HERALDRY IN THE SCHER COLLECTION OF COMMEMORATIVE MEDALS
Stephen K. Scher
Heraldry, the system by which coats of arms are designed and used, is a product of the Middle Ages, first appearing during the reign of Charlemagne (768–814 AD). It was originally based on the need for warriors in armor to be able to identify each other quickly and accurately on the battlefield. Armored warriors also participated in tournaments, creating an environment that enriched the development of heraldry and led to the formulation of complex and distinctive rules and nomenclature that continued to evolve over time. By the second quarter of the twelfth century, the heraldry practiced in western Europe had coalesced into a formal system.
This supplement to The Scher Collection of Commemorative Medals lists those heraldic achievements, or coats of arms, that are found on the medals in the publication, and the numbers by which they are organized correspond to the catalogue numbers. Each coat of arms is accompanied by a blazon, a formal description of armorial bearings. The blazons include the tinctures (colors)—although these are, of course, not a part of the actual medal—as well as the names of the territories to which the arms belong.
To the uninitiated, the blazons in this supplement may appear somewhat opaque. A blazon describes a coat of arms in a precisely established order and in a language that, in English, derives from Old French. An equivalent vocabulary exists in all other languages in which heraldry is practiced. A blazon enables a reader to visualize a coat of arms and allows a heraldic artist to depict the arms completely and accurately.
Illumination by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515–1586) depicting the coat of arms of Johann Friedrich I (1503–1554, Elector of Saxony 1532–47). From Deutsches Stammbuch (Book of German Families), 1565, p. 101. Courtesy University of Manchester Library, Rylands Collection (German MS 2). This illumination corresponds to the coat of arms rendered on the reverse of the medal shown on the home page of this supplement (no. 306). Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
The term coat of arms is something of a misnomer since this description applied originally only to the surcoat, or robe, worn over armor and adorned with the owner’s heraldic achievement, the latter being the more correct description along with the term armorial bearings. Nonetheless, coat of arms is generally accepted, and the term is used here equally with heraldic achievement and armorial bearings. Armiger signifies a person who bears a heraldic achievement.
It is generally assumed that an individual who bears a coat of arms is of noble birth and has a title, but this varies according to the rules and customs of different times and places. Originally, titles and heraldic achievements were granted to worthy subjects by their lord, but eventually arms could be borne not only by individuals and families but by institutions, corporations, and clergy, as well as towns and cities. In Germanic lands, the category of burgher arms was added to that of the nobility, and there were even peasant arms in a few districts. In some cases, there were rules governing what could be included in an armorial achievement, but these have been more honored in the breach.
At some point in their histories, most countries had organizations, often composed of heralds, that controlled the granting and appearance of arms, but except for England and its associated countries—where there are precise rules of design and composition and established laws governing the granting and bearing of arms—such organizations have either disappeared or lost their official authority. In time, individuals were permitted to design and adopt arms with no legitimate claim to authenticity or validity, the sole restraint being that such arms did not copy arms already in existence.
A complete heraldic achievement and its blazon is composed of some combination of the following elements in their proper order: shield, partition, tinctures, ordinaries, subordinaries, charges, crest, helm, torse, mantle, crown, supporters, compartment, insignia, and motto.
Diagram by Carolyn Thomas and Luciano Johnson
In this supplement, a blazon is presented in italics, followed by the house or entity that bears the coat of arms in parentheses. The royal arms of France from 1376 to 1792, for instance, are described as follows: Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or (France).
A coat of arms is often composed of multiple arms, in which case each constituent blazon is identified with its owner, as in the following example, the arms of the king of England up until 1801:
Quarterly 1 & 4 Grand-quarterly Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or (France) and Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale Or armed and langued azure (England) 2 Or, a lion rampant gules within a double tressure flory counter-flory gules (Scotland) and 3 Azure, a harp Or (Ireland).
The colors and patterns used in blazons are referred to as tinctures. It is a firm rule with tinctures that color is not placed on color and metal not placed on metal; instead, color is placed on metal and metal on color. However, in some cases, this rule is not followed. When a coat of arms is shown in black and white, the tinctures are represented by hatchings in the manner indicated below.
If a design, or charge, is represented by its natural colors, it is still considered a tincture but is described as proper.
The partitions of a shield, or the manner in which it is divided, is designated by party per followed by the specific division, as shown in examples below.
Ordinaries are charges of the earliest and simplest kind. Below are some common ordinaries.
For a full list of heraldic terms, please refer to the glossary. Literature on the complex field of heraldry can be found in the bibliography. It is hoped that this supplement to The Scher Collection of Commemorative Medals will prove both instructive and enjoyable.
Thanks are due to a number of individuals who assisted me in this project. For the identification and blazoning of all of the arms rendered on the medals, I was aided by Theo Margelony, a heraldrist who undertook some of the preliminary work. I would also like to express my gratitude to members of the Frick staff for their considerable help in bringing this project to fruition: Michaelyn Mitchell, the Frick’s Editor in Chief, for her diligent supervision of the project; Assistant Editor Christopher Snow Hopkins, for his scrupulous editing of the blazons; Vivian Gill, Associate Director of Digital, for her guidance; Valery Chen, Senior Front-End Web Developer, for her skillful production of the web publication; and Chrisy Tselentakis, Collections Database Specialist, for preparation of the images for publication online. Thanks also to Sara Wowkowych, Collections Database and Website Assistant; Carolyn Thomas, Graphic Designer; and Luciano Johnson, Associate Chief Librarian, Preservation, Imaging, and Creative Services.
Unless otherwise indicated, all images © Abaroth