The double-headed eagle, national symbol of Albania[i], has an ancient ancestry. Its earliest known manifestation is amongst artefacts dating back to Ancient Babylon, 2000-3000 years BC[ii].
Recently, I was walking along London’s Fleet Street when I happened to notice a building with a double-headed eagle above its main entrance. This building houses the private bank C Hoare and Co. The bank, founded in 1672, has had premises on this site since 1690, when its founder Richard Hoare moved his business there from “The Sign of The Golden Bottle” on Cheapside[iii]. The golden bottle is the bank’s emblem; the double-headed eagle is that of the Hoare family.
[i] And many other places!
[ii] See for example The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient by H Frankfort, (4th ed.) publ. by Penguin Books, Harmondsworth: 1970.
[iii] Historical information about the bank comes from Hoares Bank – A Brief History, published by the bank as a four page handout. I was given a copy of this by the doorman, who shared my interest in the double-headed eagle.
The founder of the Hoare (or Hore) family was Robertus who, in about 1330, married an heiress of the family of Fforde of Chagford in the county of Devon[i]. Earler than that, there was a Sir William le Hore, who besieged and captured the Irish town of Wexford in 1169. His standard[ii] bore a double-headed eagle[iii]. One of his descendants, went over to Devonshire in England to seek his fortune and married the heiress of Fforde. He settled at Chagford and founded the Devon family which was at first known as ‘Hore’ and later as ‘Hoar’ or ‘Hoare’. Other branchs of the family settled in the South east quarter of Devonshire. This family has its armorial insignia described in the record of the earliest visitation of Devonshire as ‘Sable an eagle displayed with two necks within a bordure engrailed argent’. The London bank, whose premises are in Fleet Street, was founded by member(s) of this Hoare family.
I wonder why the curious heraldic device of the double-headed eagle was adopted by this family. From what I have already written, it is evident that the family was employing it in the 12th century, certainly by 1169. This was before 1256 when Richard, Earl of Cornwall, was elected to become King of the Holy Roman Empire, one of whose most well-known emblems is the double-headed eagle. So, it is unlikely that the family picked up the double-headed eagle from that source.
The eagle with two heads was certainly used by the Byzantine Empire and also the Seljuk Turks. It has been claimed by some that people returning from the Crusades, which began in the late 11th century, may have brought this symbol to Western Europe. However, there is evidence that it reached this part of the world even earlier. Emile Male wrote that there is a cloth dating back to the 9th or 10th century AD at Sens in France[iv]. Although he believed it to have been of Byzantine origin, I suggest that the presence of it and other similarly decorated textiles in Western Europe may have helped to have brought the double-headed eagle to the attention of those living in France, many parts of which were under control of the Normans who were also ruling England.
[i] The history of the Hoare family, which I have consulted, is that written by Edward Hoare. It appears in http://neergaard.org/CGTGenealogy/Family%20Histories/Family%20Histories-%20Crests/History%20of%20Hoare%20Family.html, which I accessed on the 19th May, 2015.
[ii] i.e. flag or crest.
[iii] See also: A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by J & JB Burke, publ. by Edward Churton, London: 1842.
[iv] See: L’art Religieux du XIIe Siecle, by E Male, publ. by Librairie Armand Colin, Paris: 1922.
When I told the porter of the Hoare Bank in Fleet Street about my interest in double-headed eagles, he told me that he had often wondered about the curious eagle above the door where he stands all day. His view was that the Hoare family chose to use the double-headed eagle sometime after the bank was founded simply because nobody else was using this heraldic symbol[i]. As I hope that I have demonstrated, the use of this symbol by the Hoare family goes back much further than the founding of the bank. Lastly, I must point out that I have a tenuous connection with Hoare’s bank. Some years ago, my wife used to work for an offshoot of this venerable bank.
[i] The double-headed eagle is usel rarely in British heraldry. Most of the families that use it come from the West Country, which includes Devon and Cornwall.
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