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Heraldry

An interesting symbolic system, as well as a linguistic curiosity because the terminology of British Heraldry is mostly in old French - not a surprise since the feudal system was unknown to the Anglo-Saxons and brought over by the continental Normans with their 1066 Conquest.

Heraldry developed quickly and simultaneously in Western Europe around the XIIth century, as a technical solution to an urgent problem: how could the Herald identify quickly who was inside those two tin cans on chargers at the opposite far ends of the tournament field, and therefore announce them properly with their full titles and names, before they would hurl themselves at each other in full tilt?

Initially, they had tried having knights wear coloured woollen surcoats over their armour (hence the term Coat of Arms, or more simply Arms), but contemporary dyers did not have that many colours to go around with, so someone (a daltonic Herald, maybe ?) hit upon the idea of requiring them to paint something easily recognisable from a distance on their SHIELDS.


Two knights at joust (one-on-one tournament)

The blazon is the description in words of the graphic Coat of Arms or Armorial Achievement.

To illustrate the process of how a blazon is drawn up - and how its terminology may be mistifying to laymen - I wrote the following short tragedy that relates how Lord Hubert Fukemall, the old and irritable 12th Earl of Badliverhampton, set about recovering his lost blazon, which he needed to include in the paperwork for entering his prize sow in the Jubilee Noble Swine Exhibition (with thanks to P.G. Wodehouse for several inspirations/imitations):

A CHOLERIC KNIGHT IN DISTRESS

(A heraldic tragedy in one phone call)

Act I, Scene I

Lord Hubert Fukemall asks his butler to call "that blasted school of trumpeting fools in London who muck about these damn things", the meaning of which the latter is eventually able to interpret correctly, thanks to his long and thankless years of service in the Fukemall household.

Butler: "Your telephone call to the Heralds' College, M'Lord."
Lord Hubert: "Hrrumph, hullo."
Heralds' College: "Good morning, Your Lordship, how may we help you?"
Lord Hubert: "I need my bloody blazer redone."
Heralds' College: "I beg Your Lordship's pardon?"
Lord Hubert: "You know, that silly verbiage that goes with my thing. Lost, damn it."
Heralds' College: "Oh I see Sir, your blazon. One moment, I'll connect you to one of our Heralds."
Lord Hubert: "Yes, but tell him to lay off the damn trumpet, I can't stand blaring noises."
Heralds' College: "Fear not, Lord Fukemall, we have long discarded trumpets as efficient means of communications. Hold on, please."

Act I, Scene II

Herald: "Good morning, Lord Fukemall, I understand you want your blazon rewritten by us."
Lord Hubert: "Yes, need it for my sow. Can't enter her in the Jubilee Exhibition without it."
Herald: "Er, we usually provide blazons on parchment scrolls. Would that be satisfactory?"
Lord Hubert: "How should I know? I'm not FEEDING it to the sow, blast you!"
Herald: "Sorry Your Lordship, my confusion. Can you send us a photo of your arms?"
Lord Hubert: "What for? I have a few tattoos from my Royal Navy service on them, is that a heraldric thingy, too?"
Herald: "Your Lordship, I mean a photo of your coat of arms to work from for your blazon."
Lord Hubert: "Oh, that. No, don't have time for stupid photos. How much is that blazer thing going to cost me, by the way?"
Herald: "Our standard retainer for blazons is 100 guineas, Lord Fukemall."
Lord Hubert: "Damn thieves, 100 guineas for a few odd words, you need golden trumpets now? Alright, I need it quickly, so be it. Proceed."
Herald: "Can you describe to me your coat of arms over the phone, Lord Fukemall?"
Lord Hubert: "Yes, it's so simple a child could draw it, a red lion on yellow. 100 guineas, forsooth."
Herald: "Very well, so the field is...Or..."
Lord Hubert: "Or what? A field is a field. Are you playing word games?"
Herald: "Or is our blazon term for yellow, Lord Fukemall. And the device on your field is..."
Lord Hubert: "Could be a plough for all I know, can't see much out of the French windows from my chair. Never cared much about agriculture anyway, I'm more into pig breeding."
Herald: "I mean you said a lion is depicted on your arms, Sir."
Lord Hubert: "No lion tattoos. Saucier than that is what I have, heh, heh. You know, those parlours in Far Eastern harbours...I was a tod tipsy that night..."
Herald: "A lion is emblazoned on your shield on a yellow background, correct?"
Lord Hubert: "Looks more embalmed, to me."
Herald: "Is it couchant?"
Lord Hubert: "How could I know if it had dirty habits? It's centuries old, do I have to summon some clairvoyant to uncover its extinct pastimes?"
Herald: "Lord Fukemall, I didn't say cochon, I meant its posture: is it squatting on its haunches?"
Lord Hubert: "Yes, it is. All that trumpet blaring must have impaired your eardrums, I told you it looked embalmed, the blasted animal."
Herald: "I'm afraid that 'embalmed' is not an accepted heraldic term, Sir. Is it regardant?"
Lord Hubert: "There you go again speaking in riddles, damn your tongue!"
Herald: "Is the lion's head pointing straight ahead, or is it turned towards the viewer?"
Lord Hubert: "It looks at me, the bloody beast that's going to cost me 100 guineas."
Herald: "Any other distinctive tinctures on the lion?"
Lord Hubert: "Can't see any iodine splashed over it, looks embalmed I said, not sick or wounded."
Herald: "I meant, are there any other colours on the lion? Its mane, fangs, claws, tail, anything NOT red?"
Lord Hubert: "Now that you mention it, it looks as if it had its hair peroxidised at a hairdresser's. Don't tell me I have a faggot lion on my whatever!"
Herald: "No, Lord Fukemall, an argent mane it's not uncommon. Any other charges?"
Lord Hubert: "Why do you bring up the 100 guineas now? Have we finished?"
Herald: "Sorry, Your Lordship, argent stands for white, and charges for symbols. Is the lion in the center of your shield?"
Lord Hubert: "Where else? How much longer will this nonsense last?"
Herald: "We're quite finished now, Lord Fukemall. We shall send you your blazon by registered post, but if you are in a hurry and want to take notes, it is:

"Or, a lion fess couchant et regardant, gules, its mane argent proper"

Lord Hubert: "Are you drunk? There are no damn gulls near that blasted feline!"
Herald: "Gules is the heraldic colour of red, Your Lordship."
Lord Hubert: "That all? 100 guineas for a dozen funny words?"
Herald: "Based on what you told me, yes, Your Lordship."
Lord Hubert: "Hrrumph, damn trumpeting thieves." And slams the receiver down.

THE END

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