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.
Well, at least according to a recent article in the National Post.
Tristin Hopper's article about Canadian heraldry (you may have seen links to it on Facebook; at least three different people I know of discussed it there) appeared in the on-line version of the Post on March 27, is a great overview of heraldry, and how it is prospering in Canada.
The author seems particularly taken by the innovative monsters often used as supporters to Canadian grants of arms, such as the winged sea-caribou in the arms of the Federal Court, above, as well as the use of aboriginal or First Nations symbols and motifs.
The article is profusely illustrated with examples, most screenshots taken from the Register of Arms, Flags, and Badges which can be found on-line at the website of the Governor General. Mr. Hopper clearly did a fair bit of research and interviewed Claire Boudreau, the Chief Herald of Canada, and David Cvet, past President of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. There is also a short (albeit somewhat awkwardly phrased) quote from the author of this blog.
I also found the comments and discussions among some of the readers in the commentary section below the article to be of interest. Many seem to feel that the Canadian Heraldic Authority is doing a great job of keeping heraldry alive and "fun" in the 21st Century. Indeed, one commenter, Robert Addington, noted that a personal acquaintance of his, John Brooke-Little, believed that heraldry should be fun. Indeed, a quote I am fond of recalling appears in Mr. Brooke-Little's An Heraldic Alphabet and states: "You can study heraldry until you are azure ... in the face but inevitably discover, from time to time, that you really are quite vert.... I have found this over and over again but, never forget, herein lies the fun and if heraldry ever ceases to be fun - chuck it." Sage advice from a great herald.
In a recent on-line discussion about the high fat, high calorie, high cholesterol diets of just a few generations ago (and let it be noted that the people who ate those diets didn't sit at a desk all day, ride a car home, and sit in front of the TV or computer all night like we now do!), one commenter, Grla, said:
"Long before it became fashionable, my mother became suspicious of all the artificial substitutes and additives making their way into our food supply. She cooked with real ingredients, purchased fresh whenever possible, and served lots and lots of vegetables and greens with every meal. Why? Well, that was the preferred diet of her notably long-lived ancestors as they farmed New England's rocky soil for close to 300 years, and if it had worked so well for them, how bad could it be? She believed most of the health problems researchers were linking to the consumption of real eggs, real butter and cheese, were more likely attributable to the sedentary lifestyle of modern suburban living. If she'd ever had to adopt a personal coat of arms, her motto would undoubtedly have been 'Eat your vegetables, then go ride a bike,' and her crest a dairy cow."
A recent (March 7, 2014) article in the Basingstoke Gazette gives some background on a new devisal of a badge (mistakenly described as a "crest") for the 433 (Basingstoke) Squadron Air Cadets.
It's all very interesting and all that, but the statement that really caught my eye was the information that the badge was "created with the help of Garter College of Arms, in London."
Really? The "Garter College of Arms?" ("In London," like there are several scattered about the country, and so the one being referenced here had to be specifically identified.) While I might understand if a local newspaper here in the States made an error like this, I really expect better of even regional papers in England. "Garter College of Arms" my Aunt Myrtle. Harrumph!
So I was reading the local newspaper the other day and ran across an advertisement for a "one day university." I didn't read a whole lot further, so I'm not entirely sure of the concept, because their shield-shaped logo is what really caught my eye.
It's not even an attempt at heraldry. It's just a classical Greek portico issuant from base with the words "One Day University." The only thing at all heraldic about it is the fact that it's on a shield shape.
I have no idea why they decided to choose to place their logo on a shield shape; there are so many other possibilities that are available. But, no, an heraldic heater shield is what they chose.
I must say, I really don't understand the need for educational institutions to place their logos on a shield shape. It really doesn't seem to add anything to the logo, but so very many of them, even things that aren't real educational institutions in the usual sense like One Day University, seen to feel they have to use something that looks like heraldry.
From the blog at shutterstock.com, a post entitled "Game of Brands : The Game of Thrones Houses as Modern Corporations."
As the blog notes, "With only days to go before the third-season premiere of Game of Thrones, we're having a hard time staying out of a medieval mindset."
"Based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice novels, the landscape is dominated by a struggle for power among the Great Houses of Westeros. We've re-envisioned six of the prime players, from the Targaryens to the Starks, as 21st-century companies more concerned with competing for market share than ultimate rule."
I found it interesting to see this use of the symbols of these fictional "great houses" in a modern corporate environment; and some of the logos reminded me very much of some actual modern-day corporate logos which are based on heraldry (e.g., the Barclays Bank eagle). Some designs, I think, work better than others, but they all help to demonstrate that heraldry is not an outdated or dying art best left to the realm of the antiquarian, but has relevance to us here in the 21st Century and into the future.
Still, apparently it is, since not even divisions of the federal government seem to be able to use a correct depiction of the arms of the United States in their own insignia. As examples, here are copies of the insignia of three of the seven Unified Combatant Commands of the U.S. Department of Defense. (The other four do not use the U.S. arms in their insignia.) I give you the insignia of:
the United States Northern Command;
the United States Central Command; and
the United States Space Command.
As you can see, the Northern Command uses the arms of the U.S. but with thirteen stars on the chief; the U.S. arms on the Central Command badge has but seven stripes (with the red and white stripes reversed; they should be white and red) and with four stars on the chief; and the Space Command is close to the actual U.S. arms, but the red stripes are far, far wider than the white ones. The white and red stripes should be of equal width, and they clearly are not here.
You'd think that, being a part of the Department of Defense, a major division of the federal government, which has the arms correctly illustrated in its own insignia ...
... that these three Unified Combatant Commands could accurately depict the arms of the government they represent and of which they are a part. You might think that, but, as you can see from the above examples, you'd be incorrect. Just as incorrect as their insignia.
Sometimes it almost makes me weep, the state of heraldry in my native land. I mean, really, it's a very simple coat of arms. Three tinctures (white, red, and blue), and one subordinary (the chief). The white and red of the field are evenly divided palewise; the chief goes across the top, and is otherwise unadorned. How hard can it be to get it correctly depicted? Apparently, very hard.
Okay, I'm going to get off my soap box now, and maybe go read some nice heraldic treatise. Or browse through a nice armorial. Something to get my mind off the many varied and varying depictions of the national arms of my country. Because it's frustrating, and my ranting about it here is probably to no real avail. (I am reminded of the cartoon about the man sitting in front of his computer while a voice from the other room is asking why he hasn't come to bed, and he replies that he can't go to bed yet, "because someone is wrong on the internet!"
Well, I can't fix that, so I'm going to toddle off to bed now, and next time I'll write about something else heraldic, something that isn't so "wrong."
Continuing my question from my last post, "It's Not That Hard; Why Is It So Often Wrong?", I present my favorite group of depictions of the arms of the United States. It's my favorite because these three examples all come from the same place -- the gateway at the entrance to the military cemetery at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi -- and hence they are all in very close proximity.
How close? All three are seen in this single photograph.
So, three renditions of the same coat of arms, all different. From left to right from the above photo, they are:
Remember now, the depiction we are hoping to see would be blazoned Paly [or paleways] of thirteen argent and gules, a chief azure.
But as you can see, the first one has eight red stripes and seven white ones (for a total of fifteen, rather than thirteen), with the red stripes to the outside. So, incorrect number of stripes, and the red and white stripes reversed.
The second has eleven stripes (instead of thirteen), also with the red and white stripes reversed, and has stars on the chief.
The third one comes the closest to being accurate, with thirteen stripes (and no stars on the chief), but again has the stripes red and white instead of white and red.
They are all beautiful pieces of artwork, and even appear to be hatched correctly (with vertical lines for gules, or red; and horizontal lines for azure, or blue, the sole exception being the one that has stars on the chief). But why are each of these three depictions, placed so near each other, not only different from each other, but different from the arms they are supposedly depicting?