Heraldry by Brian Carne


Brian Carne

Meeting of 10 March 2016

Heraldry began as a means of identifying combatants on the battlefield. Early heralds were household officers who managed troops, exchanged prisoners, negotiated ransom money and identified the dead by their Arms (those without Arms were generally unrecorded). In peacetime they supervised tournaments, carried messages to foreign courts and delivered love letters. Today their work is less exciting, restricted to granting of Arms, recording pedigrees and honours and deciding precedence on state occasions.

First incorporated in 1484, the College of Arms has a unique library assembled over 500 years. At its head is the Earl Marshall (a hereditary position), who is responsible to the Queen. There are three Kings of Arms: Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy. Under them are six heralds and four juniors (titled Rouge-Croix, Blue-Mantle, Rouge-Dragon and Portcullis). Their annual salaries range from £49.07 down to £13.95.

For a grant of arms, a petition (drafted by an officer of the College) goes to the Earl Marshall with fees as follows:

- £5,500 for a personal grant of Arms and crest

- £17,325 for a commercial company

- £6,725 for parish, town and community councils

Extra fees are payable for a badge, supporters and the right to fly a flag.

If successful, a superb Letter Patent is issued, which contains the description (blazon) of the Arms. It is a precise recipe which can be understood once the language and formula is:

We start with the colours used for painting the shield (and some of the earliest Arms are just a single colour). The main being the metals: or (yellow) and argent (white), then azure (blue), gules (red), sable (black), vert (green) and purpura (purple). There are also two furs (ermine and vair). And something in its normal colours (eg. an oak tree) is coloured proper.

On the colour is a geometric shape (charge) such as a chevron, and lines of partition (such as a cross, of which there are about 400 types). The outlines of these lines of partition can be varied, eg. wavy or dovetailed.

After these geometric shapes come additional charges – the lion is the best known. Again, there are many forms. We all know lion rampant (standing on one foot) and couchant (lying down) and a lion with his tail between his legs is a lion coward. But what about ‘double queued’?*

The shield is split into left and right (but in the Norman-French language of heraldry this is sinister and dexter), and remember this is as you would be holding the shield not as you look at it.

Further charges include eagle head couped (with his head cut off); oak tree eradicated (pulled up with its roots showing); pomegranate; garb (wheatsheaf) and horse head erased (head torn off, with ripped flesh showing). Individual’s charges include a locomotive proper; a steel magnate’s Arms with a boiler flue and a woman’s breast distilling drops of milk proper.

We then went through the recipes for several Arms, including our own Forest of Dean. CS

*Two tails

Brian was determined this talk would go ahead, despite being too ill to do it himself, so his words and images were presented by Claire Scales and Jeff Carrick. Sadly, Brian passed away a few days later. As the founder of our group and driving force behind the Parish of English Bicknor in the 20th Century, and fount of knowledge and wisdom on our village history, he is sorely missed. His research lives on in Gloucester Archives and a wide range of publications, and his memory with his friends and family.