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.