Sunday 15 May 2016

Queer Philosophical Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

This is the first Irish achievement of arms I’ve featured in this series. It belongs to Gerald Heard (1889-1971), a prolific writer in genres as diverse as philosophy, detective fiction and science correspondence.

His role in the development of modern philosophy began in 1929 with his book “The Ascent of Humanity”, though his most significant work in said to be “The Five Ages of Man” published in 1963. This influenced the “consciousness development” movement. Gerald moved to the USA in 1937.
Gerald Heard, born Henry Fitzgerald Heard, was a junior member of the landed gentry in Ireland. It is said that the first Heard went to Ireland with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1579. The family coat of arms was confirmed by the Ulster King of Arms in 1734 to Gerald’s direct ancestor, John Heard (1690-1763) of Kinsale, County Cork. A confirmation usually means that the family had been using a coat of arms unofficially without heraldic authority. It appears that the Heard family had used these arms since shortly after their arrival in Ireland. The Ulster King of Arms found no reason to prevent them from using them so gave John a confirmation rather than a grant of new arms.

Those strange black objects you see on the shield are called water bougets. They represent leather water bags that were hung around traveller’s necks, sometimes hanging from a stick that the traveller carried on his/her shoulder. This is a very old heraldic device and has become more elaborate over the centuries until, in some case, it is unrecognisable as a couple of water bags hanging from a stick.

When these arms were confirmed to John Heard in 1734 he had been elected Sovereign of Kinsale. This wasn’t a regal title but a civic office originally appointed by the burgesses of the port of Kinsale. The Sovereign was in charge of collecting taxes that were to pay for repairs to the town walls in the 1300s. In 1482 the Sovereign was also appointed Admiral of the Port. Although the official explanation for the design of this coat of arms has not survived we can, perhaps, guess at why the antelope in the crest has a coronet around his neck. Was this an extra detail granted by the Ulster King of Arms to indicate John’s office as Sovereign of Kinsale?

The design of these arms are very traditional, but it could have looked a lot different if the Heards were granted a brand new coat of arms several decades later when one of the family, Sir Isaac Heard, was Garter King of Arms. Isaac was only 4 years old when John Heard had his arms confirmed, and Isaac was to become one of the most famous, and notorious, heralds in British history. Notorious, because he championed “landscape heraldry”.

Heraldry should really be simple and symbolic. Sir Isaac produced heraldry which was more realistic and more akin to historical illustration. For instance, he was responsible for added a depiction of the Battle of the Nile to Nelson’s coat of arms. Sir Isaac himself could have been used the arms confirmed to his cousin John but instead designed something new. To represent his own rescue from drowning at sea, Sir Isaac adopted a coat of arms showing Neptune rising from a stormy sea pulling a wrecked ship out of the waves. Mind you, Sir Isaac did have his good days. In 1801 when the United Kingdom was created he had the idea of adding St. Patrick’s Cross to the Union Jack of Great Britain adopted by “Queen” James I.

Back to our subject for today, the philosopher Gerald Heard. Gerald is descended from the second son of john Heard. On the shield I have placed a red crescent to indicate this. This is called a cadency mark, and English/Irish heraldry has for many centuries assigned a crescent (in any appropriate colour) to a second son. Gerald, however, was actually the 3rd son of an only son of the eldest of a 2nd son of this 2nd son of John Heard. Technically, all of this needs to be represented on a coat of arms, but as you can imagine all those cadency marks would be a bit confusing.

So, how could I depict Gerald Heard’s full achievement of arms without cluttering it up with cadency marks? After all, all the male line and female heirs descended from John Heard’s second son would inherit this coat of arms as well. One method I’ve used through this series, something permissible under heraldic license, is to put the Rainbow Pride flag colours on the back of the motto scroll, which I’ve done. But I wanted to indicate Gerald’s arms specifically in an additional way.

Gerald had no personal military honours or awards that could be shown hanging from the shield so I went back to his academic career. Even though he worked at several universities I thought the most appropriate choice would be the college from which he obtained his degree, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The only part of Gerald’s full achievement of arms where I could show this is on the mantling, the fabric glowing from the helmet. It’s using artistic and heraldic license again, but I thought I’d colour the mantling in the colours of Gonville and Caius College - black and light blue.

I hope you like today’s heraldic achievement. Several regular readers have sent me messages to say how much they enjoy these articles, and I’ve even had several commissions offered to me (all of which I’ve turned down – I prefer this to be a hobby, not a career). Next time I’ll celebrate International Heraldry Day with another Heraldic Alphabet.

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