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The Collation

So much for goats, or, cute creatures in coats of arms

John Guillim’s partial manuscript draft of A Display of Heraldry (ca. 1610) was featured in our recently closed exhibition, “Symbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare’s England.” We showed an opening depicting “Fishes skynned” and “Crusted fishes” and compared it to a similar opening in the printed Display of Heraldry (London, 1611).

Examples of suitable fish for coats of arms, both "crusted" and "skinned."

Examples of suitable fish for coats of arms, both crusted and skinned. Folger MS V.b.171, fols. 79v-80r.

This was a difficult decision, since the fish were competing against so many other completely wonderful monsters, mammals, birds, minerals, plants, trees, fruits, stars, elements, and humors—as well as buildings, clothing, tools, weapons, and other “artificial” charges.

Below are a few of the animals and insects from Guillim’s draft, beginning with a unicorn (which in my household is definitely considered a real animal). Eventually the manuscript will be digitized and transcribed in full and you’ll be able to see and search all images and text.

IMG_20141119_105651 unicorn

“So muche for Goates.” Now to unicorns.


Wonderful! I can’t answer Heather’s questions. But the boar has one anatomical feature that is also found on the sterling silver heraldic animal on the cover of the Folger’s copy of STC 2106. Was it traditional to include the phallus of heraldic animals?

Richard M. Waugaman — November 20, 2014


It is not the phallus which is depicted, but the sheath which contains it. In other words the phallus is not “in action”, as you possibly suggest. The sheath is always displayed for male animals, simply as a clue (or attribute) to inform the observer that male animals are being depicted. Thus lions always have them. Indeed it would insult the heraldic lion not to be shown without the attributes of his masculinity and ferocity: sheath, canine teeth, mane, tongue. Important attributes for boar are thus tusks, sheath snub-nose, cloven hooves and general shape. The gender of a beast is a primary characteristic to farmers today, as it was to a wider population in olden times, who depended on live animals all around them, for food, transport, clothing etc. Gentlemen involved themselves in their own farming and breeding operations, as a wealthy man today takes an interest in the performance of his fleet of sports cars. Guillim would have known the commoner farmyard animals from much personal experience. Bats, etc., perhaps not so much! There are however rare examples of the phallus itself being used in heraldry, the human one, in mediaeval Hungarian heraldry, the mocking arms of the Várallyay István from 1599. And of course testicles too, canting arms of Coglione. See Wikipedia: Category:Male human genitals in heraldry.

Peter Chantler — October 3, 2016


It would be interesting to find out if Guillim was representing a real insect in his depiction of the butterfly (even if the colors are imaginative). Typically, butterflies do not spread their wings when at rest (as shown here!) while moths do. However, one species of butterfly, the skipper butterfly, does rest with wings spread. It also has folded-back antenna tips like those shown here.
(My old part-time job for an entomologist is finally coming in handy…)

Dianne Mitchell — November 23, 2014


“… In his elaborate classification system …” – The problem with these “stewards of heraldry” was that they classified a system that often had been developed without a guidebook in the first place. Since certain heraldic “implements” behooved only a certain class of nobility and not others (a bit like in military ranks the lapels etc. tell you who you deal with) the classification was a contested area in which legal wrangles and hurt pride played a role. Also there were veiled hints at e.g. “bastard” sons who had been installed in a certain noble role by their noble fathers as well as normal citizens who had been promoted e.g. to knighthood and whose coat of arms must not suggest too much of an “ancient lineage” all the way not betraying its symbolism to the simple peasant etc. The office of record-keeper for heraldry often was disputed as well as their decisions as sometimes they also held grudges against certain noblemen (or so these thought) that led them to deny certain symbols in coat-of-arm redesign or when through marriage or inheritance one noble house acquired the rights to another heraldic tradition and wanted to ultimately merge the two etc.

Maureen Coffey — December 16, 2014


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