The Feudal Herald header



An Online Newsletter from The Baronage Press
featuring Heraldry and related subjects

Vol. 1, No. 7 July 1999

The Baronage Press Website
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Copyright (c) 1999 by Pegasus Associates Ltd and The Baronage Press

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* A Welcome
* A note from the artists
* Silver and White
* "You Really Can't Be Serious ! ? ! ? ! ?" (Part Two)
* Wessex Man
* The Hall of Names Scam
* The Origin of Surnames
*The Opening of "The Scottish Parliament"
* John F. Kennedy jr
* Culinaria ~ Sponsor for the Culinary Arts column
* Looking Around: The Burlington Arcade
* Heirloom & Howard
* Pegasus Armorie
* Our Sponsors and Advertisers



The primary purpose of this newsletter is to link regular Baronage readers to those articles in the magazine that might interest them, so in it you may find mention of the art, symbolism and meaning of heraldry, and, from time to time, of the history, politics, warfare, chivalry, books, cinema and other entertainment to which heraldry has thematic links.


The search for the optimum combination of colour integrity and fast download speeds continues. We are not happy with what we have so far achieved. Our new treatment of JPEG files has been partly successful, but we depend to a great degree on the quality and settings of the monitor of the reader, over which we have no control, of course. Most of the armorial pictures have been rendered as GIF files, and with these the greatest problem is the metal silver, the HTML "silver" being too grey for the heraldic tincture, the "websafe" colour being too dark, and the dithering of the silvery blue we have used for experiment too often reflecting other colours such as red. We are now building a new web palette that, together with a smaller size of standard picture, should produce greater colour accuracy with faster speed. But silver remains difficult.

ermine shield

Seven principal tinctures and a group of furs, plus notional furs that are essentially the same tinctures arranged in specific geometric patterns, form the field of the shield. These seven are the two metals of gold and silver, and the five colours of red, blue, black, green and purple. (There are additionally secondary colours of tenné or orange, murrey or sanguine, and sky blue or bleu céleste ~ and, arguably, a few others we may here ignore.) "Proper" is the term used for a charge in its natural colours.

Originally there were only two furs, ermine and vair. (The glass slippers of Cinderella were not "verre" but "vair" ~ so they were fur slippers, squirrel fur slippers, such as were worn in mediaeval Europe.) Ermine was white with the ermines' black tails scattered across the shield. Vair was blue and white, notionally composed of squirrel pelts sewn together in such a fashion as to show the blue grey back of the animal alternately with its white underside. Later the heralds invented varieties of ermine such as "ermines" for white tails (known as "spots") on black, "erminois" for black spots on gold, and "pean" for gold spots on black.

Now what about white? Is it a colour? And if it is, is it quite different from the metal silver? Or is it just an alternative to silver, used to represent it when the technology for true silver is absent, just as yellow is used to represent gold?

ermines shield
erminois shield
In the early days of heraldry white had no purpose other than to represent silver. Early armorials used white (or the absence of any colour on a white page) instead of silver. The Scottish Flag, "Azure a saltire Argent", undoubtedly bore a white St Andrew's cross. An English Crusader's surcoat bearing the red cross of St George would be white in colour, not silver. (Practicality was important to the development of heraldry. In those very early days it was difficult to produce a black that would not fade into blue, so black was not a colour initially, and blue was quite dark. For similar reasons, green and purple were less often seen because they were expensive, the former coming from Sinople on the Black Sea, the latter from rare shellfish. White would be used instead of silver because it would be easier.) The "red, white and blue" of the Union Flag (the "Union Jack" when flown aboard H.M ships) is of "Gules, Argent and Azure" heraldically, but no flag is ever seen with the white stripes painted silver.

As the centuries advanced, silver thread and gold thread became more readily available for costumes and for decorative banners, silver paint and gold paint for artists to work onto canvas and carvings, and thus Argent became truly silver and Or truly gold. Illuminated books by such as the Limbourg brothers glowed with their precious colour. White was then merely the practical manifestation of Argent, effectively the poor man's silver.

But it did have a separate existence. Vair, in the early days, before its varieties were invented, was only of blue and white (never blue and silver, Azure and Argent). The arms of the Count of Guines were Vair. The arms of the Duke of Brittany were Ermine ~ a white (not silver, not Argent) shield with black spots.

pean shield
vair (ancient) shield
Vair (ancient)
vari (modern) shield
And in more recent times white has acquired another use. The labels borne by members of the Royal Family to debruise the Royal Arms are blazoned as white, not silver. These labels appear also on the Royal supporters, so that on the silver unicorn they would be invisible if they were themselves silver (the black outline around a charge is an artist's whim, for it is not blazoned).

So, confusingly, white exists in two ways. It does have its own existence as a constituent colour of ermine and of vair, and it exists as the colour of a label on the arms of Britain's princes. But white is also an acceptable substitute for silver on flags and in paintings.

Accordingly, in view of its acceptability as a substitute for Argent, new armorial illustrations in the Baronage magazine will from September use white instead of the pale silvery-blue that has so discontented our artists. We shall review this decision in March.

Vair (modern)
contre-vair shield
John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, bore Ermine (in theory), but this, from his seal, is more properly Argent ten ermine tails sable 4,3,2,1. (Compare with the ermine shield top right.)
early Brittany shield
Ferrers (Ferrieres) vairy shield
William de Ferrieres, Earl of Derby, bore Vairy Or and Gules, the vair shaped in this manuscript illustration in the manner we describe as "ancient".


In the June issue of this newsletter we wrote of the popularity of period drama such as the BBC and Merchant Ivory productions and of the many readers who e-mail queries to us about the social customs of recent centuries. We then added some notes, intended to be of use to drama producers, on the etiquette of bowing. In this issue of the newsletter we shall reproduce some notes on the etiquette of shaking hands a hundred or so years ago.

(Unless readers are specifically interested in these comparatively ancient customs they should perhaps pass directly on to the next section, because for every reader who may find the subject of interest, there will be another who finds it incredibly boring ~ although perhaps yet another who finds it hysterically funny.)

Here is an edited extract from Manners and Rules of Good Society written "by a Member of the Aristocracy".

"The etiquette in regard to shaking hands is not an open question. It is distinct enough and simple enough for all exigencies, but yet there is individual temperament to be taken into account which in many drives etiquette out of the field, if by etiquette is understood not merely stiff propriety of action, but politeness in the truest sense of the word, and doing that which is exactly the right thing to do. Etiquette rules when to shake hands and when not to do so, when to bow and when not to bow; but in spite of this knowledge, which is within every one's reach, there are many mistakes made on this head."
(BBC drama departments please note this.)

"A lady who does not shake hands when expected to do so is actuated by one or other of the following reasons she did not wish to shake hands with a certain acquaintance, and preferred to bow only, or she was not aware whether she should have shaken hands or not. The gentlemen who shake hands with great warmth are two distinct individuals: the one is cordial and large hearted, and has a friendly grasp for everyone ~ a grasp indicative of kindliness, geniality, and good fellowship ~ the other wishes to ingratiate himself in certain quarters, and loses no opportunity of demonstratively shaking hands, but no one is deceived by this spurious imitation of the real thing."

(Any politicians among our readers?)

"When a lady gives but two fingers to people whom she does not care about, she is always a person who fancies herself, and who feels very fine; she doubtless is, but her good breeding and her good feeling are both in question when she takes this method of showing the superiority of herself and her position over that of other people."

(Judged against the tone of the rest of the book, this observation allows a very faint hint of a personal slight once received and never forgiven.)

"A lady usually takes the initiative with regard to shaking hands as with bowing; but in reality it is a spontaneous movement, made by both lady and gentleman at the same moment, as the hand ought not to be extended or the bow given unless expected and instantaneously reciprocated. A young lady should not offer to shake hands with one not expectant of the honour."

The author concludes her advice in this chapter with a comment on the habits of continental Europe, where she has seen people limply holding hands while exchanging their final words before parting.

"....... as a rule, an Englishman prefers the hearty English shake of the hand."


Are we alone in detecting a racist overtone to the use here of the phrase "hearty English"?


The revelation that Prince Edward would not become a duke on his wedding day (the Duke of Cambridge was the favoured guess) shocked many of the news media commentators, but his choice of Wessex for the title of his earldom was much more sensational, Wessex being historically of such extent in power and wealth that it easily outranked any dukedom. When Wessex last had an earl there was no duke in England. If England then had had dukes, Wessex would have ranked first in precedence among them.

So the Prince's decision recalls the comment of Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas, Lord of Galloway, on hearing that the Regent was to be made a duke (duc in the French spoken then at court), and dismissing the idea that he should become one also

"If he'll be a duc, I'll be a drake."


While we have been attempting to alert their potential customers to the fraudulent nature of "The Distinguished History of Your Surname" operation, a new threat has quietly emerged. Family History websites are reproducing these ridiculous inventions for the enlightenment of their "clansmen" and other relations, seemingly unaware of the absurd inaccuracies they perpetuate.

The first reported to us is the Beaton website.


Yet another mention in this newsletter of the Hall of Names Scam leads us to remember that when in April we quoted from Cosmo Innes we intended to return with further observations on the origins of surnames, particularly to emphasise the arbitrary nature of their selection, and thus to highlight the dangers of analysing their adoption too deeply.

If two elementary facts are grasped firmly, much of the fiction sold by the scam merchants can be exposed immediately. The first is that hereditary surnames were unknown in the British Isles before the Norman invasion. The second is that while owners of estates could derive their surnames from them, men did not give territories their own names (although, of course, villages and farms could derive a name from an owner, as the possessive "s" reveals in such as Hagardeston, Johnston, Mackieston).

In the history of his own family, written a century ago, General Wrottesley noted that it was largely a matter of chance whether his hereditary surname would become Verdon from the family's Norman roots, or Wrottesley from its English lordship, or Symons from his ancestor Simon. The significance of this is that during the 13th century, when surnames started to become fixed for the descendants of a family, there were still large numbers of men whose Christian names were Saxon. When these became the basis of a patronymic passed down for the future generations, interpreters in the future could easily be misled.

In 1858 the Camden Society in London published "The Domesday Book of St Pauls" in which are listed the names of the peasants living in its various manors in 1222. It is clear that Christian names were beginning to follow the Norman fashion. For example, a man with the old English name of Aethelward (Ailwardus) gives to his three sons the Norman names of Walter, Ralf and Geoffrey. Their neighbour, a bondsman holding five acres, is Ricardus Godwini, Richard the son of Godwin (Godwin having been in the pre-Conquest England of 1066 one of the most popular Christian names in the kingdom). If at this point the surname becomes standardised for future generations as Godwin or Goodwin, a few centuries later some researcher will claim a Saxon origin for the family. But if the standardisation of the surname occurs in the next generation, it will be Richards, not Godwin, and that same researcher will be ready to pronounce the family as Welsh in origin.

We can stay with the Godwin name to illustrate the errors further. In 1891 "The Goodwins of Hartford, Connecticut" was published in America. It claimed ~

The family name Goodwin is one which has been, and is, very widely distributed not only over England, but over most of the northern countries of Europe, and instances of its occurrence are to be met with in very early times. As far back as the fifth century we met with it in Germany (Pertz, Monumenta Germanica, ix, 189) in the forms Gudwin and Godwin.

Professor Freeman, one of an eminent group of historians who broke down the myths nurtured and propagated during the last century, explained ~

In many cases the process has been simply this. A man bears as his surname one of the ancient English names which have gone out of use as Christian names. He finds in early English history some one who bears that name as a Christian name. He first mistakes the Christian name for a surname, and fancies that the ancient worthy bore the same surname, perhaps an unusual one, as himself. Having got thus far, it would be almost impossible to keep himself back from the next step, to refrain from claiming the ancient worthy as a forefather.

Of course, this is not the excuse of The Hall of Names. That operation follows simple market principles, to wit ~ Everyone wants a pre-1066 surname, so everyone shall have a pre-1066 surname, even if we have to invent it.


We earlier regretted that the official opening of Scotland's new Parliament (it was opened for debates some weeks before) would not use the traditional pageantry and heraldry on show in the days of old. However, as "the great day" drew closer some of the arrangements were modified, which was to some degree gratifying, and yet the lasting impression is that it was a day of half measures (appropriately so, according to many of those who have attended the debates). Only three officers of Lyon Court were present (Lord Lyon King of Arms himself, Rothesay Herald and Carrick Pursuivant); only half the Red Arrows were on view in the fly past; only half the troopers were present in the Sovereign's mounted escort.

And the banners !!! We were in Scotland, and the ceremony in theory strove to project itself as a continuation of Scotland's ancient history, and Scotland is acknowledged throughout Europe as the one country that has most obviously sustained its heraldry with the disciplines of classical times, and Scotland's civic heraldry (the heraldry of its towns and cities, of its boroughs and counties and island councils) is envied by all ~ and instead of the parade of children carrying the banners of the towns in which they live, they carried Tibetan prayer flags with "ethnic" symbols similar to those that have earned British Airways its well deserved obloquy for those tailfin designs that are now, at last, to be obliterated.

If any of those who doubted whether Scotland's new Assembly could ever be taken seriously (by anyone, that is, not drawing a salary from its budget) sought an omen, then it was those Tibetan prayer flags paraded solemnly through Scotland's ancient capital, a stark confession to the poverty of sensitivity and sensibility shared by the nation's new leaders.

But that was not the most obvious failure of the day. The BBC, much criticised recently for its progressive "dumbing down", was truly awful (despite the undoubted talents, exhibited elsewhere quite often, of its very Scottish presenter Kirstie Lang). The research backing the commentary (an activity for which the BBC is renowned, or, to be more accurate, was once renowned) was abysmal in its quality and range. This was, whatever the Baronage editorial staff might think of the masquerade and the fraudulent politics that underly it, an important day for Scotland. The world, we were told, was watching. Scotland, its history and traditions, were on show.

Someone should have told the BBC. The producer must have thought it was the Notting Hill Street Carnival again. Time after time when Kirstie Lang should have been explaining something to her audience, or giving interesting background detail, we were cut away to some passerby who would tell us once again that it was a great day for Scotland or, alternatively, that it was a wonderful day for Scotland. The Royal Company of Archers, The Queen's Bodyguard for Scotland, was on parade. It is rarely seen by a TV audience, it is colourful, it is relatively ancient, and its distinguished membership has included both Rabbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott (perhaps someone at the BBC has heard of at least one of these), but it was ignored. Famous Scottish regiments were on parade, but almost nothing was told of their history. The researchers had not done their work, which means that the producers had not done their work either, which meant that Kirstie Lang was left wildly ad libbing whenever there was no spectator available to assure us that this was a great day for Scotland.

After which it remains only to inform our overseas readers that following newspaper comment on the very low quality of the newly elected representatives of the Scottish people (from editors who had earlier welcomed political devolution), we now have one of those new representatives complaining about the appallingly low standard of the debates in the parliamentary chamber.


The tragically early death of President Kennedy's only son leaves his sister Caroline as his father's heraldic heir. President Kennedy's arms will continue to the new generations only if they are quartered in the arms of her children by an armigerous husband.

However, it is possible for her to petition the Chief Herald of Ireland for the arms to be regranted to her with a specific destination (with appropriate differences) to all her children whatsoever. This would allow, as her father would surely have hoped, his arms to continue for as long as there are heirs of his body ("blood descendants") alive.

JFK arms

CULINARIA ~ Sponsor for the Culinary Arts column

This month we begin a new column dedicated to interesting or famous dinners in history. This is sponsored by Culinaria, specialist in premium quality olive oils, marinades and dressings (currently available only in the British Isles, but soon in North America).

LOOKING AROUND: The Burlington Arcade

From time to time the magazine features articles on shopping areas of genuine historical interest to ancestor hunting tourists in the British Isles. One such is the famous Burlington Arcade.

New readers may wish to know that the St Petersburg Collection, featuring the elegant artistry of Theo Fabergé, grandson of the eminent Carl Fabergé, the Court Jeweller to the last Tsar, may be seen at no. 42.


A few of those who respond to our invitation to read the Heirloom & Howard catalogues forget to add their postal address, thinking perhaps that these are online catalogues, but they are printed catalogues with illustrations of armorial porcelain and heraldic antiques shown in full colour in the traditional way.

In addition to their stock of porcelain and antiques, identified and connected to the families that once owned these rare items, Heirloom & Howard have a fine collection of prints featuring old houses and castles and the ancestors (your ancestors ?) who once lived in them. Enquiries are welcomed.


We continue to receive a large number of letters beginning "Please send me a picture of my coat of arms." These show the widespread influence of the bucketshop heralds who have seemingly persuaded thousands of punters that coats of arms belong to family names.

Pegasus will supply pictures of arms we are willing to certify as having been borne by named individuals (and those individuals are named on the picture), but Pegasus Armorie is not in the fraudulent business of supplying "arms for names" with the implication that the arms supplied may be lawfully used by the buyer as his or her own arms.

However, there is undoubtedly a market demand for armorial display. The colours and shapes of heraldry have been so long in our history that they are sunk deeply into our subconscious minds. We respond accordingly to their beauty.

And so Pegasus has begun to produce a series of illustrations that will be suitable for framing and hanging on the walls of bedrooms, halls, studies, libraries, etc. Initially these will be appropriate for Scottish names, and in each case they will feature the badge of the clansmen of that name surrounded by the arms of the families whose daughters have been the ancestors of the present chief of the name.

Additionally, Pegasus Armorie is to work with the Baronage Press to establish an online Register of Scottish Clans. Members of Clans who request that their name be recorded and pay the artists' fees will receive a high resolution printed certificate embossed with the seal of The British Baronage. An example of one of these has been uploaded (but it is a large picture and may need a minute to download). It illustrates the crest badge of Clan Stewart set against the scenery near the old Stewart Castle of Gloume. The cloth inside the strap and buckle and behind the crest is an old Stewart tartan. (The picture downloaded will be, of course, at low resolution, and unsuitable for printing.)


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