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The Folger Spotlight

Folger Talks Preview: Kathryn Will and Shakespeare's Coat of Arms

Dear Folger Diary Readers, Minions of the Moon, Fellows in Arms, and Excellent Good Friends,

With the 2013-2014 Folger Season at an end and the 2014-2015 Season not yet begun, a young girl’s thoughts turn lightly to thoughts of, you guessed it, free summer lectures at the Folger! In the interests of making a July day as short as December, our first lecture will be on Thursday, July 17th at 7:00pm in the beautiful Folger Theater.

Our speaker is Kathryn Will, a Folger reader and newly-minted Michigan PhD, who besides being an all-around splendid human being, also studies heraldry,


Kathryn Will

which is conveniently the subject of our newly opened exhibition, Symbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare’s England. Kathryn’s work appears in Heralds and Heraldry in Shakespeare’s England  (Shaun Tyas, 2014), a companion volume to the Folger exhibit, and she will be teaching at Monmouth College in Illinois this fall. Symbols of Honor opened yesterday and is beautiful. You can get a taste of what is in store on the Folger’s online exhibition page, but the scroll and rolls and illuminations and illustrations and all the other lovely things in the exhibit hall need to be seen to be believed. The gold details gleam in the light.

Edward IV scroll


Kathryn will be discussing English heraldry and William Shakespeare’s coat of arms, the original grant for which is currently on view in the exhibition. Turns out that not everyone was so wild about Bill getting his own crest and a certain someone (I’m looking at you Ben!) was a bit snarky about it in print in the most delightfully effete way possible.

Kathryn will also give an overview of The College of Armsthe organization that governs modern heraldry and has done so since it was founded by that lovable old rogue Richard III in 1484. Kathryn has kindly provided a few interesting tidbits and background information on heraldry for everyone following along at home. We hope that you use your new-found knowledge for good and will impress everyone at the bar. (“You’re looking positively rampant this evening!” is always a good opener.) Don’t forget to make a free reservation for Kathryn’s talk on the Folger website, and we will see you at the theater on July 17th!

Kathryn Will’s Heraldry Quick Links 

1. So, What Is Heraldry Anyway?  

V.a. 350 p. 28, detail

Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of heraldry (1.a.) is as follows: “The art or science of a herald; now, esp. the art or science of blazoning armorial bearings and of settling the right of persons to bear arms or certain bearings; in connection with which it deals with the tracing and recording of pedigrees, and deciding of questions of precedence.”

Okay, but what does that really mean? Check out Wikipedia’s entry on heraldry. It shows that different countries use different heraldic rules, images, and terminology. This is because heraldry developed independently in countries throughout Europe and Asia during the medieval period.

2. That Sounds Awesome! Where Do I Get One? 


Kate Middleton’s Coat of Arms

There are many websites that will sell you products featuring arms based on your last name, like House of Names. However, these sites can’t tell you whether you’re actually descended from a noble family that bore a coat of arms, even if you share a last name with that family. Also, coats of arms belong to individuals, not to families. In other words, these websites are crocks. If you want to know if you’re eligible for a legitimate English coat of arms, go here. As you will see, it’s a much more difficult (and expensive) process.

3. Sounds Interesting. What Is Heraldry Like Today? 

To see an example of heraldry in action today, check out the College of Arms’ new rules about granting arms to same-sex couples.

To learn more, be sure to reserve a seat, check out Kathryn’s blog, and we will see you at the theater on July 17!