Recommended Reading

There are a great many books on the subject of heraldry to be found in print or online. Compiling all available works would likely take a lifetime and would not likely be very useful to a new student of the subject. For the sake of beginners and new researchers we suggest first taking a look at ‘The American Heraldic Primer’ compiled and published by the Society. This is available digitally in our Member’s Only section of the website. A print edition is also currently in progress. We also have a number of articles available here online. Apart from these we offer the following list, adapted from our ‘Basic Heraldic Bookshelf’, with the addition of several other articles and pages from a myriad of sources. When available a link to an online edition of each book is included with the entry below.

Do note that the following sources were selected because they provide good comprehensive discussions of heraldry in general. Readers should be aware that most heraldry books written in English are aimed primarily at English users. In addition to discussing heraldic usages that are common to most traditions, many of these also include material—particularly on matters of heraldic rules and laws—that is specific to England, something the authors do not always make clear. If you are wondering where foreign heraldic law intersects with that of the customs of arms in the United States please see our ‘Guidelines for Heraldic Practice’. All entries marked with an * are written by AHS Members and Fellows.

This page is still under construction.


Child, Heather. Heraldic Design. London: Bell & Hyman, 1965.
A good introduction to the subject targeted towards the novice heraldic artist. Contains many good illustrations and diagrams. It is suggested to find an old copy used rather than the “new” one often found online, as the new printings are often a different trim size than the originals and thus many things seem cramped.

Friar, Stephen, and John Ferguson. Basic Heraldry. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
A standard book on heraldry illustrated by Ferguson containing a good basic history of heraldry, information on constructing arms and how to blazon. There are also a number of wonderful digital heraldic illustrations throughout, as well as diagrams which ease learning.

Moncreiffe, Iain, and Don Pottinger. Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated. Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953.
A short book which wonderfully illustrates some rather complicated heraldic subjects, although a bit dated it is an excellent primer and a wonderful tool for teaching young persons the basics of the subject.

Volborth, Carl-Alexander von. Heraldry of the World. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1973.
A country-by-country guide to heraldry in Europe, the Americas, South Africa, and the churches. 906 illustrations, and detailed text about current and historical practices in those countries. (Arthur Radburn)
A very good little book with many illustrations, it describes heraldry from a global perspective in a by-country/regional approach. (Ton de Witte)

Woodcock, Thomas, and John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
An informative exploration by two English officers of arms of heraldry in England and Europe, with a chapter on pre-revolutionary America, all illustrated from College of Arms records and collections. (Arthur Radburn)


Sources Pertaining to Specific Heraldic Traditions

Dennis, M. D. Scottish Heraldry: An Invitation. Edinburgh: Heraldry Society of Scotland, 1999.
A very nicely illustrated basic book on Scottish heraldry…an absolute must of an introduction for Scottish Heraldry with excellent illustrations. (Dennis MacGoff)

Heim, Bruno Bernard. Heraldry in the Catholic Church: Its Origins, Customs and Laws. Gerrards Cross, Eng.: Van Duren, 1978.
A very good book on church heraldry with many beautiful illustrations by Heim.
(Ton de Witte)

Innes of Learney, Sir Thomas. Scots Heraldry. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1956.
Approach with caution, especially the 1956 edition. I think that Scottish heraldry will be spending much of the next 100 years quietly undoing some of Innes of Learney’s excesses. (James Dempster)
MacLysaght, Edward. Irish Families: Their Names, Arms and Origins. 4th ed. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1985.
More of a study of Irish family names, but the arms section shows the common charges for families from the same tribal affiliation or geographical location. (Dennis MacGoff)
As the first Chief Herald of Ireland, Dr. MacLysaght speaks with authority, but be aware that most other heraldic scholars are critical of his theory of “sept arms” shared by people of the same name living in the same district. (Joseph McMillan

Mayer, L. A. Saracenic Heraldry. 1933; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
A good reference. The author covers the meaning of the symbols, but makes a couple of mistakes. One error that led to some debate was the charge he identified as the “trousers of nobility,” which some would call “trumpets.” (Hassan Kamel)