Know your Heraldic ABC (Arms, Badge and Crest): Part 2 - Armorial Achievements Explained
This article is the second in a two part series that provides Liverymen with the knowledge required to learn their heraldic ABC (Arms, Badge and Crest). It is not intended to explain the coat of arms of each and every Livery Company, there are two excellent books that do that far better than I can (details at the bottom of this article).
This second part explains an Armorial Achievement and its component parts. If you haven't already done so you may wish to read the first part on debunking the myths of heraldry before going further.
What's an Armorial Achievement?
Early in 2017 my daughter joined the Brownies and quickly made a plan to obtain every badge by Christmas 2018. She is making rapid progress against that plan and my wife and I have already sewn nine badges on her sash. The sash is a visual record of my daughter's achievements and affiliations of which she is rightly proud to display. The badges are arranged in a particular order and only granted when she has completed certain tasks to the satisfaction of Brown Owl (the granting authority). Each Brownie has her own sash, and different badges have been collected at different points in time so no two sashes are identical.
So it is with an Armorial Achievement, a unique, written and visual record of all the heraldic achievements granted to the armiger (person to whom the arms are granted). The record is in the form of a document called Letters Patent, simply a 'Letter lying open' for all to see, that grants armorial bearings to a single named person, or to an entity that is a legal person e.g., a corporate body such as a Livery Company or corporation sole such as an ecclesiastical office. A person (real or legal) who has one or more Armorial Achievements is said to be armigerous.
Note: If you would like to learn more about the process, timescale, options and cost of petitioning for arms I am hosting a workshop in the City of London on St George's Day in 2018.
Who grants Armorial Achievements?
The Letters Patent is granted by a heraldic authority of which there are three in the Commonwealth Realms: HM College of Arms in London (covering England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Australia, New Zealand, dependent territories and so on), The Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh (covering Scotland) and the Canadian Heraldic Authority in Ottawa (covering Canada); each derives its authority to grant arms from the Sovereign as fount of honour.
Since the ultimate authority to grant arms is the exclusive right of the Sovereign, it is possible for a reigning monarch to grant arms directly, but as a practical matter the granting of arms even to members of the Royal Family is delegated to the various heraldic authorities. The Livery Companies are all creatures of the City of London so the granting authority is HM College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street. The first grant of arms to a corporate body was to the Drapers' Company in the mid 15th century.
It is possible for an armiger to be granted several achievements, for example they may start with arms and a crest and later be granted supporters if they reach a certain rank (e.g., peer of the realm, knight of an Order of Chivalry). Just as with my daughter's badge collecting progress in the Brownies, higher achievement can result in the addition of new heraldic achievements for the armiger.
|Letters Patent Granting Arms and Crest to the Armourers & Brasiers' Company|
This all starts to get a bit technical, tied up as it is in specialist legal and heraldic language so let's explain with the example.
The Arms, Badge, Crest and Supporters (ABCs) of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, the City of London's 100th Livery Company
|The Arms, Crest and Supporters of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists|
The Information Technologists' Company were granted arms in 1989 when still a City of London Guild. Strictly speaking the term arms refers to everything on the shield, i.e., the key and sparks on the green and blue background below the gold section at the top of the shield.
Note: The phrase 'coat of arms' has become widely accepted as meaning the combination of arms, crest, supporters and motto scroll. A heraldic purist would argue that a coat of arms is exactly what it says... a coat covered in arms such as a Herald's tabard. As such hardly anyone has seen a true coat of arms. Anyway the war of words over the purists use of the phrase is over and for most people 'coat of arms' means the shield, the supporters, the crest and the motto scroll.
The arms of the Information Technologists' Company are described in Blazon (the language of Heraldry) thus:
Per pale Vert and Azure a double-warded Key in pale the bow in base and the wards in chief radiated Or amid six Mullets each of six points also radiated Or a Chief Gold*
* Gold and Or are the same thing, the word Gold is used here only to ease reading else the blazon would end '...Or a Chief Or'. In Blazon the word Or always means Gold and never implies an alternative choice as would be the case for lower case or.
You will notice the absence of punctuation in the blazon, this is normal practice. While this blog article isn't a lesson in blazon, if you read the sentence slowly and break it down you can probably work out what some of the less obvious words mean.
While on the subject of meaning, the Information Technologists' attach certain meanings to the charges (symbols) and tinctures (colours and metals) employed in the arms. Green is for the colour of the data display terminals of the early computing era, blue is the colour of electricity, the key implies knowledge, the sparks are also for electricity and gold is used for its conductive qualities.
It is also important to understand that there is no fixed meaning to colours or symbols in heraldry. The meaning attached to a colour or symbol (if any) is in the eye of the armiger, and does not transfer between different coats of arms. Of course some symbols are likely to mean the same or very similar things from one coat of arms to another, for example a sword is likely to imply some martial or justice dispensing connection, and an anchor is likely to imply a nautical connection.
As explained in the first part of this blog article, a crest is a separate thing to the arms and sits atop a helm. In this case the crest is Mercury issuing from a crown of rays.
There is a convention in heraldry that the orientation of the helm is an indication of social rank. It is more conventional for the helm of a Company to be shown facing off to the left as you view the arms. Such an arrangement would mean Mercury was sitting sideways on the helmet so the helm is shown facing forward.
The crest is described in the blazon thus:
In a Crown rayon Or a demo-figure of Mercury vested Vert purfled Or over his sinister shoulder a Mantle Azure lined Or on his head a Petasus Argent winged Or and his dexter arm raised pointing with the index finger upwards to and supporting at its lowest point a Mullet of six points radiated Gold
Having read this, I now realise why Liverymen of the Information Technologists' Company (myself included) wear a royal blue sash, trimmed with gold, over their left shoulder when in formal dress.
Mercury is a messenger, and a speedy one at that, so he is an appropriate character to represent the role of Information Technology in transferring information swiftly, and he does it through the medium of electricity, hence the spark.
The shield is held up by supporters which are a Griffin and Pegasus. For reasons I won't bore you with the position and direction of the arms, crest and supporters is described as if from behind the shield looking out toward the viewer, so the Griffin is on the right or Dexter side of the arms.
The supporters are described in the blazon thus:
Dexter a Griffin and Sinister a Horse both gorged with a Wreath Argent and Gules and both winged Azure the under-wings Vert and all semi of Mullets of six points radiated Gold
The supporters stand on a motto scroll, which in English heraldic law does not form part of the armorial achievement and can be changed at will. Not so in Scotland where the motto forms part of the legal grant.
The motto of the Information Technologists' Company is CITO meaning swiftly
So far, so good, but what happened to the Badge?
A Badge is a heraldic device that is never worn or displayed by the armiger, rather it is to be used by their followers. In times past a Badge might have appeared on the uniform of servants, staff and other persons who owed allegiance to the armiger.
The Information Technologists' Company were also granted a badge in 1989 although it is rarely seen or used. The badge appears below on a pennant that was flown from a yacht and is now preserved in IT Hall.
The badge is described in the blazon thus:
A Falcon affronty wings displayed head to the dexter per pale Vert and Azure beaked and charged on the breast with a Mullet of six points radiated Or alighting upon a Book expanded proper leathered per pale Azure and Vert clasped Or the page inscribed CITO in letters Sable and edged Gold
|The Badge of the Information Technologists' Company|
Displaying the Armorial Achievements
There are endless ways in which an armiger may display their achievements, some of those employed by the Information Technologists' Company include: Livery Company ties, cufflinks, placemats, stained glass windows, engraving on gold and silver plate, embroidery on robes, a flag and my personal favourite the CITO cap which uses 'charges' (symbols from the arms) and the City's sword and mace to decorate a rather fine cap.
|The CITO cap of the Information Technologists' Company|
If you have enjoyed this two-part blog article and would like to explore the heraldry of the Livery Companies in more detail there are two exceptional books on the subject. The first known affectionately as 'Bromley and Child' was published in 1960 and covers the period from the earliest armorial bearings to a corporate body, the Drapers' Company in 1439, through to the development of the Modern Livery Companies up to 1954.
The second book was published in 2017 by Richard Goddard, Past Master of the Watermen and Lightermen's Company and covers the period 1954 to 2017 during which no fewer than 55 City of London Livery Companies or ancient Companies without Livery have either been granted arms or have been granted supporters or a badge to existing arms. With several new Guilds in the pipeline to become Livery Companies this process of granting arms to Livery Companies will continue.
The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London (Bromley and Child, 1960)
The Heraldry of the Livery Companies of the City of London since 1954 (Goddard, 2017)