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 Introduction 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.
It's always interesting to see the different ways in which people use (and sometimes misuse) heraldry.
Recently on Facebook I ran across this:
"What is it?" you ask. Why, it's a Barris Custom guitar by Hallmark, of course. The design is based on custom hotrod builder George Barris' personal "crest." How real is that coat of arms? Not very, I suspect, but isn't that a cool guitar? And wouldn't it be great to use to help bring in the new year?
Well, as long as I'm still on a roll with heraldry from the movies, and since we're still undergoing the phenomenon that is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I found a couple of articles on-line about where someone had designed flags for many of the planets, and even the Death Star, from the movies, animated series, comic books, and video games. ('Cause some folks just can't get enough of their Star Wars, don'tcha know?)
Anyway, while not heraldry strictly speaking (though vexillology, the study of flags, is certainly a related field to heraldry), I thought that these might be of interest.
Art director and New Zealander Scott Kelly has designed over 100 flags to represent the planets (and the Death Star!) from the Star Wars world.
This, for example, is the flag he designed for Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet, with its two suns. It's also highly reminiscent of one of the stills from the original Star Wars movie, now Episode IV: A New Hope), with our erstwhile hero looking out over the desert as the two suns set in the distance. (This design is actually my favorite, I think. It's clear, simple, readily identifiable; everything that a flag, or a coat of arms, should be.)
"Crests, flags and coats of arms possess a kind of power."
Thus opens a website which brings to us some of the heraldry which can be found in the Harry Potter books and movies.
For example, the "coat of arms" of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, consisting of the emblems of its four founders whose names are given to the four houses within the school: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw (in quarters one, two, three, and four, respectively).
There's a fair bit more, of course. Not as much as heraldry enthusiasts might prefer, but still ....
To be truthful, in a movie that's going to be released almost a year from now, on November 18, 2016.
The movie, a Harry Potter prequel, set in New York, entitled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, that has just released its first "teaser trailer" to the public.
Surprisingly enough, there was a shot of some heraldry in one of the scenes: a version of the arms of the United States of America.
Not as surprisingly, the depiction was not the coat of arms of the U.S. (Well, technically speaking, I suppose, what we are seeing here is the emblem of the "Magical Congress of the United States of America." So, not really the arms of the US, just something that tries to be.)
The US arms are probably best blazoned as Paly of thirteen argent and gules a chief azure. The above image shows those arms but with the red and white stripes switched, and the chief is just crammed full of white stars (heraldic mullets argent).
So close, and yet so far.
It will be interesting to see if there is any other heraldry used in the movie. I'll be sure to let you know if I run across any.
Appropriate to the season, and another fine example of attributed arms (which are on my mind right now owing to running across the arms of Goliath as I discussed in my post of December 10), here is a portrait and the attributed arms of St. Nicholas.
We've covered the topic of the coat of arms, and some of the folks who think that they ought to be changed, of the Australian Capital Territory and the City of Canberra (which the ACT has simply used to represent itself, despite the arms having been granted to the Federal Capital Commissioners for the City of Canberra), several times previously in this blog. (See our posts of September 6, 2012; April 4, 2013; and August 8 and 26, 2013.)
Well, they're at it again.
The complaint is that there's really nothing Australian about the coat of arms. With which argument, frankly, I have to agree. See what I mean?
I recently ran across an article in The Canberra Times which highlighted a proposed new coat of arms for the ACT and Canberra (though why they think the two should bear the same arms I do not know) which is just chock-full of Australian imagery.
I do wish they hadn't made the background black; it makes the black swan supporters very hard to identify.
This proposed coat of arms also reminds me a bit of the "arms" of the State of New York here in the U.S.
But that, I suppose, should be neither here nor there. (No, really! It shouldn't be here, and it shouldn't be there. But then, I don't care for much of the "landscape heraldry" that passes for state symbols here in the U.S. Maybe that's just me, though. Others may like their heraldry that way.)
But I digress.
In addition to the gang-gang cockatoo on the arms, the designer, Steven Squires, has filled the shield and crest and other external additaments with lots of local meaning. And it's certainly not as bad as some of the heraldry that I've seen some people come up with. Still and all, though, I'm not sure that it's all that fortuitous a design. Yes, it is more "Australian," but no, it's not that great a piece of heraldry.
One of the my "guilty pleasures" in looking at/for coats of arms is the occasional find of another coat of attributed arms; a coat of arms designed and representing an individual, real or mythological, who lived some time before the introduction of heraldry in the 12th Century.
There are the ones you find in any number of old books, of course: King Arthur and the rest of the Nine Worthies; the three magi (below, from the Wernigeroder Wappenbuch); Jesus; and even Satan.
I even have a subfolder on my computer labeled "Attributed Arms" in which I place images of such arms that I run across, just so I can go back to them periodically without having to hunt them down in all the armorials, etc. from which I originally found them.
I was going back through another old source on-line which wasn't even primarily about heraldry; the Speculum humanae salvationis, Hs-2505, an old manuscript of illustrated stories from the Bible that I ran across on the website of the Darmstadt University Library.
While not specifically heraldic, a number of the illustrations included coats of arms to identify some of the figures they contained. The one that most attracted my attention was this one:
From the story of David and Goliath, we have the arms of the giant Goliath of Gath.
It came as a complete surprise to me; I'd not seen attributed arms for Goliath before. And what a great, and simple, coat of arms it is, too! Very much Germanic in style, with the crest on the helmet matching the charges on the shield. Goliath of Gath! Who knew?
In a recent article at the Boston Globe entitled “Harvard Law will scrutinize use of slaveholders' seal,” journalist Steve Annear covers the controversy which has arisen over the inclusion of a colonial coat of arms in the logo/coat of arms used by the Harvard University School of Law.
The arms of the Law School could be blazoned Azure three garbs or, a chief of Harvard (Gules on three open books argent garnished or the word VE-RI-TAS [Latin: Truth] sable).
This controversy arises in the wake of the decisions in some of our southern states to remove the Confederate battle flag from certain public venues because of its adoption and use by those opposing equal rights for blacks in this country in the 1960s and since.
The main portion of the shield - Azure three garbs or - are the arms of Isaac Royall, as found on a baptismal basin donated by him to St. Michael’s Church in Bristol, Rhode Island; on his bookplate; on a two-handled cup in the possession of the First [Congregational] Church of Medford, Massachusett; and on the tomb of Isaac Royall and his father, William Royall, in Dorchester, Massachusetts (Bolton’s American Armory, Charles Knowles Bolton, The F.W. Faxon Company, Boston, 1927, pp. 142-143). (Bolton’s work, which heraldic scholars have noted has many errors in it, is the only work in which I have found these arms.)
Isaac Royall left in his will land for Harvard College to sell and establish the first law professorship in his name. However, he was a slaveowner, and further, “Royall's father ‘treated his slaves with extreme cruelty, including burning 77 people to death,’ according to a statement from the law school.” Hence the controversy, and following a call from students, Martha Minow, dean of the law school, formed a special committee to study, discuss, and make recommendations about the use of the arms to represent the school.
I see a lot of stuff that demonstrates that while people may like heraldry, for any number of reasons, many of them don't really understand it. A recent example of this was sent to my email in-box recently, with a link to some heraldry-like art by an artist over on the Shutterstock website.
And because I'm always interested in such things, I clicked on the link went to take a look.
Not bad, really. Even the general description of the design didn't bother me much ("Heraldic royal coronet illustration, imperial striped decorative coat of arms"). But the part that really stuck out to me was part of the description of the blank motto scroll under the shield, which was described as, I kid you not, an "undulate festive ribbon."
I should probably get a nice soft pad to put on my desk, to help reduce the bruising when I do a faceplant and hit my head on the desk. Because while the bruising on my forehead may be "undulate," it really isn't very "festive."