Two years ago I received a packet from the College of Arms on research I requested on the family crests of Sewells. Here is what came out of that research, and I share it with all of the other Sewells here on the group (Henry Sewell here is the one held as the progenitor of the "Virginia" Sewells as opposed to what I refer to as "Coventry" Sewells, to keep things sorted out for my own records) :
Sewell Family Coat Of Arms
Description of Arms: Sable, a chevron between three gadbees volant Argent.
On 15 May 2000, Stephen L. Sewell of Aberdeen, Maryland, visited Mr. Patric L. Dickinson, Richmond Herald of the Royal College of Arms, London, and requested he investigate the history of the Sewell arms as passed down to the descendents of Henry Sewell of Elizabeth City, Virginia. Mr. Dickinson did so, for the normal fees asked by the College of Arms for such a search (150 pounds) and provided a written report on 31 August 2000.
According to the report filed by Mr. Dickinson, the traditionally held Sewell crest, arms and motto were never patented with the College of Arms and thus are not controlled by the strict rules of descent and right to bear arms to which that patent provides protection. There were six Sewell coats of arms patented, only one of which may have been by a Sewell related to Henry. While the non-patented arms are held to be ascribed to the Sewells of the Isle of Wight, presently there are no Sewells living on the Isle of Wight so that would seem to have been an ancient line of the family.
This leaves us with a total of eight coats of arms known to be associated with Sewells:
1. Sable, a chevron between three gadbees volant Argent. These are the arms associated with our Henry. According to the Dictionary of British Arms - Medieval Ordinary Volume Two (Society of Antiquaries, London, 1996) it is probably the one listed as registered by a Henry Sewelle in 1405 and again in 1415, albeit with "butterflies". However, all bees have four wings showing as noted under the section on "Chevron between 3 bees".
2. Sable, a chevron Or between three gadbees volant Argent. According to an 1889 pedigree held by the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, VA, these are the arms associated with the Sewells of Coventry and New England. They date from around1540 or earlier. At least one version of these arms includes the leopard affronte crest, and another a bee or.
3. Argent on a bend Gules three martlets of the first. These arms were patented in June 1667 by Robert Sewell, London, gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and youngest son of John Sewell, Great Henny, Essex. Shortly afterwards this gentleman changed his name, but Sewells were still noted as being in Great Henny as late as 1717.
4. Ermine on a bend engrailed betweeen two lions rampant Gules three martlets argent. These arms were patented by John Goulding Sewell, Scopwick, Lincolnshire, in May 1843.
5. Gules a pale Argent surmounted by a chevron invected counter-changed between in chief two escutcheons of the second and in base one of the first each charged with a bee volant proper. These arms were patented by Thomas Davies Sewell of Grosvenor Road, Parish of St. John, Westminster, London, in October 1867.
6. Gules a chevron Argent between two bees volant in chief proper and a chaplet of roses in base Argent. These arms were patented by Frederic Robertson Sewell of Brandingill, Brigham, Cumberland., in July 1899.
7.Per chevron Sable and Vair three bees volant Or. These arms were patented by Percy Ambrose Sewell Hickey, Parish of St. James, Westminster, London, in August 1912.
8. Azure, a chevron engrailed Argent in chief two bees volant proper. These arms were patented by Horace Somerville Sewell, Tysoe Manor, Warwickshire, in January 1940.
The 2002 cost of patenting a coat of arms, with crest and motto, is 2,895 pounds or around $4,430 at a rate of around $1.53 to the pound.
One of the reasons these arms were never patented had to do with the timing of the filing by Henry Sewelle. Arms were originally listed under the "visitations of the Heralds,"who would log and register the arms used by the nobility and the landed and wealthy classes. Unfortunately in 1415 -- the second time we see the arms of Henry Sewelle appear -- a dictum was sent out by Henry V that only the "arms which were borne at Agincourt" would be registered by the heralds, unless the bearer could show a long and valid right to those arms. Apparently this Henry could not, as the arms were not patented by the Heralds of the day.
Another problem which has existed for years is the difference between "butterflies and bees", as John Bigelow Sewell termed it. The main problem seems to be a lack of good artistry and not a difference in the insects themselves. The "gadbees" -- in reality, horseflies, for that is the ancient term for them -- have four wings, and to show one volant one has to show the wings. Doing so, a poor artist would exaggerate the wings, having it appear to be a butterfly.
Description of Crest: A arm complete clad in plate, holding an acorn.
The crest was used as a device to surmount a banner or helmet and used to identify the owner on a battlefield. Normally, in non-martial arms, the crest replicates the arms to some degree. Two crests are notation of two surnames, so at least the Sewell crest bespeaks of but one through its history. Since it is only an arm and not a crown or helmet, the Sewells of old were not seen as major knights or minor nobility, albeit it could signify a man-at-arms or minor knight.
There are two other known crests using these arms. One uses a "leopard's head affrontee" and the one used by the Coventry/New England Sewells features a "bee volant" for the crest as well as on the arms. The one used by the "Virginia" Sewells is also accredited by Burke to the Sewells of the Isle of Wight.
Description of Motto: "Frangas Non Flectes" (Break, Not Bend)
Mottoes were originally used in combat as rallying cries, and this motto would seem to have been one of the better ones for that purpose. However, this motto is not given in the original or anywhere in the heraldry reported back by Mr. Dickinson. It is used by at least ten other families as their motto: Cassidy, Collins, Gower, Jones, Kimber, Lloyd, Rippon, Stanley, Whimper and Whymper. Also, "Frangi non flecti" is the motto of the Owen family. It is probable that it was "lifted" from one of these families which the Sewells of old married into, supported or fought for in wartime.