The agonies of how to design a new family coat of arms is one no doubt familiar to every aspirational family. So it can come as no surprise that faced with such a challenge the astute former air stewardess Carole Middleton - mother of the Duchess of Cambridge - sought the advice of those valued by other great British families - even those that don't actually exist.
Downton Abbey has been revealed as the unlikely source of inspiration as the socially mobile Mrs Middleton set out to design her family crest in the run up to the 2011 royal wedding. The family even went to Highclere Castle, the set for ITV's award winning period drama, to meet etiquette expert historian Alastair Bruce who advises the show on social protocol. They were so delighted by the royal equerry's knowledge they asked him for help with the design of their own crest which was later used to adorn the programme at the Royal Wedding in April 2011.
Mr Bruce, 53, is an expert on protocol and advises the actors and production team on the set of the show to make sure every aspect of every scene is historically accurate. Affectionately nicknamed the Oracle he has been known to stop filming because he spotted that the 'wrong' shoebrush was being used to shine some boots and is often found pacing the length of the Downton dining room adjusting cutlery and pleading with actors to keep their hands off the table. A source told The Sun: 'Alastair is also a Queen's Herald, so he has a lot of experience.'But I'm sure people will be amused to know the Middletons looked to Downton Abbey for help in coming up with the coat of arms.'
Although as a royal bride Kate would have been entitled to apply for a heraldic design in her own right, it was decided that her parents would commission one. This gives his entire family – including their other children, Pippa, 30, and James, 26, the right to use the emblem. They met with Mr Bruce and his colleague Thomas Woodcock the College of Arms Garter Principle King of Arms and Senior Herald to invent their crest.Together they settled on a simple design, with three leafy acorns representing each of the couple’s three children – an idea suggested by Kate herself. Acorns were chosen for the analogy that they grow into great oaks. Oak is also a symbol of England and strength, and West Berkshire, where the children were brought up, has many oak trees. Most eye-catching is the gold chevron in the centre of the design representing Kate’s mother, Carole, at the heart of her family with the colour a subtle reference to her maiden name, Goldsmith. The two thin white chevronels on either side allude to mountains and the family’s love of skiing and outdoor pursuits. The background colours of red and blue were chosen as they are the principle colours from the flag of the United Kingdom and match Prince William’s recently revised coat of arms.
The College of Arms also likes to include a pun wherever possible and has made the two colours meet squarely in the centre as a play on the words ‘middle tone’. But while Kate's brother James will be able to pass down the coat of arms to his children Pippa, as a woman, will not and can only use it during her lifetime. Yesterday a spokesman for Downton Abbey confirmed: 'Alastair worked with the Garter Principal King of Arms on developing the Middleton crest.'