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As discussed with the Arnot crest, the crescent is one of the older heraldic symbols, very popular among knightly circles, sometimes as a reference to crusading culture. This is perhaps unsurprising given the knightly origins of the family, and the dashing exploits of Sir Alan de Cathcart during the Wars of Independence. The motto ‘I hope to speed’ is interesting in using the Scots word ‘speid’, meaning to meet with success or prosper. This makes the Cathcart crest similar again to Arnot, whose motto is ‘hoped for and fulfilled’, so the moon may also have been associated with notions of hoping and striving. In this case the crest is literally reaching for the moon, perhaps akin to the modern notion of reach to the stars.
The arms of the chief, the Earl of Cathcart, showing more crescents on the chiefly shield, this time combined with the cross, symbolising a hope in Providence.
The crest is recorded in Nisbett’s 1722 System of Heraldry, along with the shield with further crescents and crosses. He notes “It is said that, of old, they carried only crescents, and that after one of the family had been in the wars in the Holy Land, added the cross croslets.” The crescent of the crest will be taking its lead from the shield.
The earliest instance of the Cathcart shield comes in 1350, from a carving in Paisley Abbey. However, two earlier crests are recorded. The seal of Alan Lord Cathcart in 1450 featured the crest of a bust of a frontal-facing woman. In 1580 the crest was a pelican in her piety (like that of Stewart) by which time the ‘I hope to speid’ motto had been adopted. A 1599 armorial has a further crest of parrot perched on a round ball and the motto ‘Humilitate’. Yet another version, possibly dating to the reign of James V, had a hand holding a garland (R.R. Stoddart, Scottish Arms being a Collection of Armorial Bearings 1370-1678, pp.46, 284, 403). It seems the Lords Cathcart had a rather relaxed attitude to their crest, and that it became more firmly set by the time of Nisbet.
MKP 5 November 2020