The crest:

The swan bearing a Tudor rose (the swan and the rose are both symbols of Aphrodite) represents constancy in love, the theme of Shakespeare's poem, 'The Phoenix and the Turtle', which he dedicated to the 'true, noble knight, Sir John Salusbury' (d 1612), brother of my ancestor, Thomas Salusbury (x 1586). Heraldically the swan also represents Lohengrin, the Swan Knight of the Grail Romances, son of Parzival, the Grail King. In more general terms the swan is also a symbol of innocence and purity which, in Christian symbology, is associated with the Cup of the Eucharist.

'Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed, in cinders lie.

Death is now the phoenix' nest
And the turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.'

In personal terms, the swan refers to my great-great-grandmother, Jane Elizabeth Senior (1828-1877), one of the great humanitarian women of the 19th century. She was almost certainly the inspiration for Dorothea, the heroine of George Eliot's 'Middlemarch', in which Eliot wrote of Dorothea: 'Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily amongst the ducklings in the brown pond.' The Tudor rose refers to Jane Senior's ancestor, Sir Roland de Velville (d 1536), Constable of Beaumaris Castle, a natural son of Henry VII (according to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography), founder of the Tudor dynasty and therefore refers to the Tudor blood royal.

With regard to the rose see here also.

A swan crest from the Armorial de Gelre (arms of the Count of Blois).

'The Six Swans' is also a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

The charges on the shield:

Senior:

Note that this is simply my idea of what the charges might have been intended to represent based on my knowledge of the family.

  • The lion's heads represent the Lions of Judah, an ancient Jewish symbol (the word 'Jew' is derived from 'Judah');
  • The ermine represents the Senior family's noble Sephardic ancestry;
  • The dolphin, heraldically king of sea creatures ('chief of fish'), represents the freedom of the seas. Throughout history the sea has been a means of escape for the Jews, who have repeatedly been forced by persecution to seek out new homelands; it has often been their only lifeline and, through trade, the source of their livelihoods. The dolphin is particularly apt given that Don Abraham Senior appears to have been one of the backers of Christopher Columbus' voyage of discovery to America in 1492 (in this way contributing to the birth a new nation) and that the Senior family settled widely in the New World. A biographer of Columbus, John Boyd Thatcher, has written that 'the triumph of Columbus was the triumph of the Converso Luis de Santangel, visionary and champion of the perennial lost cause of history, the cause of the Jews.' Other writers (notably Salvador de Madariaga and Simon Wiesenthal) have speculated that the longings of the Conversos who supported Columbus may have run parallel to the dreams of the discoverer himself, namely, an obsessive dream to find a refuge for the Jews in the lands that he hoped to find across the Atlantic. The dolphins shown are taken directly from the original grant of arms to Ascanius William Senior of 1767. The earliest literary reference to the fish as Christian symbol was made by Clement of Alexandria, who advised Christians to use a dove or fish as their seal. Tertullian wrote (in 'De Baptismo') 'But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound.' The dolphin was also used as a Christian symbol, most often as a symbol of the Christian himself rather than Christ, though the dolphin was also used as a representation of Christ, most often in combination with the anchor symbol ('Christ on the Cross').
  • Milne:

  • The cross is a Christian symbol, apparently first adopted as a heraldic device by Constantine the Great, after his vision in 312 AD of a fiery cross accompanied by the message 'In hoc signo vinces' ('By this sign ye shall conquer'). The cross moline represents the millrind, 'the iron which supports the upper millstone of a corn-mill' (OED) and is 'a fit bearing for judges and magistrates, who should carry themselves equally to every man in giving justice' (Nisbet quoting Boswell) and is 'a mark of [feudal] superiority and jurisdiction of a baron, that has tenants and vassals thirled to their mills, for of old none but barons had right to erect mills and by some it is carried as relative to their names, as Milne or Miller' (Nisbet quoting Menestrier). The cross moline or (yellow cross) also represents the yellow badge that Jews have been forced to wear in many periods in many countries, which was variously a circle, band, star or cross;
  • The fleur-de-lys (lily or iris) is a symbol of kingship that goes back far into antiquity to the origins of civilization and is found as such in the archeology of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Assyria and other ancient cultures. It has been the heraldic symbol of the Royal House of France from the dawn of history and is an allusion to my grandfather's (Oliver Nassau Senior) descent from Philippa Plantagenet, Countess of Ulster and of March (daughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence (1338-1368), second son of Edward III), from whom the House of York derived their claim to the throne. Edward III inherited a claim to the throne of France through his mother, Isabella, daughter of Philip IV, King of France, and therefore quartered the royal arms of France with those of England. The fleur-de-lys is an ancient Jewish symbol of the House of David. The lily is also a symbol of simplicity and purity as, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount - 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'
  • Seal of Pedaiah, son of the first Exilarch. The symbol at the top appears to be a lily (fleur-de-lys).

    The Rose and the Lily (Song of Solomon 2)

    'I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
    As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
    As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
    He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
    Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
    His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
    I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
    The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
    My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
    My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
    For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
    The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
    The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
    O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
    Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
    My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
    Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.'

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