Monday, March 30, 2009

American “Royal” Arms

Or at least the arms of the man once called "The King of Hollywood", Clark Gable.
Born William Clark Gable on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio, to William H. and Adeline (Hershelman) Gable. Died November 16, 1960 at age 59 in Los Angeles, California, shortly after finishing filming of The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe. Some have blamed his physically demanding role in that film, along with the numerous retakes required by Monroe’s flubs, for his death. On the other hand, he had been on a crash diet before filming began, and was down to 195 pounds (88kg) from 230 pounds (104.3kg). That, coupled with thirty years of a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit (not counting cigars and at least two pipes a day) and, until the late 1950s, heavy whiskey drinking, probably contributed as much or more to his death. He married five times (was divorced three), and it is generally acknowledged that his happiest marriage (until her death in a plane crash in 1942) was to Carole Lombard (shown above in the photo with Gable).
The "King of Hollywood" apparently used a coat of arms, if his bookplates are any evidence. The two shown here, one with his last wife Kathleen ("Kay") Williams Spreckles and the other with just his name, appear to be the arms assigned in Burke’s General Armory to: "Gabell (Winchester). Or, ten billets sa. [sable] four, three, two, and one. Crest–A boar’s head couped or."* (For those of you not that familiar with blazon, the specialized language of heraldry, it's a shield with a gold/yellow background, on which are ten black upright rectangles. The boar's head is also gold/yellow.)

Did he inherit these arms? I have found no evidence that he did, and suspect that he might very well have gotten them from one of the many (even then) "bucket-shop" heralds who pulled the arms of Gabell out of Burke and drew them up for Mr. Gable. (The lack of any motto on the motto ribbon beneath the shield also leads me to suspect bucket-shop heraldry.)

Still and all, bucket-shop or no, it’s nice to see people attempting to actually use heraldry in some way, and especially something as classic as on a bookplate.

* As noted in the post below about Ernst Stavro Blofeld, boar’s heads are couped differently in England than they are in Scotland. The crest on the Gable bookplates is couped in "Scottish fashion."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blofeld. Ernst Stavro Blofeld

As a follow-up to our last post about the relationship of fictional spy James Bond and heraldry, today we note the use of arms by his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of the oddly-named group SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, both the book and the movie, what makes it possible for our erstwhile hero, "Bond. James Bond", Agent 007, to pose as an emissary from the English College of Arms is the fact that his arch-enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas in the movie), has written to the College seeking to have his rights to the title and arms of the Comte de Bleuville. The coat of arms of de Bleuville (which does not appear in Rietstap’s Armorial Général, by the way, though the coat does appear in Papworth's Ordinary as Blonveill) are blazoned as Argent four fusils in fesse gules, and the motto, translated into English, is "For Hearth and Home."

But you will, of course, notice that the arms of the Comte used in the movie (shown just above and also in the inset of the picture of Blofeld) are far more complex, with the fusils placed on a chief, while the field is azure with a patriarchal cross fitched argent surmounted in base by a boar’s head couped close proper.* The motto, Arae et foci, is roughly translated "hearth and home", where the "hearth" would actually be (in Roman times) the family home’s altar.

You gotta love it, though. Good guys, bad guys, it doesn’t matter. Heraldry is everywhere!

* Boar’s heads are couped differently in England than they are in Scotland. The boar’s head here is couped in "Scottish fashion."

The boar’s head couped in English fashion
Includes the neck–a generous ration;
In Scotland when this charge appears
It’s cut off close behind the ears;
But with the herald’s wonted tact
I draw no moral from this fact.
(Motley Heraldry, by The Fool of Arms)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Non sufficit orbis

I should really learn to stop doing "that." In this case, "that" is reading the daily birthdays in the newspaper. Last Thursday, Ursula Andress, Honeychile Rider in the movie Dr. No, with that iconic scene of her walking up out of the ocean in that bikini, turned 73. Well, crap! There goes another adolescent fantasy, with the added "attraction" of making me feel a heckuva lot older, too.

But that particular news item, coupled with the release on DVD on Tuesday of the most recent 007 movie, Quantum of Solace, got me thinking about "Bond. James Bond." And his literary connection to heraldry via a coat of arms, complete with motto (the title of today’s blog entry, which was translated from Latin into English and became the title of the 1999 James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough).

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond goes undercover as Sir Hilary Bray, a friend to and emissary of Sable Basilisk Pursuivant of the College of Arms in London. But before his meeting the Sable Basilisk at the College of Arms on Queen Victoria Street, he gets cornered by the Officer in Waiting, Griffon Or Pursuivant, who seems more than a bit nonplussed when Bond claims no interest in a possible relation to Sir Thomas Bond, Baronet, of Peckham, Surrey, who was Comptroller of the household of the then-Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, and for whom Bond Street in London is named.

"The coat of arms, for instance. Surely that must concern you, be at least of profound interest to your family, to your own children? Yes, here we are. ‘Argent on a chevron sable three bezants.’ ... A bezant is a golden ball, as I am sure you know. Three balls. ... And this charming motto of the line, ‘The World is not Enough.’ You do not wish to have the right to it?" "It is an excellent motto which I shall certainly adopt," said Bond curtly.
The arms can, in fact, be found in Burke’s General Armory:

Bond (Sir George Bond, Lord Mayor of London, 1587, second son of William Bond, of West Buckland, co. Somerset, who was descended from Bond, of Cornwall: from Sir George descended Sir Thomas Bond, created a bart. by Charles II.) Same Arms [as Bond of Earth and Saltash, co. Cornwall, Argent on a chevron sable three bezants], a crescent gules for difference. Crest–On a mount vert a lion sejant argent.

The motto can be found in Burke under Bond, Isle of Purbeck, co. Dorset. Non sufficit orbis.

So think about all this the next time you catch a James Bond movie.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More Good Movie Heraldry

A second movie that I’d like to point out as having done the heraldry very well (however little the rest of the movie may have had to do with the late Middle Ages!) is A Knight’s Tale. Sure, the armor was wrong, the soundtrack was modern rock music, the Nike "swoosh" as an armorer’s mark was totally 20th Century, and any relationship to actual history was FUBAR, but the heraldry ... well, I’m pretty sure that someone reviewed at least one medieval roll of arms in designing the coats of arms and heraldic shields for this movie.

When I first saw this movie in the theater, as the procession of knights and shield-bearers was marching by in front of the camera, I thought to myself, "Wait a minute! I think I recognize that elephant." I haven’t found enough good stills from the film to double-check the way I’d like to, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of the shields that appear in the film, both borne by some of the knights and decorating the viewer’s gallery at the joust, came from the Zürich Wappenrolle. For example, that elephant that I thought I recognized? Check out the arms of Helfenstein at to see what I thought of when I saw one of the shields in the movie. Was it the arms of Helfenstein that appeared in the movie? I don’t know for certain. I’ve not been able to find a still from the film that shows it. But I’m pretty sure .... And certainly a lot of the other shields that I have been able to find stills of are equally good heraldry.

As a consequence, A Knight’s Tale is high on my (short) list of movies with good heraldry in them, despite it’s entirely non-medieval "feel" and multitude of anachronisms.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to You!

"Patrick’s Day?" said Mr. Dooley. "Patrick’s Day? It seems to me I’ve heard th’ name befure. Oh, ye mane th’ day th’ low Irish that hasn’t anny votes cillybrates th’ birth iv their naytional saint, who was a Fr-rinchman."

So spake my own personal guru, Mr. Dooley, a creation of journalist Peter Finley Dunne, some 100-plus years ago.

But it being St. Patrick’s Day today made me remember what might be called the last and the least of the three main British orders of chivalry, the Order of St. Patrick. (The other two being, of course, the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle.) The Order of St. Patrick was founded in 1783 by George III. But the regular creation of knights of the Order ceased with the formation of the Irish Free State as an independent republic in 1922, and no knight at all has been created since 1936. The last surviving knight of the Order of St. Patrick, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974. In theory, however, the Order still exists, with the Queen as Sovereign of the Order, and Ulster King of Arms (now combined with Norroy King of Arms) as the officer of the Order.

Pictures of the regalia of the Order of St. Patrick, featuring the cross of St. Patrick (Argent a saltire gules), can be found on-line at

And, of course, the stalls of the knights of the Order remain in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in Gaelic, Árd Eagláis Naomh Pádraig) in Dublin, with the stall plates with their arms affixed to their places, surmounted by their helms and crests, with the banners of their arms above. (Banners of the knights of the Order are also to be found on display in one of the halls at Dublin Castle.) So while the Order of St. Patrick itself may rightly be considered a thing of the past, its heraldry remains to be seen, and hopefully enjoyed, by visitors today. And hopefully also by you, on this St. Patrick’s Day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Good Movie Heraldry

Okay, I’ve ragged enough about movies with bad heraldry in them for the nonce. Now it’s time to discuss one or two movies that I think did right by their heraldry.

The first is a movie that not only reintroduced Shakespeare to a whole new generation, but propelled its director/leading actor onto the international movie scene as one of the foremost cinematic interpreters of Shakespeare’s works. I refer, of course, to Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

This is a movie that really did the heraldry right! (For the most part.) From Henry V’s heraldic jupon through the arms worn by Henry’s younger brothers (you can actually tell who is who just from their differenced arms. For example, the one in the picture above, riding just behind Henry, is Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who bore Quarterly France and England, a bordure argent) to the arms not only of the King of France (especially as worn by his herald, Mountjoy), but those of the Dauphin (though here I believe the tincture of the dolphins is incorrect) and of the French Constable (even though these appear only effectively untinctured in the movie, on his breastplate), the heraldry was done very well.

The d’Albret arms were originally Gules plain, but these arms were augmented in 1389 by King Charles VI by quartering with the French Royal arms (Azure three fleurs-de-lys or), the augmentation (as being more honorable) taking the first and fourth quarters and the historical d’Albret arms taking the second and third quarters (Quarterly France and gules). These arms appear prominently in the film on the Constable’s breastplate. I don’t know if the Constable bore his arms on his breastplate at the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. If he did, they were damaged during the battle, as he died there from a bodkin arrow through the breastplate.

As an aside, I note that in the play, in very longstanding and English fashion, many of the French names are Anglicized. The Dauphin is spoken of as "the Dolphin", Louis is pronounced (and spelled) Lewis, and the "high constable of France", Charles d’Albret, is given as Charles (with the English pronunciation rather than the French) Delabreth. However, to quote "The Fool of Arms" in the book Motley Heraldry,

"... with the herald’s wonted tact,
I draw no moral from this fact."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Bad Movie Heraldry

That is to say, the heraldry is bad, not necessarily that the movie is.

In fact, this movie is still kind of a classic, and can be found easily available on DVD. (Unlike The Black Shield of Falworth, which I’ve only found through one specialty shop on-line.) In this case, the movie is that old Errol Flynn vehicle, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

And, in fact, some of the heraldry in it is actually pretty decent. Basil Rathbone plays Sir Guy of Gisbourne, whose coat of arms is not only better heraldry than that of Tony Curtis in The Black Shield of Falworth, but which seems to show that they might perhaps be (under the rules of heraldic cadency) different branches of the same family. Sir Guy’s arms are Sable a griffin segreant or, while the Falworth arms are Sable a griffin segreant gules. It’s just a tincture change to the sole charge on the field, an often-applied method of differencing in the earlier years of heraldry.

Ah, but now we come to the "bad heraldry" portion of this movie. Check out the costume designer’s drawing below for a couple of surcoats with their attendant "coats of arms". (Editorial comment: "Eww.") The tinctures are muddied. The shields don’t match the surcoats. (And it was originally from knights wearing their armorial devices on their surcoats that we derive the term "coat of arms"!) The charges (are they ragged staffs, or some kind of plants? It’s a little hard to say for sure) on the surcoat on the left are difficult to identify. And the eagle on the shield to the right looks like it’s been to Germany, where they sometimes do such things on shields. But not in England, and most certainly not in Plantagenet England.


Maybe someday I should offer to do the heraldry for the next costume drama Hollywood produces to be set in the Middle Ages. Or not. I mean, I care about it. They, apparently, frequently pretty much don’t.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Favorite Bad Heraldry Movie

Now, admittedly, most people will remember this particular movie (if they remember it at all) not because of the bad heraldry in it, but for a line that they "recall" the star says in it. Unfortunately, they are wrong. I’ve had people tell me that they were "certain" that this particular line of dialogue is in this movie. But it’s not. Nowhere in The Black Shield of Falworth will you find Tony Curtis saying the line, "Yondah lies the castle of my fadduh." Like Sherlock Holmes’ "Elementary, my dear Watson", and Humphrey Bogart's "Play it again, Sam", it was never said! Not once in any of the books by Arthur Conan Doyle does Holmes ever say, "Elementary, my dear Watson." Nowhere in Casablanca does Rick of Rick's Café Americaine ever say, "Play it again, Sam." And nowhere in The Black Shield of Falworth (or in any other movie) does Tony Curtis ever say, "Yondah lies the castle of my fadduh." The closest he comes to it is in a different movie entirely, Son of Ali Baba, where the character he plays, Kashma Baba, says "This is my father's palace, and yonder lies the Valley of the Sun." And yet, Sherlock Holmes, Humphrey Bogarts’s Rick Blaine, and Tony Curtis’ Myles Falworth are all commonly "known" to have said their respective lines.

But I digress. The Black Shield of Falworth is my favorite bad heraldry movie simply because of the prominence given to the bad heraldry. The black shield borne by the Falworth family would be blazoned as Sable a griffin segreant gules. (Though I note from the movie poster (right) that on the barding for his horse it is Or a griffin segreant gules.) It’s a coat of arms that, to the best of my ability to discover, would never have existed in England. Germany, maybe. You find some low-contrast red charges on black fields occasionally in German armory. But in England? I don’t think so. And yet, there it is, larger than life, forming the most obvious element on the movie poster, and even giving the movie its title.

Proving, I guess, that you don’t have to know heraldry to do heraldry in the movies. About which, perhaps, more next time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Keep Checking the Links Lists

Periodically, as I get some "free" time, I will continue to go out and look about on the internet to see what I can find that may be of interest to heralds and heraldists. (I am not particularly enamored of that last term; our friend Marcel van Rossum, Deputy State Herald for South Africa, thinks we ought to use the term "academic herald" for those who research, write about, and teach or lecture on the subject of heraldry. I think I agree with him, and will try to use "academic herald" in the future.) Sometimes I will run across something on the web that may be of interest while doing my own researches. But as often as not, I will also see something in the forum of one of the heraldry societies to which I belong, where someone else has run across something of interest and has posted about it. But however the information is obtained, when I see something that I believe may be of particular interest, I will post a link to it in one of the categories that run down the left side of this page. Right now the main categories are: other blogs discussing heraldry; heraldry websites; armorials (this category also includes some ordinaries); and heraldry books. For each of these general categories, if I find something of particularly American interest, I will almost certainly add it. Everything else that gets added is chosen on a case-by-case basis. (Imagine the number of links that would be there if I went out to the Internet Archive or Google Books websites and simply linked to everything that came up doing a search for "heraldry", "heraldic", "heraldica", or "coat of arms"!) But if I see something of general or more often, of particular, interest (e.g., Ye Comic History of Heraldry), I will add it. (Though as a general rule, I will not add commercial websites, unless they’ve got a bunch of good stuff that is available for free.)

All this really is just to remind you, whether you’re here for the first time or have been a regular reader, to check, and to keep checking, the links lists for new items that might be of interest to you. And if you should happen to know of a website or an armorial or ordinary or other heraldry book that you think I or the readers here might be interested in, please don’t hesitate to email me with a URL. (My email address can be found by clicking the "Email" button in my Profile.) And, of course, given the sometimes fluid nature of the internet, if you find any broken links here, be sure to let me know, and I’ll either remove them or find an alternate site for them. After all, it’s all about sharing and learning about this wonderful field together.