Symbolism in Crest and Slogan by Professor George Montgomery (CMSI Life #1477)
Such an evocative icon as our Clan crest invites many a colourful story to explain why a smartly dressed, blonde super-model finds herself resting elegantly against an improbably expensive, large, gold anchor whilst holding up in her other hand the grisly, severed head of a whiskery gentleman, traditionally described, without benefit of political correctitude, as a savage.
Enquiries into official heraldic records in London by CMSI staff were met with bland civil service caution and a nil return. This unimaginative, but legally accurate, response prompted research into the background of the symbolism of our crest and many possible sources suggested themselves.
THE HEID. A historical sketch of the Celtic cult of the severed head highlighted many tentative links to the crest without unearthing a note of any specific legend which could offer a definitive explanation of the logo (see CMSI Newsletter Vol 6 No 2 1997 etc.).
What was clear, from accounts of the Bahomet skull of the Templars and the couped head of the legendary murdered apprentice of the Mason's, was that the skull had a long track record as a central cult relic in secret societies. The couped head motif still has more mileage in it in the current century than most of us would suspect. An undercover informant has unreliably but plausibly reported that in 1917 a notable Grandfather named Prescott Bush was one of a rampant war-party of Yale undergraduates who stole the skull of the famed Apache warrior Geronimo. This skull was prized as the pride, if not joy, of the “Skull and Bones” secret society of Yale down the generations, presiding over recruits George Bush (Senior) and George (Dubya) Bush who retain membership to this day. However, scientific spoilsports have ascertained that the skull does not belong to Geronimo after all, unless it was his skull when he was a young man.
THE ANCHOR. What possible origins could be suggested for the anchor? The anchor had a widely acknowledged symbolic function in the ancient world long before the rise of heraldry, which absorbed this tradition and formalised it. Saint Paul mentions this tradition in his Biblical Epistle to the Hebrews:
- verse 6. 18. “.....we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us, may be greatly encouraged”
- verse 6. 19. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”
Saint Paul knew, at first hand, all about the hazards of sailing the seas after he survived shipwreck in a storm at Malta. Mindful that Paul knew what he was talking about, the pioneer maritime insurance agency, Lloyds of London, adopted the anchor as their logo, as a symbol of security. The anchor was also adopted as a symbol of spiritual rather than actuarial security by the Scottish “Boy's Brigade”, a 19th Century precursor of the Boy Scout movement, with the motto “Sure and Steadfast”.
In Saint Paul’s time Christians were a persecuted minority who used secret signs to recognise each other. It is often assumed that the sign of the cross was their common bond. But the cross was originally a despised sign of shame associated with criminal execution regarded in much the same negative way as would an icon using the gallows sign appear to us. Early Christians used the fish sign which formed the Greek Chi, the initial letter of Christ’s name. Sometimes the first two letters of Christ’s name were used in the Chi-Rho symbol, that could also be represented by crossed fingers. This handsign was used in ritual worship when making the sign of the cross and a beautiful portrait of Christ making this Benedictio Graeca sign by EL Greco is on permanent public display in the National Gallery of Scotland. Eventually, it was realised that the cross was a powerful logo, symbolic of triumph over cruel and oppressive judicial execution. Yet to flaunt it in Paul’s time was to invite persecution, imprisonment and death. To disguise the cross, it was often combined with another powerful religious logo, that of the crescent moon. Long before it was adopted by Islam, the crescent was the symbol of the Greek god Artemis, also known as Cynthia or Diana. The ancient superstition of palmistry used the crescent moon symbol to denote the “Luna” palm area, that was supposed to indicate feelings and the influence of the moon on emotions. With the rise of Christianity, many of the temples to Diana were converted to churches of the new religion. Old habits died hard, however, and many converts saw some of the attributes of Diana in the Virgin Mary and continued to use the crescent symbol to signify Mary. Joining the cross and crescent gives the anchor logo.
It is tempting to guess that, as a neck pendant, the anchor would be similar enough to the ancient Egyptian “ankh” amulet to arouse no suspicion. Both amulets had similar meanings of reassurance – “life”, “good luck” or “hope”. Such pendants, like the popular cross of today are often of gold and more credible in origin and scale than the actual outsize anchor of solid gold depicted in our crest.
THE SLOGAN. The Clan slogan “Garde Bien” is in Norrois, the old Norman-French which retained much of the Norman’s original Nordic language. “Garde” (pronounced gard-uh) means “watch”, in the sense of “look out” or “on guard”. As such it was an appropriate motto for the Montgomeries whose long record of service in the Garde Eccossais and Royal bodyguard of the King’s of France was outstanding. An offshoot of this Scottish-Norman mercenary tradition left to serve the King of Sweden but they were stronger on sword-drill than spelling and, assuming their motto was French, spelled it “Gardez” (pronounced garday). Misled by this hyper-correction, someone then confused this with “regardez”, French for “look”. This error is rather like assuming that the English word “guard” means the same as “regard” because they sound similar in part. Fatuosity was further enhanced when the “look” translation was added to that of “Bien” (pronounced bee-ann) meaning “good” to give the overall meaning of “good looking”. These mistakes took root because French is relatively well known whereas Norrois is all but extinct. It is also worth remembering that the slogan was used by the Captains-in Chief and many soldiers of the Scots Guard of France. In the Scots language “watch” usually means much more than “look”. Soldiers of The Royal Highland Regiment, known as the Black Watch, are not famous for either passive observation or their good looks. In mediaeval Edinburgh City, the cry of “Gardey Loo” was a warning like the cry of “Fore” in golf (it warned of a pail of domestic effluent about to be emptied from an upper storey on to the street below – clearly it meant more than just “look at the water”). For a final example, a building in the main street of the Border town of Galashiels displays the old Scots slogan “Watch Weel” – as fair a translation of “Garde Bien” as we will ever get.
ERRARE HUMANUM EST. The historian Armin Lowe pointed out that unchallenged inaccuracies in historical writings accumulate over the centuries and the only way to halt this pernicious reverberation of errors is to counter them forcefully and replace them with more accurate facts.
All very well for the distant commentator, but to blow the whistle and censor one’s own kith and kin and put the skids under some of their cherished, if wobbly, myths is to invite an unwelcome cooling in relationships. Let me then, hasten to assure all, that some of my best friends use “Gardez”. Likewise, in the following commentary there is an attempt to correct what are seen as errors but anyone later correcting the corrections with better logic and information has this writer’s wholehearted approval. It is indeed difficult to give up old prejudices, as a world class Italian opera star noted when performing in Dublin. He was billed as Placid O'Domingo, reflecting the old Irish prejudice that no one could be that good if he had an “O” at the wrong end of his name.
Our own name has been spelled many ways in many languages over many lands. Even among the Kanauri of the South Sahara fringe, the name “Magumeri” has a familiar ring to it and their tendency to view foreigners askance is less evident with visiting Montgomeries. Over the centuries, however, three forms of the name have come to dominate — the Anglo-Norman, the Scots and the French.
First of all, the spelling Montgomery derives from the original Norman-French, which after the conquest of England, became the Anglo-Norman which was the official language of England for 200 years. This spelling is the usual spelling today in Normandy, England, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, East Scotland and North America.
The spelling Montgomerie is characteristic of the Scots language and is the usual, but not exclusive, form in Ayrshire and West Scotland. But a glance at the works of the Ayrshire poet, Robert Burns, will show that the two forms of spelling were used virtually interchangeably. Another example of this is that the old 77th infantry regiment named after their colonel Archibald Montgomerie was usually known as Montgomery’s Highlanders. As most of the rank and file were Gaelic speaking, former Jacobite MacDonalds, this orthographic discrepancy did not arise as a major bone of linguistic contention among them.
Fortunately the Scots/English rift disappears in the plural. Like cherries and monasteries, Montgomeries shed their “y” when more than one: Montgomerys, cherrys and monasterys only occur in a dyslectic never-never land.
The spelling Montgommery is originally Frankish and is often used by French speakers, who mispronounce the vowel sounds in our name if it is spelled with one “m” in the middle. Norman place names still retain the single central “m” spelling derived from our Viking origins, verifiable from the runestones at Jaelling and Rouen. The runic record, verified by the Swedish family historian B. de Montgomery, shows that a descendant of the Viking King Harald of Denmark, Gorm-Erik, founded a dynasty in lands near modern Livarot. Erik is a common name meaning ever-kingly and Gorm is still used as a forename in Scandinavia today, meaning “watchful”, “alert” or “awake” as opposed to “gormless” meaning “dozy” or “glaiket”. Perhaps here we may trace a remote early link to “Garde”. Certainly, one of our early opponents, the Saxon terrorist, Hereward the Wake, used the tag, reminding us that, like the Vikings, Saxons relied on descriptive nick-names and did not have stable surnames until the Normans invented them to be passed on as an inheritance, like land. When the Livarot stake was established, the French Mont was added to our name and it was inherited along with the finest applejack country ever, until today.
THOSE MYTHICAL ROMANS. Our family origins in the Viking invaders who carved themselves a settlement on the Atlantic shores of what is now Northern France, is well established in B. de Montgomery's classic history. Yet the unfounded myth of descent from a Roman persists. It mistakenly arises because the name was recorded by monkish scribes in the Latin language as MONS GOMERICI. The few literates in early Normandie, France and the rest of Europe wrote solely in Latin, the old Roman language. To assume Montgomery was Roman because it was written in Latin is an error equivalent to calling the Ulster Scot, Saint Colm, Roman because he is recorded in history as Santa Columba. Likewise, the fact that Edward I, king of England, Ireland, Wales, South Scotland, Normandie and much of France, was recorded as MALLEUS SCOTORUM, the hammer of the Scots, is not an indication of Roman origin. The logic is similar to regarding the USA as a former Roman colony because the national motto is in Latin – but not quite of the calibre of that of Dan Quayle, who, allegedly, regretted that he did not learn Latin at school because it would be useful when he visited Latin America. His governmental advisors were quite lax in failing to inform him that Latin is a dead language, only useful if he should meet a dead Roman.
HAZARD. Possibly due to the influence of Hollywood, most Americans, south of the Canadian Border, seem to hang on to historical myths with all the tenacity of Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Thus, attempting to list corrections is fraught with hazard and additionally it is difficult to do so without seeming to. There is a moral, relevant to this predicament, in our alternative Clan slogan, HAZARD YET FORWARD which some inscribed on the back of the shield for personal consumption. This is much less cautious than GARDE BIEN which was for more general consumption and which would give the right message of steadfast reassurance to the Royal paymasters of the Garde Eccossais de France.
Hazard is not necessarily the same as foolhardy and may signify sensible risk taking. Statistical decision theory identifies two kinds of error, namely, accepting a fact as true when it is false and rejecting a fact as false when it is true. In everyday terms these are the errors of being too cautious or too confident. A good surgeon will save more patients by accepting some level of risk and being prepared to lose some patients by dangerous treatments rather than being over-cautious, killing none but saving fewer. Optimal saving of life is achieved by a balance of the two kinds of error. The theory has wide application as does our other slogan, which reminds us that when we occasionally go a bridge too far this is at least in a forward direction and is greatly preferable to going a bridge too short and advancing backwards.