Become well armed for your heraldic hobby

Build Your Own Library: 2: William Hunt On Heraldry
Click to follow
PORTCULLIS PURSUIVANT Of Arms (otherwise known as William Hunt) is the 39th holder of his office, one of the heralds in the College Of Arms, and as a junior officer of the Royal Household is entitled to an annual stipend of pounds 13.95 paid from the civil list. "The last increase was given by James I - and subsequently cut by William IV," he adds without bitterness.

The study of heraldry does not require expensive and weighty tomes and strengthened library shelves. Portcullis recommends a "starter for all children, and adults who like reading children's books" - Iain Moncreiffe and Don Pattinger's simple Heraldry (The Promotional Print Co. pounds 2.99). "It is the perfect introduction to heraldry, which is a system which began as an easy, visual means of recognising who was on the medieval tournament field.

"When you want to get your teeth into the subject, go to Boutell's Heraldry revised by JP Brooke-Little (Frederick Warne). Very readable and not stodgy in any way."

A similar "useful handbook" is Arthur Charles Fox Davies' A Complete Guide To Heraldry (Gramercy Books, pounds 19.95). This scores over Boutell in its chapter on flags, but is generally not as reliable, as Boutell is continually revised.

Both explain heraldry's basic principles, its development throughout the Middle Ages and will educate the reader to thorough knowledge of the subject.

Less useful for reference, but much more scholarly, is The Oxford Guide To Heraldry by T Woodcock and JM Robins (OUP pounds 15). "This is more a series of theses on heraldry than an accessible dictionary, but retains a lightness of touch which informs without deadening." But the most sumptuous item among these recommendations is H Bedingfield and Peter Gwynn-Jones' Heraldry (Magna Books). This is a coffee table book, richly illustrated with current grants of arms and other illuminated manuscripts. Although out of print, it is currently being revised by Peter Gwynn-Jones, the present Garter King of Arms, and should be available again shortly.

Portcullis also suggested two recently released pictorial introductions - Andrew Stewart Jamieson's Coats of Arms (Pitkin, pounds 2.50), and Michel Pastoureau's Heraldry: Its Origins and Meanings (Thames and Hudson; pounds 6.95). Pastoureau is vice-president of the French Heraldry Society and offers a useful abbreviated guide to chivalry around the world and follows its development up to the present day.

Anybody with a collection of the above will have a fine guide to the what, why, when, where of heraldry. For those who want more, Portcullis warns that the books get heavier.

Business was quick to recognise the cachet that a coat of arms could bring and, ever since 1439 when a grant was made to the Worshipful Company Of Drapers, this has been an important branch of English Heraldry. The definitive work on the subject is still G Briggs' Civic and Corporate Heraldry.

The shelf-busters continue with the great tomes of Burke's General Armoury (1844) and Fairbank's Book Of The Families' Crests of Great Britain and Ireland (Fourth Edition 1905) These record all the arms-bearing families of Great Britain up to their respective publication dates and are available in facsimile from the specialist bookshop, Heraldry Today (for address see below).

Portcullis warns that both these works contain many arms borne without authority. That authority comes, of course, from the College Of Arms, whose own history appears in two volumes: The College Of Arms Monograph, produced by the London Survey Committee in 1963, a bibliography of all previous heralds with some reference to the college, and Heralds Of England by Sir Anthony Wagner (HMSO 1967), a history of the College and Office Of Arms.

Both are out of print, but it should be possible to obtain them, and any other books previously mentioned in this article, through Heraldry Today, Parliament Piece, Ramsbury, Marlborough SM8 2QH. Tel: 01672 5620617.

Portcullis Pursuivant was talking to Simon Linnell.