Thursday, May 29, 2014

Heraldry Seen on Memorial Day

Well, it was almost heraldry.

Memorial Day here in the United States is a holiday held on the last Monday in May dedicated to the memory of those who have died while serving in this country's armed forces.  It began as Decoration Day just a few years after the end of the American Civil War, and at that time memorialized those who had died in that bloody conflict.

The Fort Worth, Texas camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, of which I am a member, holds an annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Grand Army of the Republic* monument in Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.  It is a relatively brief but moving ceremony, including a three-howitzer salute by a related unit, and draws a number of visitors and onlookers.

On an only marginally related note, I enjoy participating in it because it gives me the opportunity to visit the cemetery and to see some of the old, and new, headstones, etc.  This time, as we were driving in, my wife spotted an above-ground mausoleum which what looked like a coat of arms over the entrance.  So we made sure to go by it on our way out so we could get a photograph of the arms.

As you can see, as heraldry it is an "almost."  That is to say, it's almost heraldry, but falls a bit short.  A bit of a disappointment, admittedly; one could wish that the Moore family would use a real coat of arms there.  But still, it's nice to find even "almost" heraldry on a late spring morning in Texas.

*  The GAR was made up of those who fought for the Union in that war, whether soldier, sailor, or marine.  As the GAR's numbers dwindled as those men aged and died off (in much the same way as our World War II veterans are doing now), the SUVCW, made up of their children, grand-children, and so on, became the successor organization to the GAR, and carries on its legacy, including keeping alive the memory of their lost comrades in arms.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Is the Welsh Flag "Evil"?

There apparently is a group in Wales that thinks that Y Ddraig Goch, "the red dragon" on the flag of Wales should be removed, and suggest that the flag of the patron saint of Wales, St. David, a gold cross on a black field, should replace it.

According to Rev. George Hargreaves, leader of the Welsh Christian Party, the dragon symbolizes the Devil and should have no place on the flag of a Christian nation.  "This is the very symbol of the devil as described in The Book of Revelation 12:3," he said, and "Wales has been under demonic oppression and under many curses because of this unwise choice."  "This symbol was only introduced in 1959 and is not the historic symbol of Wales."

It is true that this flag only became "official" in 1959, but I think at the very least that the Tudor kings and queens of England might disagree that the dragon was "only introduced" then, since they used the red dragon as a supporter of the Royal Arms as a mark of their Welsh origins, as here in this old oak relief of the arms of Henry VIII.

As a consequence, I have to question how much about the real history of this symbol Rev. Hargreaves knows.  Welsh historian John Davies pointed out that "It's been part of our tradition for more than 1,500 years."  "What's the point of changing it now?"

Bishop David Yeoman said few Christians in Wales would associate the dragon with the devil.  He said, "The dragon is a very ancient symbol in Wales. I don't think Christians see it as demonic. They see it as a symbol of the past."

Still, the Welsh Christian Party is launching an online petition and wants a referendum to allow the Welsh people to decide which flag they would prefer.

More on the story can be found on the websites of The Huffington Post at and RTE News at

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Another Less Than Stellar Example

(Okay, I'll admit that the title of this post is an originally unintended pun; I caught onto it as I was 2/3 of the way through writing the post, and decided it was good enough - or bad enough - that I just had to keep it.)

I recently ran across another coat of arms for another American city that (1) looks like it was designed by a committee, and (2) adds specific words around the shield because, well, you probably couldn't figure out which city or what state it was in if they didn't.  Or, more likely, because they didn't understand that everything that needed to be said was already included in the poor heraldic design.  So without further ado, I give you the seal including the arms of the City of Thousand Oaks, Ventura County, California.

As I said, the shield itself pretty much says it all.  The bear and star pretty much tell you California (witness the flag of the state, here);

The map in dexter chief gives you not only Ventura County, but where within the county the City is placed; and the lower half of the shield shows you one of the one thousand oaks under a sunny California sky.

So the shield combines some decent heraldic symbolism (the California quarter), a map(!), and a little "landscape heraldry."  All combined with the totally unnecessary words - if you understand the shield properly - "City of Thousand Oaks California."

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Rare Heraldic Treat Is Opened to Photographers

An unsung, little-known hospice for the infirm in Jerusalem opened its doors last week to reporters and photographers to let them see the coats of arms and geometric designs painted on its interior walls over 100 years ago.  The St. Louis Hospital, next door to Jerusalem's City Hall, normally off-limits to the public, has many of its walls covered with coats of arms and insignia of Crusader knights (and others - I saw the arms of Jean d'Arc in one photograph), painted by the Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, who funded, designed, and decorated the building when the hospice moved outside the Old City walls to its current location.

Amit Reem, the medieval expert in Jerusalem of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, said that de Peillat painted accurate recreations of medieval insignia, and that the paintings have immense historical value.  The paintings are, naturally enough, in danger of being lost, as the hospice lacks funding to restore and preserve the paintings.

You can find more pictures with the full story on the website of the Times of Israel, at

In the meantime, here's a couple more pictures to whet your curiosity.

I don't think I could work there.  I'd never get any work done, because I'd be too distracted by all the heraldry there!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An Example of "Don't Do This"

Well, that'll teach me go just go cruising about the internet by myself.  There I was, just wandering about and looking at stuff and following whatever caught my eye for a little while, and I ran across the following:

Yeah, the "coat of arms" in the seal of the City of Hartford, Connecticut.  You can tell it's Hartford because you have a hart, or stag, crossing a river (presumably, the ford, though an heraldic ford is a different thing altogether), and you know it's Connecticut because of the grapevine in base, three of which appear on the arms and, because the arms appear on the flag, the flag of the State of Connecticut.

And, of course, you can tell that it's located within the bounds of the United States of America because of the eagle (wings displayed) sitting atop the shield.  Really, about the only thing they're missing is the GPS coordinates (41.762736°N 72.674286°W, if you must know).

And what is that stuff that they've done instead of mantling down the sides of the shield?  The upper parts look like Victorian gas brackets, but the lower parts look like branches of some sort. Oak, maybe?

I guess I could just chalk it all up to that old quote by Catherine Aird: “If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.”

"Horrible" may be a little strong here; I've certainly seen worse.  But, still, it's not good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Cool Heraldic Internet Find

Puttering about the internet as I sometimes get to do (less frequently lately than usual, for some reason), I ran across a short article (with lots of photographs) of a reproduction Martin Jahn made of the Quedlinburger Wappenkästchen, or "armorial box."  (The coats of arms on the reproduction appear to be in a different arrangement than those on the original.)

The original is a small lock box of Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV in the Church of Quedlinburg, Germany. It is dated 1209, and has 33 coat of arms painted on it.  A paper (in German) by Nathalie Kruppa of Göttingen describes the box, its history, and the coats of arms painted upon it, can be found at,cma,004,2001,a,06.pdf  Another review of the casket by Steen Clemmensen, with a couple of photographs of it, can be found

The photographs and details of the reproduction are well worth taking a look at, and can be found on-line at  It's a beautiful piece of heraldic work.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Heraldry in the News!

In a recent (March 29, 2014) ruling, the Kings of Arms at the College of Arms in London have made a ruling about the arms of individuals in same-sex marriages.  According to the College of Arms website, "[t]he ruling aims to replicate as closely as possible the heraldic practice for married couples of different sex."

The same ruling also amends a 1997 ruling regarding the use of the arms of married women, stating that "the use of the mark of difference laid down there for married women will henceforth be optional."

The full ruling issued by the Kings of Arms can be found on the website of the College of Arms at

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

So there I was, working on my presentation about the arms of the United States of America and cruising around the internet looking for examples of their use and, working for lawyers like I do, I thought of the many divisions of the United States District Courts around the country.
Now, these courts are, as you could reasonably assume from their names, a part of the United States, that is to say, the federal, judiciary system.  They are, as Wikipedia notes, “the general trial courts of the United States federal court system.”  That is to say, they are not your basic local or even state courts.  The U.S. District Courts, of which there may be as few as one or as many as four in each state (for example, in the State of Texas there are four U.S. District Court divisions: the Northern District, the Eastern District, the Southern District, and the Western District, each of which may have branches in more than one city), are subordinate to the nine United States Circuit Courts of Appeal, which in turn are subordinate to the Supreme Court of the United States.
It is true that in cases which are originally filed in a state court which have a federal or constitutional question may be removed to, or appealed to, the appropriate U.S. District Court.  But they are a part of the federal system, and not a part of any state judicial system.
All that said as a very brief background, in perusing the websites of a number of U.S. District Courts, I found that they use – as they should – the arms of the United States (some in monochrome, some in color), or some other appropriate insignia of their federal jurisdiction, such as the flag of the U.S. or white stars on a blue and red background and so on, or no such insignia at all.  Below are two such examples from the United States District Courts for the Northern and Western Districts of Oklahoma (the state just to the immediate north of Texas where I live).
The use of the arms of the U.S. in the Northern District is fairly typical of that use in many of the U.S. District Courts that I saw. 

And while it’s a less common usage, I really like the placement of the achievement of arms of the U.S. on an outline of the State of Oklahoma as used by the Western District, combining as it does their federal jurisdiction and their physical location in the State of Oklahoma.

But I found an exception to those uses of the arms of the United States.  The website of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma uses the Great Seal of the … wait for it … State of Oklahoma.

They are using the official emblem of an entity of which they are not a subdivision.  Yes, they are physically located in the State of Oklahoma, but they are not a part of the State of Oklahoma.  (The State has its own district courts, 77 of them according to Wikipedia, which may, and probably do, use the Great Seal of the State as appropriate.)  The United States District Court is a part of the federal judiciary, whose judges are not elected by the people of the State of Oklahoma, and it should not be using the seal of that state for its insignia.
If this were occurring in Scotland (and if I lived there!), I’d write the Procurator Fiscal of the Court of the Lord Lyon about this very public usurpation of arms.  But it’s not (and I don’t), and there really is no way to enforce the correct use of heraldry here in the United States, much less in the State of Oklahoma.  Indeed, they probably assume that because they are physically situated in the state, that it is perfectly appropriate for them to use the Great Seal of that state.  They’re wrong, but there is little that I can do about it.  Except to sit here, appalled and frustrated, and rail about it to you.
Okay, rant over.  I’ll go back to my books and find some more heraldry being used appropriately.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Herald in the News!

It’s always especially fun to run across an article about someone I know.  I first met Frederick G. “Fred” Brownell of South Africa in 1996 when we each attended the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences that was held in Ottawa, Canada that year.

Our paths crossed again by mail a little later when, having been invited to attend 1997’s International Congress of Vexillology but being unable to go, my wife Jo Ann and I obtained and sent to him for the Congress a U.S. flag that had been flown over the Capitol Building in Washington DC and a Texas state flag that had been flown over the State Capitol Building in Austin, Texas, along with a U.S. flag lapel pin for him.  A while later I had another opportunity to write him that I had wanted to acquire a copy of his book, National and Provincial Symbols of the Republic of South Africa, but hadn’t been able to find one anywhere at the time, and inquiries to his publisher had received no response, and could he tell me where I could purchase a copy.  (I received an autographed copy from him at the following Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in Besançon, France by way of the Deputy State Herald, Marcel van Rossum, who was attending that year’s conference in his stead.)

We met up with Fred again a while later at the Congresses in Dublin in 2004, which he attended along with his daughter Heather, and in Quebec City in 2008.  He is the sweetest man, intelligent, knowledgeable about both heraldry and his greater love, flags, and I could, and probably did, listen to him for hours.

Here’s a picture of Fred and Marcel (the tall fellow on the right), along with Jo Ann (next to Napoleon)and myself and a friend of ours from Chicago, Bess Schulmeister (on the right), just after we’d all had lunch together at a restaurant, The Napoleon, in Quebec City.  We decided we just had to get our picture taken with the great man for whom the restaurant was named, don’t you know.

Anyway, with all that as background, it was a thrill earlier this week to run across an article (dated April 26, 2014) on the BBC News Magazine website about him entitled “Fred Brownell: The man who made South Africa's flag.”  Fred designed the current flag of South Africa (as well as the flag of Namibia.  He's a prolific and talented man).  It’s a great article, because not only does it give you an idea of some of the character of the man, but it gives the history and evolution of the design that was eventually accepted as the nation’s new flag, which is not something that I heard him ever talk much about.  (He’s really a very humble person, although you could tell that he was proud that his design had become the official flag of his country.)

So anyway, please feel free to click on the link here and learn a little more about Fred Brownell, formerly the State Herald of South Africa, designer of the flags of two countries, and a really, really nice guy, at