The Flemmer Family Crest
There are many misunderstandings about crests or coats of arms. People often think that family crests are passed down unchanged from generation to generation and that all members of the family are entitled to use the crest, but this isn't the case. They are essentially personal identity emblems. Members of a family may have very similar crests, but on examination there will usually be differences. One of the most common of these being the incorporation of items from the wife's crest on marriage.
Another common misapprehension is that only members of nobility or royalty were entitled to crests and that the designs of the crests were strictly controlled. Again this is not the case. Although in the 12th century the use of coats of arms was restricted to the upper classes, within two centuries the use of these emblems was widespread. For example, many merchants used crests to indicate their trade, in much the same way that logos and trademarks are used today.
There was also no control or registration of design required in most countries. The main exception to this rule being Scotland, which still has very strict controls, England and France. Other countries tried to introduce legislation from time to time without much success, although in most countries there were legal procedures to address any problems arising out of duplication of crests. But even then, in many countries there was nothing to stop the use of duplicate crests as long as they were not used fraudulently.
The items that appeared in crests - technically known as blazons - and the colours used - tinctures - sometimes had specific meanings attached to them, but these varied over time and in different countries. Some blazons tended to keep their meaning. For example, a lion in a crest usually indicated royalty or bravery, but that was not always the case, especially where crests were designed as a rebus, or a play on words, a process known as canting. An example of a canting crest is that of Congleton in England, shown alongside.
You will see that featured in the crest are two eels, a lion and a wine barrel. This has nothing to do with fishing, or royalty or winemaking. It is a play on words and the interpretation is Conger(eels)-Leo(lion)-Tun(wine barrel).
Another example of a change in meaning of a blazon is the skull and crossed bones The original meaning of these symbols was to emphasise the basis of Christian belief. The skull was a reference to Golgotha (The Place of Skulls) where the Crucifixion took place; the bones were crossed as a symbol of Christianity: the bones themselves were thighbones to signify the Resurrection - no one can rise again without these bones. It was only very much later that this blazon changed its meaning, ironically to indicate danger and the threat to the mortality of man.
So, to interpret the symbolism of a crest accurately requires knowledge of the person or family and the times in which they lived.
At the Millennium Meeting three versions of the Flemmer family crest were presented. See panel alongside:
All three had similar elements and the following interpretation of these may have merit:
1. Skull and crossed bones:
This blazon in the lower part the the crest could be taken as applying to a number of members of the Flemmer family because of their Christianity and its Christian connotations - see above. However well known Danish genealogist, Lengnik, states in one of his books "I have not been able to gather more information about this family[the Abo family] which is said to be Swedish nobility and which has as in its coat of arms 6 white balls (four of them are below) and a white skull (German Totenkopf) with two crossbones." Thus there is the possibility that the blazon was imported into the crest to signify the marriage to a member of the Abo family. This would most likely be the marriage of Christian August Flemmer to Betty Camilla Augusta Abo.
2. Bishop's windows:
The four arches appearing in the upper half of the crest are common blazons in ecumenical crests. Although commonly referred to as "bishop's windows", there is not always a hierarchical reference. It seems probable that this blazon is a reference to the vocation of Christian August Flemmer's father, Hans Christian Flemmer, the vicar of Stillinge. The number of windows may have some significance, which have not been ascertained as yet - perhaps something as simple the number of windows above the altar in Stillinge Church: perhaps just a question of balance in the design.
The design of helms varied over the centuries. The one in this crest is similar to that of a noble in some illustrations. It seems likely that it refers to the award of the order of Ridder of Dannebrog (Knight of the Flag) to Christian August Flemmer's father, Hans Christian Flemmer. The significance, if any, of the wings on the helm is not yet established. The hand drawn version also shows what seems to be a drape of material at the base of the helm, which may also have some significance.
4. Blazon in the bishops windows:
The hand-drawn representation of the crest and the computer generated version, based on the photograph of the die showed what seemed to be very different blazons. By chance, when starting this work on the crest, I had just acquired a paperback version of the book Nathaniel's Nutmeg (Giles Milton ISBN 0-340-69676-1) which has an illustration of a nutmeg on the cover. It struck me that there was a resemblance between this and the hand-drawn version. The figure on the left is the hand drawn version of the crest - in the centre is the illustration from Nathaniel's Nutmeg, and next to it, on the right, a photograph of a ripe nutmeg.
The significance of this line of thought is that in Nathaniel's Nutmeg, there is reference to the award of a blazon of cloves to a successful spice trader, while in the book Lost White Tribes (Riccardo Orizio ISBN 0-099-28946-6) the crest of the Burgher Union in Colombo, Sri Lanka is said to be palm tree, caravel and bundles of cinnamon. The crest of Rugby School also includes a branch of dates with golden fruit in silver pods and green stalk and leaves, said to symbolise the Founder's "spicery", and the fact that he supplied spices to Queen Elizabeth I. So there was some evidence that a such a blazon might have been incorporated in the crest of families associated with the spice trade. Both the Abo family and the Rabeholm family were involved in this trade (Hans Christian Flemmer married Christine Rabeholm).
It was difficult to find an example of a nutmeg blazon, but eventually one was found in the flag of Grenada shown here.
At first glance the blazon on the flag does not appear to relate to the computer-generated blazon in the crest. However, that blazon is a silhouette of the blazon on the ring die. Alongside is the silhouetted blazon and the blazon as it might be in plain. This might be regarded as a reasonable representation of a ripe nutmeg and one which is not too far away from the appearance of the blazon on the ring die.
It seems reasonable, taking into account all the above points, to assume that the crest is that of Christian August Flemmer. He probably gave a ring to each of his children. At least two of the rings were in the possession of family members now living, but one was lost and one stolen. There are no reports of the fate of the other rings
Although there is no evidence as to the colours that might have been used in the crest, there is the reference to the white skull and crossed bones of the Abo crest and to the gold and silver of the dates in the Rugby School crest. Incorporating these, the red of the Danish flag and the blue of the ocean, the source of the family wealth might produce a crest like the one alongside.
The first was this photgraph of a die, perhaps used to strike the rings?
The second was this hand drawn picture, provided by Eric Flemmer,
And finally there was this computer generated version.