Originally posted by Joseph McMillan:
EDITED: Thanks to Kimon for retrieving this from the lost postings, but for the sake of saving space on the forum I’ve made the whole thing an HTML document and put it up at http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeohzt4/Barron0402.htm
At the link is an extended rant on pedantry in blazoning by the eminent heraldist Oswald Barron, scourge of Arthur C. Fox-Davies and author of the magisterial article on heraldry in the 1910 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It’s an excerpt of his article, "Heraldry Revived," from the first issue of his journal, The Ancestor, April 1902. The excerpt starts at page 37. The whole issue can be found at http://www.archive.org/stream/ancestorquarterl01londuoft
Continuing with Oswald Barron’s tirade on pedantic rules of blazoning:
The checky or checkered field remains, and gobony must still be the word when a bend, baston or fesse is measured into lengths of two alternating colours, but we may rid ourselves of counter-compony, for to the old painters a chief was a checkered chief, whether the checks ran in a pattern of two rows of checkers or three or four.
When we come to part our shield in colours the ancient armory will save us from some latinisms. Waldegrave’s shield, parted down the midst in two colours, was blazoned as ’ party silver and gules,’ and party per pale is a redundancy of the later time. How then, it will be asked, was party per pale distinguished from party per fesse ? It may be answered that party per fesse had no existence. A chief is the upper part of the shield and not necessarily the ‘third part ’ of the handbooks. It may be narrow when the field below is filled with charges, it may be wide when it bears charges itself, and when (as in the arms of Fenwick) field and chief are both filled with charges it is wider still and assumes the appearance which the later writers, eager for a new entry in their dictionaries, styled ’ party per fesse.’ In this case, as in the case of all of the ‘ordinaries,’ the size or breadth, whether of chief, bend, cheveron or border, depends not upon the measuring tapes of the rules but upon the eye of the artist seeing where balance and proportion lie in the single case before him.
Of the lines which divide the shield or vary the edgings of charges it may be noted that the conventional cloud edging called nebuly is very rare in the middle ages and not to be found at all in the early rolls. The word’s appearance in modern blazoning (as in the arms of Blount and Lovell) is due to the fact that the later heralds, depicting a wavy line as they did with a feeble ripple, were convinced that the bold waving in the old examples must bear some different name. In considering the ancient heraldry, nebuly, or as Mr. Boutell would have it, nebulee, may be packed away with dovetailed lines, and with the invected line which in a Victorian grant of arms speaks to the antiquary as plainly as ever a neglected shop ticket upon our other modern purchases. Crenellee finds a better word in the old English battled, and raguly may make way for ragged. We do not speak of the famous ragged staff of Beauchamp as a staff ragulee.
When the shield is divided with stripes paly, bendy or barry, verbiage will be saved if we follow the old blazonry by recognizing that six divisions make the normal number of such stripes. Barry silver and gules therefore connotes to every one understanding heraldry barry of six pieces, and the like rule applies to the paly and bendy shields. When however a chief is imposed upon a barry coat the normal divisions will naturally be reduced to four. Barry wavy was commonly distinguished by the word wavy alone. Wavy gold and gules is therefore as ample a description of the arms of Lovell as is the handbook blazon of Barry undee of six or and gules. Barrulee is a mock-French abomination which may be pilloried with humettee. A barred coat of many bars, like the well known coat of Valence of Pembroke, was anciently described in the French as burele. The Boutells and Cussanses have jumped to the conclusion that this word is a diminutive of the word barry, and, its u being ignored, burele becomes barrulee for the handbooks, and barrulet, which is ’ the diminutive of a bar,’ follows in the same coinage. Here let us purge the heraldry books of the obsession of the ’ diminutives of the ordinary.’ A glance at the list of these must have driven many a student with but reasonable powers of memory from the study of heraldry. When we have allowed that there is a species of narrow bend called a baston, and that the little bends which in some coats lie beside the bend are called cotises, what remains of the tribe of illegitimate descendants credited by the handbooks to the ‘ordinaries ’ ? Pallets and endorses, bendlets and ribands, barrulets, closets, escarpes, and the like should be brought to the bar of modern archaeology charged with loitering in print without visible means of, or necessity for, existence. The flasques and voiders which are reckoned diminutives of the flaunch owe their origin to the practice of those armorists who, finding a second word or even a second spelling for the name of a charge, hastened to construct a new charge out of their trouvaille. Of the quarter Mr. Cussans, a typical armorist, tells us that ‘examples of this charge are very rarely to be met with.’ They are rare indeed in such books as that of Mr. Cussans, but in ancient heraldry this is invariably the word for the frequently occurring charge lately called the canton, and the word will serve us well enough for this charge, whilst the pedant’s word canton for ‘the diminutive of the quarter ’ will be dispensed with when we consider that, as has been said before, the size of ‘ordinaries ’ varies freely with the nature of the composition, and the word quarter commits us to no rule for filling a fourth part of the shield’s surface with the charge.
The lozenge is set down for us as a diminutive of the fusil, the fusil being described as an elongated lozenge. This again being one of those rules which would cramp the artist’s freedom in drawing his charges, we may regard it with a natural suspicion. A fusil, we find, is a term for which we have no need unless it serves us as a word for those shuttle shaped divisions into which the ancient ’ engrailing ’ divided bends and fesses. Its cousin the rustre, being only encountered in dictionaries of heraldry, need not trouble us.
A fret in its modern sense of a heraldic device formed of two bastons laced through a mascle is another ‘ordinary ’ to be rejected of the antiquary and the artist. The ancient figure the fret, or fretty as it was more frequently termed, formed by the interlacing of some six crossing bastons, is the sole figure of the kind discoverable before the making of the dictionaries of arms. Planche himself is entrapped by the assumption of the armorist that the modern figure followed the use of the middle ages, and blunders sadly when he lays down that Harington’s fret may be the descendant of an earlier ’ fretty ’ coat.
The common charge of a mullet may surely for philology’s sake be allowed to drop its modern spelling for its ancient and less fishlike spelling of molet, and the pierced molet seems to have a single and suggestive word awaiting it in the ’ rowel ’ of the old rolls of arms. The estoile also has every authority for dropping its foreign dress and shining as a plain English ’ star.’ Whether our labels have three, four or five pendants is a matter which may concern the painter of arms, but the armorist should take no verbal heed of their variety, save perhaps in such a case as the curious label of many points which was borne by Sayer de Quinci.
Next, Mr. Barron takes on the different kinds of crosses.
Oswald Barron discusses the many variants of crosses:
No charge has been the victim of the armorists in such degree as the cross. They have vied with one another through the ages in wringing from their imaginations new shapes into which the emblem of our salvation might be chipped or writhen. Here alone may the modern writers take credit to themselves beyond the measure which may be allowed to their fathers. At a comparatively early date Gerard Leigh had produced forty-six different crosses for his delighted readers, but even the wisdom of the seventeenth century is surpassed by Robson’s British Herald with its two hundred and twenty-two, whilst I hesitate to say how many figure in Mr. Elvin’s modern dictionary of heraldry, a work of which I can only say with a certain admiration that the very funeral rites of our ancient national heraldry might be read from its inspired pages.
If we set aside from these crosses those which were manifestly evolved by the armorists as so much padding for the dictionaries there remain still a number to be resolved into their originals. The rule of the armorist was here, as elsewhere, to make on the one hand a fresh word of every antick spelling or variant of a recognized word, and on the other hand a new word was to be found for every pictured cross which the old artists, in their search for the beautiful line, had varied from the pattern which the laws of the later armorists were to declare unchangeable. Thus flowery, flory, flurty and floretty all these words signify a cross whose form in actual use varied with the fashion of the time, but whose distinguishing note was to be found in the fleurs-de-lys sprouting from its ends, the ‘crois od les bouts flurtees ’ of the old rolls. Yet they are now reckoned four crosses, although no two armorists can be found to agree upon their exact differences. In the work of Woodward and Burnet, Burnet is found differing from Woodward on the grave point of the distinction between flory and flurty and Burnett dead, Woodward points his case in notes to a new edition of their book. For an example of the second custom of constructing separate words for artistic variants of the same form, the cross paty is a case in point. The unvarying use of the middle ages points us to a certain type of cross as found in the arms of Latimer for a cross paty. But not one of our modern armorists is content with this description. The three centuries of the heraldic age he tacitly sets down as mistaken. Paty as an epithet he applies only to that variety of flat-ended cross which the man in the street calls Maltese, and which, although very early armory might sometimes place it amongst crosses paty, the later middle ages found an adjective for in the word formy. The true cross paty, when encountered by the armorist in its plump shape (fashion of 1300), is ticketted cross patoncee ; but when the fashion of 1450 thins its arms it straightway becomes a cross flory. For those who affect to regard heraldry as an unreformable science because of the wide acceptance of an iron tradition which makes the last development of its rules as fixed as the definitions of Euclid, we may recommend the comparison of the last half-dozen handbooks of heraldry, of which no two agree in their efforts to reconcile the old crosses with their modern tickets.
The antiquary will concern him very little with this tangle of crosses. ’ You bring me so many crosses that I am in a manner weary of them,’ he will say, as even a character in one of the heraldic dialogues is made to say in a curiously convincing phrase. With ancient examples before him he will recognize some half-dozen crosses in frequent use, with two or three more variants of rare occurrence. Elvin’s and Edmondson’s lists will trouble him not at all, and unless for enlargement of the understanding he will never win to a knowledge of shy varieties such as the cross nowy-degraded-conjoined. In one of those interminable lists a certain cross is found whose expressive name may answer for the most of its fellows. Therefore we draw it from obscurity. It is the cross anserated or cross issuing out of gooses heads!
Next, Barron takes on the blazoning of beasts, birds, and other charges.
And now to speak of the beasts and fowls and other living things to whose shapes the art of armory owes its most fantastic beauty. For their conduct in their shield prison the armorist has exhausted ingenuity in the devising of rules upon rules. No paw is lifted without a word-shackle snapped upon it. Yet with a few words on the conventional positions of the lion, the beast most often found upon the shield, whose very antiquity as the earliest of charges has caused conventions to arise round about him, the natural history book of the heralds may be left to the philologist, to whom a strange word is a truffle to be joyfully rooted up.
The lion on the shield is the whelp of convention, a monster like his bastard kinsman the griffon. No attempt is ever made to paint this royal beast in colours which hint at the colour of a mortal hide. Like the eagle he is at ease in blue, gold or checkers. His natural position is held to be when he stands ramping at the world, claws to the fore and lashing with his tail. Therefore the lion rampant in old blazon as in modern French may be ‘a lion’ needing no further epithet until he drops to his paws and becomes passant. It will be found that we follow the habit of the ages of heraldry and save ourselves needless words if we recognize that the lion looking sidelong towards the spectator may be styled a leopard. Even the modern armorists recognize this when they come to describe the lion’s face used as a charge by itself, in which case it has always been blazoned as a leopard’s head. Now as the customary position of the leopard is passant so the word leopard used alone serves for what the handbooks would describe as a lion passant gardant. A ramping lion with the full face seen, as in the arms of Brocas, was emblazoned as a leopard rampant. Early heraldry knows nothing of lions reguardant as the modern word is, signifying looking backwards with turned heads. A sole exception may be the well known Welsh coat of three skulking lions with tails between their legs. But if it be needful to describe such a lion in modern heraldry it may be as well to note that regardant and gardant are in effect the same word, having the same meaning, and were used indifferently in old blazons the splitting of them into two meanings being a piece of the usual heraldic illiteracy. A lion looking backward is better English and better sense than the lion rampant regardant of the dictionaries.
Let us say again that for the blazoning of beasts and the like some knowledge of the customary conventions of armorial art is very needful if we would save ourselves a mouthful of foolish words. Keeping before us the flat-iron shaped shield-form we shall see that three ramping lions are commonly set upon it, two above one, and that for the artist’s reasons as they fill the shield space best in that position. This is so commonly recognized that only those enamoured of words follow the modern French custom of adding the caution ’ two and one ’ to the blazon. But the same principle can be carried further, as the early folk did carry it to the great simplifying of heraldic speech. A modern herald blazons the arms of the King of England much as Mr. Boutell would do—with ‘gules, three lions passant guardant, in pale, or,—the lavish and meaningless commas will be noted. But the long passant stripe of the leopard’s body could never be accommodated by an artist to the ‘two and one.’ The three leopards are therefore by a natural movement of the artist placed barwise one under the other, and gules three leopards gold is all the blazon needed if we would follow the example of the ancients. Three running greyhounds would by the same rule naturally place themselves barwise and rearrange themselves as ’ two and one ’ if we drove a chevron between them. Three lions passant will be set barwise, but three owls or three eagles ‘two and one.’ Three swimming salmon will lie barwise also, but three dolphins, a fish which we draw bowed in its leap, cramp themselves unless placed two and one. In pale therefore is another phrase to be rid of.
Of the eagle we may say that as he is always borne displayed until we come to some late coats in which he perches with closed wing, the word displayed is redundant. De or a un egle de vert, said the ancient armorist, and the blazon was enough. The griffin follows the lion in his natural position which is rampant, in which case rampant is unnecessary, and we may disregard the armorists who have invented the word segreant for the ramping griffon.
The enthusiasm of word-making rose to strange heights when the later armorists approached the brute creation like spectacled Adams to find dog-latinisms for their every part and attribute. Birds of prey were to be armed and the other birds beaked and membered. Their wings were to be described as overt, inverted or disclosed. The common heraldic placing of fish as upright makes them hauriant, the swimming fish is naiant and the diving fish urinant, though our Mr. Boutell, dreading ambiguities, spells it uriant. The dolphin must be qualified as embowed, although the arm painters never figured him otherwise. Griffons are segreant, horses are forcenee, grazing oxen are pascuant, and the wood wild boar is armed and unguled.
All such charges are peppered freely with the word ’ proper,’ a word of little or no value. Sable three swans is a complete blazon for a coat, it being to be guessed that the swans are in their usual colours, that is white, with red beaks and legs. Silver three corbies leaves no room for daubing the corbie with blue or red, and gold three Cornish choughs demands black birds with beaks and legs of red. The popinjay is green, and we are free to touch his poll and legs with red if we will. Trees and flowers, with the exception of roses, are of custom in the colours nature gave them, and nowhere arises the necessity for clapping ’ proper ’ to a blazon. If something of the sort were necessary our own neglected language gives us a better phrase in ’ after his kind ’ or ’ of his kind.’ Couped is another word of which we may be sparing when we deal with the heads of beasts or birds, as the fact of cutting squarely off is inferred whenever the word ’ rased ’ is not employed. In all things the law cares nothing for little matters of detail. A man blazoning at his leisure may specify that his lion should be said to be langued and armed gules, but the artist may paint these ornaments gold or azure or leave them out altogether and yet not err, and the barbs and seeds of roses likewise follow the rules of the colour scheme and no others.
’ No care for little matters ’ must be set before us as a clear rule. A man’s hand is drawn cut off at the wrist and palm forward, but couped at the wrist and appaumee are needless, nor need it be noted whether the hand be dexter or sinister save in a case where the punning blazon of such a name as Poingdestre must be brought in. Malmaynes should surely have left hands, but they are not found so in old figures.
We recognize that our heraldry rose in the French tongue, and many of its words must always savour of it, but let us strive to use our own broad speech wherever it may displace a pedantry of the decadence. When words of French root must serve us, let us follow old authority in Englishing their form as far as may be. The old French pate soon became paty in English, so let us avoid making it modernized French as patee and fly the meaningless illiteracy of pattee. Let noute be English knotted, and volant flying. Garbs and annulets are English sheaves and rings. Clad is a better word than vested and burning explains itself more clearly than incensed. If we have a tooth for strange words let them remind us of old English pedantries of the chase and the wold, and of the furniture of the foray or hawking party. An antiquary may well defend the ancient word from the latinism or modernism which would devour it. Our parrot may rest as a popinjay, the fir-cone may remain an English ’ pineapple ’ and the mole a moldiwarp, and the panache of Mr. Boutell’s chapter on crests may be again the ‘bush of feathers ’ of the old knights. Above all let us cherish the punning word, Latin, French or English, which explains so many strange charges in the shield. Harts must be harts for us in a shield of Hartwell, but bucks and deer in shields of Buxton and Dereham. The birding bolt of Boson is a boson, and the staff in Palmer’s arms a palmer’s staff, although the same staff in Burden’s arms is a punning bordoun. The cats in Pusey’s arms and the cat in Pudsey’s crest should all be pussycats to the English blazoner, and Dymoke the Champion has certainly a moke’s ears for his crest although the family now make the ears of the more genteel fur of the hare. Almost every out of the way charge conceals your pun. Wunhale’s three pillows hint at some ancient English word for a pillow allied to wonne a pleasure and hals the neck ; Vane’s three gauntlets are the old gauns or wauns, whilst Wilkinson’s unicorn or lycorne certainly shows forth that Wilkinson, for the better playing upon his name, split it into Wil-lycorne-son.
And in closing:
The tangled skein of the story of heraldry can only be followed in a rambling essay. Let us sum up the position in which the antiquary finds himself to-day.
His handbooks and guides show themselves as the compilations for the most part of men whose enthusiam was supported by slender scholarship without judgement or breadth of view, who decanted their new wine into old bottles without a gleam of humourous mistrust.
The handbooks differ amongst themselves, and offer no standard, however mistaken, of authority in heraldry. The handbooks are, despite their flavouring of second-hand research, the thin extract of the old heraldry books. The old heraldry books jargoned for sweet jargoning’s sake witless symbolism and metaphysic of Bedlam to the delectation of Tom Fool and his brethren who, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were great readers and loved a tall folio. The break between these books and the medieval practice of heraldry is complete, and their childish archaeology made no attempt to close it. Their systems were too deliberately set up to be regarded as in any sense developments of the past, and their speech was darkened of set purpose with absurdities.
Beyond handbook and folio lies the field of medieval heraldry. Its records are too ample to allow us any misunderstanding of their nature, and an important class of them will soon be open to public study in the shape of the rolls of arms. The study of these and their comparison with the ancient personal seals and the evidences of the monuments will then be the task before the armorist-antiquary, and this enquiry can have but one result.
But although the result be assured there are already indications that those who would bring common-sense to sweeten this dingy corner of archaeology will do so at the wonted peril of the image-breaker. Especially from two quarters criticism and opposition may be expected.
It will be urged that the early days of heraldry used up all the simple devices, and that, when new arms are to be devised, barbarous new methods and an elaborated jargon must be employed for the mere ensuring of novelty. Such a criticism will however be impossible if the art of heraldry could regain its place and set the pseudo-science of heraldry under its feet. The old methods and practice in the hands of a competent designer would be as fruitful as ever in new combinations and simple and vigorous results. To deny this is to confess either to an ignorance of the practice of heraldry or to a mind barren of original effort.
Criticism such as this may be easily met. The simplifying and making reasonable of English heraldry has a more serious enemy in the path. The antiquary who is content to live and learn, the architect and the artist will welcome a new movement towards sanity and comprehension, but there remains the personage whom Mr. St. John Hope has christened for more distinction ‘the Antiquarian.’ That the past century has scantly left one stone upon another of dead antiquarian creeds affects him not a whit. He declares himself in this as in like matters ‘in favour of established formula.’ In the old days he said this as doggedly when innovators robbed Captain Clutterbuck of the established formula that a round arch was a Saxon arch and a pointed one a Norman. The private expression of some of the opinions of this present essay brought against the writer an antiquarian with furious quill, who maintained in black print that not only was the whole system of the handbooks an ark to be kept secure from enquiring hand, but as the antiquarian’s favourite handbook shortened gules into gu. and azure into az. even so the abbreviations themselves became inspired, and the amplifying them back into gules and azure was ‘ugly and ridiculous’ as well as wicked. How the chopped fragments were to be pronounced by the pious was left uncertain.
Archaeology is perhaps the only science in which such controversy as this would be possible in serious newspapers or reviews, and towards the unhappy subject of armory the duller minds amongst archaeologists inevitably tend. No other subject, perhaps, offers at the cost of an uncritical browsing along a shelf of books the opportunity for a barndoor-fowl’s flight into scientific literature. A dozen handbooks are probably a-making to-day, and the familiar tags will appear with new surnames on their bindings.
But the day is certainly at hand when the committal to paper of long and misunderstood lists of words will fail to equip the antiquarian for an honoured place on the bookshelves.
Dryasdust has been unhorsed, and we shall see whether Master Mumblazon, the least of his squires, has a surer seat.