History of the US Flag

(Reposted from last year; please enjoy this quasi-heraldic history of the flag of the United States!)

During the Revolutionary War, various commanders and militia groups flew their own flags. The Gadsden flag was used by the Continental Navy starting in December 1775, possibly borrowing the symbolism and motto from the flag of the Culpeper Minutemen, established earlier that year. The rattlesnake was a fairly common symbol of the colonies, being both a native and extremely dangerous animal. The pine tree also appears pretty frequently, in both the Continental flag reportedly used at Bunker Hill and the eponymous Pine Tree Flag used by a small naval squadron under George Washington’s direct authority as well as the Massachusetts state navy.

Once the Second Continental Congress got properly up and running, they adopted the Grand Union Flag, possibly based on the flag of the British East India Company. If you take a look at that first link, you’ll notice the red saltire is missing from the Grand Union’s version of the British flag; it wasn’t added until Ireland joined the UK in 1801, and by then, the US flag had moved on. Putting the then-contemporary British Union Flag in the canton seems like an odd choice for a country trying to declare independence, but both Massachusetts and New York had been doing the same thing.

The Grand Union flag lasted for about two years before the Second Continental Congress adopted the first stars-and-stripes pattern in 1777, consisting of “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” It’s not entirely clear where the stars came from. There’s a legend that they were adapted from the Washington coat of arms (argent two bars, in chief three molets of five points gules), but this seems unlikely. While the cult of personality that grew up around George Washington, especially after his death, could get pretty intense, the widespread cultural disdain for monarchy in early US history makes me doubt that they would adapt an individual’s personal arms for a national flag.

In 1795, two additional stars and stripes were added to represent the new states of Vermont and Kentucky. The fifteen stripes persisted until 1818, when Congress decided to add a new star for every state, but also to revert to 13 stripes for the original colonies. While the pattern of one new star per state has been consistent throughout US history, I find it fascinating that the specific arrangement of the stars wasn’t set until 1912. Throughout the 1800s, we see a wide variation of star arrangements – I think my personal favorites are the Great Star flags, though the snowflake is also pretty neat.

(Quick tangent – this is why describing the positioning of charges is so important in blazon. “Thirteen molets of five points, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3” is not the same as “a circle of thirteen molets of five points,” and writing only “thirteen molets” doesn’t help other heralds, artists, and historians distinguish between the cases.)

The last change to the flag was made in 1960, when the 50th star was added for Hawaii, making the current design the longest-lasting in US history at 59 years. Both Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have held statehood votes in the past few years, and American Samoa also explored the possibility of becoming a state, so a 51-star design may be necessary someday.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Unlike his fellow saints Andrew, John, and George, St. Patrick doesn’t actually have a specific type of cross associated with him. The term “St. Patrick’s cross,” while it does appear from time to time, could refer to a few different figures.

The most famous, perhaps, is argent a saltire gules, which is also (and more accurately) called St. Patrick’s saltire. This is more British than it is specifically Irish, since its use originated with the Order of Saint Patrick in the 1780s. The order was established by George III, and tended to be awarded to supporters of his administration. The saltire might have been drawn from the house of FitzGerald, but that’s not certain; I’m not sure if the family arms predate those of the order. There was controversy over this even at the time, with some Irish commentators pointing out (correctly) that the saltire had a much longer association with Scotland and St. Andrew than it did Ireland and St. Patrick. Nonetheless, the red saltire is still often used to represent Ireland in a British context, most notably in the Union Jack

An older, and less well-documented, version of St. Patrick’s cross is the cross paté. It’s not completely clear why it’s associated with him, though it might be due to his role as the first bishop of the Irish church. (The cross paté is often the symbol of bishops in ecclesiastical heraldry.) It’s still used today in the arms of both the Catholic and Church of Ireland’s archdioceses of Armagh, which was thought to be Patrick’s diocese.

Finally, “St. Patrick’s cross” sometimes refers to representations or versions of Irish high crosses. You know what those look like – they’re the Latin crosses with a circle around the intersection of the two lines, and then heavily decorated with knotwork, vines, and/or mythical creatures. While there were some high crosses at sites important to Patrick’s life, and the knotwork and interlace motifs are strongly associated with Irish art, there isn’t any inherent connection between these crosses and St. Patrick.

BREAKING NEWS: SNAKE CAULDRON UPDATE

We interrupt your regularly scheduled BS (Burke Sundays) to bring you breaking news on the Mystery of the Snake Cauldrons. While on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, enjoying the… interesting medieval art, I was abruptly confronted by a worn but unmistakable motif on a late-fourteenth century altarpiece:

Guzman

So obviously, I spent some time digging. The altarpiece did enable me to connect the snake cauldrons to a specific family. It was commissioned by Pedro López de Ayala and also features the wolves-and-saltires of Ayala. However! He was married to Leonor de Guzmán, and their tombs were located in the same church – and yep, turns out the snake cauldrons are the arms of the house of Guzmán!

There are, of course, numerous versions of the arms; the snake cauldrons alone are probably the oldest version, but some have the bordure of Aragon and Castile (as in Villamanrique), and there are also versions which have the snake cauldrons party with the ermine of Brittany, which seem to be the arms of the cadet branch of the house of Olivares. Some accounts of fifteenth-century chroniclers date the ermine-and-snake-cauldrons version back to the 800s, but I’m extremely skeptical of this.

However, none of this answers the real question: why? Why the hell would this extremely specific motif end up tied to this family? And that I still don’t have a good answer for. There is a pretty awesome legend about Guzmán the Good slaying “la serpiente de Fez,” but I don’t think that can explain it. Firstly, accounts of this story aren’t recorded before the mid-fifteenth century, and we’ve already seen that the snake cauldrons are older than that – maybe not much older, but definitely older. Also, context demonstrates that the “serpent” of Fez was actually a dragon, and it became incorporated into the Guzmán arms in an entirely different way: it’s sometimes seen as a supporter-like figure at the base of the shield. I find it hard to believe that the same legend gave rise to two completely different armorial components. Admittedly, it’s not impossible, but I’ll need a lot stronger evidence before I go with this explanation.

At this point, I have one tiny glimmer of a lead. There are a couple of late nineteenth-century English heralds who claim that the cauldron was used in Spanish heraldry as a symbol of the ability to provide for one’s army. They claim the snakes were intended to be eels. While this isn’t completely out of the question, it does smell like the kind of reverse-engineered symbolic nonsense that later heraldic writers are prone to. I don’t know if I’m satisfied with this explanation or not; I need to evaluate these two further before I decide if this explanation is worth pursuing further.

Stay tuned!

The Tribes of Wales

The next section in the Burkes’ Encyclopaedia of Heraldry requires a bit of a prelude. It’s an illustrated armorial of the twenty tribes of Wales – five royal, fifteen noble – and some of their early members. However…

This enumeration of five royal and fifteen noble Welsh tribes is both common in genealogical literature starting in the fifteenth century, and also probably completely spurious. If one is, say, a bard and/or author in a feudal society, it’s pretty good for your relationship with your noble patron if you can produce some evidence that said patron is descended from a very ancient and prestigious family. This is likely why the various lists are not especially consistent. It’s also worth mentioning that we can’t find any contemporary record of these tribes; most of the arms the Burkes depict here belong to individuals from the eleventh century onward, and the tribes don’t see widespread (or any) mention until Gutun Owain in the mid-1400s.

Of course, the Burkes have a bit of a reputation for… shall we say, a lack of diligence in fact-checking, so I’m not at all surprised that they have replicated the  twenty tribes with absolutely zero qualifications or citations. Please take the next several Sunday posts on Welsh arms with the massive block of salt that the original source does not provide.

The royal tribes in the Burkes’ list are as follows: Aberffraw (“North Wales”), Dinefwr (“South Wales”), Powys, Buellt (“Ferlys”), and Morgannwg (“Glamorgan”). The noble tribes aren’t named, just numbered. We’ll start in on the first Welsh nobleman next week – Gruffudd ap Cynan, or as the Burkes have it, “Griffith.”

St. Andrew’s Cross

Today is the feast day of St. Andrew, or Andrew the Apostle. Christianity holds that Andrew was one of the first two apostles called to accompany Jesus Christ, along with his brother Peter. There’s a lot going on with St. Andrew – from his origin as a fisherman, to his later adventures in Eastern Europe, including the idea that he founded the See of Byzantium, which would eventually evolve into the primary patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church – but, as is pretty common with saints, I want to focus on his death. That’s where things start getting heraldically significant.

The various early accounts of Andrew’s martyrdom all pretty much agree that he was crucified at the Greek city of Patras in roughly 62 CE. As with all hagiographies, there’s not a lot of proof that any of this actually happened, or happened in this particular way, but in this case, it’s the story that’s important. Actual details of the crucifixion are sketchy, but the Acts of Andrew has him bound to a cross, the better to extend his suffering. 

However, starting in the 10th century, some depictions of St. Andrew’s martyrdom showed him crucified on a crux decussata (“cross shaped like ten,” i.e. X) or saltire. I can’t find a good or substantiated reason for the shift, but the detail of the saltire became much more popular during the Middle Ages and was solidified into Christian mythology by the 17th century. Some claim that Andrew asked to be crucified in this way because he was not worthy to die in the same way as Jesus Christ, but that particular explanation is also strongly associated with the Cross of St. Peter starting in 200 AD. Maybe it just ran in the family.

The association between St. Andrew and the saltire was well-known enough for the Parliament of Scotland to refer to “St. Andrew’s cross” in 1385. Occasionally, heraldic references from the Middle Ages will use the two terms synonymously to refer to, say, a St. Andrew’s cross gules. The most common, though, and what “St. Andrew’s cross” typically refers to today, is azure a saltire argent. The legend there is that in 832, Óengus II of Scotland prayed for help in battle against the Saxons. When he concluded his prayers and looked up, he saw the white clouds forming a saltire against the blue sky. Taking this as a sign, he pledged to make Andrew the patron saint of Scotland if he won, which he did. (You’ll probably notice the slight anachronism, but, well, legends.)

The white saltire for Scotland has been in use since at least the prior mention of 1385, and the argent-and-azure combination seems to have been well established by 1542. (A 13th-century seal of the Guardians of Scotland depicts Andrew’s off-kilter crucifixion.) Its use has been consistent ever since, including its incorporation into the Union Flag by order of James VI/I in 1606. 

The saltire also shows up in another national coat of arms due to its connection to St. Andrew – that of Barbados. The crest is “an arm of a Barbadian palewise, in its fist two stalks of sugarcane in saltire proper,” and the saltire is a deliberate reference to both the nation’s patron saint and its achievement of independence 53 years ago today.

Ukraine National Day

(This was supposed to post yesterday, but there were technical issues. My apologies.)

Happy 28th birthday to Ukraine! (The Declaration of Independence was accepted by the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukranian parliament, on August 24th, 1991. It took a little while to finalize things with a referendum, but this is the formal national holiday.) The Ukrainian national arms are beautiful, striking, and (at least to me) not remotely obvious. Once you know that the tryzub is a trident, you can see that in the charge, but the elaborate, intertwined style isn’t very common in other European styles of armory. This specific design goes back to 980, and a less stylized version to 945. It seems to have been the arms – or at least, the family symbol – of the Rurik dynasty, showing up on coins, seals, stones, and personal items.

Ukraine

The tryzub also might not have started out as a trident, although it definitely ended up that way. As a charge, it seems similar to the fleur-de-lis: it’s currently widely accepted as a specific shape with a specific name, but no one can quite agree on what it was originally intended to depict. Theories include a symbol of the Holy Trinity, a gyrfalcon (very likely), a bident, or the Cyrillic letter У (extremely unlikely).

While the tryzub is very old, and definitely has seniority as a state symbol, there have been a number of different coats of arms associated with different regimes. In the twelfth through the mid-fourteenth centuries, West Ukraine was the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia (or Ruthenia, starting in 1253) and bore azure a lion rampant or. After 1349, this particular region was incorporated into Poland, but the lion hung around as the arms of the Ruthenian Voivodeship, and it currently survives in the arms of Lviv. The short-lived Ukrainian State used azure a Cossack proper clothed and with a rifle or, which had formerly been used by the Zaporozhian Host. These arms also had the tryzub as a crest, but they didn’t survive the collapse of the Ukranian State less than a year after its creation. The tinctures have been pretty consistent no matter the charges – always yellow on blue.

The less said about the deeply boring symbology of the Soviet era from 1919 through 1991, the better. If you’ve ever seen anything related to the Soviet state, you already know what the emblem looks like – sickle, hammer, rising sun, etc. Thankfully, the current arms were granted in 1992, less than two months after vote on Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union was finalized, and they are a significant improvement. (That link, by the way, has very specific instructions on the measurements and proportions of the tryzub if you’d like to try your hand at it.)

St. Stephen’s Day

Today is the feast day of St. Stephen of Hungary, the very first King of Hungary, canonized in 1083. (In addition to Hungary, he is also the patron saint of kings, masons, bricklayers, and severely ill children.) In honor of him and the nation he founded, I figured we’d take a look at their arms.

Hungary

The nation of Hungary bears per pale barry of gules and argent and of the first, a cross patriarchal paté of the second issuant from a crown upon three mounts in base all proper. I appreciate that it’s a union of old and new(er) arms, and the repeated gules and argent help give the arms a visual unity. 

The dexter arms, barry of eight gules and argent, were used by the Árpáds dating back to 1202. Supposedly, the four white stripes represent the four major rivers – the Danube, Tisza, Dráva, and Száva, which is just boring enough to be plausible. The explanation could just as easily be a post hoc rationalization, though. Depending on the particular ruler and who was drawing the arms, sometimes the red stripes were charged with lions of various positions (passant, respectant, etc.). There are also a few depictions that add linden leaves, such as the Golden Bull of 1222 displaying the seal of Andrew II.

The use of the patriarchal cross is only slightly younger than the bars; Béla IV used it on a royal seal around 1235. However, the mount doesn’t show up for another 35 years or so until the reign of Stephen V. The patriarchal cross was in fairly consistent use until the Catholic House of Anjou came to power in 1308. They impaled the arms of Hungary ancien with the azure semé de lis or of France. With the exception of Louis the Great, the patriarchal cross didn’t reappear in the royal arms until Władysław III in the 1440s. After that, Hungary ancien and Hungary moderne were both in fairly common use in various royal arms (please don’t make me talk about the Habsburgs, please don’t make me talk about the Habsburgs, you thought Liechtenstein was bad, have you seen some of the Habsburg arms?). The combination was popular enough that it was also used by republican governments, and it was reestablished as official in 1990. (From 1957 to 1990, the arms were tierced per fess gules, argent, and vert, which just seems like a cheap knockoff of Italy to me.)

Interestingly, what’s going on around the base of the cross in any particular version can tell you a lot about what was going on with the political situation of Hungary at the time. Louis the Great seems to have been the first to add the crown to the patriarchal cross, and it stuck around until the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. At that point, the crown was removed from the arms as a symbolic rejection of the monarchy, and replaced with a laurel wreath instead. Similarly, the First Hungarian Republic used the ancient-and-moderne combo, but without any crown at all. The crown didn’t really come back until the current version of the arms, and it sounds like it was a minor point of contention, but they obviously ended up going with the crown.

Meet the Burkes

Why yes, dear reader. Those Burkes. The Burkes of Burke’s Peerage, the British publisher of books on genealogy, royalty, nobility, and multiple other flavors of the upper crust. The Burkes that earned themselves a dig from Oscar Wilde himself in A Woman of No Importance, which is its own kind of distinction, and maybe rarer than a title. Those are the Burkes with whom we are dealing.

John Burke, who gets top billing on the title page, started the ball rolling in 1826 with the Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom. (Burke was very much a man of his times when it comes to title lengths.) His innovation with this text was to arrange the thing in alphabetical order, which seems obvious when we think about it now, but apparently wasn’t. The next eight editions of the Peerage were published irregularly, and in 1847, they started coming out annually. He also started publishing the series that would become Burke’s Landed Gentry in 1833 with the first volume of A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland. The Encyclopaedia falls right in the prime of his publishing career; it originally came out as A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1842, and was republished in 1844 as the edition I’m using.

Burke had two sons: Peter, who became a lawyer and published a few legal works and discussions of famous trials, and John Bernard, our second co-author. John Bernard took after his father, helping the senior Burke with his genealogical research and writing. He took over editing Burke’s Peerage in 1847, the year before his father died. (Interestingly, Bernard never published anything independently while his father was alive.) It’s not clear whether this Burke was a better herald and genealogist than his father, or simply more prestigious, but he was appointed Ulster King of Arms in 1853, and was knighted the next year. Judging by his solo publications, Burke Jr. had much more of a fascination with the narratives of the aristocracy and nobility; in addition to the fairly dry works of genealogy, he published The Romance of the Aristocracy, The Rise of Great Families, and multiple editions of Vicissitudes of Families.

The Encyclopaedia seems to favor the senior Burke’s preferences, unfortunately. It is divided into four general sections: a short essay on the history and practice of heraldry, a dictionary of heraldic terms, a section on the royal arms of Britain and its monarchs, and a general armory listing out the arms of the nobility and gentry. I’ll definitely be going through the first and third sections, and if there’s anything interesting or ridiculous in the dictionary of terms, I’ll be sure to pull that out as well. I don’t anticipate finding anything much to write about in the general armory, but who knows?

Burke’s Peerage as an institution has taken a lot of heat for its… hm, shall we say loose relationship to actual historical fact. Part of this sounds like they were pretty careless about editing and proofreading, part of it sounds like they were somewhat starstruck by their subjects, and part of it sounds like they (like Burke Jr.) were suckers for a good story. It does sound like they’ve cleaned up their act starting around the 1950s. However, our text is quite a bit earlier than that. I’ll be sure to take any historical claims with a block of salt, but I can’t deny that I’m really hoping to encounter some of these fanciful tales.

Liechtenstein National Day

Today marks the 79th Liechtenstein National Day since the holiday was established in 1940. The date reflects both the feast of the Assumption of Mary and (almost) the birthday of Franz Josef II, who was the prince in 1940. (After he died in 1989, they just decided to keep the same day going forward.) The national arms of Liechtenstein are, unsurprisingly, the same as the arms of the House of Liechtenstein, and they have been unchanged since the union of the regions of Vaduz and Schellenberg in 1719. The arms consist of six separate coats (four quarters, a point in point, and an escutcheon). So, let’s go section by section on this. Buckle in, folks; this is gonna be a long one.

(Also, fair warning – this is going to deal very heavily with the family history, and not so much with the national history. That’s where the arms come from, and that’s kind of why I’m here.)

Liechtenstein

The first quarter is fairly easy: the duchy of Lower Silesia, or an eagle displayed sable armed and langued gules, crowned of the field, charged with a cross couped issuant from a crescent argent. Occasionally, the cross will be paté and/or the crescent will terminate in trefoils (treflée); these ornamentations are more common on Czech versions of the arms. (If you’re familiar with the Czech Republic, you may notice that the Lower Silesian eagle appears on its arms as well.) It seems likely that the Silesian coat of arms ended up with the Liechtensteins by way of Elizabeth Lucretia, Duchess of Cieszyn, who inherited the duchy from her brother Friedrich Wilhelm (of course it’s a Friedrich Wilhelm) while she was married to Gundakar of Liechtenstein. Technically, he probably would only have been entitled to use this quarter until 1653, when the duchy reverted back to the Habsburgs, but no one seems to have cared too much. I guess you could also make an argument that the acquisition of additional Silesian territory made the bearing of the quarter more or less accurate.

The second quarter is… tricky. It’s supposed to be the arms of the Kuenringer family (barry or and sable), as Johann VI Kuenringer died without issue in 1594, and Ferdinand II granted their arms to the Liechtensteins in 1620. However, adding the ducal coronet (sometimes blazoned as a chaplet of rue) makes these look a hell of a lot like the arms of Saxony instead. As far as I can tell, the Liechtensteins never had much to do with Saxony. I did find a source that said there are minor differences in the blazon that distinguish Saxony from Kuenringer – Saxony is barry of ten or and sable, a ducal coronet embowed vert, while Kuenringer is barry of eight or and sable, a ducal coronet vert. I’m a bit skeptical of this, since I can find lots and lots of depictions of Kuenringer without the coronet, and none with it (that aren’t affiliated with Liechtenstein.) It’s not an impossible explanation, but it has the slight ring of trying to cover a mistake. However, if it is a mistake, it’s a mistake enshrined in law, so there’s not much to be done about it.

The third quarter is somewhat easier – per pale argent and gules, the arms of the Duchy of Troppau. We know exactly when the Liechtensteins took control of this territory – Emperor Matthias of Habsburg granted it to Karl I in 1614. Evidently, the Protestant inhabitants of the duchy were not thrilled with their new Catholic leader, but after the Battle of White Mountain, it became clear the Liechtensteins weren’t going anywhere. They continued to hold the land until it was incorporated into Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the royal family still holds the formal title “Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf.” (We’ll get to Jägerndorf in a minute.)

The fourth quarter (or a harpy sable, head and breast argent, armed and crowned of the field) looks like a tincture-swapped version of the Cirksena arms. The Cirksenas ruled the counties of Rietberg and East Frisia. The Liechtensteins got the title to Rietberg (and presumably the arms) as a result of Gundakar’s other marriage to Agnes, daughter of Enno III of East Frisia. (They didn’t get it until 1848, though, when the last of the Kaunitz family died out; the Kautnizes succeeded the Cirksenas in 1699.) Quick blazoning note – I do find it interesting that the same figure is a “harpy” in English blazon, and a Jungfrauenadler or “maiden eagle” in German blazon. Slightly different connotations there!

Next up: the point in point, holding the arms of Jägerndorf, which are azure a bugle stringed or. Jägerndorf was also granted to Karl I, this one by Ferdinand II in 1623. Karl consolidated the two territories into the Duchy of Troppau-Jägerndorf, and his family held the duchy until 1918.

Finally, the escutcheon per pale or and gules are the actual arms of the Liechtenstein family themselves, minus all their possessions and the rest of their titles. As far as I can tell, these go back at least to Karl I, the first Prince of Liechtenstein, and probably back further into the family’s baronial history. I can’t prove their antiquity beyond 1614, but honestly, four centuries is still really old.

If you have noticed that the arms do not actually feature Vaduz and Schellenberg, you would be correct! The County of Vaduz bore gules a gonfanon argent, and the Lordship of Schellenberg bore barry of four sable and or. Both of these coats became obsolete upon the creation of the state of Liechtenstein. This is not especially surprising, given that the creation was highly politically motivated – no one was going to waste time on creating brand new arms when the newly elevated princes already had a perfectly good and prestigious-looking coat.

Closing Complaints from the Author

Wyrley closes out his essay with three complaints about heraldic pedantry, two of which I think are legitimate, and one which seems like the other side of a very petty coin.

The first complaint is an interesting one, especially in light of the typical “older is better” attitude that was (and is) pervasive in heraldry (which I fall victim to myself sometimes). Wyrley scoffs at people who consider pre-Conquest ancestry and arms to be more prestigious than those post-Conquest. He points out that evidence from before the Conquest is scarce and unreliable, which is both fair and true, and that it is “more glorious and honorable to be descended from a most famous nation conquering” than the people they subjugated, which… sure is a viewpoint, I guess? (26)

Next, Wyrley takes aim at heraldic pedants, especially those who treat the law of tincture as a law instead of a guideline for legibility. He does say that color-on-color and metal-on-metal are harder to see properly, but he also gives some examples of perfectly respectable arms that violate the law of tincture, including those of the Mac Murchada dynasty in Ireland. (He gives the blazon as sable a lion rampant gules, though gules a lion rampant or passant argent seems to be more accurate). He’s also contemptuous of the idea that certain charges, i.e. the eagle or falcon, are more or less noble than others. Wyrley proposes that instead of particular arms bringing honor to the bearers, the armigers “do honor their bearings by their renowne, vertue, and valure.” (27) If you’re a good person, your arms don’t deserve criticism, even if they violate heraldic rules and tradition, or if they’re kind of goofy. One example he gives here is the Hopewells – argent three hares playing bagpipes gules. On the one hand, that is inherently silly; on the other hand, Wyrley has a really good point, and I have to believe those arms have a much better story behind them than the generic ordinaries or lions.

Lastly, he throws in a very brief defense of his refusal to use the French terms of art for tinctures – the argent, azure, vert, etc. that are common practice in blazon – by saying it is “more proper to speake and use English termes and phrases in an English booke dedicated to Englishmen, than French or Latine.” (27) This is literally the only mention of this authorial choice in the entire essay, so perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it’s hard for me not to see this decision as stemming from English nationalism and anti-French sentiment. He doesn’t seem to have an issue with a lot of the French-derived terminology that makes up the rest of the language of blazon, so this feels like a highly specific and unnecessary nit to pick. Unless, of course, you’re just being a dick to the French. 

Personally, I have no issue with using the traditional terminology (as you’ve probably noticed). I like the #aesthetic, but more importantly, I think the traditional language helps deal with one of the traditional problems of tincture. “Or” and “argent” in particular have multiple translations in English – “or” could map to “yellow” or “gold,” and “argent” to “white” or “silver.” However, both of those translations are interchangeable in heraldry. The blazon “argent a cross gules” can be depicted with a white field or a silver field, depending on the preferences and technical and material capabilities of the artist, and the original blazon is accurate either way. However, translating “argent” to “white” automatically makes any depiction using a silver field incorrect, and vice versa. Essentially, the traditional language correctly reflects the ambivalence of tinctures, and I’d rather stick to that than make a translation choice that could be wrong.

That wraps up the heraldic part of Wyrley’s text. I did manage to find an edition with the two poems attached, but I’ll spare you those recaps. As a poet, Wyrley was an excellent herald. Instead, next week, we’ll introduce the next text, Encyclopaedia of Heraldry, or General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland by John Burke and John Bernard Burke.