Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Discovering Heraldry by Jacqueline Fearn

A useful field guide to the coat of arms
Those who do genealogical or historical research may have the good fortune to stumble upon a coat of arms in a centuries-old source. Since color illustrations were costly and time consuming, these armorial bearings were most often described in written form using the unique language of heraldry, a mixture of English and French from a time long past which is largely unintelligible to the reader of today. This little book provides a very good key to deciphering that language, and offers a wealth of useful information on the history and design of coats of arms and other works of heraldic art.

Its small size, thin width, and simplistic illustrations might lead one to believe that this is a children’s book. However, the text is definitely written for an educated person, and a basic knowledge of European history and geography is assumed. You’re expected to know, for example, who the Tudors and Plantagenets were, along with many other royal personages of Europe. The bulk of the book is essentially a glossary of heraldic terminology, though written in paragraph form and organized thematically rather than alphabetically. An alphabetical index resides in the back. The terms are accompanied by simple line drawings illustrating the basic elements of heraldic design. The book does not confine itself merely to the design of the coat-of-arms shield, but also encompasses the broader picture of crests, seals, badges, supporters, and orders of knighthood that accompany the shield in a complete heraldic achievement. There is also some discussion of the practical workings of heraldry, such as the methods used to distinguish the arms of multiple heirs in a family or the combination of arms through marriage. The primary focus of the book is the heraldry of Great Britain, with a chapter on international heraldry that touches on the other nations of Europe and their colonies elsewhere in the world.

For those wishing to try their own hand at creating heraldic art, this little book gives you everything you need to know to design your own coat of arms. Your task will be made difficult, however, by the multitude of options it makes available to you. In short, the scant 92 pages of this little guide are packed with valuable material. It provides a comprehensive introduction to heraldry that is fascinating, informative, and fun.

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