Monday, August 31, 2009

... Once a Knight Is Enough

I’m in the midst of an heraldic hunt, albeit a sporadic one as other projects vie for my time and attention. I’m trying to find Sir Edmund Turnor, Knight. And why am I looking for him? Because I have his window.

Well, to be more precise, I have a window with his arms. It was a gift to me several years ago from my wife, who saw it in an antique store and knew that I would be thrilled to receive it. As I was. But, having been gifted with the window of his arms, as time and resources permit, been on a hunt for the armiger behind the arms. With, so far, less than complete success.

The arms of Turnor were easy enough to trace. Burke’s General Armory notes the arms of Turnor of Stoke Rochford, co. Lincoln, "descended from Christopher Turnor, temp. Henry VIII, a member of the family of Turnour, of Haverhill", and specifically notes two sons, Sir Christopher Turnor and Sir Edmund Turnor. Burke gives the arms of this family as Ermines on a cross quarter-pierced argent four fers-de-moline sable.

The difficulty comes in the form of the cadency mark in the arms on the window: an annulet, the mark of a fifth son. While I have been able to find a Sir Edmund Turnor (b. 1619; knighted 1663; d. 1707) in the Dictionary of National Biography who seems a likely candidate for "my" Edmund Turnor, I have to date only found three older brothers for him (Christopher [died aged 4 days], Christopher, and Thomas), which would have made him the fourth son (who should bear a martlet as a difference), not the fifth son.* Leaving me to say, as Jeff Dunham's puppet Peanut does while placing his head facing down, "Damn."

So as my time permits, the search continues. Did the Sir Edmund Turnor I found in the DNB have another, even more obscure, older brother? Or am I looking for another, entirely different, Edmund Turnor? At this point, I do not know. But I do know that I am enjoying the hunt, and hope someday to have some solid information about the life and times of the man whose armorial window has a prominent place in my own window.

* Indeed, it is entirely possible that, under the English rules of cadency, that the first Christopher, having died when only four days old, would not really count, making this Edmund effectively a third son, whose difference is a mullet. Which would mean that for this Edmund to be "my" Edmund, he needs to have had not one but two more older brothers.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Speaking to Genealogists

I speak occasionally to genealogists, giving presentations about heraldry and how it can be a tool for them. One of the hurdles that regularly have to try to overcome is the misconception that heraldry really is not of much interest or use to genealogists. Indeed, during the course of many of my presentations, I use a quote from heraldic author and genealogist L.G. Pine, who has stated the case better and more succinctly than any other I have found to date:

At the outset there is a curious fact in the relationship between the two subjects. While students of Heraldry do take to Genealogy and acquire a considerable knowledge of it, those who begin as genealogists seldom if ever take any interest in Heraldry. This is most unfortunate because the two subjects are necessarily connected.
There’s an awful lot of substance bound up in that little quote. Heraldry enthusiasts are very aware of how completely intertwined with genealogy the field of heraldry is. But trying to convince genealogists that heraldry can be useful to them as another tool (indeed, I like to say that "heraldry is the genealogist’s most colorful tool") in their researches can be difficult at best. It’s not so much that you can’t convince them of the truth of it once you present it to them; the difficulty lies in even getting a hearing.

When I’ve been asked to give a presentation on heraldry to a genealogical society, lineage society, or similar group, I’m often told that "we’ve never had a speaker on this topic." And when I’ve submitted proposals for presentations to several of the national genealogy conferences, "An introduction to heraldry for genealogists" has never, to date, been selected. I have been able, however, to present it to a number of local and regional genealogy societies, where it’s always been well-received. Again, the difficulty doesn’t seem to be in getting them to understand the relationship between heraldry and genealogy, because they often understand it once it’s been presented to them; it’s it getting to present the information to them in the first place that the difficulty lies.

I have hopes that this situation will change. I do keep trying, sending out proposals for presentations to some of the national genealogy conferences, and continuing to give presentations to regional and local genealogy groups and lineage societies about this field of heraldry that can be another tool that genealogists may use in their search for family roots.

Monday, August 24, 2009

De gustibus non est disputandum

A Latin maxim that means “there is no disputing about tastes”. The underlying meaning is that opinions about matters of taste are objectively neither right nor wrong, and that disagreements about matters of taste cannot be resolved.

It is the same with heraldry. I wrote a paper several years ago entitled “New Directions in Heraldry” (a copy of which may be found on-line at and from the link in the left column here at this blog under “Articles I Have Written” at, the thesis of which was that of all the modern innovations and introductions of new charges, etc. that we see in heraldry today are not a new phenomenon at all, but that the field of heraldry has always added new stuff to its repertoire from its earliest days to now.

The stimulus for writing the paper was the disputes I would sometimes see between heraldry enthusiasts in one or another of the internet newsgroups, where someone would protest that this or that innovation or the grant of a modern charge (for example, a locomotive) was almost an affront to the purity of the field. Sometimes I would find myself agreeing (to a certain extent) with some of these criticisms, but at other times I would wonder why the use of a modern charge or line of division would cause such emotional upset, since as I saw it, the field had since its beginnings added innovative lines of division and novel charges as new technologies came into being.

After presenting the paper, I found myself in a conversation where the other party seemed to believe that I was actually advocating all of the recent changes in the field that I thought I was simply reporting on (and trying to show that the process of innovation in heraldry was not new). The locomotive was brought up as an example. “Why couldn’t they just use a wheel to symbolize the same thing?”, as if I had urged using it. (“Well,” I thought to myself, “they could, but apparently what they wanted was a locomotive.”)

I find myself with mixed feelings about some heraldic innovations: for example, the inheritance of arms by women allowed by the Canadian Heraldic Authority (thus separating the arms from the surname). On the one hand, I like to be able to know the arms/surname link; on the other hand, I understand the legal requirements of Canada that mandated such a change, leaving the arms to follow the blood (as former Chief Herald Rob Watt put it) or the DNA (as I put it). And, too, there have been places, like Poland, where the surname/arms link has never been the rule. (For example, more than 650 families, many unrelated, bear the Jastrzebiec herb arms of a cross patty within an inverted horseshoe [Górzynski & Kochanowski, Herby szlachty polskiej].)

So sometimes we just have to step back from our personal prejudices and take a look at the bigger picture of heraldry, and realize that change has always been a part of the field. And, too, that de gustibus non est disputandum.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Movie Heraldry, Part 3 of 3

Okay, it’s time for Part Three of our three-part series on heraldry in the movies. In this part, we are presenting a few movies in which the heraldry was, for the greatest part very good. Very few movies manage to get it all right, but these come far closer than most. Once again, the movies are listed in no particular order.

Fire Over England (1937) starring Laurence Olivier. There was some nice (and appropriate) use of heraldry.

The Black Knight (1954) starring Alan Ladd. I know, I know! Especially given the date of its production, it surprised me, too! But the heraldry in this movie is, for the most part, pretty decent.

The Sea Hawk (1940) starring Errol Flynn. Heraldry – most of it pretty decent heraldry – abounds.

Knights of the Round Table (1953) starring Robert Taylor. The heraldry in general was pretty good. Although Mordred bears a unicorn which was taken right out of one of A.C. Fox-Davies’ books.

Luther (2003) starring Joseph Fiennes. There’s some nice accurate use of heraldry.

The Three Musketeers (1993) starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Chris O’Donnell. The arms of France and Navarre are prominently displayed, and used well.

Richard III (1955) starring Laurence Olivier. The heraldry throughout the film is very well done, with its use of arms, standards, badges, and the heraldic cloak.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Movie Heraldry, Part 2 of 3

Okay, here’s Part Two of this series of movies with good, bad, or mixed heraldry. Last time we covered movies with poor heraldry. This time, it’s movies that have a mix, some good, some bad:

Army of Darkness (1992) starring Bruce Campbell. Color on color heraldry, but some good stuff, too.

A Knight in Camelot (1998) starring Whoopi Goldberg. On the plus side, the arms for Arthur are consistently displayed, and accurately match one of the three most commonly portrayed versions of Arthur’s attributed arms. On the down side: the German coat of arms on the wall; Sir Boss’ "coat of arms"; Sagramore’s coat of arms with the Norse beast.

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946) starring Cornel Wilde. Some of the heraldry wasn't half bad. Robin, the Earl of Huntington, bore Per pale gules and Or, a doubled-headed eagle counterchanged. It may not be heraldry of the period for England, but it’s not bad for all that.

The Visitors (original title: Les Visiteurs) (1993) starring Jean Reno. The heraldry was pretty good for the most part, but some of it, well ... maybe not so much. (In any case, the original French movie was a far, far better film than the American remake, Just Visiting, which had a similar mix of good and bad heraldry.)

Henry V (1944) starring Laurence Olivier. The use of heraldry, and heralds, was for the most part very good. However, some of the heraldry was not, as we say down here in Texas, quite "right". (As in, "That boy ain’t right." In this case, "That heraldry ain’t right.")

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), starring the Monty Python crew. Metal on metal heraldry (e.g, , King Arthur’s surcoat, Argent a sun in his splendor or), and "Brave Sir Robin’s arms with a chicken courant regardant, but some decently done heraldry, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Movie Heraldry, Part 1 of 3

Doggone it! This is what comes from living on the "Third Coast", down here in Texas, instead of up, say, near New York. I received, as I do periodically, an email announcing yet another presentation of heraldic interest, one that I would love to attend. In New York City. Which is not an easy drive from Dallas. As much as I sometimes wish it were.

It turns out that on Tuesday, September 22, the College of Arms Foundation and The NYG&B Society Committee on Heraldry are hosting a presentation entitled "Heraldry in the Movies: the Good, the Bad, the Truly Awful". Which, unless I happen to win the lottery between now and then, I will, alas, not be attending.

So, anyway, having discussed some good and some bad movie heraldry here before (back in March 2009, with Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and The Knight’s Tale for the good, The Black Shield of Falworth and The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn for the bad), the announcement of this presentation in New York next month has inspired me to look through my collection of movie reviews* to see what other movies I’ve seen that had either particularly good or especially bad heraldry (and some which had a mix of both good and bad). And I thought I’d give you a kind of "short list" of these, with brief comments about why the heraldry in them is good, bad, or a mix of both. In this post, we’ll cover some of the "less good" ones. Next time, those with good and bad heraldry. And in the third part, those with good heraldry.

Here’s some of the bad ones, in no particular order:

Francis of Assisi (1961) starring Bradford Dillman. Heavy-duty gaudy heraldry (a checky bend, for instance, in bright colors).

Prince Valiant (1954) starring Robert Wagner. Pastel colored heraldry. Purple on lilac. A red charge on a black charge on a green field (or, color on color on color!). But you gotta love that pageboy haircut!

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) starring Cary Elwes. Prince John's men wear the quarterly arms of Castile and Leon (in Plantagenet England??), and even King Richard bears Quarterly France and England, while the movie supposedly takes place before Richard's personal arms became the arms of England.

Ever After (1998) starring Drew Barrymore. Color on color heraldry.

Captain from Castile (1947) starring Tyrone Power. Quarterly gules and sable, a bordure counterchanged sable and Or was not Iberian heraldry.

Black Knight (2001) starring Martin Lawrence. Most of the heraldry on the banners is wrong. England, but the lions are not facing properly. The Dauphin of France, but in the wrong colors. The flag of modern Hungary.

Lancelot: Guardian of Time (1997) starring Marc (The Beastmaster) Singer. The title alone should give you and idea of how bad the heraldry is.

Joan of Arc (1999) starring Leelee Sobieski. Color on color heraldry. (In the still from the movie here, a black tower on red, in a coat of arms that is clearly based on, but isn't, the arms of Spain.)

* In the guise of Da’ud Bob ibn Briggs, Historical Drive-In Movie Critic, I write reviews of movies set in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as pre-technological fantasy worlds; our motto: "We watch ‘em so you don’t have to." For more about this aspect of what I do, check out

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arms v. Logos, Part Something-or-Other

Over on Blog de Heráldica in his post of August 4, 2009, blogger José Juan Carrión Rangel had the following image of a very logo-like rendition of the coat of arms of Spain. (Here compared with a more usual rendering of the arms.)

I found the image interesting because I think it helps to support a point I have made in this blog before (click on the keyword "logos" to see earlier posts): that it is unnecessary for civic bodies and corporations to discard their "outdated" coat of arms to adopt a more "modern" or "relevant" logo to use as their visual identifier.

In the example above, the central design is quite clearly the national arms of Spain: quarterly Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Navarre, with the point entée of Granada and the inescutcheon of the House of Bourbon. Admittedly, it’s been sufficiently simplified that there is no Granadan pomegranate, neither fleurs-de-lis nor bordure on the Bourbon inescutcheon, and the "lion" is nothing more than a stick figure. But the fact remains that you can tell immediately that it is the arms of Spain. (And isn’t that really the reason for heraldry to begin with: identifiability?)

It’s modern, it’s up to date, and yet it is just a simplified rendition of the national coat of arms. No need to hire someone to design an alternate modern logo. Just redraw the arms in a less traditional style, and there you go!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good Stuff! (Mostly)

Someone pointed out a pretty cool site for heraldry the other day. The name of the site is Videojug, which leaves me a little cold, but they didn’t ask me before naming it. Of interest to people like us, though, are several short (the longest is 10:00 minutes) videos explaining different aspects of heraldry. There are seven of these short videos: six by Peter O’Donoghue, Blue Mantle Pursuivant at the College of Arms and one by genealogist Dr. Nick Barratt. There is a lengthy list lower down on the page that gives all of the sub-topics covered in each video. Each video can be downloaded (you have to sign up with Videojug to be allowed to do this), and is available in a text version which can be displayed and read or printed out.

I haven’t had the time to sit and watch all of the videos yet, but the information contained in the ones I have seen seems to be accurate. (Well, ignoring "little" things like identifying Mr. O’Donoghue as "Blue Pursuivant" instead of Blue Mantle Pursuivant; misspelling A.C. Fox-Davies last name by dropping the "e" in the text version; and some of Dr. Barratt’s statements demonstrate he is much more a genealogist than a herald. But that’s why there’s a "Mostly" in the title of this post.)

In any case, I thought it was worth passing along to you. You can find this page on the web at:


Monday, August 3, 2009

More Arms Go On-Line

Several heraldry newsgroups received the following post from Darrel Kennedy, Assiniboine Herald for the Canadian Heraldic Authority and a really great guy, a few days ago:

Addition of pages 101 to 200 of Volume V
July 24, 2009
The Registrar of the Canadian Heraldic Authority is pleased to announce that pages 101 to 200 of Volume V of the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada are now available online.

Addition des pages 101 à 200 du volume V
le 24 juillet 2009
Le garde de l'armorial de l'Autorité héraldique du Canada a le plaisir d'annoncer que les pages 101 à 200 du volume V du Registre public des armoiries, drapeaux et insignes du Canada sont maintenant accessibles en ligne.

These grants cover the period from January 15, 2007 through February 15, 2008.

Ah, you gotta love the Canadians! I can’t think of another heraldic authority that would grant a "UFO" in a badge (to John Robert Colombo, Vol. V, p. 159). Or use dragonflies as supporters (in the arms of Sheila-Marie Suzanne Cook, Vol. V, p. 187). (Though the English College of Arms has registered butterfly supporters before. See the arms of Baron George, as shown in the September 2006 edition of The Heraldry Gazette of The Heraldry Society of England, on-line at

The Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada can be accessed at