The Boynton-de Aton Quarrel over a Coat of Arms

They both wanted the same coat of arms: the Boyntons and the de Atons. They must have been arguing about it for some time. It could have started as early as 1320, and it did not get resolved until Lord Percy served as arbiter in 1375. A. S. Ellis, in an 1893 publication, tells how it got resolved -- Lord Percy. But he does not have a good explanation of how the controversy arose.

The Visitation of Yorkshire in the Years 1563 and 1564 provides an answer. William Boynton married the daughter of William de Atton in 1320. She was the heir of her father; hence the land and coat of arms became Boynton. At least that seems a plausible argument for Robert Boynton to have advanced. There are two potential problems with this explanation. One, the visitation was 200 years after the original argument; that is a long time to keep the story straight. Two, we do not know how William was related to Robert. The Boynton family held land in Acklam beginning in 1230; 100 years earlier. But we cannot trace a line between this William and this Robert that would make it plausible for Robert to argue that he, specifically, should have the coat of arms.

The evidence we have is given below. First, there is the pedigree and footnote that tell how the coat of arms got into Boynton hands. That is followed by the paper by A. S. Ellis who gives a detailed account of the controversy.

The Visitation of Yorkshire in the Years 1563 and 1564

1. Henry Acclam eldest son, married and had issue. and x daughter of Sir Richard Coniers of Sockborne, Knyght.

  1. Anne Acclam (2) married and had issue one daughter married to William Boynton, 1320 and William de Atton Lord of Ravensall Castle, Stranton in the Bishipricke. In whose right he was Lord of Acclam, Skaylinge, and Colde Engleby. Arms.--Or, on a plain cross Sable five bulls' heads caboosed Argent.

2. Anne Acclam

  1. daughter x married to William Boynton 1320.*

* "An Office found by William Boynton, Esq., 4 Edward III., 1330, for the Mannors of Acclam, Skailing, Coulde Ingleby, which he had in right of his wife, daughter of William Atton. The Mannors of Acclam and Skailing are holden of the Mannor of Yarum, of Peter Bruse, Knight, yeilding and paying for all manner of services 13s. 4d. yearly. the Lordship of Colde Ingleby is holden of the Earle of Northumberland, of his Manner of Kildale, by the 16 parte of a Knight's Fee."

Norcliffe, Charles Best, ed. (1881) The Visitation of Yorkshire in the Years 1563 and 1564, Made by William flower, Esquire, The Harleian Society, Volume 16, pp. 368-369.

On the Arms of De Aton
By A. S. Ellis

The arms called de Aton's are the second of the six quarterings on the shield on the fine Hall Chimney Piece which, about the time of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Thomas Boynton erected in his house at Barmston. This Chimney Piece was afterwards removed to Burton-Agnes, the seat of Sir Henry Boynton, Bart., recently visited by the Association under the guidance of Mr. Bilson. Considerable interest is attached to this coat as it was the subject of a controversy in the last days of the age of chivalry, the latter part of the long reign of king Edward III, a period signalized by other disputes of a similar nature, the most celebrated of which was that between Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Richard Grosvenor as to who had the better right to Azure a bend or. It appears that Sir William de Aton 'Le pere' and Sir Robert de Boynton had a long-standing quarrel about the right to use these arms: Or, on a cross sable, 5 "bulls' heads caboshed" argent, not, be it noted, bucks' heads as on the chimney piece.

As the historian of Hemingbrough (p. 359) wrote, "These things appear trifles now, but in those days they converted friendly houses into the most bitter foes." Unfortunately all we know about this dispute is what we can gather from the document given below, copied verbatim et literatim from Harl. MS. 1178, fol. 44, a miscellaneous heraldic collection in the handwriting of Mr. Sampson Lennard, Blewmantle, in the reign of James I. It appears that de Aton challenged de Boynton in the presence of Lord Percy, and they seem to have agreed to abide by his award. Lord Percy after due consideration decided in favor of de Aton, but we know not on what grounds. This was all, it seems, de Aton wanted, as he thereupon by this deed dated at Seamer, 5 April, 1375, granted the bearings in dispute to de Boynton and his heirs for ever.

[the untranslated text is printed here.]

The only known seal of Sir William de Aton has, certainly, no sign of the bull's heads on the cross. A good impression is attached to one of the charters from Burton-Constable given on a previous page and here repeated.

The question arises whose arms were they? On succeeding as sole heir, to the de Vescis in 1316 Sir Gilbert de Aton, Sir William's father -- had doubtless taken the plain cross sable of that great family, previously he had been the heir and representative of Warin de Vesci of Knapton, a younger son of that house. It may have been this Warin who added the 5 bulls' heads to the cross as a difference. We unfortunately do not know Sir Robert Boynton's reasons for laying claim to this relinquished coat. The various Boynton pedigrees in the earlier generations are unreliable although there remains an unusual amount of evidence for a good one in this case,4 but the match of a William de Boynton with the "d. et h. of William de Aton by Anne d. et h. of Henry de Acclom" has probably some foundation. The alliance however which brought the lands in Cleveland was in the earlier part of Henry III's reign, viz., Ingram de Bovington with Joan elder d. et co-h. of Roger de Acclom; of that there is contemporary proof. As to Sir Robert de Boynton of Boynton himself, he was son and heir of Roger de Bovington or Boynton and aet. 20 on his father's death in 1352. He died on Thursday after the feast of S. Katharine (2 Dec.) 1378, leaving John his s. et h. aet. 22.5 John had an only child Elizabeth married to Thomas Newport, esq. (ob. 15 Nov. 1423 M. I. Boynton.6) and they had issue. Sir Robert's contemporary Sir Thomas Boynton of Acclom, who must have been a near relative, was a deponent for Scrope, 1386, being aet. 40, as was also Sir William de Aton himself, aet. 90, and his wife's nephew the umpire in his own dispute, Lord Percy then Earl of Northumberland. De Aton's deposition on account of his great age was taken at Aton in Sept. 1386. Sir Thomas in a roll of arms is said to have then borne the fess between three crescents. Unless the Newports died out it does not appear clear why Sir Thomas' descendant at Barmston considered himself entitled to use the cross and bulls' heads as well. In Flower's Visitation of Yorkshire, 1563-4,8 Sir Thomas is only accredited with Boynton quarterly with Gules, a cross patonce or for de Aton I suppose. The Cliffords, however, quartered this coat for de Aton.

A. S. Ellis (1893), On the Arms of De Aton, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, pp. 263-266.

4. Compare the Boynton pedigrees in Poulson's Holderness, vol. i. p. 196, and Harrison's Gilling West, p. 15. Besides proof of the four early generation in the Meaux Chron. there are the two Inqs. p. m. Margt. widow of Sir Thomas Boynton (11 Hen. 4, no. 27, and 3 Hen. 6, no. 40), which give the following unusual amount of genealogical information, that her husband was son of Thomas, son of William, son of Ingelram, son of William by Alice d. of Ingelram Monceaux, and the heir Thomas, son of Sir Hen. son of Margaret's husband, aet 12. Then there is a Prob. aetatis 27 E. 3, proving that Robert, son and heir of Roger de Bovington, was born and baptized at Bovington on Palm Sunday, 6 Edw. 3 (12 April, 1332).

5. Inq. p.m. 2 Ric. 2, No. 4.

6. Plumpton Corr. ed. by Tho. Stapleton, F.S.A. for Camden Soc. p. 228, quoting Dodsworth MS. Vol. CLX.

8. Edited by Rev. C. B. Norcliffe, M.A. for Harleian Soc., p. 33.


41. Boynton.


1 and 4. Gold on a cross sable five bulls' heads cabossed silver,  Boynton
2 and 3. Gules a leaping goat silver with horns gold.

See Poulson's Holderness, I. 196; Wotton's Baronetage, I. 301; Bethan's Baronetage, I. 155, app. 3.

This very interesting shield is not in the printed rolls except Glover's Ordinary (Papworth, 657), nor is it to be found in the Visitations. It is the shield granted to Sir Robert Boynton by William de Aton, on April 5, 1375, after a dispute as to their respective rights to it, and after lord Percy, to whom the quarrel was referred, had decided in favour of Aton come chief des armes entiers et droit heriter dicelles. It is probably a differenced shield of Vesci whom Sir Gilbert de Aton succeeded as heir in 1316. Why Boynton claimed it is not clear (Yorksh. Arch. Jour. XII, 265; Ancestor, 9, p. 216). The Boynton arms were gold a fess between three crescents gules; so borne by the main line at Barmston and blasoned in Willement's roll of Richard II. See also 41 Sutr. Soc. publ. 42. I am unable to trace the alliance which brought in the quartering, it does not appear in the Visitations. Papworth (61) gives the coat for Bensteed and Bardwell and with different colours it is a Boughton shield (see note 37).

R. Blair (1907) Archaeologia Aeliana Society of Antiquaries of  Newcastle Upon Tyne, p. 256.

[The coat of arms combines the five heads of bulls from the Aton coat of arms with the goats that are found on the shield of the Boyntons in Burton Agnes.]