Friday, May 29, 2009

Heraldry In The News Update!

Two newspaper articles (found at and at, note the ceremony held Thursday, May 28, 2009, at which the Chief Herald of Ireland confirmed to the Limerick City Council the right to its coat of arms, which had been used by the city since at least the 17th Century. A rendition of the newly confirmed arms as it appeared in The Irish Times appears below.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

From Project to Predicament

Ah, the things I sometimes set myself up for. It happened this way:

Over the years, we have bought a fair number of "fairings", little china souvenirs, mostly English, with coats of arms on them. But we haven’t had a really good way to display many of them: a couple of shelf units at one end of a hallway, and a few wall shelves in my home office. (You can see a couple of those shelves here: But many of them have been residing in a closed cupboard for quite some time, as the photo here shows.

But we’d really like to display them, as we think they’re pretty and interesting, and hope that visitors to our home would also enjoy them. So over the years as we’ve shopped at various antique stores, etc. I’ve been looking for shelves and/or display units for them. And a while back I found one: a three-level, half-circle display cabinet, at a fairly reasonable price. It needed a little fixing up - one of the two glass shelves was missing, some of the hardware had been replaced with inferior items - but basically it was in pretty good shape. So I bought it. Later, I found a shop that would cut me a replacement glass shelf to measure, and more recently took off the added hardware and replaced the door handle. I also got a nice little LED light fixture that was thin enough to mount under the cabinet’s top to illuminate whatever we might put in the cabinet. I think it came out pretty well, as you can see here.

The trouble, though, is that now that it’s done, I’m having trouble figuring out a good place to put it in the house. I’ve tried it on top of the bookshelves in my office, but it’s really a little too tall for them. I’ve thought of perhaps placing it in the "library" downstairs, but the decor there is of a vastly different theme than heraldry (shocking, I know, but it’s true!), and it would also involve moving/rearranging/eliminating some of the pictures we’ve got on the wall down there to make the visual space for it. So I’m in a bit of a quandary - I’ve got this really nice display cabinet, fixed up with a working light and everything, and don’t (yet) have a place to put it.

It used to be said so well: "All dressed up and no place to go."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Heraldry In The News!

"Heraldry enthusiasts of all ages meet at Rideau Hall". On May 4, 2009, the Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, hosted a gathering that highlighted Canadian heraldry. Photographs and more information can be found here: The current and former Chief Heralds of Canada as well as all or most of the heralds and staff of the Canadian Heraldic Authority were in attendance. One of my personal favorites of the photos (below) shows coats of arms that some of the children in attendance designed for themselves. Some are designs that you might expect from people who know very little about heraldry, but some of them are really quite good!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Heraldry In The News!

An article in the Irish Times dated May 19, 2009, headlined "Limerick to get offical coat of arms" (found on-line at: notes that after using a coat of arms "since at least the 17th century" but which arms were not registered in all that time, the City of Limerick is having that coat of arms confirmed "on the basis of long use". The images below show what they’ve been using all these centuries: the one on the left is from the website "Heraldry of the World" (formerly "International Civic Heraldry"), and the one on the right is from

The Latin motto means "An ancient city well versed in the arts of war."

Of course, granting arms to Limerick leads to limericks about Limerick’s arms. This one by Peter Constantine (slightly edited by me for better "flow") appeared in the rec.heraldry newsgroup the same day:

On a shield of gules (meaning red)
Stands a castle, portcullis rais-ed;
Beneath this a motto
It means not a lot-o
And thusly is Limerick prais-ed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

“Learn Something New Every Day”

It’s a great philosophy: "Learn something new every day." And it seems to me that hardly a day goes by that I don’t learn at least one new thing. (Of course, it might be argued that, at my age, I’m just relearning stuff that I had once known but then forgotten. And they do say that "The mind is the second thing to go."*)

Still, I learned something the other day that I’m pretty sure I didn’t know before, which makes it new. And since it was of interest heraldically, I thought I’d share it with you.

I’d known for some time that General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to needed to come up with a coat of arms in order to receive the Order of the Elephant from Denmark following WWII. The part that I didn’t already know (but which I learned from the article here: is that his coat of arms was originally designed by the office that is now The Institute of Heraldry of the U.S. Army, today based at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. A more complete narrative of the General’s reluctant adoption of a coat of arms can be found at: There is also a transcription of a letter from the President regarding the coat of arms and motto here:

The picture below is of Eisenhower’s arms as they appear in Frederiksborg Castle, photographed by our friend Sunil Saigal.

I’ve always liked Eisenhower’s arms, not the least because they are very simple and therefore easy to identify. They also play on his surname, which means, effectively, "iron hewer", or blacksmith. The crest, of course, is the five stars of his military rank.

Given some of the designs that come out of The Institute of Heraldry, which I realize are often "customer driven" and so seem to have many of the problems of insignia "designed by committee" and which may sometimes bear only a passing relationship to traditional heraldry, to see such a simple, clean design is like a breath of fresh air.

* I can’t seem to recall what the first is.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Is the Deal With That Torse?

I know that such things have been remarked on by others before, but occasionally I’ll run across a rendition of an achievement of arms (shield, helm, wreath or torse, mantling, and crest, usually) that leads me to wonder if the artist had any idea that the things he was drawing used to have an actual, physical relationship to one another. Now, admittedly, it’s a relationship that I try to demonstrate in some of my lectures, most especially in my "Introduction to Heraldry for Genealogists". In that presentation, I break down the individual parts of an achievement (shield, helm, torse, mantling, crest, and so on) and where I can, I point out the same item on a photograph of a miniature knight with all his accouterments. I mean, I’ve known of times when people truly believed that the mantling was nothing more than decorative vegetation, and had no idea whatsoever that it was once a piece of cloth worn by actual knights. Consider the achievements of arms below:

Now, totally aside from the fact that there’s no way that an actual person could get any of those helms on over his head, what’s the deal with those wreaths (torses, the "twisted silk" roll upon which the crests sit – or float above, in the one case)? First off, there’s no way that, were they the actual physical item, they’d sit on the helm; at best, they’d catch on the beaver (the point to the side on the helm’s face), or fall completely down around the wearer’s shoulders like an Hawaiian lei. In the Prebble achievement (on the left), the torse simply floats in the air above the helm. But my favorite is the one for White (center) that is perched very precariously atop the helm, looking like it’s going to rock off at any moment. And the two torses, each with its own crest, for Laurie (on the right), has the wreaths perched atop the upper folds of the mantling; well-balanced visually on paper, I suppose, but nothing I’d want to try with actual physical crests and mantling.

Now, compare the sizes of the torses to the helms. None of the ones here are as bad as one I remember seeing once (but cannot relocate, darn it! If I run across it again, I’ll post it when I do), which had a crest of a railroad train, and the torse stretched out straight like a railroad track far off to either side of the helm. But still ....

And we won’t even get into how the artist thought the mantling was supposed to have been attached to the helms, especially in the Prebble achievement, where it looks like it was merely pinned at one point to the front and rear of the helm.

In an ideal world, all of the elements of an achievement of arms would be in proportion, and look as if they could be worn and borne, like the actual items of a knight’s equipage. Alas, as these achievements demonstrate, the world is not ideal. Still, I wish that the artists had thought a little more about the things they were drawing and how they should work together to create a harmonious whole.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Coat of Arms on a “Tall Ship”

Ah, there’s nothing like taking a ship from one era, putting it in a festival commemorating an event from an entirely different era, and then painting a personal coat of arms on one of its sails just for good measure.

Late last January, the schooner Freedom, a ship modeled on 19th-century blockade runners, took part in the Menendez Birthday Festival celebrating the birthday of St. Augustine, Florida’s founder, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the Spanish admiral who was named governor of Florida and began settling St. Augustine in 1565. The admiral was born in Aviles, Spain in 1519, an event commemorated in his arms by the use in one quarter of the arms of Avila (the coat to the right here are the arms of Avila. Compare to the dexter half of his arms on the sail above). He died in 1594.

Though Freedom is a replica of a Civil War-era ship (some 300 years after Menendez’s time), it had a billowing crimson sail hand-painted with his coat of arms (well, to be honest, an abbreviated version of his coat of arms; it appears that the coat he used was quartered, not divided per pale. Note the image – it’s small and dark, but it’s the best one I’ve been able to find – of his arms from his headboard to the left). The 10-foot-by-11-foot coat of arms was painted on the sail by Joy MacMillan, a local artist and director of the St. Augustine Foundation. It took MacMillan 4½ days – "full, solid days," she notes – working on the sail for the festival.

This was the second year Freedom has participated in the annual birthday festival, but the first in which it (well, okay, "she") bore Menendez coat of arms.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Coat of Arms of St. Johns County, Florida

A translation of the grant of arms to St. Johns County, Florida, in 1991 (excerpted from the county’s website at

I guess that they decided that if the city of St. Augustine was going to get a coat of arms, the county (in which the city is located) should, too.

Don Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent
Certification of the Coat of Arms
Which Corresponds to the Use of the
County of Saint Johns, Florida
Madrid, 12th of October of 1991

Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent, de Gaztanaga y Nogues, Herald, King of Arms, Dean of the Corps of Heralds

I CERTIFY: That on petition of the desires expressed by the authorities of Saint Johns County, in Florida (United States) which desires to perpetuate the historic memory of the population and founding of that County by the subjects of the Kings of Spain and in order that the memory should remain steadfast, the drawing up of a Blazon is solicited which for fundamental symbols of the same bring those events to mind adapting them to the Science of Blazon, and as a consequence and by virtue of the desires expressed by the already cited authorities that in its field they wish to reflect three aspects; two of them of historic character and one symbolic, taking for it (the Blazon) a castle as an allusion to the Garrison which was in the County, the Arms of Castile and Leon as a remembrance of the epoch of its discovery and union to the Crown of Spain, and a direct allusion to the name of the County referred to, and as a consequence, it stands organized and composed in the following manner;

In a field of green an Agnus Dei of silver, suspended on the dexter side of the Agnus Dei is a silver banner with red cross (as a direct allusion and symbol of the name of the County). On a heraldic chief of red is a gold castle with towers, with masonry joints in black, and with the windows and doors in red (in recognition of the fortress that was constructed in the military garrison of St. Augustine which is a part of the County).

An overall border is composed of eight parts; alternating, a red quadrilateral, with a gold castle and quadrilateral of silver with a purple lion rampant (that is to say, alternating the simplified Arms of Castile and Leon).

Given for a crest is a mural crown of a province. This is a circle of gold walls with in reality twelve gold towers with all the masonry joints in black. Only seven of the towers are visible in the drawing.

Said Arms as they are described and drawn may be used, having them engraved, sculpted and painted in the customary places, standing protected by this certification of Blazons, ratified, legalized and legitimized in the use of the same for Saint Johns County, in Florida (United States).

Monday, May 4, 2009

A “New” Coat of Arms for St. Augustine, Florida

Over 275 years after applying for them! (And people think that waiting a year or a little more to get a coat of arms from the English College of Arms is a long time!)

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida claims to be the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States. The city’s website notes: "Forty-two years before the English colonized Jamestown and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the Spanish established at St. Augustine this nation's first enduring settlement."

The city had for a long time been using a simplified version of the arms of Spain, Quarterly Castile and Leon. These same arms appear carved over a doorway at Fort Marion, the city’s old Spanish fort. But in 1991, the City Commission passed a resolution authorizing a formal request to Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, for an official coat of arms for the city. Now, back in 1715 the citizens of St. Augustine petitioned Philip V, King of Spain, to grant the city a coat of arms. There was no record of the request being fulfilled, and so a new grant was sought.

Research conducted by Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent, Cronista Rey de Armas (Chronicler King of Arms of Spain), found that a coat of arms for the city had indeed been authorized on November 26, 1715. The city received its "new" coat of arms on October 12, 1991, almost 276 years after it was granted.

The first quarter, the upper left side of the shield, includes a gold fleur-de-lis on a blue background. This is a symbol of the connection to the French House of Bourbon, since King Philip V of Spain was the grandson of King Louis XIV of France. In the second quarter, the upper right area, there is a gold castle on a red background, representing Castile. In the third quarter, there is the purple lion of Leon on a silver/white background. In the fourth quarter there is an arm in armor holding a sword on a red background, honoring St. Augustine as a Spanish military outpost. The four quarters of the shield are divided by a gold cross. The mural crown above the shield indicates that this coat of arms is for a city.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to me that if you are going to wait 275 years for a coat of arms, you might hope to get one that doesn’t belong to the "kitchen sink" (instead of "everything but the kitchen sink," throw in the kitchen sink, too) or "resume" (where everything important you’ve ever done is referenced on the shield) schools of heraldry. And, too, 1715 was during the period of heraldry known informally as "the Decadence," when coats of arms were designed and granted that were, shall we say, did not follow so closely the simpler, more cohesive designs of earlier years.

Still and all, though, it’s nice that St. Augustine finally got their coat of arms, even if it was 275 years later.