An Obscure Trophy

A hand-painted copy of this coat-of-arms has been in my family’s possession for over 150 years.  It was passed from great-grandparents on my mother’s side to their son, my mother’s grandfather.  On the back is a handwritten short version of the reason for the awarding of the crest, dated October 6, 1540.  I saw the framed copy as a child, at an age when my reading preference was tales of knights and chivalry.  I dreamed of being someone of noble birth.

Edmund Moody of Bury St. Edmunds, county Suffolk, England, born around 1495, is the earliest person of the name from whom a descent has been proved in this particular family. All that is known of him is that he was a footman in the retinue of King Henry VIII (of England).  He saved Henry from drowning, and was rewarded with land, a pension and a coat-of-arms which bestows rank as a gentleman knight, a “Sir”.

Several variations of what happened exist in written sources such as this early one by an Edward Halle (or Hall):

“In this yere the kyng folowyng of his hauke, lept over a diche beside Hychyn, with a polle and the polle brake, so that if one Edmond Mody, a foteman, had not lept into the water, and lift up his hed, whiche was fast in the clay, he had bene drouned: but God of his goodnes preserved him.”

— or this, from 1682 by John Gibbon (on microfilm at Harvard University):

“Henry the Eighth, following his Hawk, leapt over a ditch with a pole, which broke; so that, if Edmund Moody (a Foot-man) had not leapt into the Water, and lift up the King’s Head, which stuck in the Clay, he had been drown‘d (This Foot-man was rewarded both with Means and Arms, speaking his Service done to his Prince). And the King lived to perform afterwards a Deed of grand Concern.”

I learned most of this information from a retired Radiologist named David L. Moody, who had gotten himself validated as a descendant through the Royal College of Arms, and posted the information on his genealogy-based web site.  He wrote me a nice email.

However, let us examine the incident in the broader context of Henry’s life, and the events occurring in England at the time.  Henry was 48, seven years away from his death.  He was obese and suffered from gout and (probably) some STDs because he slept around a fair amount.  He had been married to his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, for only a couple of months.  He really wasn’t in the kind of physical shape to be pole-vaulting over ditches chasing after hunting hawks, but Henry was impetuous.  He was like a 16th Century Kennedy male, undertaking physical risks others would prudently avoid.  Additionally, if you are a fat man who goes a-vaulting, you had best anticipate the likelihood that your “polle” may “brake”.  That Henry ended up head-first in the mud is comedy of the silent movie variety.  It’s even possible that Edmund Moody was paid for his silence, to not reveal too much about the King’s embarrassing mishap.

If Edmund Moody had not saved the life of Henry VIII, Mary I would have become Queen at age 8. She was devoutly Catholic and England would probably have remained Catholic as long as she reigned, presumably until 1558. Neither the Succession to the Crown Act of 1543, nor the dissolution of the monasteries would have occurred.  I consider that a mixed blessing.  Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, was a beneficial ruler.  On the other hand, the dissolution of the monasteries resulted in an irreparable loss of manuscripts of literary and educational value (they were burned) and the murder of many innocent people under a tyrannical and unjust law.

Edmund Moody had two great grandsons who emigrated to New England.  John Moody, born ca 1593 in England, arrived in 1633 at the Massachusetts Bay Colony and died in 1655 at Hartford, Connecticut.  John’s descendants settled in Hadley, Massachusetts.  William Moody, born 16 Jan 1611 in England, arrived 10 April 1634 on the ship “Mary and John” at Ipswich, Massachusetts, and died 23 Oct 1673 at Newbury, Massachusetts.  William’s descendants lived in Maine.

A copy of this coat-of-arms was passed by Robert Manning and Alice Taylor to their son John in the 1870s.  John Manning was my mother’s grandfather.  None of us living now know why we have a coat-of-arms dated 1540, yet no one by the name Moody as a relative.  Deaths, bad blood, divorce, secrets and catastrophes of many kinds can obscure knowledge of a family’s distant generations.  It may even be for the best.

People seek legitimacy and status in various ways.  For some, a coat-of-arms is a symbol of honor, a proof that your clan is deserving of respect.  I don’t want to be regarded as a descendant of knights any more.  Nor do I value unearned status from having American, Welsh, Irish, Scottish or Lakota heritage.  As far as I know, all those are accidents of birth.  It wasn’t me that fished the royal fat man out of the mud.  That guy was in the right place, did the right thing at the right time and retired.  I’m here to do the right thing here and now, day after day, if given the chance.  That’s all the honor I seek.


Filed under Ethics and Morality, Self-Esteem, symbolism

39 responses to “An Obscure Trophy

  1. Beautifully done, Sir Mike. And I laughed out loud, something that doesn’t happen often. I was similarly transfixed by two coats of arms, painted in that same “torn-cape” fashion, that hung in my home growing up, though these purport to be the actual coats of arms for my father’s maternal and paternal lineages (“hmmm”). Over time, I have come to value all that “noblesse” not a farthing, though I spent a good deal of time as a teenager chasing down past evidence that I was a prince. My wife and I adopted our daughter, and suddenly all of that blood-dependent self-regard just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. We become a family not of entitlement or pedigree but of grace. I underwrite your last paragraph in toto and couldn’t have said it better.

  2. I dub thee Sir Matt, of the Order of Ethical Human Animals.

  3. gude kynge Mikel, let a humble lyfe lived wel and true in servis of hys fellowes bee thys knechts holie graille.

  4. Nay, but your servant, sir. Sit and eat your fill of my humble fare.

  5. Magne

    I found this when I googled “clan moody henry VIII”. It seems, good sir, that you and I are related. Greetings from Northern Norway. 🙂

  6. Pennicsu

    I am researching Moody genealogy and came across your site. It appears we may be related as I am a descendant of Edmund. I must say, it has been entertaining tracing my roots. I enjoyed “An Obscure Trophy” and I also found myself chuckling. Hello from Arizona!

    • Hi there! I’m happy you were entertained. It’s amazing how people seek status for these deeds they have no connection to, isn’t it? We would happily put you up on our couch, should you drop by. Family’s always welcome!

  7. Rex Mitchell

    I recieved a call yesterday from Theodore Moody. He told me of the story of how the family crest came to be. My dads mother was a moody. Ted is her nephew. He is now in his 80s. He lives in the Phoenix area. He has spent his life compiling geneology.

  8. Andrea Cotton

    I also came across your site while researching my family tree. My great, great, grandmother was Esther Moody, descendant of Edmund Moody (or Moodye). I understand that someone has compiled a fairly comprehensive history of the Moody Family. Can one of you send me any info on whom I can contact? I do have the linkage between Esther and Edmund but would still like to see what other information is out there. Thank you.

    • I would think the Royal College of Arms is the authority in posession of the least-disputed facts. Aside from the retired gentleman named in the article, I never contacted anyone else. Thanks for reading, though.

    • Scott Moody this will take you to exhaustive accurate information by David L. Moody, MD

  9. B Moody

    I just traced my line back to Edmund today after months of research… I didn’t plan on landing on him, but by golly my blood is that which saved a nation :-).

  10. This made me lol. I, like some of the others that posted here, am a distant relation of yours. My ancestor that came to the US being Frances Moody that married Thomas KILBOURN. Unlike you, I didn’t grow up knowing anything about this story or the Coat of Arms. I do have family in Norway, but was surprised to see a Moody family connection there. 🙂

    • I’m glad you were amused, Anna. I think it’s funny in general how people try to align themselves to bask in the reflected glory of famous or important people from a past so distant there’s no meaningful connection. It’s wiser to assume we all come from long lines of ordinary heroes, people whose decisions to work in regular professions and raise families made our existence possible.

      The postscript to this post was that ever since two weeks after it was written I’ve been the senior Medical Imaging Technologist at a wonderful Urgent Care clinic. Thanks for reading!

      • Congratulations on your (now on-going) job! 🙂 I agree, with being a pro genealogist I’ve made literally hundreds of connections to Royalty and famous and infamous people I’m either descended from or related to and really when it comes down to it, it’s the thousands of nameless surfs and peasants and later in time, as you say ordinary heroes, like all the teachers, merchants, coopers and farmers, etc…that are my ancestors that I find more intriguing now personally.

  11. Vicky

    Hello, I have been researching Edmund Moodye, not for glory, or for fame, but for family information. I stumbled on your site, and found it amusing. Thank you, for the information and a laugh. Vicky

  12. Gloria Christie

    I am a direct descendant of Edmound Moody, too. My grandfather ws Lloyd Waldo Moody and lived in Ottawa KS when he died.

  13. Margaret Nagle

    Edmund Moodye is my 14th great grand father. I am a descendent of William Moody that came to the U.S. He was my 10th great grandfather. Mary Moody my 6th great grandmother married Joseph Emerson. His mother was Rebecca Waldo. My mom just died and I found lots of antiques and papers that go back to this time. I appreciate your posting. The mystery is why did Robert Manning and Alice Taylor have this coat of arms. Who did they know in the Moody family? Was Robert the child of a Moody and not a Manning? Did he live in a town with Moodys?

    • I believe they have it because Moody was a familial ancestor (in some unknown way) of a woman named Elizabeth Medlycott, who was a lady in waiting to Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I. We have a sixpence engraved with her name from the time, a birthday gift given to her by the queen. Elizabeth Medlycott was on my Mother’s side. In successive generations they passed down both the crest and the sixpence to a member of the family with Medlycott as a surname or middle name. Robert Manning’s son’s middle name is Medlycott.

      Either that or someone bought the crest at a garage sale. It’s about 50 years too late to ask. Thanks for reading though, and Merry Christmas!

  14. Lindsey Lee

    This is a very interesting article! My Mother is a Moody and her family is all from Wells, Maine. Our family has been in America since the very beginning after coming over from England. My Grandfather told me that one of our ancestors rescued Henry VIII from the water as described above. Today I found this article and another one that confirms my Grandfather’s story is true. My Grandfather does so much research and would love to see this artifact you have. Thanks for writing this great article. I printed it today and mailed it to my Grandfather.

    • I don’t have the artifact, but I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and hope Grandfather will as well. Since writing it several years ago I’ve had two great jobs, and I’ll be retiring next Feb.

  15. Jonathan Lee Moody

    I traced my linage back to Sir Edmund yesterday. I am a direct decedent through his son Richard. Research I did told me his father’s name was William Moodye son of Richard Moodye, Richard was the son of a different William who in turn was the son of Sir George Moodye (1380-1430). What, if anything can we find out about Sir George Moodye?

    • I wouldn’t know, Jonathan. Perhaps you could contact the College of Arms (aka College of Heralds) in London. They are the official keepers of registry for all properly granted coats, including family trees and details about the individuals.

    • Scott Moody

      Where did you get your information? If you go to the most exhaustive and accurate history of Sir Edmund Moody you won’t find what you report this will take you to exhaustive accurate information by David L. Moody, MD

  16. I find that too many people try and back in the glory earned from someone in their (sometimes extremely distant past), or want to display themselves as relatives of the famous (or infamous) … but to what end? to impress people? I don’t understand this.

    My father, who could only be described as cynical of every new fad, fashion, and trend, and suspicious of any sales pitch, shocked me by saying he had written to a company that seeks out your family crest. He produced a paper with a crest and an explanation of what all of the symbols and emblems meant.

    With great enthusiasm he explained that we were from a long line of (a very specific trade in the Middle Ages), hard workers and a valuable part of the community. My first thought was: why would a trades-person have a coat of arms? They were busy with hard graft an earning their next meal , surely only the gentrified classes had things like coats of arms?

    He loved that idea (and still does) that the meaning of the Coat of Arms tells a story, one of hard work, He didn’t want to be told he was related to a King, he felt that if it had come back that we were related to Royalty, that they would have been a lie, but because it came back as this then it must be genuine.

    When I heard the cost of obtaining this coat of arms the penny dropped. I suspect that there is as much truth in the Crest they gave him as there is in me telling everyone that I’ve just found a copy of the Magna Carta in my handbag. (sigh) How he fell for the marketing I have no idea. I have remained silent.

    Somehow this company strikes a nerve, people want to know where they come from, where they fit in the fine thread of history, their spot now and who came before them.
    Maybe people are searching for their place in the genealogical line so that they are in some minuscule way immortalized, and not forgotten long after the puff of history extinguishes their little flame.

    The last lines in your post really moved me, so powerful, so true. Thank you for a beautiful post….

    • I think two of the forces that work in your father’s situation are important motives common to most. Everyone seeks validation, and stories are powerfully attractive.

      While I suspect you are correct there aren’t traditional historical family crests for tradespeople, I like the idea. Heraldry does have organized rules and sets of symbols, so there’s no reason you couldn’t use them to make a crest for a hod carrier (mason’s assistant), or an elevator operator or a primary school teacher. Why not?

      In my case, the post was a story about gaining a bit of wisdom and perspective. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. It’s been several years since I wrote it, and I’ve had all kinds of great work in that time – the year in dementia care, x-rays and medical assisting at the urgent care, and raising five wonderful dogs for others.

      Next spring I’ll retire and be able to set my own schedule. I do want to make more visual art for fun. I could design a crest for retirees, with symbols of travel and leisure activities!

  17. LOL, Crest for retirees…. featuring rocket powered Zimmer frame, super high bungy jump, highest level karate Granny, marathon running Granddad? You could have real fun with that theme!
    Enjoy expanding your creative side once you retire, it’s restful, beautiful and you can learn so much about history and how things evolve into modern life as we experience it today. 🙂

  18. Kathy Jo Bryant

    This is my husband’s direct ancestor. His great grandmother was Julia Charlotte Moody married to Franklin Giem.

    • That’s nice, and I thank you for reading, but I think perhaps I should clarify the point I intended to make in writing the article.

      At these kind of distances in time, it wouldn’t really matter if your husband’s ancestors were highway robbers unknown by name. All his best and worst qualities would still be intact.

      Since this was written I had a fulfilling final career as an imaging tech. I retired to care for my wife and raise service dogs. And I still have no concrete evidence of whether this man was my ancestor, or whether one of my various great-grandparents during the Victorian era picked up the document as a bargain in an antique shop. The writing on the back could be from a different time than the coat, and it could have been forged.

      However, you and I and every other human are still part of the same family, most importantly related by our best intentions toward all life and other beings. Distant ancestry is nothing to either be proud of, nor ashamed about, even if it is a subject of our curiosity.

      The things we do in life, in service to each other, benefit the continuance and gradual improvement of the species. Even if we leave no children behind, we will have interacted with and slightly altered the destinies of others, just as you and I are doing now by exchanging a message.

      With that absurdly long-winded preface, I’m happy to meet you. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  19. Susan Behrens

    Hi there. My uncle Joe Murphy did extensive research on the genealogy of our family and connected us to this person. Feel free to contact me. I have started putting our information on ancestry. Com. With my uncles links. I agree with you about your perspective. In regards to the coat of arms. Except for the fact I would love to have this coat of arms as a gift to my adopted out sister that I found later in life. Please let me know if you feel the generosity of passing to his descendents a piece of their genealogy past that she was not aware of and would like to know. I am 55 she is 52. She is a teacher, I help senior citizens. We have a respect and perspective of the history and reality of the events that make sense. It would be lovely if we could keep it in the family line with the understanding of humility and joy of history. Susan ( Murphy, Keyes) Behrens. (address redacted) thank you for your time

    • If you contact the College of Arms (, for a reasonable fee they will officially trace and verify for you any connection between your uncle and the “Moodye” who was granted the coat of arms. The copy of the crest I grew up around has now migrated to the possession of a cousin whose address I don’t know, but I think the College of Arms (the keepers of the history of all royally granted titles and crests) can sell you a copy.

      Of course if there wasn’t really a blood relationship, the Heralds at the College will establish that too. Speaking solely for myself, I have no need to know if the man was my distant relative or not. A good story is its own validation, so to speak. I am who I am because of what I’ve done myself, and because of my experiences with my own known relatives, friends and enemies.

      (For your protection from unwanted spammers, I edited out the email address from your comment.) Thanks for reading, and best of luck.

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