family jewels

I’ve been doing some genealogical research lately. I think that I’ve traced my paternal lineage back to Peter Dodge, a 13th century Englishman who was presented a coat of arms by Edward I for his help in England’s brutal war with Scotland and the subjugation of its king, John de Balliol. Balliol’s chief rival for (and eventual successor to) the Scottish throne was Robert the Bruce.

That’s right. One of my ancestors was supposedly rewarded for his loyalty to Edward “Longshanks” and thus would have been a natural enemy to both William Wallace and Mel Gibson.

So this coat of arms had better be a real humdinger to offset all the militarism and patriarchal blusterings of pre-bubonic England, right? Enter James Hedingley, Edward’s official man-at-arms,  who describes the design as a “Barry of Six: Or and Sable: on a Pale’gules, a Woman’s Breast Gouttant.”


Uh-huh. That’s a lactating human breast on my family coat of arms, folks. You don’t need to conjugate any French to understand what gouttant implies here.

But hold up because it gets worse.

According to this 1892 article in The Scottish Review, authors John Woodward and George Burnett complain that Hedingley’s proclamation is “obviously fictitious,” thus making the Dodge clan’s subsequent claims to cultural rank as little more than “spurious genealogy.” Woodward and Burnett take particular umbrage at how heraldry, “one of the most useful handmaidens of history,” has been used by forgers, charlatans and assorted other wanna-bes to subvert “private rights” and History (if not Reality…) itself.

What all of the above boils down to is a very unpleasant either/or for yours truly. If Woodward and Burnett are correct, I’m part of a dubious (and potentially criminal) lineage of coat of arms squatters who hitch their collective wagon to perhaps the most conniving and ruthless imperialist son of a bitch to ever sit on the English throne. And if they are mistaken, and it turns out ol’ Longshanks really did bestow this particular honor on Peter Dodge somewhere around the turn of the 14th century, my family coat of arms is emblazoned with arguably the most sexist image to ever grace military-grade hardware.

If I have anything to say about it, in my next life, my ancestral coat of arms will have a slightly different image: A Rock, Divinely Encumbered By The Proverbial Hard Place.


2 responses to “family jewels

  • Marion

    This looks like the coat of arms in my grandma’s hope chest. Did your family ever live in Beverly, Massachusetts? If so…

    And yeah, I never understood the boob thing either.

  • Steven Dodge

    Hi, my paternal lineage is also linked to Peter Dodge and the “lactating breast” coat of arms. My dad and especially my uncle began researching our geneaology and the story behind the image on the coat of arms. Now I won’t quote word for word because it has been a long time since the story was told to me but it turns out that a Dodge (probably Peter since it was bestowed upon him), while leading his troops became stranded in a vlllage one particularly harsh winter. As the winter drove on, the men became increasingly hungry and were on the brink of starvation. Instead of letting his men parish by such a terrible fate he enlisted the help of all of the lactating women in the village who were able to supply enough nourishment to the men to keep them alive. For how long, I am not sure; whether it was the rest of the winter or long enough to travel from the village. I personally like the story and am proud of the image. My uncle has also told me that every Dodge in the U.S. can be traced back to William Dodge that came over in 1629, before the United States were the United States. He also told me that more Dodges fought in the Revolutionary War than from any other family.


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