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Heraldry and the Heraldry Committee of the NYG&B Society

Professor Thomas E. Bird, a member of the NYG&B Society’s Library Committee and Committee on Heraldry, gave a highly informative talk on the history of the latter and the gentlemen who have led it over the years. The event took place at the G&B on 22 November 2005. Professor Bird, who is Coordinator of Slavic Studies at Queens College, is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Syracuse University and has earned graduate degrees from Middlebury College, Princeton University and Warsaw University. The text of his remarks follows.

The Committee on Heraldry of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society has a long and distinguished history. Indeed heraldry has been an integral part of the focus of the NYG&B since its founding in 1869 in the sense that contributions of heraldic art were tendered to the Society by patrons and members from the time of its founding. The Bulletin of the Society for 1869 contained the blazon of the new Society’s seal, combining elements of the arms of Oxford and the seal of New York. Later issues describe the efforts over a century by the State of New York to determine the design of its own seal. Many genealogies in early issues of The Record reference or describe the armorial achievements of families chronicled therein, as do volumes of the Society’s Collections.

Having apparently taken a leaf from the book of the New England Historical & Genealogical Society, which founded its Committee on Heraldry in 1864, the NYG&B, after due consideration, formed its own Heraldry Committee in 1910.

The first recorded Chairman of the Committee was Charles Pryer (1851-1916), a descendant of the Huguenot de Crèvecœur family and author of Historic New York, who served from 1910 until his death in 1916. The inimitable General John Ross Delafield (1874-1964), a Livingston descendant and New York attorney, succeeded Pryer and was one of the first of the Trustees to obtain a grant of arms from the College of Arms in London. The Committee flourished over several decades, it members published articles in The Record, and heraldic achievements were acquired, a number of which are now displayed in Heraldic Hall.

Interest in the Committee’s activities flagged somewhat in the 1940s and 1950s. At the 1960 annual meeting inquiry was made from the floor about its function and, following discussion, a renewed Heraldry Committee was appointed under the leadership of Dr. Arthur Adams (1881-1960), a well-known genealogist and faculty member at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. He was followed by Robert Thompson Pell, diplomat and staff member of SHAPE Headquarters in Paris. In 1970 President Edward F. L. Bruen, FGBS (died 2004) became Chairman and served until 1986 when he was succeeded by President Henry Stump Middendorf, Jr., FGBS who served until his death in 2000. (Middendorf helped design the Society’s handsome flag, presently displayed over the elevator door on the first floor).

Since the year 2000 our friend and colleague, John McC. Shannon has been Chairman of the Heraldry Committee and spiritus movens behind the very dynamic series of lectures and exhibitions which have enriched the Society’s programmatic schedule.

John has established close ties with the College of Arms in London, the official registry for armorial bearings in England (and in most other countries of which the British Crown is Sovereign). This has resulted in a number of stellar presentations jointly sponsored by the College of Arms Foundation, which John also heads, and the Society’s Heraldry Committee.

The Board of Trustees has approved a mandate for the Heraldry Committee to study the issues of who is entitled to bear arms and the procedure for obtaining them, and to sponsor specialists in the field – from the US, Canada and the U.K. – to lecture to the Society on these and related issues.

Our remarkable library contains a modest but rich collection of titles on heraldry, as well as copies of peerages and the Almanach de Gotha. They are under the curatorial jurisdiction of the Heraldry Committee.

These notes would be incomplete if mention were not made of two memorable “Heraldry Days” – the first in September 1996, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., KBE (1909-2000), serving as Chairman of the Honorary Committee. The occasion focused on England and English heraldry and included a stunning armorial exhibition, “Past Treasures – Present-day Trifles,” under the aegis of Mrs. Alexander Orr Vietor, (1917-2005); together with a scholarly symposium with presentations by Garter Principal King of Arms and Somerset Herald.

In November of 1997 Miss Mary Van Buren served as Chair of the second Heraldry Day, entitled Viering van de Heraldiek, an event saluting the Netherlands and Dutch heraldry, co-sponsored by the Heraldry Committee and the Daughters of Holland Dames, with H. E. Bob Hiensch, the Consul General of the Netherlands, as the keynote speaker.

Let me return to Heraldic Hall, the when, who, and what. As to when and who:

in 1989 the Trustees of the Society embarked upon an upgrading of the building’s physical plant. And so, in the Spring of 1991, the hall alongside the auditorium, now the ballroom, was converted into “Heraldic Hall” thanks to the vision and initiative of the above-mentioned Mrs. Vietor and Henry C. B. Lindh, both Fellows of the Society (FGBS). Track lighting was installed for the gallery and a display of coats of arms and pedigrees with coats of arms was installed.

As to what: Heraldic Hall is envisioned as a site for displaying coats of arms of American families that have been authenticated by one of the following standards: (1) a grant or confirmation by a competent authority; (2) inclusion, with favorable mention, in William J. Hoffman’s "An Armory of American Families of Dutch Descent", published in The Record in the years 1933 through 1941; and (3) inclusion in one of the Rolls of Arms of the New England Historic Genealogical Society; or (4) evidence that the American settler used or was entitled to use a coat of arms.

Members and other qualified persons are invited to contribute coats of arms that meet one or more of these standards. The Society has a number of other achievements which are not currently on display. President William Potter Johns has indicated that the Society intends to make these available for public display on a rotating basis.

An alphabetical list of the families whose achievements are presently hung in Heraldic Hall is appended below to help the visitor to become better acquainted with the treasures that the Heraldry Committee has made available to the membership.

Baden, Buell, Coles, Cowdrey, Davenport, De Peyster, Donaldson, Duvall, Hatfield, Hawley, Hearn/Heron, King, Leisler, Linkletter, Ludlowe, Lyman, Monnet, Montague, Morse, Mortimer, Neville, Norman Barclays, Perrin, Pumpelly, Rich, Robertson, Saltonstall, Sandys, Schermerhorn, Schuyler, Seton, Seymour, Sherman, Spottiswoode, Striker, Symonds, Taylor, Thacher, Tiffany, Tracy, Van Bla..m, Van Rensselaer, Whitman.

Professor Thomas Bird

Left: David Smisek. Right: Canon J. Robert Wright

Carolyn Stifel

Brandon Fradd, Canon Wright and John Mauk Hilliard

Left: Coats of arms of various King families. Right: A pedigree decorated with coats of arms

A view of the NYG&B Society's Heraldic Hall

Windsor described by Sir Michael Hobbs in New York

Governor of Windsor Knights Leads Imaginary Tour of Historic St. George’s Chapel

Major General Sir Michael Hobbs, KCVO, CBE, Governor of the Military Knights of Windsor, was the guest of honor at a reception on 27 October 2005 at 6 PM hosted by the College of Arms Foundation in New York.

Sir Michael was on a weeklong exploratory trip to New York on behalf of the College of St. George at Windsor. The College is a separate entity from Windsor Castle and is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the famous Chapel of St. George. Georgiana Grant Haworth, Grants Manager for the College, accompanied Sir Michael.

Sir Michael was named the Governor in 2000. The Knights claim to be the oldest military establishment in the army list and were formed by King Edward III shortly after the Battle of Crécy (1346). During the Garter Ceremony held each year in June at Windsor, the Military Knights head the colorful procession through the Castle precincts and into St George’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter. Since its founding in 1348, every Knight of the Order has adorned his stall with a plate displaying his coat of arms. Consequently, the Chapel today possesses an extraordinary collection of English heraldic history.

Inviting his audience to follow him on what he termed an “imaginary tour” of Windsor, Sir Michael described his lodging there, called Mary Tudor Tower, which formerly served as the Chapel’s bell tower. (Due to the building’s extreme width, the Chapel’s roof could not support the bell’s weight.) The bell hung from a pine sapling beam carbon-dated back to 700 AD. From the roof of the Tower, Sir Michael can see for 30 or more miles in every direction – one reason why William the Conqueror chose the spot to build his massive castle, with walls 12 feet thick.

The Chapel, which was – for its time – an extraordinary feat of engineering, was constructed by simple builders rather than designed by an architect. Its extreme width necessitated flying buttresses as well as lead weights to support the walls. Henry VIII is buried there with his “favorite” wife, Jane Seymour; and with Charles I, who was interred there after his decapitated head was re-attached to his body. Although he instigated the Reformation, which resulted in plain church interiors throughout the kingdom, Henry did not alter his Chapel’s rich décor; nor did Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth period. The stained glass windows also survived aerial bombing during World War II because they were taken down, stored for protection and replaced after the war.

Alluding to the accumulation of Garter Knights’ heraldic stall plates, Sir Michael said that while there have been about 900 knights since the Order was founded, there are only around 750 stall plates in the Chapel now. He theorized that some had “been pinched” by relatives of knights; and other had been turned around (facing the wall) because some knights had been disgraced.

Prior to becoming Governor, Sir Michael served with the Grenadier Guards from 1956 to 1980 when he joined the British Ministry of Defense. He was Commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade from 1982 to 1984; and of the 4th Armored Division from 1985 to 1987.

Sir Michael was also Director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award between 1988 and 1998 and Chief Executive of the Outward Bound Trust between 1995 and 2004. He remains closely associated with the Outward Bound Trust as a Director to the present date. He was educated at Eton College.

The College of Arms Foundation was established in 1984 to promote knowledge and appreciation of the art, science and craft of English heraldry. It is affiliated with England’s College of Arms, a department of Britain’s Royal Household overseen by the Earl Marshal of England, the Duke of Norfolk.

M. Harvey, the hostess for the event, with Sir Michael Hobbs.

John C. Harvey and Randy Taylor.

Edward Moritz with Mary-Lynne Bird and Thomas E. Bird

Daniel G. Land, Curtis M. Estes and Charles E. Jenkins, Jr.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Currie with Georgina Grant Haworth.

Sir Michael Hobbs, W. Richard Rabbito and Georgina Grant Haworth.

Michael C. May and Georgina Grant Haworth.

Mary Silfvernagel, Renata Gallagher, Sir Michael Hobbs and Jeffrey A. Ryan.

New York Heraldist explains Arms

It was a revelation to discover just how many coats of arms the Reverend Canon John G.B. Andrew, OBE, DD, has designed for his wide ranging acquaintance in New York over the years. On 4 October at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society he showed images of the shields, crests and badges, describing the thought that went into each. The event was both a fascinating and a rare opportunity to discover how coats of arms are produced today in England.

Canon Andrew was born in England and, early in his church career as Chaplain to Archbishop Ramsay of Canterbury, before coming to America, he discovered heraldry and got to know some of the officers at the College of Arms in London. It was the beginning of a long relationship during which Canon Andrew acquired a clear understanding of which designs will appeal to the College and which will not. He is sometimes affectionately called “Manhattan Pursuivant.”

Canon Andrew eschewed blazon for this talk and spoke in “vernacular.” After 25 years of preaching as Rector of St. Thomas Church in Manhattan, the cleric has perfected a clear speaking style which many in the audience said during the reception made the heraldic concepts and designs understandable.

Click here for full details of Canon Andrew's lecture in PDF format.

Theodore R. Gamble, Jr., Jeremy Poth and Ellsworth G. Stanton III, Secretary of the College of Arms Foundation, Inc.

Cdr. Edward A. Moritz, whose can blazon with the best of them

The Rev. Canon John G.B. Andrew, OBE, DD, and Judy Bliss

George H. McNeely, Prof. Thomas E. Bird and the Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright. Messrs McNeely and Bird are members of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society’s Committee on Heraldry.

David L. Smisek and Jorge Rivera

James Finklea, Jeffrey A. Ryan (in background) and Marilyn Finklea

Some materials, including sketches for armorial designs he is working on presently, brought by Canon Andrew for display.

York Herald Henry Bedingfeld visits New York

The College of Arms Foundation hosted a reception for Henry Bedingfeld in New York on 29 September at the Park Avenue home of Mrs. Alexander O. Vietor.

Mr. Bedingfeld, who is the York Herald of the College of Arms in London, was returning to England from Canada, where he was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada in Edmonton.

The New York gathering was attended by directors of the College of Arms Foundation as well as by members of the Committee on Heraldry of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society and others interested in heraldry.

John Shannon, President of the Foundation, thanked Mrs. Vietor for her generous hospitality and welcomed the guests attending the reception. He noted that the Foundation was making headway in promoting awareness of English heraldry in America by organizing lectures and occasional visits to places featuring examples of heraldry.

Like his fellow officers of arms, or heralds, Mr. Bedingfeld is an effective representative of the College and invaluable in helping to educate American audiences about the heraldry, history and traditions of the College of Arms, which is the world’s oldest functioning heraldic authority.

Britons are very popular in New York and consequently Mr. Bedingfeld was much sought after during the reception as everyone took turns engaging him in conversation and asking him questions.

Christopher Calderhead and Jorge Rivera

Ellsworth G. Stanton III, Secretary of the College of Arms Foundation, with Terri Lindvall

Dr. Thomas F. Pike, Rev. Michael Lindvall and Henry Bedingfeld

Lord Colin Campbell and Charles E. Jenkins, Jr.

Owen C. Smith

Richard Howard, a recently transplanted Australian, and John T. Dunlap, a Canadian long resident in New York

Lys McLaughlin Pike and Daniel Land

William P. Johns, President of the New York Biographical & Genealogical Society, and Southwick C. Briggs

Rodney K. Hobbs and Rev. Dr. Thomas F. Pike

Rev. Guy W. Selvester, a member of the NYG&B Society’s Committee on Heraldry, and Henry Bedingfeld

Heather Cohane and William P. Johns

Papal Heraldry Talk

By the Rev. Guy W. Selvester; summary of a presentation made on Wednesday 14 September 2005 at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

Friends, members and supporters of heraldry were privileged to attend an excellent and highly informed address entitled Aspects of Heraldry in the Catholic Church given by the Rev. Guy W. Selvester at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (the G&B) on 14 September 2005. The talk was co-sponsored by the G&B’s Committee on Heraldry and the College Arms Foundation, Inc.

Father Selvester is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey and Parochial Vicar of the Church of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Edison, New Jersey. He is a Fellow of the American College of Heraldry, a member of the Committee on Heraldry of the G&B as well as several other heraldic societies and organizations.

As the reverend lecturer said himself, it is a huge challenge to describe 800 years of church heraldry in about 45 minutes. Nonetheless he managed to produce a masterful overview of a very visible, yet not always well-understood, tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

The presentation ran longer than 45 minutes with no complaints and elicited numerous questions from the attendees, all of which Fr. Selvester answered firmly and clearly. Refreshments were served after the Q&A and the speaker was complimented many times on his excellent talk.

See a full summary of this presentation, with illustrations, in Adobe PDF format here. For more of interest concerning ecclesiastical heraldry, visit Guy Selvester's own web site at

David Smisek, Christopher Calderhead and Jorge Rivera

Rev. Martin Chase and Rev. Chris Cullen, SJ

Prof. Thomas E. Bird, Rev. Damian Breen, OSB, and Paul Zalonski

Michael C. May and Rev. Guy W. Selvester

Rev. Guy W. Selvester, Hugh A.A. Williamson-Noble and George H. McNeely IV

Heraldry of the American Episcopal Church

by the Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright; summary of a presentation made on Thursday 26 May 2005 at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

Heraldry in the Episcopal tradition was the subject of a talk by the Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright, St. Mark’s in the Bowery, Professor of Church History at the General Theological Seminary, at a joint meeting the College of Arms Foundation and the Committee on Heraldry of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society on 26 May at the Society’s headquarters.

See the full summary and illustrations in MS Word format here or as a PDF file here.

2005 Garter Day and Herald's Reception at Windsor

On 13 June, Garter Day, the College of Arms held its annual Bullicorn cocktail reception at the Ranger’s Lodge in Windsor Great Park following the Garter Service at St. George’s Chapel. The guests were friends of the College and heraldry, including several Americans affiliated with the College of Arms Foundation. Spirits were high, buoyed by the successfully completed pageant, the fine summer weather and the cool champagne on offer.

The manicured lawn of the Ranger’s Lodge in Windsor Great Park was the setting for the College of Arms’ annual Bullicorn reception following the Garter Service at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

This was a colorful occasion: the Officers wore their court tunics, almost all gentlemen were in cutaways and striped trousers, and the ladies all wore hats. The heraldic gathering was also a rare opportunity to meet with the Kings of Arms (Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy and Ulster); the Heralds (Richmond, York, Chester, Lancaster, Windsor and Somerset); the two current Pursuivants (Rouge Dragon and Bluemantle); and the four “Extraordinaries” (Wales, Norfolk, Arundel and Fitzalan) – in one place at the same time.

Left to right: Alastair Bruce of Crionaich, Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary; Hubert Chesshyre, Clarenceux King of Arms; Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, York Herald.

The reception followed the Procession and Installation of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, England’s oldest order chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348 whose members are personally appointed by The Queen. Every year, on a Monday in June, the Knights and Ladies of the Garter assemble for an investiture followed by lunch in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle after which they don their navy blue cloaks and plumed hats and process down to St. George’s Chapel for a religious service. Thousands line the route to watch the procession, which includes the The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal, The Dukes of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra; the Companions of the Order; the Officers of Arms; the Military Knights of Windsor; and regiments of soldiers in their splendid uniforms.

Heraldry and chivalry have been associated for centuries. Knights in combat, their faces covered by helmets, required markings in order to be known by their followers. This is thought to have been the impetus for the system of hereditary charges centered on the shield known as heraldry or, more correctly, armory.

Underscoring the link, the College of Arms has been connected with the Order of the Garter for centuries. King Henry V created the position of Garter King of Arms in 1417 for the service of the Order and decreed that Garter should be the doyen of the heralds. Also, an Officer of Arms is the Order’s Secretary, currently Richmond Herald.

St. George’s Chapel, the most visible part of the College of St. George also founded by Edward III, is dedicated to the Order of the Garter. One could also say that the Chapel is a museum of heraldry. The Knights and Ladies of the Garter each have their own stall in the quire. By custom their banner and “Garter crest” (a three-dimensional sculpture of his or her personal crest) are positioned above them; and the “stall plate” (a rendering of the arms on metal) of every occupant of each stall is affixed to the wall. After more than 650 years this has produced an unparalleled accumulation of heraldic plates which is a joy to behold.

However, on Garter Day the quire is reserved for the members of the Order, their spouses, and the personnel involved in the ceremony. The public is either in the Chapel’s nave (which does not lack heraldry and royal ciphers) or outdoors, sitting or standing along the route to and from the Castle.

There are many times and places where the procession, involving a cast of thousands, could break down but it never has. The College of Arms is so expert at organizing state ceremonial that no one even expects something to go awry. With no prospect of an accident, it then becomes interesting to notice which Knights are processing on foot (some are frail but still walk); which are not in attendance (many foreign sovereigns who are Knights came in 2002 for the 50th anniversary of The Queen’s accession); and who is being admitted.

This year The Queen desired that three new Companions of the Order be “installed”: The Right Honourable Baroness Soames; The Right Honourable Baron Bingham of Cornhill; and The Right Honourable Sir John Major.

Left to right: Peter Llewellyn Gwynn-Jones, CVO, Garter King of Arms, with Dr. Michael Siddons, FSA, Wales Herald Extraordinary; The Rev. Canon John Andrew, OBE, DD, affectionately known by the heralds as “Manhattan Pursuivant”; Robert Noel, Lancaster Herald, with Roland Symons, Secretary of the White Lion Society.

Soldiers lined the processional route from the Castle to St. George’s Chapel for the Garter Service.

English Grants of Arms in America

Summary of a presentation made by Henry Bedingfeld, York Herald of Arms, on Thursday, 21 April 2005 at The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society

Grants of armorial bearings by the College of Arms to American institutions and people was the topic of an address by Henry Bedingfeld at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society on Thursday 21 April sponsored by the NYG&B Society’s Committee on Heraldry and the College of Arms Foundation. Mr. Bedingfeld, York Herald of the College of Arms, has visited the G&B before. Last year he spoke on “Music in Heraldry” and displayed many renderings of coats of arms displaying musical imagery, including Sir Elton John’s.

English, Scottish, French, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish settlers brought heraldry to the New World. English, and to a lesser extent Scottish, heraldry prevailed in the British colonies but regulations on the assumption and display of arms were not strictly enforced. Only two officers of arms spent any time in America as English heralds: William Crowne, Rouge Dragon, who died in Boston in 1667; and John Gibbon, Bluemantle, who died in 1718.

For his new talk, illustrated with numerous slides, Mr. Bedingfeld assembled a large number of images of grants to American institutions from the extensive records of the College of Arms.

Early grants to colonial American settlements (provinces, colonies or towns) sometimes made reference to existing arms, for example those of a leader or, in one instance, the British royal arms. There is a clear visual allusion to the Raleigh family arms in those granted to the city of Manteo, North Carolina, which occupies the site of an older town called Ralegh. (Only drafts of the grant survive.)

The first grant of arms to a resident in America is that to William Nicholson, described as “Captain General and Governor in Chief of Their Majestie’s Province of Maryland,” dated 1 March 1694. On 14 May 1694 the trustees of the College of William and Mary in Virginia (who included Nicholson) were granted arms (recorded at the College only in 1929).

The only instance of a herald functioning officially in an English colony occurred in 1705, when Lawrence Cromp, York Herald, was appointed “Carolina Herald” by the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. The eight Lords Proprietor were granted what is now North and South Carolina by Charles II. They devised a constitution for their province calling for the creation of landed magnates known as landgraves and caciques who would be entitled to bear arms. Cromp, who died in 1715, was the first President of the Court of Honour and Principal Herald of the province. According to Mr. Bedingfeld, there is no evidence at the College that Cromp granted arms as Carolina Herald; however, on a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, during which he gave this same presentation, he was told by attendees that Cromp did, in fact, make grants.

Cromp is believed to have had a hand in designing a seal of the Lords Proprietor featuring, on one side, two cornucopias in saltire on a shield. Mr. Bedingfeld noted that the usual style is to show produce pouring downward from a “horn of plenty” onto the ground; in Cromp’s design, however, the bounty is flowing upward and overflowing at the top. The reverse side of the seal is composed of the personal arms of the Lords Proprietor.

Many of Mr. Bedingfeld’s slides showed arms granted, or devised, to municipalities, churches, state entities and colleges issued after 1960. In 1960 the Earl Marshal of England, whose role is akin to chairman of the College of Arms, issued a warrant noting that “the Kings of Arms had been requested by the councils of certain towns in the United States to devise Armorial Bearings for them” and authorized them to do so. Devisals, as opposed to grants, have been granted to corporate bodies since then.

Towns that received devisals include Kingston, North Carolina (1960); Hampton, Virginia (1960); Loudoun County, Virginia (1968); Prince George County, Maryland (1976); and the Commonwealth of Virginia (1976). Schools or colleges with devisals are Georgia State College (1968); Hampden-Sydney College (1976); Winthrop College, South Carolina (1980); Middle Georgia College (1983); and George Washington University in Washington, DC. Mr. Bedingfeld was the agent for the latter, whose supporters are George and Martha Washington. He described the effort required to “match” them so that the couple appeared the right age together and dressed in the correct period style. This was not a simple thing since the first President was frequently depicted during his later life and his wife was not.

Devisals to churches are more recent. Mr. Bedingfeld showed those of Saint Thomas Church in New York City (1975); the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama (1985); and the Church of the Holy Family in New York City (2000). The Priory of St. Louis in Missouri, a Benedictine school related to Ampleforth College in the UK, received a devisal with allusions to Ampleforth. St. George’s Society of New York, a charitable organization founded in 1770, also received a devisal in 2000. (The supporters are St. George and a Lenape Indian.) Arms were also devised to Rich’s department store in Atlanta; and Mill Brothers of Chattanooga, Tennessee (both 1967). The most visually distinctive devisal of all is that to the Mescalero Apache tribe (1986) featuring a round shield and Indian spirit dancer supporters.

The second part of the presentation was devoted to examples of grants of honorary arms. Americans may apply for arms either if they descend from a British subject (male or female) or if they have been honored by the British Crown, for example by an appointment to a British order of chivalry. Letters patent of honorary arms are identical to grants to English subjects and registered in the same way.

Mr. Bedingfeld displayed a number of grants to for which he was the agent. The grantees included Bishop Robert Condit Harvey; Herbert Metzger; John McC. Shannon; Ellsworth G. Stanton III; R. Brandon Fradd; and Arthur J. Rawl.

Designing a coat of arms is a consultative process in which the grantee most frequently seeks to express aspects of his or her life and work. The herald’s job is to ensure that the design conforms to the College’s standards and that it has not been granted to someone else before. Mr. Bedingfeld noted many features on the shields or crests indicating the grantee’s identity or achievement(s).

Illustrating this point, Mr. Bedingfeld also showed the arms of a British officer, Maj. Gen. Ross. During the War of 1812, he defeated American forces at the battle of Bladensburg in Maryland, northeast of Washington, DC, on 24 August 1814. It was deemed a great success for the General. After his death his widow sought to reflect her late husband’s military exploit when she applied for a grant of arms in 1816. The approved design included, prominently, an American flag on a broken pole, symbolizing the British victory - or the American loss. The glory of the battle was such that the family name was even changed to “Ross of Bladensburg” – not unlike “Mountbatten of Burma” or “Montgomery of Alamein.”

By the end of the presentation, several things were evident. Heraldry, particularly English heraldry, has a long history in North America dating back to the 17th century. Since the Revolution, and especially since the late 19th century, many Americans have availed themselves of the opportunity of acquiring grants of honorary arms from the English College of Arms. Grants to Americans are still only a small part of the annual output of the College of Arms. Finally, heraldry is very much alive in England as seen by the many attractive contemporary coats of arms depicted in Mr. Bedingfeld’s slides.

Heraldry and Nobility talk by Guy Stair Sainty

British authority Guy Stair Sainty delivers fascinating talk at G&B

Guy Stair Sainty, the General Editor of Burke's Peerage & Gentry World Orders of Knighthood & Merit, to be published by Burke's Peerage & Gentry later this year (see, is a frequent writer on the subject of nobility and orders of knighthood and was the speaker at a meeting of the College of Arms Foundation held at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society on 25 January. Entitled Nobility and Heraldry in the American Context, Mr. Sainty – who is also an art dealer with galleries in Paris, London and New York – surveyed the American Republic’s stance vis-à-vis both. Along the way he challenged the claims of the English and Scottish heraldic authorities that their grants of arms confer gentility (in England) or admission into the noblesse (in Scotland).

While it is uncontested that members of armigerous families settled in the American colonies from the very beginning, Mr. Sainty noted that no heraldic authority was ever established here (with the exception of the short-lived Carolina Herald) and that no British herald carried out a visitation to confirm that arms were being borne legitimately. As a result, arms were used (or abused) as people liked.

While little has written about the conferral and registration of nobility and arms by British colonists, even less has been about either in the vast Spanish possessions. Through most of the 18th century Spain exercised sovereignty over a far greater territory in North and South America than Britain.

America’s Constitution prohibits any American from accepting a foreign title or honor. Yet, in 1810, an amendment was proposed to make this even more explicit. The punishment was forfeiture of American citizenship. Why, Mr. Sainty asked, did some members of the Congress feel that this was necessary? In the end, the amendment (which would have been the thirteenth) did not gain sufficient ratification by the state legislatures.

Americans have acquired nobility and arms, however. Mr. Sainty cited examples of American citizens (among others) receiving titles of nobility from deposed (or imaginary) monarchs, the Vatican and from the Republic of San Marino. But Mr. Sainty noted that such titles are not used in American society.

Heraldry is another matter. Heraldry in and of itself is not considered to be an honor, title or privilege, and many Americans have acquired arms from different heraldic authorities (as well as simply assumed arms). Well-known sources are the College of Arms in London and the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Others are the Irish Heraldic Authority and the Cronista de Armas of Spain.

These bodies have different philosophies. The English and Scottish heralds assert that a grant of arms is recognition of nobility; and, further, that only granted arms are valid. The Spanish viewpoint is that anyone may assume arms and register them, which is what the Irish heralds and the Cronistas do, as long as no one else has registered them before. Mr. Sainty said that this approach reflects the origins of heraldry when, before the creation of official heraldic bodies, all arms were necessarily assumed and then registered.

The only American institution that Mr. Sainty suggested might resemble a nobiliary association is the Society of the Cincinnati, formed originally by officers of the Continental army and navy, and by the French officers who fought in the American Revolution. The latter petitioned Louis XVI of France to recognize the order as a royal one; but he declined because, Mr. Sainty suspects, the language of its constitution indicated Masonic influences. But the King did consent to be the order’s protector, and permitted his officers to wear the insignia.

In the end, Mr. Sainty concluded, “nobility, for Americans, is demonstrated by conduct rather than birth, but sadly in a society where manners and courtesy are increasingly rare commodities, even this nobility is at risk of extinction.”

Guy Stair Sainty

Rev. Canon Harry E. Krauss and Jeffrey A. Ryan

Brian Arbelaez, Jorge Rivera, Randy Taylor and David Smisek

Rev. Guy Selvester and Commander Edward Moritz

Michael May, George Van Syckle and Owen Smith


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