The Mystery of the Maunch Maltale

Today, I received an inquiry by email that sent me down an interesting research rabbit hole, and (with the permission of my correspondent) I thought I would share that question and my answer here:


The arms of my Achym family of Pelynt in Cornwall, England, are recorded several slightly different ways:

  • Arg., a maunch within a bordure Sa. charged with eight cinquefoils of the field.
  • Arg., a maunch within a bordure Sa. charged with nine cinquefoils of the field.
  • Arg. a maunch maltayle S. within a border of the first charged with cinquefoils of the second (Harl. MS. 1956).

The arms as tricked on an ancient monument in the Pelynt church (ca. 1560) displays nine cinquefoils and the maunch that is shown in Maunch (2) of your online book. Both the maunch and the cinquefoils are displayed in gules.

I have searched to no avail to learn what “maltayle” means. Perhaps it is the rendering of the maunch shown as maunch (2).

Any advice or wisdom will be appreciated.

Ron Hill in Star, Idaho

Hello, and thank you for your interesting question!

Spelling in the medieval and renaissance periods is notoriously uneven, which can make it hard to search for terms like this — the same term shows up as maltayle, maltaile, and maltale — but I think I managed to figure this one out:

“Maltayle” means “poorly tailored,” as in a piece of clothing which might be decorative but would not fit well.

Charles Elvin’s book Dictionary of Heraldry (1889) defines “a maunch maltale” as “a maunch, as borne by Hastings… called by Legh, a Maunch Maltale, i.e., ill-shaped, or cut.” []

The “Legh” he mentions here is a book by Gerard Legh (sometimes spelled Leigh), The Accedence of Armorie (1562), who uses the term “manche maltale” to describe a very stylized maunch, which no longer resembles a detachable sleeve, but has mutated into an abstract symbol. []

Elvin’s book includes pictures of a “realistic” maunch and some abstract or “maltale” maunches (#31-35). []

My interpretation of all of this is that your family’s arms have long contained a maunch, which at various times and places has been drawn differently, according to the style of the artist, and that when people many years later put together armorials listing old bearings, some of them described the maunch as “maltale / maltayle” to indicate that the version they were looking at was a heavily-stylized abstract depiction rather than a realistic image of a sleeve, while others did not.

I hope this answers your question!

— Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin

3 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Maunch Maltale”

  1. Hi, I was also trying to understand this, “maunch “ symbol on the tip of a sword for the name Clendenin or Glendinning. I found that it meant , popular with the ladies or loves his wife? Just curious. The maunch or sleeve surely doesn’t look like a sleeve on the crest! Lol thanks, TL

    1. Charges in armory rarely have only one simple meaning. In a world with low literacy rates but steeped in mythology and symbolism, a particular image could have multiple meanings, even contradictory ones, and need not have the same associations in different times or places.

      That said, “popular with the ladies” doesn’t sound like a traditional chivalric boast — faithful (to his wife) certainly seems more medieval.

      Arms and crests often had very specific meanings or connotations in their original setting, which are no longer obvious unless someone bothered to write them down or made a point of repeating the story.

      For example, perhaps William Douglas or Archibald Glendinning (key figures in early clan history) rode into a particularly crucial battle with their wife’s sleeve tied to their sword for good luck, or won some tournament in which the prize was the sleeve of a certain princess, or something like that.

      Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to turn up any such origin stories in the course of a brief round of research, so it’s possible that it’s been lost in the mists of time — or it may be out there, waiting for you to stumble over it. Good luck!

  2. The earliest use of the ‘maunch’ that I have found in Normandy was that used by the famous family of Tosny. Members of this famiy were hereditary standard bearers (Gonfaloniers) of Normandy.
    If you read up the old tales about Lancelot, the famous knight of the Round Table (supposedly), you will find that he is supposed to have ridden off to a tournamend without his usual armour since he wanted to remain anonymous. The lady of the house where he had been staying gave him her ‘token’ which he attached to his anonymous white shield – it was a red sleeve! We are left to wonder what the symbolism of this act was!
    You might be interested to know that one of the ‘devices’ on the arms of the present Lord Lyon of Scotland is a ‘maunch’.

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