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The Great Seal of Somerset County

By John T. Marck

Somerset County was created by an Order in Council in 1666 and was named after Lady Mary Somerset, sister-in-law of Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore. Originally it included the present areas of Wicomico and Worcester counties.

Located on the southern tip of the Eastern Shore, Somerset is bounded on three sides by water. It has an area of three hundred thirty-two square land miles and forty- six square water miles. The topography is generally flat, rising to only fifty feet above sea level in small areas. Smith Islands, South Marsh and Deal are all part of Somerset County. South Marsh and Smith Islands are separated from the mainland by Tangier Sound, and these areas provide some of the best fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Great Seal of Somerset County was first used on documents in 1666 until 1707. After the year 1707, the seal was not used for two hundred fifty-one years. Through the efforts of the Board of Somerset County and members of the Olde Princess Anne Days Committee, the seal was again put into use in 1958. At this time it was only permissible to use the seal in black and white. Following this, the Board of County Commissioners requested the original colors of the seal, and through a legislative act, today the seal, including its original colors, is in use.

The Seal is described as an oval band with the words, "County Somerset." Within the oval a shield bearing a very slightly modified version of the Stuart royal arms. Above the shield the Royal "Semper Eadem," is written, which translated means, "always the same." Below this is written 1666, the year the County was founded. Several of the early County seals, including the present one, are based on the Stuart royal arms. The alterations in the Somerset County Seal are a reversal of the position of the fleur-de-lys (the royal arms has two above and one below), an absence of the flower design on the inside of the border around the rampant lion, and a simpler drawing of the harp. Also, the Garter encircling the royal arms has been reduced to a simple band.

A technical heraldry definition of terms and the establishment of colors used in the Somerset County Seal are:

England: In 1198 his arms (Richard I) were Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or. This coat is referred to as England.

France Modern: England was borne alone until 1340, when Edward III, adopting the new practice of quartering, took the arms of France, Azure, seme-de-lis, (Azure and or means, "Blue and Gold"), termed France Ancient, and bore Quarterly France Ancient and England. These arms expressed his claim to the French throne. These continued as the Royal Arms until about 1405. Subsequent to this, Henry IV, following the example of the French King, reduced the number of fleurs-de-lis to three, that is France Modern. The Royal Arms then became Quarterly France Modern and England.

Scotland: The Royal Arms of Scotland are Or, a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter-flory gules.

Ireland: The arms of Ireland are Azure, a harp or, stringed argent.

The Oval Band: The Garter has encircled the royal shield since the reign of Edward III. A colored illustration of the Order of the Garter and of the Royal Arms show the Garter to be blue, bordered with gold. It seemed logical, then, for the oval band on the Somerset County Seal to be colored in this way.


Copyright 1990-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying seals, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Maryland County Seals and Baltimore City Seal and their respective origin histories from: Maryland The Seventh State A History, John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. All Seals courtesy of the respective county, Office of the County Executive and/or the Department of Tourism. Reprinted with permission.


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