In 1776 the subjects of His Majesty King George III’s colonies in the Americas decided to free themselves from the tyranny of their old world masters and create a Republic governed by a Constitution. One passage in particular sums up the new world thinking of the Founding Fathers, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. Heraldry has always existed in America before and after the Revolution but it could be argued that heraldry is irreconcilable with the traditions and practices of a republic especially as it is a subject born of a feudal system and connected to nobility and royalty. George Washington held the view that, “heraldry is not incompatible with the purest ideals of republicanism” and he and some of the other founding fathers were armigers. No heraldic authority exists in the United States and those who wish to use a coat of arms can do so by assuming them. Those of English and Welsh ancestry can for a fee have arms devised by the College of Arms in London. Those of Scots descent can use the services of the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh and those who have Spanish ancestry or live in former Spanish territories can get a grant of arms from Cronista Rey de Armas.
My wife is American and is descended from a branch of the English Howard family. In a conversation about heraldry one evening she asked my why Americans use coats of arms and especially helms and crests. Helms were
originally only worn by gentry, knights and nobility and so contradicted the, bit about all men being created equal part of the Constitution. She is a big fan of the Canadian Heraldic Authority and she loves that they often use alternatives to helms. Jokingly I suggested she might design arms to be used by Americans and it might be a fun exercise. The American Heraldry Project was born.
Friends and patrons of her work commissioned her to design American arms for them and she developed a series of designs and ideas. My particular favourite she came up with was the Chief of Honor she devised for those who serve in the military, police, fire service etc. This takes the principal medal ribbon of the recipient and places it across the shield in chief. This is totally unique and remember folks you saw it here first!
Illustrated here are two of the latest ideas. A cartouche holds the arms, in this case those of one of our greatest collectors, surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves in gold or green and ensigned by an American eagle holding a wreath of laurel in gold. Suggested are two flags which act as a mantle with red, white and blue ribbons and gold cords. They look a little militaristic but then America was born of armed struggle and trophy type designs were very popular in the 18th century and so are an appropriate style for American citizens to use.
I actually like the idea of American heraldry. They swept away the old and became a new nation so why not use their own system and style of heraldry. The idea has merit.
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