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The History of the Stafford Knot

What do you know about the Stafford Knot?The Stafford Knot (not the Staffordshire Knot!). It’s the symbol for the county of Staffordshire, it appears everywhere but where did the Stafford Knot come from and what are its origins?

It appears everywhere from road signs and army berets to local pottery and football club crests. The origin of the three-looped knot has long been shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Some people say it is a bloody means of multiple executions while others insist it represents the joining of three geographical areas.

Death by Stafford Knot
One of the most popular stories of the knot originated following the sentencing of three criminals to death by hanging in Stafford. However, when the executioner arrived to commit the grisly task, he came across a problem. He only had one piece of rope. He could not hang just one of the criminals. It would be unfair to the other two to give precedence to only one of the condemned. He therefore tied his rope into three loops and dispatched of all three criminals at the same time. A variation of this story was that one of the criminals invented the knot, and this ultimately saved him from execution.

‘The Knot Unites’
Another story of the knot stems from its motto: “The Knot Unites”. The knot was said to symbolically bind three different local areas which joined to form what is now known as Staffordshire. A more detailed account tells of Ethelfleda, eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, who, more than a thousand years ago, defended a stronghold at Stafford. She symbolically took off her girdle and said to the local lords: “With this girdle, I bind us all as one”, and the three areas became Staffordshire. The anniversary of this event was celebrated in 1913, a thousand years after it was said to have happened.

Double ‘S’ theory
Another theory on the origin of the knot is that it forms the shape of a double ‘S’ which represents “Staffordshire”. You can see it everywhere in Staffordshire. In fact, the Stafford Knot has been the proud insignia of many coats of arms, police helmets and army regiments in the Staffordshire region for many years. Some believe its first appearance to be on the heraldic shield of the Stafford family in 1583. Others believe its first appearance was on the family seal of Joan Stafford, Lady of Wake, who died childless in 1443, and which can be seen in the British Museum. As well as being the symbol of Staffordshire, the Stafford Knot has evolved into a dance. The dancers move in formation to the shape of the knot.

Village News September 2012