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.
This is what happens when an heraldic artist has never seen anything more than a very rough description of an heraldic beast when painting ...
Genealogical Speakers Guild
Genealogical Speakers Guild
Monday, November 18, 2013
I had been asked once again to speak to the Virginia Beach Genealogy Society (this was my third time out there; they must really like me!) and found that, once again, you can find heraldry wherever you go.
In this specific instance, since I had all day before the presentation to "play tourist" and see the sight, I was visiting the Nauticus Maritime Museum in Norfolk. It's a really great place to visit; they've got a lot to see (including BB64, the USS Wisconsin battleship, but more about that in another post), with a great series of exhibits that covers basically the history of the United States Navy from its founding until today. Among a whole lot of other things, they've got a piece of the armor plating of the USS Monitor (on loan from the Mariner's Museum in Newport News), as well as a cannonball and the ship's bell from the Monitor's famous opponent, the CSS Virginia (an ironclad ship built on the hull of the former USS Merrimac).
But when I came to the section of the Museum dedicated to the Great White Fleet sent by President Theodore Roosevelt on a circumnavigation of the globe from December 1907 to February 1909, I ran across the following bit of heraldry:
It is, of course, the arms of the United States done in a really nice carving that decorated the prow of one of those pre-WWI warships. You can see how it would have been mounted on the ship based on the model below.
What a wonderful piece of heraldic carving, from the shield of the arms to the very fierce-looking eagle above to the scroll with the word "Excelcior" below, to the leafy foliage on each side as well as the human figures supporting the cartouche on which the arms are placed.
There is, as many of you will no doubt see for yourselves, an error in the arms, though. Instead of being Paly [or for the purists out there, paleways] of thirteen Argent and Gules a chief Azure, the colors of the vertical stripes have been switched, making them Gules and Argent. An easy enough mistake to make, I suppose, except perhaps for "us heralds." I've certainly seen it often enough in renditions in various media of the national coat of arms. At least they didn't put any stars on the chief, which is a even more common error, conflating as it does the national arms with the national flag.
But what a great piece of naval history, and heraldic art, to find while playing tourist!