Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Students Are Revolting!

Well, sort of.

Actually, they’re protesting the University of Waterloo’s rebranding efforts to change from its current coat of arms to a new logo that the University says is an exciting "new marketing-oriented visual identity."

The students and alumni, on the other hand, protest a logo they "do not believe ... represents UW's prestige and degree of professionalism properly." More on the story can be found here:
So you can compare them, here are the boring "old" and exciting "new" designs.

I, of course, want to ask the questions, "How much money did they waste, err, spend to create this new "marketing-oriented visual identity," and "How long do they think it will be until the new logo is seen as passé and needs to be replaced with something even newer?"

I’ve blogged before (on June 1, 2009 and June 16, 2009) about the ways in which an entity’s coat of arms can be modernized to remain "relevant" (lord, I sometimes hate that term, especially when it is applied to heraldry, which to me is _always_ "relevant") without the need to spend a lot of money on an entirely new, unheraldic and often short-lived logo.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heraldic T-Shirts, Anyone?

And some of them have real heraldry on them, too! (Not like that t-shirt with the fleur-de-lys design I picked up at Walmart last summer. It’s nice, but it’s really only "sort of" heraldic.)

Anyway, the image below is of most of the heraldic t-shirts for sale on-line by Old Navy at, each in a variety of sizes and each for US$15.

Now, when I say "real heraldry," what do I mean? I mean, for example, shirts one, two and four in the bottom row are the arms of then-Lord Lyon King of Arms Sir James Balfour Paul (he was Lyon 1890-1927), that is to say, the arms of Lord Lyon to dexter (towards the left as you look at it) marshaled with those of Sir James to sinister (to the right as you look at it). The "Carpe Diem" shirts may also have a real coat of arms on them, though I’m pretty sure the griffin "supporters" have been added almost as an afterthought.

Anyway, I thought they were kind of neat, and therefore worth sharing with you. I will probably be purchasing a few to add to my heraldic t-shirts collection as soon as the budget has recovered from the recent foundation repairs to the house.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Medieval battle records go online

Hey, it’s _almost_ heraldry! You know - Henry V, Agincourt, "For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile this day shall gentle his condition..."and Henry’s famous writ of June 2, 1417, calling for "the defacing and breaking of such [assumed, not inherited or granted] arms and 'cotearmures' at the time of the muster if displayed or found upon him, except the men who with the king bore arms at the battle of Agincourt..." (emphasis added).

To quote from the story:

The detailed service records of 250,000 medieval soldiers - including
archers who served with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt - have gone online.

The database of those who fought in the Hundred Years War reveals
salaries, sickness records and who was knighted.

The full story can be found at:

And the database can be found on-line at:

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Heraldic Joke

On the American Heraldry Society Forum, Mohamed Hossam posted the following joke that I thought was just too good not to share with you:

A peasant from upper Egypt went to the zoo and stood in front of the eagle's cage. "I'd give anything to know how they stamp papers with that thing".

(The arms of Egypt, of course, have an eagle supporter, as shown below.)

For some reason, this joke also made me think of the scene in one of the old Marx Brothers movies where Groucho is calling for the seal (for a document), and Harpo brings in the mammal and sets it on the desk.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free Stuff from Heralds

In my continuing effort to find, and let people know about, good inexpensive sources to learn about heraldry, here’s something I thought I would pass along to you in case you didn’t already know about it: the College of Arms in London has a quarterly newsletter that they produced and email out to subscribers. It’s a nice little (four page) newsletter, with news about the College, some recent grants of arms, events at the College, appearances and publications of the heralds, recently recorded pedigrees, and other miscellaneous tidbits. It’s usually got several color pictures (the most recent edition has five, one each on pages one through three, and two on page four), and you can either read it on your computer or print it out at your pleasure.

The best part of all this is that the newsletter is, indeed, free. You can sign up to either receive the .pdf version or to receive a notification that the latest edition has been posted on the College of Arms website at (scroll to the bottom of the page for the subscription form). Links to all the prior issues of the newsletter are also on that page, where you can read them or download them as you desire. Though when subscribing you can give them your postal address, nationality, and occupation, the only information they require is your name, your email address, and whether you prefer to receive the newsletter in .pdf format or an email notification of the posting of the .html version.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the College of Arms in London (though I did visit it in person once). I am not getting paid to advertise their quarterly newsletter. This plug won’t even get me a discount should I ever apply for an honorary grant of arms at the College. There you go. Full disclosure.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Couple of Upcoming Books About Heraldry

Heraldic Badges in England and Wales [4 volume set]
Michael Powell Siddons (Wales Herald Extraordinary)

A four-volume survey of English medieval badges, by a man who should know whereof he writes. The set is a little pricey at US$695.00, but on the other hand, there is nothing else quite like it on available anywhere. (A.C. Fox-Davies’ Heraldic Badges is a nice introduction, but really isn’t much more than that.) More information can be found at, where you can also request to be notified when it becomes available.

The Herald in Late Medieval Europe
Edited by Katie Stevenson

A new study of the herald (rather than heraldry) in the Middle Ages, the articles in this compilation discuss the diverse roles and experiences of heralds in the late Middle Ages and cover a range of European regions: Florence, Scandinavia, Poland, the German Empire, the Burgundian Low Countries, Brittany, Scotland and England. More of a bargain that the above set on badges at US$95.00, information can be found at, where again you can also request to be notified when it becomes available.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Heraldic Myths, Part Three

The coat of arms of Aragon is one of the oldest coats in Europe, with some dating it back to the very earliest days of heraldry on a seal of Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona from 1150. (There is, however, disagreement among scholars as to what, if anything, the "pallets" on the shield are, as they do not appear in all of the impressions of the seal.)

There are several similar but conflicting stories of the origin of these arms. They all have to do with a warrior, whose shield was plain gold, dying after a great battle, and a person of rank (in some stories, one king; in others, another) dips his fingers into the blood of the dying knight and draws four red stripes down the shield, which his descendants have borne since.

But as always, it seems, the devil is in the details. In some stories, the dying knight is Geoffroy le Velu, king of Aragon; in others, Guifre el Pelós (Wilfred the Hairy, or Wilfred the Bearded), Count of Barcelona. In one version, he has been mortally wounded fighting the Normans; in another, the Moors (in some cases, specifically by Lobo ibn Mohammed, the Moorish governor of Lleida). The grateful monarch who dipped his fingers in the knight’s blood is Charles le Chauve (Charles the Bald); another version makes him Louis the Pious; and yet a third version seeks to avoid the chronological difficulties with both of these kings (Charles the Bald had died 20 years before the time of the event central to the story, and Louis the Pious died before Guifré was born), and has Guifré himself so mark his own shield. The years in which this incident is supposed to have occurred include 897, at the siege of Barcelona, and 888 from the hands of the Emperor Charlemagne (and both dates precede by nearly three centuries the rise of the use of heraldry). In either case, the story does not appear until the mid-15th Century.

And if all that isn’t confusing enough, another medieval variant of the legend features Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, painting the four pallets with his own blood on a plain yellow shield, that shield being the arms of Aragon before his marriage to Petronila of Aragon (who was only one year of age at the time of the marriage, but that’s another story).

In the end, what does all of this mean for us? It means we have to be careful about accepting the stories about the origin of a coat of arms, because many of these origin stories, while they sound really cool, often just don’t hold up to any kind of dispassionate historic scrutiny.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Heraldic Myths, Part Two

We’ve just gone through our Independence Day celebrations here, with parades, and fireworks, and cooking outdoors on grills, and much flag waving. Well, it was that last one that got me to remembering another heraldic myth, this one having to do with the nascent United States of America.

It’s a myth that gets repeated a fair bit, in spite of the complete lack of any evidence to support it except the very faintest of visual similarities. The nub of the myth is that the coat of arms of George Washington, Azure two bars and in chief three mullets gules, was the inspiration for the design of the American flag (in 1777 when it was first adopted, Barry of thirteen gules and argent, on a quarter azure [a circle of] thirteen mullets argent). Okay, sure, both Washington’s arms and the flag both have white with red horizontal stripes, and they both have stars. And yes, according to the story, it was General Washington himself who went to Betsy Ross, a seamstress in Philadelphia, to sew the first flag. (We’ll just ignore for now the fact that there is absolutely no contemporary evidence for this supposed meeting.)

The myth also ignores the prior use, beginning two years earlier in 1775, of other flags far more similar in design to the new national flag than Washington’s coat of arms and shown below from left to right: the Navy Jack (1775), which used the thirteen stripes; the Grand Union flag (1775), which used the Union flag in the first quarter; and the Bennington flag of 1777.

I mean, sure, it would be nice to believe that George Washington, the "Father of his country", also helped to give birth to its premier emblem, the "Stars and Stripes". But nice stories alone, without any other evidentiary support, do not history make. And certainly the real history of George Washington and of the United States are sufficiently interesting on their own to not need the artificial support of an heraldic myth. Such mythmaking does a disservice, I believe, to the men and women who pledged their "Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor" to found the nation of which that flag is the symbol.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Heraldic Myths, Part One

We’ve all heard them - the story of how or why a particular coat of arms bears the colors or charges that it does. For example, the oft-told tale of the Duke of Austria, after a busy day out slaying infidels, came back with his white surcoat drenched in the blood of his slain enemies and, taking off his belt and seeing that the cloth behind the belt was the only remaining fabric unstained by blood (irreverent editorial comment: Eww!), decided to use the red field with a white horizontal stripe as his coat of arms ever since. And often these stories help to tie the family bearing the arms to some significant event in history.

The trouble with such anecdotes, of course, is that most of the time they are created well after the fact and often are demonstrably incorrect. For example:

There is an oft-told story that in 1050 the chief of the Cunningham family of England traveled to Scotland where he aided Prince Malcolm, son of King Duncan who had been killed by MacBeth in 1040. MacBeth also pursued Prince Malcolm and Malcolm was hidden by the Cunningham chief in a barn under some hay. (Another version of the story has Cunningham and his sons out working in a hayfield when Malcolm passed by, MacBeth’s men hot on his trail. They hid Malcolm under some hay in the field, with Cunningham ordering his sons to "Over. Fork over" the hay to cover the future king, thus also leading to the adoption of the Cunningham motto: Over fork over.) MacBeth was later defeated by Prince Malcolm at the Battle of Dunismore near Perth in 1057. When Malcolm became King Malcolm III of Scotland, he rewarded the Cunninghams with a coat of arms consisting of a black hayfork (heraldically, a shakefork) centered on a silver shield.
So, what could possibly be wrong it this stirring story? Well, heraldry as we know it did not come into existence until the middle of the Twelfth Century; the earliest coats of arms were all self-assumed, not granted by a ruling noble; and coats of arms do not appear to have been used in Scotland before the reign of David I. Indeed, the Scottish Royal arms are believed to have been first adopted by King William I (the Lion), King of Scots 1165-1214, a full century after Malcolm III. It seems most unlikely that a king who did not have arms himself would have granted arms to someone else.