Our history : Why is Middleton Hall & Gardens’ logo an owl?

Whenever you visit Middleton you will see icons of owls, owls and possibly even more owls! They also normally have a crown. Your first guess may be that we are owl crazy … crazy possibly but no. Second guess is that as a site of special scientific interest we must have lots of owls … but no not particularly. Third guess is that it could be a nod to our famous ornithologist Francis Willughby FRS … but that is wrong again. The correct answer is actually heraldry and we need to go all the way back to the 15th century for crowned owl to make its first appearance.

In heraldry, the male lineage carries their coat of arms to the next heir. However, if the wife was an heiress, the last of her lineage, her pedigree was carried forward on the shield of her heir. In this situation, the heir receives the combined coat of arms of both parents. For every heiress more coats of arms are added. This process is known as dividing the field by halving and then quartering. The pedigree of Middleton ownership, due to some very good marriages by the de Freville family, has been used as a textbook example of quartering.

Willughby coat of arms – sketch by Debbie Jordan

It all begins in the 13th century with Philip de Marmion who married the heiress Joan de Kilpeck. Next came Alexander de Freville who married Philip de Marmion’s granddaughter, Joan de Cromwell, who was Philip’s heiress. She brought to the shield both the de Marmion and Kilpeck arms. Their son was Baldwin I de Freville, who brought to his shield the arms of de Freville, de Marmion and Kilpeck. He married Elizabeth de Montfort, who was the heiress of the de Montfort family. She was also, from previous generations, the heiress of the de la Planche and Haversham families. Thus, their son Baldwin II de Freville brought to his side of the shield the arms of de Freville, de Marmion, Kilpeck, de Montfort, de la Planche and Haversham. He is the only one in this lineage not to add anything extra to the coat of arms as he married Ida de Clinton who was not an heiress. Their son was Baldwin III de Freville (yes there were a lot of Baldwin’s) who carried through the same coats of arms as his father. However, unlike his father, he married the heiress Joyce de Botetourt. She was the heiress of the de Botetourt family as well as the heiress from previous generations of the Dudley (de Somery) and de la Zouche families. Their daughter and heiress was Margaret de Freville, who carried the de Freville, de Marmion, Kilpeck, de Montfort, de la Planche, Haversham, Botetourt, Dudley and de la Zouche coats of arms. When this was added to the shield of her husband, Sir Hugh Willoughby, this created a full coat of arms.

West Wing Fountain Head 1892

Margaret and Hugh’s son, Robert, was the first to receive this full coat of arms. It contains from top left to right the arms of: Willoughby; de Freville; de Marmion; Kilpeck; de Montfort; de la Planche; Haversham; Botetourt; Dudley; and de la Zouche. To it he added a motto, mantle, helm and crest. The crest was a crowned owl. This is the first known use of the crowned owl in the history of Middleton. It also was seen to represent Middleton specifically. Not only was it the culmination of the lineage of owners of Middleton Hall but also at this time Middleton Hall was the primary residence.

The design of the owl has been a little bit changeable. Sometimes the crown is on the top of the head whilst at other times it is around the neck. Sometimes the crown has a chain, sometimes it does not. We do not really know what the correct image is, only that it is an owl with a crown.

The owl became a lesser feature in the 16th century after Bridget Willoughby, the heiress of Middleton, married her cousin Percival Willoughby and the coat of arms and motto were changed. However, the crowned owl made a resurgence in the 18th century. During the Georgian renovation of Middleton, Thomas Willoughby 1st Lord Middleton returned to the traditional Nottinghamshire Willoughby coat of arms with the crowned owl. We know that the Willoughby family also had wooden carvings of the crowned owl in their Halls. Thomas even had it added as a feature on the guttering at Middleton Hall! You can still see it on the rainheads of the Great Hall and West Wing, just look up when you next visit!

Debbie Jordan, Middleton Hall Trust Volunteer & Historian