Category Archives: heraldry

less than fifty years later

I’ve read Heinlein’s Red Planet three times, starting at age seven or eight, and each time I soon forgot most of the plot. One thing that stuck with me was that the school’s new head signaled his evil by ordering the boys (at their own expense) to paint their space-helmets a uniform brown, in place of tiger stripes and other fanciful personalizations; I think that helped trigger my early interest in heraldry!

Another random bit that stuck with me is the place-name Charax, which I took to be a crude approximation to the Martian name, said to be very hard for humans to pronounce with its “triple gutturals”. Today I learned that Charax was a Roman camp in Crimea.

the British succession

A change to the law of royal succession has been enacted by some of the 16 Commonwealth Realms, to become effective when all of them have done so. Its most conspicuous feature is removing the preference for male heirs, but only from those sons born after 28 October 2011 (the date of the conference where the terms were decided).

Rather than the date cutoff, it would be simpler in my humble opinion to make explicit exceptions for past cases where sex trumped seniority. There are only two since the last change (1702) in succession law; thus: The descendants of King George III shall precede those of his elder sister Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick; and the descendants of King Edward VII shall precede those of his elder sister Victoria, German Empress.

Augusta’s heir by sex-neutral primogeniture appears to be Prince Alexander of Wied, born 1960, unless her first great-granddaughter Marie of Württemberg (1807–1865), countess of Neipperg, had issue not mentioned in Wikipedia.
Victoria(jr)’s heir by the same rule is Dr Friederike von der Osten, born 1959.

heraldic heresy, the afterthought

The Society for Creative Anachronism keeps a registry of coats-of-arms adopted by members, for two reasons: to ensure uniqueness, and to head off the grossest faux pas (cluttered design, offensive symbolism, implied claims to be the Lost Dauphin …). Having registered my shield — whose central motif you may be able to guess — I can say with confidence that it will not be mistaken for any other (within SCA at least), and that the SCA’s collective heraldic judgement, honed over many years by hundreds of serious people, finds my design-sense tolerably sound. An institution that can be trusted to certify these points is a good thing.

In the case that started the furore, registration of the device would (I believe) imply that the badge also fits the criteria. Separate certification of the badge, then, would be redundant — a double cost for the registrant, duplicated work for the heralds (both now and in checking for similarity to future entries), and a waste of a hundred bytes in the record-books, all to certify what is already established.

It occurs to me belatedly that some see registration less as certification than as permission, an attitude inherited from traditions where the privilege of such display is a mark of favor from the Crown. (In the SCA, any bozo can register a coat of arms, but it’s not called “arms” until the bearer is formally ennobled by some prince.)

(It so happens that Scotland, which may be the only place where unauthorized armorial display is prosecuted, is also home to some of the best heraldic style. I won’t argue here whether it’s necessary to embrace the bathwater along with the baby. Switzerland also has excellent style, at least in civic armory; I don’t know about the laws there.)

To display arms, then, is to assert not only this emblem is unique to me and this emblem is well-designed but also I have permission to display such an emblem. If the culture considers prohibition to be the default state — not as an unfortunate practical necessity to maintain the standards of taste and uniqueness, but as a good thing in itself, a matter of “honor” forsooth! — then that third claim is the one that counts, and to make it falsely is not a mere technical infraction but an affront to decency.

The College of Arms also registers names, on similar principles: a registered name needs to be grammatical (in some language), not too similar to another registered name or that of any prominent historical figure, not a claim of supernatural origin or powers, and like that. I would ask, if the discussion were still open, whether use of an unregistered name is equally dishonorable.

heraldic heresy

I happened to see a “demo” in a park by a branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism. (A “demo” is a small event designed to get public attention, as opposed to one where everyone present is expected to dress and behave cod-medievally.) I stopped to say hi, and mentioned that twenty years ago I was active as a book-herald: designing coats-of-arms and checking them for sufficient difference from others previously registered. This datum was received with excitement, as the local shire has no book-herald; so I indicated that, although I have no desire at all to play the SCA game, I’d happily make available such expertise as I have.

I joined the shire’s mailing-list as well as that of the kingdom heralds, and within a month caused an uproar. Warning: unexplained SCA heraldic jargon ahead. Continue reading

battling ampersands

Abercrombie & Kent, a travel agency that uses a Times Roman ampersand as a trademark, sued andBEYOND, a travel agency, not for the tacky capitalization but for using a Gill Sans ampersand as a trademark.

I doubt that such a suit would succeed if the marks in question were very different graphic treatments of the same letter, say an angular S forming a thunderbolt versus a more stolid sort of S in a ring. How different would the newcomer’s mark need to be, and is the necessary difference greater for quasi-letters such as ampersand?

data integrity

It appears that I precipitated the exposure of a multiple hoaxer on Wikipedia.

In Line of succession to the British Throne I noticed that “The Earl of Amersham” had been inserted and, four minutes later, removed. Curious, I looked up Earl of Amersham and found it fishy on two points: the title was said to be created in 1964 (since 1960 only three non-royal Brits have been made peers other than life barons) and the genuine but extinct title Earl Roberts was attributed to Amersham’s son.

I tagged Earl of Amersham as a likely hoax, and within hours . . . well, you can read for yourself.

Why (you may ask) does an American anarchist know enough about British aristocracy to spot the hoax? I’ve been fascinated by heraldry since I found Moncreiffe & Pottinger’s Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated in my hi-skool’s library circa 1974; and one can’t study heraldry without picking up some knowledge of dynasties and such.