Why is the porcupine part of the Sidney family crest? Penshurst, Kent

Sidney Coat of Arms - image supplied by the Penshurst Place Estate
Arms of Viscount De L’Isle- image kindly supplied by the Penshurst Place Estate

Visitors to Penshurst Place can’t fail to notice the Sidney family’s connection to the porcupine. After all, the new café carries the name of ‘The Porcupine Pantry’, there’s a large metal sculpture in the garden and this little chap sits outside the private entrance to the Sidney family chapel but the reason behind the connection is more obscure.

Sidney porcupine outside family chapel - ©Rachael Hale (History Magpie) 2014
Sidney porcupine outside family chapel – ©Rachael Hale (History Magpie) 2014


Long before they became the owners of Penshurst Place, the Sidney family were closely connected to royalty and it was the second William Sidney who claimed the porcupine emblem for his family crest.



Having distinguished himself both as a naval Captain and the Commander of the right wing of the British Army at the battle of Flodden, Sir William gained the favourable attention of the King Henry VIII. The elevated status brought by his knighthood in March 1514, gave him the privileges and responsibility of a courtier and when Princess Mary, King Henry VIII’s sister, travelled to marry Louis XII of France, Sir William was sent with the royal party. In the trusted position of ‘jousting ambassador’, Sir William travelled alongside his cousin, Charles Brandon, whose future would shortly be changed forever, and Sir Henry Guildford.

The Sidney Porcupine designed and created by Robert Rattray - The Sidney Porcupine designed and created by Robert Rattray
The Sidney Porcupine designed and created by Robert Rattray – ©Rachael Hale (History Magpie) 2014


Less than three months after the wedding, while the jousting team were still in France, King Louis XII died at the age of fifty two and the widowed Princess Mary married Charles Brandon in secret. King Henry VIII was furious but despite Sir William’s close proximity to the events surrounding the new royal couple, he remained in favour and was later sent back to France to officially announce Princess Mary’s second marriage. It can’t have been an easy task and the Sidney family believe it was following the first eventful trip that Sir William added King Louis XII’s personal emblem – the porcupine – to the family crest.

But why would he have wanted to? The porcupine isn’t exactly a large intimidating beast is it? It’s a vegetarian, tree climbing, nest builder and not, one would assume, a first choice of emblem. Look a little closer into its traits, however, and you discover that, when under attack, this unusual animal reverses into its enemy in an attempt to impale it with its long, detachable quills. So, despite first impressions, the porcupine is actually a  formidable foe which shows courage and tenacity in times of adversity. Now that is something to admire.

I am extremely grateful to Philip Sidney, 2nd Viscount De L’Isle MBE and Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Kent for granting me permission to reproduce his family crest within this post and for clarifying the source of the emblem’s addition.

I would also like to thank Abbie Voice, the estate’s Marketing Executive, and Lord De L’Isle’s personal secretary for their assistance with this blog.

Image of Penshurst Place South view of house (c) Peter Smith Jigsaw
Image of Penshurst Place South view of house (c) Peter Smith Jigsaw

Penshurst Place in Kent has been described as “the grandest and most perfectly preserved example of a fortified manor house in all England” and is well worth a visit.

Young families are well catered for with a variety of events, great children’s playground and lots of space to let off steam. Some parts of the garden are wheelchair and buggy friendly in all weathers and I can personally vouch for the cakes.

For further visitor information please visit their website at www.penshurstplace.com


Published by

Rachael Hale (Homes and History Magpie)

Freelance home interiors and Kent history writer. Frequently found in dusty old buildings and 'Kent Life' magazine. Find me via Twitter - @rachaelhale1 Read my home interiors and history blog - www.historymagpie.com

8 thoughts on “Why is the porcupine part of the Sidney family crest? Penshurst, Kent

    1. Definitely! But once you’ve seen the crest you’re not going to forget who it belongs to – good old fashioned marketing at work perhaps! And no, the porcupine isn’t native but there was one kept, hopefully alive, in the Royal Menagerie which was housed at the Tower of London during Elizabeth 1’s reign.

  1. I never knew that Rachael, clever little thing. What an interesting insight into history, you always find something intriguing and different to tell us about

  2. Maidstone Borough uses a non-standard bearer too, a dinosaur found in Queens Road – an iguanadon.

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