Thursday, July 21, 2016

This Is What Happens ...

This is what happens when an heraldic artist has never seen anything more than a very rough description of an heraldic beast when painting a roll of arms.

Yes, this is pretty clearly supposed to be an "elephant."

No, that's not really what an elephant, even an heraldic one, is supposed to look like. I can only think that he was told that "an elephant is a lot like a horse, only much bigger, with a long dependent nose, two large tusks coming out of its mouth, and huge ears covering the sides of its head."

(Arms from the Ortenburger Wappenbuch (1466-1473) Cod icon 308u, on the website of the Bavarian State Library,,00270.html?prozent=1)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Apparently When the Family Came to America ...

Apparently when the family came to America, they changed their name to "Brown," but retained their love of dogs.

(Arms found in Scheibler'sches Wappenbuch (1450-1693) Cod icon 312c, from the website of the Bavarian State Library,,00430.html?prozent=1)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Heraldic Site to Add to Your "Must Visit" List

I ran across a recent (June 23, 2016) article in L'Italo-Americano that added a new site to be visited the next time we are in Italy. The article, by Simone Sannio, was entitled "The Palace with a Thousand and One Coats of Arms: Exploring the Archiginnasio of Bologna."

The article talks about the history of the Archiginnasio, built in the middle 1500s as the seat of the University of Bologna and currently the seat of a civic library. But the real draw for me, naturally enough, is the reminders of the students and masters who attended the University to be found in the coats of arms decorating the walls and ceilings there.

It's not a place I'd heard of before, but it is definitely on my list of places to visit now.

You can find the article, with more pictures, on-line at

Monday, July 11, 2016

Royal Coat of Arms Renovated in Boston

No, not the Boston in Massachusetts I am familiar with and have visited several times; this is a story from Boston, England.

The former custom house there, built in 1725, is currently home to Little Lions Nursery, which has spent some £1,500 to restore the Royal achievement of arms over the door (above).

The cast iron achievement of arms had suffered over the years, becoming badly faded, and the gold lion supporter having at one point been painted black.

The only issue that I have with the article about this otherwise heartening restoration is that it notes that Mr. Shane Gray, the owner of the business, was told that "the royal arms is itself more than 200 years old," which isn't possible. The Royal Arms of Great Britain did not take this form until the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria in June 1837 (because, as a woman, she was ineligible to use the Hanover quartering used by her predecessor and uncle). The 200th anniversary of that date is not for another 21 years, so this representation of the arms cannot be "more than 200 years old."

I also have an issue with the restoration itself, in that the second quarter (Scotland) appears to have been miscolored, with an argent (rather than the correct gules, or red) field sporting the golden lion rampant, within a double tressure flory counterflory sable or azure rather than gold.

Still, overall it's nice to see the restoration to its original glory of this royal achievement of arms taking place in the city of Boston for which Boston, Massachusetts is named.

You can read the entire article on-line at the website of The Boston Standard at

Thursday, July 7, 2016

New Information About Shakespeare's Arms

I ran across a recent (June 29, 2016) article with a little new information on the arms of William Shakespeare ("ye Player" according to Ralph Brooke, York Herald in the College of Arms at the time) entitled "Shakespeare: Actor. Playwright. Social Climber."

Here in the lower right are the arms of Shakespeare found in the Promptuarium Armorum, now in the possession of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The Promptuarium Armorum was created between 1602 and 1616 by William Smith, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, and was brought to America by one of Smith's successors as Rouge Dragon, William Crowne, in 1657.

The article, by Jennifer Schluessler, introduces us to some recently-discovered documents which shed some light on a side of Shakespeare which is not always covered very well: Shakespeare the social climber. The documents, discovered by Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at The Folger Shakespeare Library, relate to the grant of arms to John Shakespeare in 1596.

It's an interesting article for both Shakespeare enthusiasts and heraldry enthusiasts (and doubly so to those of us who are both), and well worth the read. You can find this article on the website of The New York Times at

Additional articles, mostly based on the New York Times one above, can be found at,, and

Monday, July 4, 2016

Apropos of the Holiday

In honor of the holiday celebrated here in the United States (Independence Day), and with more than a nod to how it is often celebrated nowadays (complete with rocket pops, a frozen treat similar to a Popsicle, but rocket-shaped), is the following take on the national achievement of arms from a recent Wear Viral tee shirt:

And, of course, the real achievement of the arms of the United States, adopted June 20, 1782, as used by the government and various federal agencies today (here, the Department of State):

Party on!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Armes Parlantes: An Opinion and Some Examples

Arms parlantes ("speaking arms"), more generally termed "canting arms" in which the arms are a pun, or cant, on the surname of the bearer, have sometimes been considered a "low" form of heraldry, a type of "cheap shot" unworthy of true heralds.

[Sir Thomas] Wriothesley [Garter King of Arms 1505-1534] and [Sir Christopher] Barker [garter King of Arms 1536-1550] abstained in a great measure from this practice [of granting canting arms] in the concessions of arms which were made by them; but so congenial was it with the taste of king James and the fashions which he patronised, that many bearings of this description were assumed during his frivolous reign, some of which have been subsequently confirmed to their families by the college of heralds. Some respect may be due to the few instances of high antiquity, but they should be generally considered as of easy and vulgar application, and very widely deviating from the chast[e]ness and simplicity of pure heraldry.
James Dallaway, Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of the Science of Heraldry in England, 1793, p. 275

"Easy and vulgar"? Wow, now that's a put down.  I'm not certain why Mr. Dallaway held this low opinion of armes parlantes, because they seem to me to have been pretty popular in all nations with heraldry for a very, very long time, and they are not always as easy to identify as he apparently seems to think. I'm remembering the arms of Arundel, which contain martlets, a type of swallow. You might not think that these are canting arms, until it is pointed out that the French term for swallow is hirondelle, a clear pun on the surname.

And, of course, one of my own personal favorites from here in the United States is the arms of the family of John Hancock, who wrote his name so large upon the Declaration of Independence in 1776. (The story is that he signed it so largely and clearly so that King George III could read it without his spectacles.) Mr. Hancock is buried in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts, and his monument there clearly displays his canting arms of a hand and three cocks.

Anyway, all that is leading up to a couple of great canting arms that I found in an old Italian armorial (one of the ones I've been going through recently looking for arms which contain camels; such arms are rare, but I've found more of them than I had expected to) that I felt like I just had to share.

The first is pretty easy to figure out (a Turk for Turcha). The other falls into place when you learn that the Italian volpe means "fox."

Cool, huh? Or do you, too, feel that such armes parlantes are "of easy and vulgar application, and very widely deviating from the chast[e]ness and simplicity of pure heraldry"? (Personally, I don't know much about chasteness in heraldry, especially considering some of those maiden's heads and melusines, but I can think of few things of greater simplicity than a single fox on a plain field. But what do I know?)

By the way, if you are interested in looking at some of these armorials for yourself, they can be found on the website of the Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum Digitale Bibliothek. There is a link to this site in the "Some Good On-Line Armorials and Ordinaries" in the left-hand column of this blog.