The trials and tribulations of
An independent designer.
An independent designer.
o, I’ve been thinking about heraldry…as you do.
I’m always drawn to it, it really is the most perfect example of “branding” through iconology that has ever existed.
After finishing my Wars of the Roses scarf. I’d thought that I’d like to create a scarf using the flags and banners from the English Civil War. I had this grand idea that I would use the standards from each army and advance them from either end of the design finally meeting in a swirl of colour and heraldry in the centre. As always, what seemed like a good idea, now requires a great deal of meticulous research.
Wars, of any age, are complex and rarely definitive, so if you wanted to tell a story about the individuals it becomes even more complex because, combatants who start the war on one side, sometimes end up on the other; some hedge their bets until the last moment and fathers may fight for one cause, whilst their son will support another. This was particularly true of the English Civil War, so pinning a particular family name down to one flag is highly problematic, also, when a war lasts for many years, regiments can be amalgamated or disbanded. Add to this the mists of time; differences of historical opinion and the image equivalent of Chinese whispers, and what you have is a minefield of potential misinformation on a subject that many people are absolutely passionate about.
I faced a similar minefield whilst researching the heraldry from the Wars of the Roses, when I’d hit a brick wall and needed some verification on a couple of items. Someone recommended I contact the “College of Arms”, a place I’d hadn’t given much thought to before. I’ve thought about it a lot since because, time moves differently at the College of Arms.
I contacted them from the 21st century, via an on-line form, but they replied from the 1400s with a hand-written letter, delivered, I fancy, attached to an arrow, shot by a knight, seated on top of a horse. The letter said that the answer was, “In the negative” they could not help. In the end however, I wore them down and a short correspondence ensued. In fact, they ended up being of great help. I hadn’t realised at the time, that unlike so many other languages, the language of heraldry is absolute, and infinitely beautiful.
Some weeks later I was privileged to get access to the garter stalls in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and as I clambered around, I realised that the whole narrative of the Wars of the Roses was right in front of me, played out in heraldry. As these ancient arms began to half and quarter, you could see the displays of greedy acquisition from noble families as they devoured others’ arms, lands and titles, either through marriage or conquest. Like most conflicts, in the end it was consume, or be consumed.
It dawned on me then, that even though the college itself was divided by the Civil War, that it is the constant, not the Knights, Aristocracy, or even Kings, whose fortunes ebb and flow. And the Heralds, dressed in their ancient tabards, like playing cards from Alice in wonderland, are there, documenting it all. They, and their predecessors are the spine to which our society’s genealogy is attached. They have, from the very beginning, stood apart, unseen, and without comment, meticulously documenting in imagery, our whole nations genetic family tree. They have, without a single word written the loudest history of our island, for those who would care to see. And there they are still, in our world, but not of it. like heraldic “Doctor who’s”, able to travel back to a fixed point in time with the turn of a parchment page. And I had travelled with them for a short while.
Of course, although they followed the main rules of heraldry, the insignia and flags of the civil war were not always "heraldic", so I wonder to myself why I just couldn’t whack a few banners in a row and be done with it? But I can’t… there is a story to be told, and these affiliations still provoke passionate responses, like all flags, they remain powerful and emotive. Remembering always, that under these colourful standards, whipping in the winds of history, lives were lost and families torn apart; respect is due.
I would like to have dedicate this blog to Mr Robert Noel, the Lancaster Herald, but I don’t believe the World Wide Web, reaches past the front door of the College of Arms, so there’d really be no point.
Wars of the Roses scarf