Coat of Arms

Heraldry began formally in England as a means of identifying men whose features were hidden in armor, and of identifying their supporters on the field of battle. The oldest coats of arms are the simplest, and often took their designs from the cross braces and struts required to build a shield. Individuals bore the arms of the fiefdom, manor or family with whom they were allied.

The coat of arms on the right was the original coat of arms granted to the family of Cliburn, of the City of Cliburn in the County of Westmorland, in c. 1584-1585.[Ewbank Extracts from “Northern Notes and Queries devoted to the Antiquities of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and Durham” edited by Henry Reginald Leighton 1906-7 published by ME Dodds of Newcastle. [2007 online edition University of California]] This is the family from which our ancestor Joshua Clyburn descended.

The arms were argent, three chevronels interlaced in base and a chief sable. The crest features a demi wolf proper, rampant and regardant. (Click here for descriptions and definitions of these heraldry terms.)

According to the ancient English rules of heraldry, only one person could use the arms at a time, usually the father as the head of the family. Other members of the family would have to use slightly modified versions until the father died, at which point the original arms would be inherited. Typically the modifications would involve a slight color change or the addition of a new “charge” or field.

Over time, due to these modifications, a new “charge” of an “engrailed cross” was added to the Cliburn shield and eventually became the more commonly used version. The word engrailed is distantly related to grill, implying protection. The feature of the engrailed cross for Christians is its spikes, which represent the thorns piercing Jesus’ head during His crucifixion. The engrailed crosses in the newer version were drawn by Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld, one of the original researchers of Claybourn family history.

Notably, William Claiborne – the Secretary of Virginia born circa 1600 – used the Cliburn coat of arms on his official documents, and the Cliburn heraldic emblem is on numerous Claiborne family gravestones, especially in Virginia. Descendants of this William include fashion designer Liz Claiborne and William C.C. Claiborne, first governor of Louisiana, as well as a number of political figures from Tennessee and Virginia.

Given the similarities in name and coat of arms, it was long suspected that the Claybourn family was related to this William. But in the 1940s, a Virginia genealogical researcher dispelled Claiborne’s Westmorland lineage after determining that Claiborne was the son of Thomas Clebourne, a Kent, England, native who once served as mayor, alderman and justice of the peace in King’s Lynn, a Norfolk, England, village. More recent DNA studies have confirmed that William is not related to the Claybourns and did not descend from the Cliburn family of Westmorland. Thus, William’s use of the coat of arms is a mystery.


Mottos are supposed to have originated in the war cries of the ancients and were said to have been painted on the shields of the warriors. The Claybourn family motto in Saxon is “Lofe clibbor na sceame” or “Ne lof clibbor ne(na) sceame”, which means “Neither Praise Nor Shame Adheres.” The motto in Latin is “Confide recti agens”, which means “Have the confidence to do what is right.”

Because the original motto is written in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) instead of Latin, we can surmise that it was probably devised at a time when Old English could still be widely understood, perhaps as early as the 1300s. That the family motto dates back to the dawn of the English language may be an indicator of the rich and ancient roots of the family itself.

In 1903 Oswald Barron, FSA, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, wrote in an English publication, The Ancestor: A Quarterly Review of County and Family History, Heraldry and Antiquities, that the Anglo-Saxon language was still understood by the average person as late as the end of the 1300s.[Barron O. The Ancestor: A Quarterly Review of County and Family History, Heraldry and Antiquities. 1903. 7:244-245.] To make his point he stated the following:

“To this the motto of the Cliburn (Clibborn) family seems to bear witness. This could not possibly belong to an earlier time, for only late in the days of Edward III [who ruled from 1327 to 1377] did that family assume the name of Cliburn. The motto, interesting I think as a rare example of a medieval English motto, was “Ne lof clibbor ne(na) sceame (neither praise clings nor disgrace/shame), and was handed down with various loppings till in the seventeenth century it came to the unmeaning ‘Clibbor ne sceame.’…The dialect of the deed as might be conjectured from the position of Cumberland – a borderland inhabited by mixed races – shows disintegration of the inflectional endings and of other grammar, as does the motto quoted above (with ‘sceame’ for ‘sceamu’); and one traces in it, in the matrix of the Anglo-Saxon: Gaelic, Cymric and Norse.” ~Oswald Barron, FSA

Puns in mottos alluding to the owner’s name are fairly common. The translation for each word is as follows:

  • Ne = adverb “Not, non, neither”
  • Lof = noun “Praise, glory, a song of praise, hymn”
  • Clibbor = adjective “Sticky, adhesive” (clifian to cleave, adhere)
  • Na = adverb “No, not, non, nor”
  • Sceamu = noun “The emotion caused by consciousness of unworthiness or of disgrace. In a good sense: modesty, bashfulness; in a bad sense: shame, confusion.”

Piecing them together into the motto, the entire meaning can then be translated as: “Neither Praise Nor Shame Adheres.”


Simply put, the crest is the decoration above a knight’s helmet, and later also came to define the decoration above the coat of arms. These crests took on decorative importance in tournaments and often became extremely large and elaborate. Crests were originally the means by which commanders were distinguished from the others, and were meant to stand high above their heads.

In 1917, John Herbert Claiborne wrote: “In a field, to the rear of Cliburn Hall, stand two old oaks, gnarled, twisted, and decaying. Admiral Cleborne told the writer they were the sole remaining giants of the ancient Forest of Englewood. They are of interest, since they suggest the story told by the Admiral touching a tradition about the Cleburne crest. He said, in very ancient times, when the Forest of Englewood was thick and flourishing, one of the Lords of the Manor, returning home late one evening, was caught in a thunderstorm in the forest, a thunderbolt struck a tree, and a limb of it, in falling, was on the point of knocking him from his horse, but, at that moment, a wolf ran out of the brush and, frightening the horse, caused him to shy, so that the limb fell short, and the horseman was unhurt. From this incident the Wolf is said to have been taken as the family crest, and it has so remained to this day…Another tradition claims the Wolf was derived from ‘Hugh Lupus,’ Lord Paramount of Cleburne and other lands, but the incident related furnishes the more interesting explanation.”[Claiborne, John Herbert. William Claiborne of Virginia With Some Account of His Pedigree. G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press 1917] [Note on Hugh Lupus: The ancient Barony of Westmorland was granted by William the Conqueror to Ranulph de Meschines, who married the sister of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester. Their son Ranulph granted his estates in Westmorland to his sister, whose descendant Sir Hugh de Morville was involved in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Sir Hugh forfeited his estates, which went to his nephew, Robert de Veteripont or Vipont. Ivo de Veteripont, son of William de Veteripont and Maud de Morville – sister of Sir Hugh de Morville – gave the manor of Maud’s Meaburn to John le Franceys, baron exchequer.]

References and Notes