Thursday, August 16, 2018

When Someone Asks, "What Good Is Heraldry?"

I've long had a quote that I like to pull out to help explain how heraldry can be useful to folks doing research, whether genealogical or historical:

Many are the incidents, but faintly written in the pages of history, which would have remained for ever dark and illegible, but for the light flashed on them by the torch of Heraldry. A shield of Arms, a Badge, or a Rebus depicted on a glass window, painted on a wall, carved on a corbel or monument, will frequently indicate, with unerring precision, the date to which such relics are to be ascribed, and  whose memory they are intended to perpetuate, when all verbal descriptions are wanting; and the identity of many an old portrait rests on no other authority than that of a coat of Arms painted at the side.

John E. Cussans, The Handbook of Heraldry, 1869, pp. 15-16

Then there's this one, quoted by Mr. Cussans immediately following the above quote, by C. James, Scotland in the Middle Ages:

For the pursuit of family history, of topographical and territorial learning, of ecclesiology, of architecture, it is altogether indispensable; and its total and contemptuous neglect in this country [Scotland], is one of the causes why a Scotchman can rarely speak or write on any of these subjects without being exposed to the charge of using a language he does not understand.

(Ecclesiology: the study of churches, especially church building and decoration. Just in case you hadn't run into this word before.)

Well, in addition to those two quotes, I recently came across another expressing a similar sentiment, in an article entitled What I've Learned by Harry Williams-Bulkeley, the Head of Silver at Christie’s:

Heraldry is incredibly important with silver. Hallmarks tell you who made the object, where it was made and when it was made, but the coat of arms will tell you for whom it was made. It’s the final cherry on the cake that leads you to the full story.

I love the sentiment contained in that final sentence, don't you?

And if you'd like to know some of the other things that Mr. Williams-Bulkeley has learned over the course of his 28-year career at Christie's, you can find the full article on-line at


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