Tuesday, October 20, 2015

HERALDRY: Windsor Herald Speaks in NYC

Windsor Herald speaks at the New York Genea-
logical and Biographical Society at 36 W 44 St.
A few hours ago I went to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society to hear Windsor Herald, William Hunt.

We met earlier this year in London when I was doing research for my article on the coats of arms of the Oxford Colleges, which has just been published in Oxford Today.

He started with some background about the College of Arms, of which he is an officer. The heralds carry the rank either of King of Arms or Herald. The Heralds work on the design and blazon of the arms to ensure that they are unique, assisted by Poursuivants, and the Kings of Arms grant the arms under the authority of the Crown.

Coats of arms in England date back to circa 1128 when the arms of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou were said to be established. He started the Plantagenet (his nickname) royal line. A picture of his shield on his tomb shows what appears to be a forerunner of today's royal coat of arms. But the descriptions of his arms are not contemporary, and no one is certain which arms in England are the oldest.

The College of Arms in London is next to St. Paul's Cathedral. The 1666 Great Fire of London - which left one-sixth of the population homeless - destroyed the original building. The College of Arms building that we see today is the one built after the Great Fire, minus one of the four sides.
The fourth side was removed, says Windsor Herald, to make room for Queen Victoria Street, which the College now faces.

Windsor Herald showed several of the pedigrees that are stored at the College of Arms. Some of them show dubious links stretching from Adam and Eve without interruption to and some early English kings. The pedigrees are often propaganda instruments - for example, by placing key individuals on one or other side of the Wars of the Roses.

During the time of Henry VIII the wish for coats of arms spread and the Crown decided it would be a good source of revenue to tax people who have them.

Windsor Herald provided a series of examples of
coats of arms that he has designed. This one is
especially funny, paid for by the widow of a lawyer
who defended "ladies of the night".
Windsor Herald said that virtually anyone who has lived in England for several generations, if they are resourceful enough can trace their ancestry back to one or other king.

He showed how quartering of arms works. When a man entitled to a coat of arms marries a woman who also bears arms (e.g., by having no children, or by being widowed), the arms are "quartered". He showed examples of quartering ad absurdum.

Someone who wants a coat of arms applies to the Earl Marshal. The Court of the Earl Marshal is the only room at the College of Arms that is open to the public.

The arms are "granted" by one or more of the three Kings of Arms, for a fee (about $8,000 for an individual coat of arms, more for institutional arms), which pays mostly for the overhead of the College of Arms along with the design or certification work by Heralds and their Poursuivants.

Windsor Herald then went through a series of examples of interesting coats of arms. The right to bear arms has to be established either by genealogy, showing descent from an ancestor who bore arms, or de novo by community recognition, including professional qualification or a university degree. The acceptable qualifications are fairly broad, but Windsor Herald says that the College of Arms frequently turns down applicants for coats of arms.


The College of Arms is a bit like a bank. Banks don't like to lend money to people who really need it. (The banks are worried about being paid back.) If a person really needs a coat of arms, one has to ask why? The question is easier to answer for institutions, which have always needed a corporate identity.

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