 - 1767), for many years mayor of Haarlem. Therefore it seems to me that we should continue to preserve this tradition.