by Eric L Sewell
Possibly the earliest heraldic shield associated with a Sewell can be found in the parish church of All Saints, Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire. The hamlet of Sewell is situated within the parish. In the south aisle of the church is a 15th century tomb recess containing a mutilated effigy, said to be that of Sir John de Sewell. What survives is a helmeted figure, without legs or arms, dressed in a coat of mail and dating from the mid-14th to early 15th century. At the foot is a recumbent lion, an emblem of courage in battle. Significantly, the knight wears a Stafford knot around the neck. The ogee-headed canopy of the tomb, decorated with Tudor roses, appears to be a later enrichment.
Tomb of Sir John de Sewell in All Saints, Houghton, Regis, Beds
The front of the tomb is carved with four quatrefoils framing identical heraldic shields displaying a chevron and three insects (butterflies ?) with two pairs of wings. This heraldic device appears to have been the inspiration for other Sewell coats of arms, with the exception that the insects are transformed into bees - a symbol of industry.
It is recorded that a John de Sewell accompanied the Black Prince to Aquitaine in 1366 in the retinue of Hugh, Earl of Stafford (see also the article in Soul Search on Sewell, a Bedfordshire hamlet). Other references between 1380 and 1392 associate the Earl with John and Henry Sewell, Esquires. None of the documents refer to John Sewell as a knight. The connection between the effigy and the de Sewells of parish of Houghton Regis appears to be confirmed by the heraldry. This matches the coat of arms adopted by the Dyve family who inherited the estate at Sewell through marriage to Maud Sewell. Furthermore (see below) a Henry Sewelle employed the same coat of arms in the early 15th century. Henry could be Maud's brother and/or the Henry associated with the Staffords.
A list of 15-16th century Sewells who have adopted a similar coat of arms can be found in the Dictionary of British Arms - Medieval Ordinary:
Chevron and three butterflies
Coat of arms on the tomb of Sir John de Sewell
in All Saints, Houghton, Regis, Beds
Chevron and three bees.
N.B. The dates refer to documents.
The same heraldic shield was adopted in America by the Sewalls who emigrated, probably from Coventry, in the 16th century. In modern times the chevron and three bees has been employed on other Sewell arms ( see Fox-Davies Armorial Families, Fairburns Book of Crests, Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Sewells of the Isle of White).
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