The Paston griffin
Bold, brave and clever: the perfect symbol for the Paston family.
Did you know the griffin is female?
The Paston family chose the fierce and fabulous griffin as their heraldic symbol. In heraldry, the griffin's hybrid shape of an eagle (its head, neck, wings and talons) conjoined to the legs and back body of a lion, denotes strength, military courage and leadership. This is because the lion is the King of the beasts while the eagle is King of the birds. Selecting a symbol of your family's character for your coat of arms is not about being humble, rather it is about making a mission statement. Along with the eagle's pointed ears which signifies astute and alert listening, the griffin is the perfect symbol of the Pastons' courageous spirit and pursuit of power.
The griffin is a medieval imagining of the ancient symbolic mythical creature of Assyria and the East. It may be classed with the 'wonder beasts' of the dragon, wyvern, phœnix, sphynx, and other imaginary beings. A writer in the classical period called Aelian, born 170 A.D., described the griffin in colourful language:
'the griffin is a quadruped like the lion and has extremely powerful claws like those of a lion. According to common report it has wings, and the feathers along its back are black, those on its front are red, while the actual wings themselves are white. Ctesias records that its neck is variegated with dark blue feathers and that it has the head and beak of an eagle ... its eyes are fiery.' (On Animals, 4.27.)
When beasts of antiquity were brought back to prominence in the Middle Ages their symbolic significance were adjusted or enhanced to fit the ideals of Christianity. By the time the Pastons adopt the griffin, it had become a popular Christian symbol of strength in intelligence (wisdom) as well as body.
The griffin was reported to be fiercely protective of its young, and some reports suggest the griffins guarded gold as well. That the Paston family, with its redoubtable clan of matriarchs and female warriors, have this female mythical beast as its badge of identity is highly appropriate.
Find out more about the griffin
and Paston heraldry
Adults - fascinated by mythical secrets and symbols? Discover more about heraldry of the Pastons, including an interactive digital reconstruction of Sir William's tomb, on our heritage lovers site.
Turn the pages of the digitized NRO Rye 38 ' Paston Book of Arms', which contains a series of coats of arms of friends, relatives and associates of the Paston family
How do you imagine the griffin?
Use left scroll arrow to browse through some examples below of how people have brought the griffin to life. Hover over the image to see credit of 'artist'. Inspired to imagine the griffin in your own way? Share your photo, performance, poem, art, doodle, creative writing, knitting or any other kind of creative work and find yourself featured on our creative gallery.