Heraldry: London College of Arms

by | April 3, 2018 |

Calling all romance novelists who write Medievals! You can brush up on your knowledge of heraldry by checking out the London College of Arms, aka College of Heralds, pictured above and located at 130 Queen Victoria Street.

Heraldry: Origins

A herald, or herald of arms, was originally a king’s or other nobleman’s messenger who conveyed messages and proclamations. In the Middle Ages heralds typically wore surcoats bearing the coat of arms of their masters. They are usually depicted with their trumpets.


Because heralds played a role in managing Medieval tournaments, they became associated with regulating the knights’ coats of arms, and their title became the basis of the abstract noun heraldry: “the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described and regulated.”

Two side notes:

First, as official messengers they can be seen as the precursors of modern diplomats; and

Second, their function of trumpeting the news is likely the reason so many newspapers take the name, such as the Boston Herald.

Heraldry: Development

Richard III established the College of Arms in 1484. Here is his coat of arms:

And now the fun begins. You have to know a ton of vocabulary to describe the darned thing, the extent of which the following diagram only hints at:


This coat of arms is for the British monarchy and is slightly different from Richard III’s, because the shield includes Scotland and Ireland.

To describe Richard’s shield you have: “Quarterly 1st and 4th France moderne, 2rd and 3rd England.”

To describe France moderne (1376-1469) you have: “Azure, three fleurs-de-lis or.” That is: azure background, three golden lilies. Richard belongs to the Plantagenet line originating in Anjou, France.

To describe England you have: “Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale Or armed and langued in azure.” That is: red background, three lions walking, depicted sideways and facing, with claws and tongue in azure.

Richard III’s motto is: HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE ‘shame be to him who thinks evil of it.’ It is also the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter.

To know your heraldry you’re going to have to know Latin (for instance, dexter and sinister in the diagram, above) and a bunch of Old French. Here is a lion rampant:

heraldryHere is a lion rampant guardant:


This is truly only the beginning of the terminology.

Heraldry: The Present

Guess what? The heralds at the College of Arms are now busy devising a coat of arms for Meghan Markle’s clan to be bestowed upon her – or, rather, her father – before her May 19 wedding to Prince Harry.

Check out this recent article in Brides.

Here’s what the heralds came up with for Kate Middleton before her wedding:


Although heraldry continues to this day, it’s rather more symbolic. In the Middle Ages it connoted power.

Learning about the intricacies of heraldry is, at least in part, what makes writing and reading Medievals so much fun.

If you want to read one of my Medievals with a bit of heraldry, try: Simon’s Lady

Categorised in: , ,

This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.