Monday, November 23, 2015

HERALDRY: Simple and Fun

The Earl Marshal (Duke of Norfolk) is the English
authority on arms, and his Court at the College
of Arms decides disputes. In Scotland, it is Lord
Lyon King of Arms. [All illustrations from the
1953 book, Simple Heraldry].
As a relative newcomer to the heraldry field, bitten by the bug less than ten years ago, earlier this year (in February and September) I was haunting heraldry collections in Oxford and London, such as:
  • the Bodleian's newly reopened Weston Library with small open-stack collection of useful books, 
  • the British Library's huge collection, easily accessible, 
  • the College of Arms library, which sadly in February I could not consult because it was being renovated, and 
  • the Society of Genealogists, which I have joined; it has a decent collection and is well-staffed with paid and unpaid experts on hand.
The genealogy and local history room at the New York Public Library is disappointing because the stacks that are open are strong on local history but not on heraldry.

The book that best fits my attitude toward heraldry – that it is loads of fun, Tolkien on steroids – is Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated, by Iain Moncreiffe (Falkland Poursuivant) and Don Pottinger (Herald Painter Extraordinary to the Court of Lord Lyon). My first copy was given to me by Paul Walton (Brasenose College, Oxford). I have since acquired a second copy online.

The book takes a light-hearted approach to its subject while it gets everything, so far as my amateur scan can determine, right. In other words, the style is like 1066 and All That, but the content is non-fiction.

Simple Heraldry is not a book of recent vintage. In fact it is 62 years old – if it were an American citizen, the book could get in line for a national pension, although the penalties for early withdrawal suggest that the book should wait a little longer before applying for its monthly direct deposit.

The publisher is Edinburgh-based Thomas Nelson and Sons, founded 1798 and now a subsidiary of HarperCollins. The last edition on record is 1955, being a reprint of the original edition.
Note the Moray or Murray arms – three stars argent on
a field azure. The main difference with the Douglas
arms is that for Douglas the azure is in chief only
and the stars are three in a row.
Its age shows up on p. 62, where it reports that
you may apply to the Earl Marshal through the College of Arms for Letters Patent granting you special arms of your own. This costs £105...
In February, Windsor Herald told me that the cost for an individual was now £5,500. The cost is higher for institutions like nonprofits and local governments. It is highest for large businesses.

What Blazon are You? What a
blazon is, from Simple Heraldry.
Two copies of the book were available second hand online via Amazon for $35 each – a bargain.

I purchased one of them instantly. So there is one left. The book is underpriced.


This is just the kind of self-mocking book to rekindle more interest in heraldry. It should be updated and reissued. If someone knows what the status of the rights is, please contact me at john[at]

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