An uncle of mine by marriage, who was a very distinguished historian, once asked me, when I was a young man, whether I was interested in Heraldry. I said that I was not. ‘I'm glad of that,” he said, “heraldry strikes me as being for a historian about on the same level of interest as stamp collecting.” – Maurice Keen, in the Preface to Origins of the English Gentleman
I'm an Academic Herald. I'm not a "real" herald; I don't register people's coats of arms (though I can certainly suggest designs for those who might be interested). What I do is study, research, teach, and write about heraldry. And I like to share what I have learned about heraldry, hence this blog. I hope that you'll find it informative, interesting at least occasionally, and worth your time to come back. Got a question? Comments? Feel free to let me know. I'd love to hear from you. You can find my contact information in my Profile.
I recently ran across an article I hadn't seen before about an old heraldic roll of arms that had been found in a London antique shop o...
Genealogical Speakers Guild
Genealogical Speakers Guild
Monday, August 20, 2012
Answering a Ten-Year-Old Question
A full decade ago (gosh, has it really been that long?), back in 2002, I gave a presentation entitled New Directions in Heraldry (subtitled “But there really is ‘nothing new under the sun’”). (If you'd like to read it, a copy of this presentation, with illustrations, can be found on-line at: www.appletonstudios.com/Congress2002DBA.pdf)
When I wrote that paper, it was not my intention to necessarily lend support to any of the “new directions” of which I spoke; I was merely trying to document a long-standing trend that I saw. My interest in the topic had been aroused because of some of the on-line discussions occurring at the time which were very much opposed to some of the new “innovations” being introduced into heraldry by one heraldic authority or another. You know, radical stuff like modern charges, new complex lines of division, and even (horrors!) new tinctures. It was then, and remains today, my belief that heraldry from its inception has regularly opened itself to new things like these, and that the innovations being written against (by some, not by all) were really nothing “new.”
In a conversation following that presentation, I was approached by an individual who seemed to believe that I was espousing the introduction of such innovations I mentioned in my talk. During that conversation I did note, as an example, that I thought perhaps that sufficient time had passed since its invention to allow heralds to define a more or less standard “heraldic” locomotive. His immediate response was, “Why can’t they just use a wheel?” (to keep whatever symbolism was being sought for in the design). A third party joined the conversation at this point, and I never did get around to answer the question.
My short answer, however, would have been something along the lines of, “Perhaps because they didn’t want to.” A longer answer would have included the fact that heraldry is not a static art (the main point of my presentation, after all); it has always added new charges, and many of these are now accepted without even a question as to their propriety for use in coats of arms. Someone wants a scimitar? “Why can’t they just use a [regular] sword?” Someone wants to use purple? “Why can’t they just use gules [red]?” And how many different variations of ermine do we need in heraldry, really? Even going way back, we have ermine, ermines [or, counter-ermine], erminois, pean, erminites. “Why can’t they just use ermine?”
I don’t think that heraldry should immediately adopt every new object or tincture or idea for such that comes along. (I have, for example, some very strong reservations about “rainbow” as a tincture.*) But I believe that when an object has been around long enough to have acquired a comparatively distinctive, identifiable shape, the fact that it has not appeared in heraldry before now should not be a bar to its entry into the heraldic lexicon.
So, copper as a new metal? Sure, why not? Chinese dragons? You bet. An art that has introduced purpure [purple] and unicorns in its past should be able to include these newer items without causing the heraldic world to shake from its foundations and fall. And to me, this ability to innovate, to change somewhat with the times, is part of the appeal, and longevity, of this art that we call heraldry.
* No, really. It’s been suggested. And here’s an example, Ermine a wyvern erect rainbow: