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Heraldic Designs for Artists and Craftspeople
By John M. Bergling
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1997 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
WHAT IS HERALDRY? OR, AN ENQUIRY INTO THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF ARMORIAL ENSIGNS
IN CONNEXION WITH HISTORY, BIOGRAPHY, POETRY, AND THE ARTS.
BY J. M. Bergling.
* * *
UNDER this title it is not intended to write a formal treatise on heraldry, with all its details and technicalities; of such learned works there is a sufficient number already extant, expressly and only fitted for those, who mean to make it the business and profession of their lives. But are there not a large number of persons in every possible branch of Art and manufacture, ornamental and decorative, who have constant occasion for some heraldic badges, devices or symbols, in various portions of their works, and to whom a little more correct idea of the real nature of such symbols, and how they should be treated, would be a benefit—inasmuch as it would give consistency where it is now very frequently wanting, and thus improve the style and raise the tone of their works; besides another very large class of intelligent general readers, who, not wishing to dive into all the intricacies of the subject as professed antiquaries or archæologists, yet would always be interested in seeing the correct meaning of many hundreds of passages and allusions in our historians, poets, &c? For this purpose it is proposed to embody, in a few pages the substance of a course of lectures, which have been delivered at many of the principal literary and mechanics' Institutions.
We will not now pause to dispute with the learned the relative antiquity of heraldic ensigns; some maintaining that they are as old as civilisation itself; others can see the origin of family distinctions in the phonetic alphabets of ancient India and China; some have found its origin in the lofty national banners and the double shields, titular and patronymic, of the ancient Egyptians; some, again, in the crests and cognominal ovals, since discovered in the sculptures of ancient Mexico; not a few, again, have seen in the emblematical standards of Nineveh a remarkable agreement with the symbols used by Daniel, Ezekiel, and the Apocalypse, as the origin of symbolical distinctions, and have maintained the connexion, or even the identity of the standards of the twelve tribes of Israel, with the twelve signs of the zodiac. But all these opposite systems are not so hostile as they at first sight appear, if we only recollect for a moment that they are all parts of that great system of symbolical teaching, which prevailed among the nations of antiquity before the use of letters.
Those who say there was no heraldry before the time of the Crusades should state in what sense they apply the term. It is evident, if we reflect on the early stages of society, that as mankind increased from individuals to families, from families to tribes, and tribes spread into states, nations, empires, and as civilisation progressed, all the relationships and requirements of society would become more complex, and would induce a self-evident necessity for some mode of recognition, by which the head of a family, or the chief of a clan, might be readily distinguished from other leaders. Hence ensigns and landmarks; indispensable in time of peace for order and discipline, much more so in war, to distinguish friends from foes. This principle appears manifest in the early history of every nation. All the writers of remote antiquity give to their chief personages certain symbols. Diodorus Siculus ascribes to Jupiter a sceptre, to Hercules a lion, to Macedon a wolf, to the ancient Persians an archer; and we all know the Roman eagle, a term synonymous with Rome itself from B.C. 753, down to the fall of the empire. These allusions in the earliest writers, poetical and mythological as they may be, all testify to one great principle or fact, viz., that no nation has ever yet appeared on the page of history, nor has any poet ever conceived the idea of any tribe or state, which did not use symbolical distinctions of some sort; what those distinctions were, and in what way they were carried out, is another question which we shall consider subsequently; it is sufficient now to establish the universality of the principle, and of which we have a fine example in Holy Wrist, (see the Book of Numbers, ch. ii.) When the oppressed Israelites were brought out of Egypt, and encamped in the wilderness, the first thing was to marshal them in order; the twelve tribes forming four grand divisions, each with three sub-divisions; thus, on the east, under the standard of Judah, were to be planted the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon; on the south side the standard of Reuben, and the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; then the tabernacle in the midst of them; on the west the standard of Ephraim, and the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; on the north side the standard of Dan, with the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali; "And thus every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensigns of his father's house; far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch." Now there can be no question that the ancient modes of distinction were very various; in some cases they would be standards carried aloft in the field, in others a device depicted on their tents, or dwellings, in some a mark on the costume, in others on the skin itself, as in tattooing, which strange to say is heraldry.
Having shown what heraldry is, we will now look at a few of its principal features, and the way in which they were principally carried out; the first and most obvious of which will be the shield and the banner.
For nearly four thousand years the shield has been a term synonymous with safety and defence; the first promise made to the Patriarch was, "Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield."
From the earliest accounts we have of the primitive Greek shields, it appears that the oval shield was invented by Prtus, and the round shield by Acrisios of Argos, and was called by the Greeks the aspis or sacos, among the Latins the clypeus, and from the place of its origin, it was known as the Argolic buckler. There was a smaller round shield called the parma, and also the smaller oval shield called the pelta. But eventually, when the Roman rule and the Latin language became predominant, the general term scutum implied a shield of any kind, hence we have scutum for a shield, target, buckler or escutcheon, and from the same source we have scutiger, a page bearing his master's shield or. buckler, in other words an esquire of arms. Hence certain divisions of the Roman foot were termed scutarii, armed with bucklers or targets, and a maker of shields was a scutarius.
It is necessary to remark here that it was not the practice of the great warriors of antiquity to carry their own shields, except when actually engaged in combat, at all other times the shield was borne by the scutiger or shield-bearer: see a good example in 1 Sam. xvii. When Goliath, the Giant of the Philistines, came out to challenge the armies of Israel, "one bearing a shield went before him." The office of shield-bearer was esteemed a post of considerable honour, as the immediate personal attendant on the great captain.
After the shield, the most important feature in Heraldry is the banner. By a banner we understand a piece of drapery, or other object, elevated on a pole, and carried aloft in the battle-field, and either with or without a device upon it; and all the various terms of Flag, Standard, Banner, Colour, Ensign, Pendant, Streamer, Banneroll, Pennon, Pennoncell, &c., are only technical variations of the same thing. But the general terms, Banner, Standard, and Ensign, comprise all that belongs to the subject in History, or Scripture, or Poetry.
Banners have been in use from the earliest ages. Xenophon gives us the Persian standard as a golden eagle, mounted on a pole or a spear; and the well known eagle of, Rome has been already noticed. We find banners very early in use among the nations of Europe.
When Constantine the Great was on the eve of a battle with Maxentius, we are told that a luminous standard appeared to him in the sky with a cross upon it, and this inscription —In hoc signo vinces, By this sign you shall conquer; and that this so encouraged Constantine and his soldiers, that they gained the next day a great victory.
When Waldemar II. of Denmark was engaged in a great battle with the Livonians in the year 1219, it is said a sacred banner fell from heaven into the midst of his army, and so revived' the courage of his troops, that they gained a complete victory over the Livoniaus: and in memory of the event, Waldemar instituted an order of knighthood called "St. Danebrog," or the strength of the Danes, and which is still the principal order of knighthood in Denmark. Now, taking these legends for as much as they are worth, and no more; what do they prove? Not that this miraculous standard and cross came to the assistance of Constantine; not that this miraculous banner came to the aid of Waldemar; but they prove that such was the paramount importance attached to the sacred banner among the forces, that wherever it was present, it was a great means of inspiriting the men with increased confidence and courage, and so contributed to the victory.
The great importance attached to the banner in the middle ages is not to be wondered at, when we consider that it was a kind of connecting link between the military and the clergy; it was a religious symbol applied to a military purpose, and this was the feeling which animated the Crusaders and the Templars in their great struggle against the enemies of Christianity. The contest then was between the crescent and the cross—between Christ and Mahomet.
While touching on the Crusades, let me notice another interesting fact. Every one who has taken any notice of heraldry, must have been struck with the extensive prevalence of crosses, in almost endless variety of form and colour,—indeed, so great is their diversity, that a complete description of all the crosses used in heraldry would suffice to fill a volume, and not a very small one. So striking a feature must have had a common origin; that origin was evidently the expeditions to the Holy Land. The very terms Croisades, Crusades, Crusaders, Soldiers of the Cross, all point to one centre for the extensive adoption of this symbol; and while the English fought under the red cross banner of St. George, the other nations and detachments adopted crosses of various forms and tinctures for distinction sake. This is beautifully embodied by Edmund Spencer in his "Faerie Queen," where he describes the red cross knight—
In the war between the Houses of York and Lancaster, equally well known as the .War of the Roses, because the House of Lancaster had a Red Rose for its badge, while the House of York bore a White Rose; they also bore several other badges, as the Falcon and Fetter-lock &c., but the chief ensign of the House of York was a White Rose, emblazoned on the middle of the Sun; thus we see the full beauty of that passage—where Shakspere beautifully expresses the success of the Yorkists, by apostrophising their heraldic ensigns.
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York,"
From the time of King Richard I., and downwards, when the monarch went himself into the battle-field, it was the custom to carry in his presence the King's banner, the three gold lions passant gardant on a crimson field. Now on the principle just named, when we became united with Scotland and Ireland, the royal ensign of England was quartered with the royal arms of Scotland and of Ireland, as here given, England first and fourth, Scotland second, Ireland third. This is the royal banner, distinct from the banner of the nation, and is only with propriety elevated where the sovereign is residing.
ANOTHER curious, and not uninstructive feature of heraldry, is the singular assimilation between arms and family names. These have been called "punning arms," on the supposition that the arms were made as a pun on the name, or the name upon the arms; but instead of punning, would it not be more correct to say that this is recurring to first principles? or, in other words, it is reverting back to the practice of the most remote antiquity, when the name of every person or place had a symbolical meaning. The sacred writings are filled with such examples : from Adam, red earth, Abram, high father, Abraham, father of a multitude, Jacob, heeler, or supplanter, Israel, a princely prevailer with God; and the same fact applies to the names of places. And in very early examples it is highly probable, as suggested in the case of Hengist and Horsa, that the name may have been taken from the banner or coat of arms. We have a great many examples in English heraldry; as Forrester, three bugle horns; Archer, three arrows; Heron, Aries, three rams' heads; Leveson, three leaves; Hunter, three greyhounds and a bugle horn; Bannerman, already noticed; Grosvenor, and a great many others. Arches, an old Devonshire family, bears gules, three arches, two simple, one double. Herringham, an old Dorsetshire family, bears gules, three herrings : these coats are here given. The Hawkers of Essex, and of Wiltshire, bear sable a hawk standing on a perch, After death of King Robert the Bruce, in 1329, Lord James Douglas carried the heart of his royal master to the Holy Land for interment, and in memory thereof the Douglases bear in their arms a crowned heart. But Lord Douglas was accompanied by Sir Simon Locard of Lee, Lanarkshire, who in memory of the same event, changed his name to Lockheart, and added to his arms a heart within a lock, and the motto, "Corda Serrata Pando,"—I lay open locket hearts.
The office of the herald is evidently one of great antiquity. It is alluded to in the Siege of Troy, where Homer in describing the Shield of Achilles, in book 18th, says
"The appointed heralds still the noisy bands,
And form a ring with sceptres in their hands."
The only instance, I believe, of a herald being mentioned in scripture history, is in Daniel, chap. iii., where he is brought out as proclaiming the will of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Then a herald cried aloud, "To you it is commanded, to people, nations, and languages," &c. Verstegan and some other authors derive the title from Here and Hault, the champions of an army, whose special office it was to proclaim the challenges in the warlike field. But whatever may be the etymology, it is evident that the office, from the earliest periods of history, has been always substantially the same. In ancient times it was the duty of the herald to proclaim the will of the monarch, or of the chief commander, to conduct the negotiations between hostile or foreign powers, and to regulate all state ceremonies.
In former times many of the principal nobility had their own heralds, and their pursuivants of arms, to whom they granted proper coats, or some distinctive badges, and who attended their lords on all important occasions, as the kmg himself was attended by his heralds and other state officers.
The appointment of the different heralds originated with several of our earlier kings, and at different times. But they were first incorporated as a collegiate body, under the authority of the crown by King Richard III., who established them in an official residence, which they still hold in St. Bennett's Hill, near St. Paul'a Cathedral, London, and they are styled "The corporation of kings, heralds, and pursuivants of arms," and are known to this day as the Heralds' College; but in all official documents their proper appellation is "The College of Arms."
The subject of family mottoes is a highly interesting one, and presents a rich variety of curious and diversified topics. What the motto originally was, does not appear a very difficult question, although a considerable amount of learning has been written upon the subject, but all scholars now tolerably well agree in pointing to one source for the origin of the motto in connexion with armorial ensigns, namely, that it originated with the war cry of the ancients. In the early history of almost every country, we find it to have been the custom at the outset of battle, for the general to give out some short and pithy expression, which was echoed through the ranks when they rushed upon the foe, and was supposed to answer two purposes, first to animate the courage and feelings of the combined forces, by attacking, all at the same instant, all with the same expression on their tongues, all, in fact, shouting out the same words, and to strike terror into the foe by this simultaneous shout. The very nature, then, of the war-cry, would seem to imply that it should be a short and expressive sentence, containing a meaning in few words, as anything like an elaborate speech would be evidently quite out of place on such an occasion. In fact, the subject of family mottoes might be not inaptly compared to the Book of Proverbs, where every sentence contains some valuable truth, complete in itself, and unconnected with any other matter. Camden calls the motto, "Inseriptio," the inscription; some writers have termed it the "Epigraphe," others again have given it the name of the "Dictum," or "Saying," and another proof that the war-cry gave rise to the motto is, that the French writers, to this day, call the motto the "cri;" and thus that which was the war-cry in ancient times, became afterwards, in the altered mode of warfare, amemorable expression or a favourite sentiment, attached to the shield of arms, and was thus handed down to their descendants, and became their family motto.
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