A recent Facebook post of mine on the arms of three English Kings of Arms on a College of Arms devisal for the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama piqued my interest about how some armigers employ different versions, not just renderings by different artists but actual different versions, of their armorial achievements. Sometimes this reflects added honors; sometimes the exercise of a new or different office (appointed or elected); sometimes it’s a version to be used specifically on certain occasions or under specific circumstances or only for use within a particular group, etc.
One of the Kings of Arms whose coat of arms appeared in that post was the late, great John Brooke-Little. Here we see his full achievement as Norroy & Ulster King of Arms:
Brook-Little’s own personal coat of arms were used by him without any extras. Here the arms are rendered by Anthony Wood:
In addition, we see that sometime he added quite a bit to the achievement to indicate offices held such as a bookplate depicting his coat of arms and banner as Richmond Herald (1967-1980) including both the Richmond Herald badge and the badge from when he had been Bluemantle Pursuivant (1956-1967):
Finally I include one probably not seen by many: a version of his arms impaled with those of The Heraldry Society which he founded and served for many years as chairman and later as president. This last one was simply for use within that Society:
All his life his own coat of arms remained as it is depicted in the second image. In other words he did not “change” his coat of arms. However, throughout his life and career he did employ various versions of his achievement some of which included personal honors, some ornaments of office and others additions for private use. This is a good thing to know about and an idea that many interested in heraldry, especially the various uses for a coat of arms, too often overlook. A coat of arms as a personal mark of identification may be employed in various ways to suit the various things one does in life. The armorial achievement does not have to be singular and include everything from every aspect of the life of the armiger. To be sure there are those who prefer this “maximum display” theory. However, an equally meritorious theory is one that makes use of varying versions or varying achievements suited to the time, place, group or activity in which the armiger is engaged.
Here is another example, again from the English College of arms, using the coat of arms of Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, Bt. which are:
Sir Henry, when he was still just plain old “Mister” served the College as Rouge Croix Pursuivant from 1983-1993 and the as York Herald from 1993-2010. In that latter capacity and prior to the death of his father and his inheriting the title “Baronet” he used the following achievement:
Sir Henry was appointed Norroy & Ulster King of Arms in 2010 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 2014. Here is a version of the shield of his arms from that time:
Finally, another example of a different version for private use and also only for a set period of time. From 2012-2013, for just a year Sir Henry served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners and impaled his arms with the arms of the Company for use in that capacity while at the same time also using the version above and the version in the first photo:
Again we see that he maintained the personal arms he had inherited from his father and did not “change” his coat of arms. Rather, he chose to display it in varying versions to suit the role of the moment or group.
The world at large already, for the most part, sees heraldry as effete but there are many within the (for lack of a better term) heraldic community, that is to say, the rather small group of people in the world who account themselves heraldic enthusiasts, who, through their own ignorance, misunderstand the concept I’m illustrating here. The advent of the internet has increased the possibility for communication between such enthusiasts throughout the world but has also made for a rash of self-appointed heraldic “experts” who don’t wish to engage in any scholarly pursuit of the heraldic arts and sciences and, either accidentally or purposefully, seek to limit the possibilities for heraldic display accusing anyone who deviates from their own preconceived notions as guilty of self aggrandizement.
It strikes me as slightly ironic that in a modern world that eschews heraldry as an anachronistic pretense anyone possessing a coat of arms themselves could accuse others of self aggrandizement. Then again, ignorance and irony can, at times, be seen to be cousins.