Signification of Supporters

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
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02 June 2011 08:17
 

Yes, I know there are other threads on similar topics and the AHS guidelines cover the use of supporters clearly… I have even read the entirety of this thread: http://www.americanheraldry.org/forums/showthread.php?t=4271.

Here is my point to make:

 

I believe most people have a vague impression of what supporters actually signify.  I do not recall having encountered evidence put forth by anyone anywhere to suggest that supporters are anything more than a decoration which "may" indicate noble or superior status or office, but I don’t believe nobility in itself is their purpose since they are not always used by nobles or those holding office…

 

...ergo, I feel that speculation into the actual meaning and purpose of supporters (not just saying, oh yeah, counts and above get them) would be of value in addition to actually discussing their use in the United States.

 

So, my question to you all:

 

"What do supporters really mean?"  I think it’s obvious that with modern usage, supporters mean different things in different places.  What are those different things specifically?  If those meanings are poor, what should those meanings be? (yes, this can go into fantasy land if need be)

 

Okay, Go! :shootout:

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
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02 June 2011 10:05
 

Alright no one’s biting yet so I’ll tell you what I think…

Supporters are supposed to be a way to distinguish a corporate entity of sufficent property, land, assets or clout to merit symbolic representation above and beyond "normal" arms from those arms of an actual person or lesser corporate entity without as much value.  That’s it, period.

 

I will go on to be so bold and foolhardy as to say, any institution, even sovereign country, which uses supporters without this understanding is… *cough* incorrect.

 

Being a hotheaded rake I will be happy to meet representatives of any potentially offended institutions or countries on the field of their choosing with Nerf Blasters to settle the issue of their honors if they may have been called into question by my possibly reckless statement.

 

Okay, so why do I say "corporate entity?"  Let’s take that Elizabethan guy "Norfolk."  This guy is a Duke (yes, I get my historical facts from Hollywood and Kate Blanchet okay?).  He has a name even as a natural person and subject of the crown, but it is not Norfolk.  That’s his title.  His title IS a corporate entity with arms and supporters.  Queen Elizabeth can call him Norfolk, which really means, CEO of Norfolk, Inc. including all assets, land, contracts, etc. held by that title/estate.  Norfolk may hold lesser titles as well, which are entirely different corporate entities.  He is the executive representative in person of all of those corporate entities/titles he holds.  They are not real people, but they are treated legally and in some cases addressed as people (that’s what corporate means; you know, like a "body").  Out of convenience, he displays the arms of his corporation, Duchy of Norfolk, since he gets to be CEO, er, I mean Duke for life and his heirs get it when he dies.  The only way he loses this is if the Queen fires him as CEO and strips him… if he has no other titles, he’s not gonna have supporters anymore now is he.  Speaking of which… the Queen in her role as sovereign IS CEO of England.  So, in this capacity she IS England.  Yet she is also a person.  Were she to abdicate, do you think those nice quarter arms would stay her, and if she had no other title, do you think she would have supporters?

 

Okay, someone be nice and post a counter argument or tell me to go read more AHS guidelines or something please… something! lol :o

 
emrys
 
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emrys
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02 June 2011 10:55
 

In the Netherlands supporters do not mean a thing, you have nobles and non nobles with them in their arms and you have nobles and non nobles who do not use supporters. I myself used to have supporters but after some time I discarded them because I tought my arms looked better without them but I could have kept them if I wanted to.

That being said it all depends on the heraldic realm where you are living if you should have them or not. In the USA anyone could have supporters but the problem arises in the fact that anglo centric heraldry is the most used heraldry there and that means if you have supporters it is thought of as a sign of rank. So on to the AHS guidelines I say.

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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02 June 2011 11:02
 

emrys;83880 wrote:

In the Netherlands supporters do not mean a thing


That may be true now, but do you believe that was true from the inception of supporters being used in Netherlands?  Were supporters meaningless before they even entered the territory of the Netherlands? smile

 
emrys
 
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emrys
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02 June 2011 11:11
 

yes because there never has been a central heraldic authority for all here. Nowadays you have the high council of nobility who resgisteres the arms of the noble families and civic arms and a few other things but thats it. The only thing seperating the arms of a noble from a non noble is a crown of rank but in our present day you use either a helmet or the crown and most nobles use their helmets.

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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02 June 2011 11:22
 

Do you think that there were ever nobles who held land and title within the borders of what we now call the Netherlands whose liege lords and heraldic customs may have resided outside the heraldic borders of the Netherlands?  Could it be that supporters used by such individuals in their arms as tenants in chief of said parcels of land might be using those supporters with intent beyond just ornamental fashion and even use them based on outside custom (Holy Roman Empire and German states or France for example)?  Could it be that some use of supporters were imported with… "meaning?"

Or have all supporters in Netherlands been meaningless such as they are all apparently meaningless now? smile

 
emrys
 
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emrys
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02 June 2011 11:32
 

Most of it was part of the Holy Roman Empire but ïn the empire the "liege lord" the chosen emperor did not have total power on heraldic matters.

I dont know if supporters were imported it probably was a fashion of some sort at a time in some place which spread and then grew in to the normal thing to have.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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02 June 2011 11:38
 

See my post from several years ago running down the situation regarding suppoters in every European country I could find information on.

http://www.americanheraldry.org/forums/showpost.php?p=1091&postcount=22

 

Since then I looked at the German situation more closely and found that neither of the two old-line German heraldic societies will register supporters with assumed arms.  The most prestigious of the societies, Der Herold of Berlin, says in its heraldic handbook, "In Germany the custom of bearing supporters with family arms has remained limited to the titled nobility."

 

An English peer is not a quasi-CEO of an enterprise comprising lands, properties, etc.  He is a peer purely in his own person, not by virtue of owning or doing anything.  There is no Duchy of Norfolk of which the Duke of Norfolk is the proprietor.  The supporters in the arms of a peer (or a Knight of the Garter, or a GCB, GCMG, GCVO, or GBE) are purely and simply a sign of his or her elevated social status.

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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02 June 2011 11:39
 

emrys;83885 wrote:

it probably was a fashion of some sort at a time in some place which spread and then grew in to the normal thing to have.


This is really the core issue then.  Did supporters arise out of a sense of heraldic fashion, or were they originated in utilitarian purpose out of neccessity to distinguish a person from his corporate possession?

 

If the latter is true, then I conclude that the fashionable importation of the item is an aberrent deviation by the nation perpretrating it and should be rectified.

 

If the former is true, that is, the inception of all supporters is based on a fashion statement, then in my opinion, all heraldic authorities which attempt to regulate supporters ought to stop doing so and let fashion do it’s fashion thang.

 

(I tend to think that supporters were born of corporate utility, not fashion, and THEN propogated outside of their purpose in some places)

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
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02 June 2011 12:27
 

Joseph McMillan;83886 wrote:

An English peer is not a quasi-CEO of an enterprise comprising lands, properties, etc.  He is a peer purely in his own person, not by virtue of owning or doing anything.  There is no Duchy of Norfolk of which the Duke of Norfolk is the proprietor.  The supporters in the arms of a peer (or a Knight of the Garter, or a GCB, GCMG, GCVO, or GBE) are purely and simply a sign of his or her elevated social status.


According to a strict modern idea of a ceo of a corporate enterprise, I agree with you.  That’s how they do things NOW.

 

As to medieval considerations, I disagree.  I believe a vassal who was allowed supporters was granted (or inherited) land and/or property of some kind which were ATTACHED to that granted or inherited title. Arms granted with supporters would be granted to the person as representative of an office to bear, thus if title were lost, the arms with supporters would be lost too (otherwise you would have to kill the person to remove the title).  If the person already bore arms, then the granted augmentation of supporters would transform those arms into titled (essentially corporate) arms. So far as I understand, a person could have their own personal arms, but would instead display the arms of their title (especially if that title changed hands to theirs) because a personal set of arms is trumped by a set of arms representing a wealthy piece of land and associated title.  The very fact that a title could be sold (at least on the continent) lends credence to the idea that the title is attached to the property it represents and that the person is merely a holder (or CEO if you will) of that title, for life, or in perpetuity, or for a duration of time or whatever the granting/creating letters state.

 

If you can compare a nation state to a corporate enterprise in modern times (as many supposed experts do), I think you can use that description (for lack of a contemporary one) to describe landholdings and titles in the medieval era.

 

I believe it was mostly about land and the people who worked that land. Titles without the land (or some other income generating investment) were empty and useless.  I believe supporters indicated worth in the most important way, wealth.  This would be something which would have a reason to render visually for the illiterate to see.  There is a reason why dukes were usually more economically wealthy than barons.  There is a reason why they’d want everyone (literate or not) to see and note this symbolic representation.

 

As to peers in parliament… that has been completely transformed from the time when supporters were first instituted, no?  House of Lords has no part in this discussion because an earl’s right to a vote is in no way associated with why supporters were invented.

 

Also, modern orders of knighthood and chivalric orders are equally removed in their practices from land/title relationships and the environment from which use of supporters were spawned.

 

Just because modern usage is prevalent, doesn’t make it correct or its meaning understood even by those who practice said usage…

 

I know I’m gonna catch heat for this but, I need more proof than just because people do it now, it must be correct and true to its original intent.  I question nation states just as readily as I question inviduals.

 
Jeffrey Boyd Garrison
 
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02 June 2011 12:49
 

Joseph McMillan;83886 wrote:

See my post from several years ago running down the situation regarding suppoters in every European country I could find information on.

http://www.americanheraldry.org/forums/showpost.php?p=1091&postcount=22


Also, thanks for posting this link.  I had also already read this summary of use of supporters by region from when you’d copy/pasted it into the tenants and supporters thread previously.

 
Wilfred Leblanc
 
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02 June 2011 12:51
 

As I developed some understanding of the historical place of heraldry in the U.S., it took me a while to become amenable to the view that supporters basically have no place in the vocabulary we use for individuals. As I recall, it came down to my feeling abashed at the idea of employing any additament that would suggest a higher status than that held by George Washington, whose arms have no supporters. I continue to refrain from commissioning emblazonments of my arms that include supporters, but that’s just me, and my assumptions about heraldry in the U.S. are not carved in stone, as it were.

I basically embrace the view that our British heritage and our successful revolt against British rule are the key point of departure for subsequent heraldic practice in the U.S. Must everyone embrace that view? Certainly not. Is there a way to coherently define a contemporary system of heraldry in the U.S. without doing so? Perhaps.

 

Heraldry is indissolubly associated with feudalism, so to use arms in the American context is to invite criticism. If they give a rip at all, most Americans find it rather bold, and many find it pretentious. Trying to be a heraldic missionary and explain things (as the AHS sees them or as Lord Lyon sees them) to the non-enthusiast does not help. Americans find pedantry no less suspect than other assertions of special status. Bottom line: If you’re going to wear that signet ring, use that stationery, or hang that library painting, you are inviting uncomfortable questions and presumably are willing—not to say eager—to deal with them. More to the point, you are plainly willing to risk making other people feel inferior. So, in a way, what the heck difference does it make whether you have supporters or not?

 
Andemicael
 
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02 June 2011 12:54
 

I got a kick out of this.

Speaking of the Elizabeth film, I’m reminded of the scene when Sir William Cecil demands to see the queen’s sheets every morning, saying something like "she no longer belongs to herself, she belongs to England…"

 
Andemicael
 
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02 June 2011 13:02
 

Fred White;83891 wrote:

Bottom line: If you’re going to wear that signet ring, use that stationery, or hang that library painting, you are inviting uncomfortable questions and presumably are willing—not to say eager—to deal with them. More to the point, you are plainly willing to risk making other people feel inferior. So, in a way, what the heck difference does it make whether you have supporters or not?


But what happens when you tell this person that everyone from nobles on down to peasants have been known to historically assume arms?

 

And then go on to explain how one of the few armorial objects they probably know — the royal arms,  the supporters on a state seal, or the arms of a school — are clearly different from your personal arms in that they are institutions, something, you wouldn’t dare to claim?

 
Wilfred Leblanc
 
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02 June 2011 16:52
 

Andemicael;83896 wrote:

But what happens when you tell this person that everyone from nobles on down to peasants have been known to historically assume arms?

And then go on to explain how one of the few armorial objects they probably know — the royal arms,  the supporters on a state seal, or the arms of a school — are clearly different from your personal arms in that they are institutions, something, you wouldn’t dare to claim?


Let’s just take the case of shield and crest alone: I wouldn’t get into it with the skeptics to begin with. If I were wearing a signet ring and someone ridiculed it, I would just grant them that it’s an expression of my congenital pomposity and carry on. I certainly wouldn’t pull out a lectern and start trying to educate them. Anyway, the "down to peasants" piece is misleading and invites another uncomfortable question: When did peasants start doing that and why? It was after the higher classes started doing it and has to have been motivated at least in part by status anxiety. How does acknowledging that help the American armiger’s case?

 

As to supporters, if you’re asking me to play devil’s advocate, I would justify the assumption of supporters a few ways: 1) by asserting that coopting the prestige signifiers of feudalism to any degree (shield alone, badge alone, shield and crest, etc.) is a rather bold move, socially, and that making a distinction between use and non-use of supporters is therefore trivial; and 2) by asserting that the role of British heritage here needn’t be decisive.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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02 June 2011 17:09
 

Jeffrey Boyd Garrison;83889 wrote:

As to medieval considerations, I disagree. I believe a vassal who was allowed supporters was granted (or inherited) land and/or property of some kind which were ATTACHED to that granted or inherited title. Arms granted with supporters would be granted to the person as representative of an office to bear, thus if title were lost, the arms with supporters would be lost too (otherwise you would have to kill the person to remove the title).


When would you date the end of the Middle Ages? Because English peerages began to be separated from land tenure with the creation of the first non-royal dukedoms in the late 14th century. From that point forward, a peerage was a piece of property in itself that decreasingly had anything to do with ownership of any land to which the title was attached. By the reign of Henry VIII, the descendants of the earlier nobles who had become peers by virtue of writs of summons to Parliament had developed the theory that they were nobles by blood and had a hereditary right to sit in the House of Lords, regardless of whether they still held the original feu or not. Meanwhile, kings were increasingly putting their friends in Parliament by creating them peers by letters patent, which had no connection with land tenure at all—peerages by letters patent were always purely personal.

 

Meanwhile, the first actual grant of supporters to an English coat of arms dates to only 1508, about the same time that peerages were becoming disconnected from the feudal landholdings that had originally conveyed the expectation of a seat in parliament.

 

Your theory therefore does not hold water—there was never a time, at least in England, when supporters were granted by virtue of the holding of feudal property or an office that was specifically tied to feudal property.

 

In Scotland, the history is different, but your example was the Duke of Norfolk.


Quote:

The very fact that a title could be sold (at least on the continent) lends credence to the idea that the title is attached to the property it represents ...


This was mainly true in France, but in France supporters were simply assumed, not granted. Moreover, buying a titled property conveyed the title only if the buyer was already noble, and as far as I know a noble family that used supporters didn’t cease to use them just because they’d sold a particular property that carried a particular title.