a REAL Coat of Arms: Part II
Moorshead explains the process of obtaining legitimate armorial
the previous issue, we explained that heraldry is very much
alive today. If you have English, Scottish or Irish ancestors
in your line or if you are a Canadian citizen, it is possible
for you to apply for your own coat-of-arms just as your ancestors
were able to do.
The heraldic authorities for these four jurisdictions operate
independently and each of them has their own rules and procedures
for applying. I applied to the Canadian Heraldic Authority
as I am a Canadian citizen but I would also be eligible to
apply to the College of Arms in London (as I was born in the
UK and have English ancestors prior to the 1870s).
The Cornish Flag
English county of Cornwall has its own flag. This is
black with a white cross and was originally the banner
of Saint Piran, the patron saint of tin-miners. The
author's ancestors came from Cornwall and were tin miners
for several generations until the mid-1800s. The inclusion
of this flag, or the colors, in the armorial bearings
was considered in the early stages of the design. Instead,
the Cornish language motto was chosen as the link to
One of the most prevalent misconceptions related to genealogy
is the existence of the “family coat-of-arms”.
This myth is nurtured by people who will happily sell you
a beautiful scroll depicting these coats-of-arms: it is your
money they’re after. All experienced genealogists learn
early on that there is no such thing as a family coat-of-arms
and that armorial bearings are awarded to individuals, not
families. However, not many genealogists know that individuals
can still apply for their own, legitimate, properly registered
coat-of-arms. It is not cheap and it takes from 12-14 months
but many readers may qualify.
The previous article described the first steps of the procedure.
There are lots of small steps involved in the application
but fortunately none of these were difficult, and I was guided
through the process painlessly.
One concern was that, while anyone may apply for a coat-of-arms,
not everyone will qualify. In Canada, however, individuals
qualify on the basis of service to the community. I understand
that a high proportion of those who apply are accepted.
After hearing that I was officially accepted, I had to send
a check for $435 Canadian plus taxes (about $340 US). Following
this I had a lengthy phone conversation with Robert Watt,
Chief Herald of Canada, in which I described various elements
that I would like included in my coat-of-arms. There are few,
if any, rules, as to what might be considered. Profession,
heritage and/or achievements are the most common elements.
I was encouraged by Watt to list as many elements as I wanted
to. I had no preconceived ideas about how such elements could
be incorporated but this is not my job, this is the job of
the heralds. Watt’s job is to combine these elements
into a simple, pleasing, symmetrical design which must also
proposed coat-of-arms for Halvor Moorshead. The motto
is in Cornish and means “Honour and Honesty”.
Shortly after I finished writing the first part of the article,
I received a letter from Watt describing the concept for my
armorial bearings, based on the conversation we had had.
Technical Description (in blazon, the language of
Gules a maple tree eradicated between three mullets Argent;
Crest (above the shield):
On a helmet mantled Gules and Azure doubled Argent within
a wreath of these colors, this Crest: A demi lion Azure langued
and armed Gules holding in its dexter paw a scroll Argent;
gordhyans ha lendury, meaning “Honour and Honesty”.
Explanation and Symbolism:
The field of the shield is red. The central charge is a white
(heraldic silver) maple tree with its roots exposed. In the
upper right and left and in the base is a white star.
The colors are the national colors of Canada and represent
Mr. Moorshead’s service to his adopted country, as does
the maple tree. The colors are also two of the three national
colors of the United States and Norway, symbolizing two other
aspects of his family heritage. The tree is the tree of life,
often a favorite symbol for those deeply involved, as Mr.
Moorshead is, in genealogical pursuits; in his case through
publishing and research. The stars are a second reference
to his American ancestry and can also represent brilliance
of effort. [I would like to make it clear that, while
I am not a modest person, these references were added by the
Heraldic Authority and not by me.]
Crest (above the shield):
This is formed of the upper part of a blue lion with red tongue
and claws. The right arm of the lion is raised and the paw
holds a white scroll.
The symbolism of the lion is multiple. It refers to Mr. Moorshead’s
education in Britain, to his roots in Norway and to the strength
of his service to the community. The color in the third tincture
is a reference to his varied ancestry on two continents.
The scroll symbolizes his long involvement with publishing,
most recently in the area of popularizing genealogical research.
This is one of Mr. Moorshead’s favorite sayings, rendered
in Cornish to symbolize another aspect of his heritage.
has its own language, blazon, which is largely based on Norman
French. This may seem archaic but it describes the arms efficiently.
There are lots of rules related to armorial bearings; we won’t
go into them here. If you are interested you can easily find
out the rules in numerous books and on several websites. Some
very good explanations are provided on websites that are selling
“family coats-of-arms” but I hesitate to recommend
any one of these. A good legitimate site is www.heraldica.org.
I was vaguely familiar with most of the terms though I had
not come across the term “mullets” before. An
Internet search using “Mullet blazon” told me
that this was a five-pointed star.
Designers of armorial bearings (the term is virtually interchangeable
with coat-of-arms) are always striving for simplicity: they
want to incorporate as many ideas into the simplest possible
design. I was very impressed with the concept suggested by
final award of the armorial bearings can take two forms,
both described as “Letters Patent”. The
top version, 22 in. high by 30 in. wide, is prepared
with hand calligraphy and shell gold (if applicable).
The lower version is two sheets of paper, each 22 in.
high by 15 in. wide. The text on the left hand page
is computer generated but the coat-of-arms is hand-painted,
again with shell gold if applicable.
Heraldry treats colors simply. Today there seem to be almost
limitless variations of color and shade. In heraldry, blue
is blue and red is red (or rather azure and gules in blazon
In my discussions with Watt concerning the various elements,
I said that I would like my connection with Cornwall to be
included. Cornwall, a county in the extreme south-west of
England, has its own flag (a simple design of black with a
white cross). It also had its own language, closely related
to Welsh and Breton (spoken in parts of northern France).
My family lived in Lelant, a village in the far west of the
county in an area that was the last stronghold of the language.
I have no evidence that my ancestors spoke Cornish; the few
documents that still exist such as wills and parish registers
are all written in English. However the language people spoke
at home was not necessarily the same as that they would use
in official documents. The last native Cornish speaker died
However, there is a movement to revive the language and in
2002 Cornish was granted official protection under the provisions
of a European charter on “minority languages”.
This allows schoolchildren to be taught the language and speak
it. There are now about 100 people who speak Cornish fluently
with another 500 or so others with some language skills.
I had chosen “Honour and Honesty” for the motto
— two virtues that I admire (the spelling of Honour
is the English/Canadian version of course). Watt and I thought
that a motto in the Cornish language would recognize that
link: of course neither of us had any idea what the Cornish
might be. Watt managed to reach Andrew Climo-Thompson, a champion
for the revived Cornish language, who kindly translated the
motto making it “Gordhyans Ha Lendury”. These
words will not mean much to most people which has the advantage
that it appears less pompous — and draws attention to
the link with Cornwall.
I received the concept — the written description given
above — in mid-June. I have already mentioned that I
was very impressed and did not want any changes. I had to
confirm that I approved of the basic design.
Shortly after this I received a contract where I agreed to
pay for an artist to take this concept and prepare artwork.
In this I agreed to pay up to a maximum of $450 Canadian plus
taxes (about $350 US).
I received the artwork on 3 September — it is illustrated
here. To say I was looking forward to this would be an understatement!
It was everything I wished for. The design incorporated all
the elements that Watt and I had discussed, yet it was very
I was sent two copies of the design with an invoice from the
artist for $450 Canadian. One of the copies included color
swatches which would be used in the final, official version.
I requested one change; the color of the red was rather darker
than the red used in the four flags that it represented and
I asked for this to be lightened. I signed my approval and
returned it, and sent off a check directly to the artist.
This is not the end of the process. Technically the artwork
shown in this article is the “proposed armorial bearings”.
The draft (used here) is drawn roughly and is colored with
art markers; it looks great to me but is apparently crude
compared to the final artwork which is to come.
I asked what the difference was: the final will be “more
dramatic, use paints, not marker, will have more depth and
overall will be more polished”. The final artwork will
appear in “letters patent” which is the final
presentation and official verification of the award. Letters
patent can take two forms: Option 1 is a single sheet about
22 in. x 30 in., hand painted and with specially written calligraphy.
The charge for this is between $1,800 and $3,500 Canadian
($1,400 to $2,700 US). The second option (which I chose) is
for two sheets, each about 22 in. by 15 in. The first page
is a text presentation (computer generated) describing the
award, the second is the coat-of-arms, painted in the final
form. The cost lies between $900 and $2,400 Canadian ($700
to $1,800 US).
I hope in the next issue of Family Chronicle to be
able to show the final presentation and describe the process
of “differencing” — the preparation of slightly
modified versions of my armorial bearings that could be used
by my children.
article originally appeared in the November/December 2003
issue of Family Chronicle.
Return to Part I | See
Part III of this series