The alphabet is one set of arbitrary symbols. The figures of heraldry are another set of arbitrary symbols. In the fourteenth century every gentleman knew one: in the twentieth century every gentleman knows the other. The first gentleman was just precisely as ignorant for not knowing that c-a-t spells "cat," as the second gentleman is for not knowing that a St. Andrew's Cross is called a cross saltire, or that vert on gules is bad heraldry. -- G.K. Chesterson
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.
Take the apparent gridlock in the halls of the Congress of the United States. (Please!)
Then I ran across the following humorous "coat of arms" of the Senate Park Commission done by architect Alfred Morton Githens in 1902, and it helped me to realize that what's happening now in Washington isn't all that different from what's always happened in Washington. It doesn't lessen my frustration at the modern situation, but it did make me laugh. I hope that you can see the humor in it, too. (Especially in the motto: Soc Et Tuum [or as we might spell it more like modern English and less like faux Latin, Sock It To 'Em].)
The central charge on the shield is, of course, the Washington Monument on the Mall. And what is the Commission crest doing to that poor eagle? Alas, my poor country!
In this case, the “breach” seems to be that Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), does not have its own coat of arms. (The City of Canberra does, as noted in a recent post here: April 8, 2013, http://blog.appletonstudios.com/2013/08/australian-heraldry-in-news.html.) And there are some folks who want to change that. (Currently the ACT has a flag that uses the City of Canberra’s coat of arms and supporters on a yellow/gold fly with the Southern Cross constellation in white on a blue hoist.) The trouble is, as it always seems to be, what to put on the "new" shield?
In a recent article in The Canberra Times, the suggestion is made, as the title of the article suggests "Quest for a 'relevant' coat of arms"), that the new coat of arms should be "relevant." By this, Terry Fewtrell, one of those pushing for the new arms, means that Canberra should ditch its "outdated" coat of arms. "It’s a travesty that nothing in it reflects the real Canberra," he said. "It is neither Australian, nor reflective of the people and the place that we live in."
He points to the coat of arms of the Northern Territory, above, depicting Aboriginal motifs and local animals and flowers, saying heraldry need not be rooted in old-world imagery. (That last statement is something that I can agree with, though I'm not at all certain that I would go as far as he does and toss all of the "old world" imagery out, as he seems to want to do.) "You don’t have to be bound by all those old symbols – the castles and so on. You can be very creative." I can certainly agree with this, too, but again, I don't think you have to throw it all out and start from scratch. It is entirely possible to incorporate local elements (indeed, the Canadian Heraldic Authority does it all the time) without making the whole thing look like a paean to the indigenous peoples and ignoring the heraldic symbols and traditions that the European settlers, usually now in the majority, brought with them.
Another example of what some may consider to be swinging the pendulum too far from European heraldic tradition is the arms of South Africa, here. I mean, it's a decent design overall, but what in there symbolizes the many people of European extraction (or Indian or southeast Asian, for that matter) who live there, too?
I just think that there's a happy medium, where the symbols of the local area have a place, but so do the emblems of the descendants of the (mostly) European immigrants. To do otherwise, to ignore either the one or the other in creating a coat of arms for such a place, seems to me to be trying to deny a part of the history of the area and its peoples. But what do I know?
As a contrast to the "kitchen-sink" school of heraldry, which tries to incorporate everything, including the kitchen sink, from its history into its coat of arms, there are some very nice, simply, easily identifiable civic coats of arms in the United States.
Unfortunately, these are sometimes perhaps a little too easily identifiable, as the arms of a different entity entirely. One of the most egregious examples I have run across of this is the arms of New Bern, North Carolina.
As you can see, they have simply taken for their own the arms of the Canton of Bern, Switzerland.
Of course, it's not just similarly-named cities which have misappropriated these arms to themselves. I believe I have posted before about this use of the arms by Road Bear RV Rentals & Sales in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nice, simple, identifiable. Identifiable as the arms of something else. Sometimes it just makes me want to weep.
Or this post could be subtitled: "The Kitchen Sink School of Heraldry." (Because it seems like the designers have tried to include everything, including the kitchen sink.)
Over the years I have acquired a lot of images of heraldry as used here in the United States and elsewhere. Some of it is very good; a lot of it is fair; and some of it is, well, really bad.
One example that appears as an example of this last is the "arms" of the State of Alabama. (Whose state motto is sometimes, jokingly, said to be, "At least we're not Mississippi.")
As you can see, it's a bit of a mash-up, consisting as it does of the arms or flags of the several nations which have claimed its territory over the past few centuries: France, Spain, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. It could be blazoned "briefly," I suppose, as Quarterly, 1, France modern [Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or]; 2, Spain [Quarterly, 1 and 4, Gules a tower or castle Or (Castile), 2 and 3, Argent a lion rampant Gules (Leon)]; 3, the Union flag (1801 to present, for Great Britain); and 4, the battle flag of the Confederate States of America (Gules on a saltire Azure fimbriated 13 mullets Argent); overall, an inescutcheon Paly of thirteen Gules and Argent a chief Azure (which last is almost but not quite the arms of the United States, reversing as it does the red and white stripes). Additionally, the use of the arms of the U.S. on an inescutcheon would seem to state that Alabama's progeny will inherit the United States, at least heraldically.
Another example of the same kitchen-sink school of heraldic design can be found in the arms of the City of Winchester, Virginia.
Here, too, we have flags and arms in a quarterly shield, this time the earlier version of the Union flag (1606-1801), the central image of an Amazon having slain Tyranny from the seal of the State of Virginia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_of_virginia), the Confederate battle flag (without the fimbriation of the saltire), and yet another, different allusion to the arms of the United States, Gules two pallets Argent on a chief Azure three mullets Argent. As noted above, the arms of the U.S. are Paly of thirteen Argent and Gules, a chief Azure (thirteen stripes, not five; white on the outer sides, not red; and no stars on the chief).
Taking a little time out from the international news of heraldry, I thought I'd introduce to you the coat of arms of the capitol city of Texas, Austin.
Named for the "Father of Texas" (so named because of his early efforts in the colonization of the area) Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836), the City of Austin is not only home to the State's government (the above example of Austin's coat of arms was photographed on the capitol building grounds; note the silhouette of the capitol building behind the crest above the shield), but also - in keeping with its self-description as a "City of Learning" - the University of Texas.
It is to commemorate the "City of Learning" that a lamp of knowledge appears on the chief of its arms.
The coat of arms was designed in 1915 by Ray F. Coyle of San Francisco. The winning entrant in a city-sponsored contest for a city flag, the crest incorporates the crest attributed to Stephen F. Austin, A cross-crosslet fitchy or between a pair of wings argent.
The Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie turned 100 last year, and has decided as a part of that celebration to get itself a new coat of arms.
And why wouldn't you want to change their current "logo" above, after all? (Wait, is that American Indian supporter really bearing a bulls-eye target on his shield? Not to mention the unauthorized use of the Royal crown. Oh, my.)
After talking about making such a change twice before, in 2003 and 2007, the City Council formed a Coat of Arms Committee which, in conjunction with the Canadian Heraldic Authority has been looking at ideas for a new design. Some of what they've come up with includes: several elements which acknowledge Sault Ste. Marie's culture, history, geography and wildlife; the motto "Ojibwa Kitche Gumeeng Odena," identifying the community as a First Nations meeting place; the St. Marys River Rapids, the lock, depictions of whitefish and the fur trade, the steel and forestry industries, the Clergue Block House and Maple leaves. (Hmm, is the new coat of arms going to be any better than the old "logo"? Oh, dear, that's a lot of stuff to be throwing on and around the shield.) The new coat of arms' colors will be blue (water), grey (steel) and gold. All these recommendations (and a few others) were approved by Council at its July 15 meeting.
This time, it's a story about the Australian federal government transferring the documents granting the arms and the supporters from the National Archives, where they have been since 1953, to the territory, all as part of Canberra's centenary celebrations. There are some nice photos (not as nice as I would like, since it doesn't give a very good view of them) of the Letters Patent (the heraldry enthusiasts out there will no doubt recognize the three golden seal protectors for the seals of the three Kings of Arms of the College of Arms) as well as the seal and a seal impression of the arms.
It's alway great when more than one of my interests intersect, and it seemed to me that this particular post, the 600th on this blog, was the ideal time to share with you a picture that was posted by Joseph Staub on the forum of the American Heraldry Society a few days ago. And considering that it combined one of my loves, heraldry, with another of my loves, military aircraft, it was just too good to keep to myself.
And so. for your heraldic viewing pleasure, here's a photograph of a Czech fighter jet (I think it's a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon) with what I can only consider to be a really cool, heraldic paint job!
The lion rampant on the aircraft is, of course, from the "small arms," the simpler, non-quartered coat of arms of the Czech Republic, shown here.
Another member of the AHS, Joseph McMillan, replied to a comment about how it wasn't really very well camouflaged, "It's in case the Czech Air Force ever has to deploy to the African veldt; the airplanes will blend in with the lions."
I hope that you will find this combination of heraldry and aviation as enjoyable as I have!
And that old saw from the song seems even truer in heraldry.
There was an article about the University of St. Mark and St. John (known affectionately as "MarJon") in Plymouth, England, "arguably the third oldest higher education institution in England," according to Gil Fewings, the University's resident archives assistant. Whether the university is or isn't the third oldest, it is nearly 175 years old this year (or, at least, its constituent colleges are).
But Kerryanne Delbridge, Head of Marketing and Communications, said the identity of the institution had become confused. "In recent years the logos were replaced by the blue-grey 'swoosh' style that had been used since becoming a university college in 2007."
That would be this little item immediately blow, a graphic designer's dream, no doubt, but not terribly good at demonstrating graphically what the organization is or what it is all about.
Since the University has a coat of arms -- this one --
they have decided to go back to using their "crest" (I hate that misuse of a word in place of the correct "coat of arms," but there is little that I can do but continue to rail about it ineffectually at every opportunity), sometimes in a more simplified version here --
because, as Ms. Delbridge notes, "The crest is complex as it consists of the lion of St Mark and the lamb of St John, together with other symbols such as a book, a flag, crossed swords and four squares positioned rather like the four castles on the Plymouth city coat of arms. After working on a number of possible concepts, we formulated a three-quarter shield design for our logo, which provides a modern twist to the original crest."
She also states that "our original crest ... remains the anchor of our brand and ... will continue to be used in full for ceremonial occasions."
So this is a pleasant example of an organization bucking the all too common modern trend by dropping a modern logo for its full coat of arms and a new logo based upon that shield.
Good for you, MarJon! You ought to be held up as an example to all of the organizations which are dropping their "out of date" coat of arms for something "modern" (and which will often be dated itself in less than ten years!).