The Old Booksmith


Bibliography for Research in British & Continental
Royal & Noble Lineages & Heraldry:

Armory and Heraldry







NOTE: Because of the subjectís enduring popularity, there are many scores of brief, usually pictorial, guides to heraldry on the market. The great majority of them repeat the same basic information, over and over, often accompanied by glossy color illustrations, and limiting themselves to the British system. All of these publications, while not "bad" in any sense, are excluded as redundant. The basic guides that appear below are the tried and true classics upon which all later efforts are based.


History, Theory & Textbooks


Bedingfeld, Henry & Peter Gwynn-Jones. Heraldry. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1993. 160p.

What makes this oversize volume different from all the other illustration-rich heraldry books on the market is its authorship: Bedingfeld is Rouge Croix Pursuivant and Gwynn-Jones is Lancaster Herald, both of them full-time practicing heralds at the College of Arms in London under the authority of the Duke of Norfolk, who is also Earl Marshal of England (and therefore responsible for grants of arms). His grace also contributes a brief foreword to the book. Theyíve divided up the labor here, with Bedingfeld taking the chapters on heraldic history and development, the workings of the College, and royal heraldry, while Gwynn-Jones is responsible for the chapters on heraldry as art and also its continental aspects. Much useful information is included on English heralds of the past, some of whom were great scholars and innovators while others were only in it for the money. They also investigate the origins of various heraldic monsters, such as the basilisk (based, they believe, on the hooded cobra). There are a great many illustrations taken from grants and rolls in the Collegeís archives, most of which Iíve never seen reproduced before.


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Denholm-Young, Noel. History and Heraldry, 1254 to 1310: A Study of the Historical Value of the Rolls of Arms. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965. xi, 182p.

The class of armigerous gentlemen — those who were entitled to bear arms — was small under Edward I and in the early years of Edward II, being limited to men who hoped actually to see military action (arms not being "decorative" at the time). These professional soldiers, of whom there probably were no more than 2,000 at any one time, and to whom heraldry was primarily a means of identification on the field, were known as "strenuous knights." Their names and arms are preserved in the Rolls of Arms, only five of which have survived in contemporary form. Nor were they compiled under royal authority, but by heralds in their private capacity, presumably as a luxury item for noble and wealthy patrons. And a good deal of variation exists among copies of the same roll, so textual accuracy can be a problem. On the other hand, the author concludes that the rolls werenít tampered with for genealogical reasons for at least a century afterward, so the issue of fantasy connections doesnít arise. Denholm-Youngís goal is to "reintegrate" the surviving arms and the known individuals to whom they attach into the history of the period, to which end he includes many brief but reasonably detailed biographical and relational sketches, all of them heavily footnoted. Numerous families are mentioned, with some special focus on the Clares, Cliffords, Fitz-Williams, Greys, Montforts, Percys, Segraves, Tonys, Warennes, and the unpleasant person of Piers Gaveston. (These choices are dictated by the coverage of the Rolls themselves.) The author also has a good deal to say about the politics of the day, the early evolution of heraldic convention, the use of cavalry vs. infantry in certain battles, the roll of tournaments (and their casualties), how investitures developed, and even the occasional titillating anecdote that would not be out of place on daytime television. The only shortcoming of the book is that there are no illustrations at all.


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Humphrey-Smith, Cecil. Anglo-Norman Armory. Canterbury: Family History, 1973. 207p.

Beginning as a lecture on the "Heraldsí Roll" or "Fitzwilliam Roll," an armory which dates from the 13th century, this became a book-length combination genealogy and armory of several hundred of the most prominent Norman families who settled in England, with arms for about 700 individuals. A technical but very informative study, with many photographs of the original document.


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Pinches, J. H. European Nobility and Heraldry: A Comparative Study of the Titles of Nobility and their Heraldic Exterior Ornaments for each Country, with Historical Notes. Ramsbury, Wiltshire: Heraldry Today, 1994. 323p.

Pinches has acquired quite a reputation as an expert in heraldry, the principal visual codification of the landed classes in Great Britain and Europe. In this volume, he works his way through one specialized segment of the heraldic histories of all the western European nations. (The countries of southeast Europe, like Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria, are omitted because they were under Turkish domination for so many centuries, they never developed a western heraldic system). Heís interested not in the arms granted to families but in the added ornamentation of an achievement: the crest, supporters, helm, assorted crowns and coronets, and the mantling, all of which have traditionally been more important on the Continent than in Britain. He fills out his discussion with an historical overview of the monarchy and nobility of each country, as well as the political histories of the emerging nation-states of Europe as they affected heraldic practice. Many maps and several hundred black-and-white illustrations make this an excellent reference tool in its field.


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Pinches, J. H. & R. V. The Royal Heraldry of England. London: Heraldry Today, 1974. xviii, 334p.

The sovereign arms of dominion have long ceased to be "personal" arms, and this is, surprisingly, the first comprehensive book on the subject. Whether youíre interested in Queen Victoria or in the blazons of the sons of John of Gaunt, all are covered in detail and most are illustrated, some in color. Three dozen genealogical charts help the reader follow the circuitous succession and the changes in dynasties which caused graphic changes in the royal arms. A great weekend read, as well as a very useful reference tool.


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Volborth, Carl-Alexander von. Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles. London: Blandford Press, 1981. 229p.

This unprepossessing volume includes a few glossy color plates, but it is constructed primarily around 1,200+ black-and-white renderings of arms, accompanied by a cogent descriptive and explanatory text. The chapters walk the reader through the major elements of a blazon: The shield itself and its divisions and partitions, the charges, the helm and mantling, the crest and supporters, the various systems of differencing and cadency, and the marshalling of arms. But the author, a German-born artist of American citizenship living in Antwerp, has published a number of heraldic works in German, Dutch, and Danish, as well as English, and his interest in Continental armory continues here, with discussions of burgher-arms, both the titled and untitled nobility of numerous European countries, and the religious orders of chivalry in Malta, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Since most works on the subject in English show little interest in heraldry outside the British Isles, that inclusion alone makes this an important reference tool. But the author also points out the family relationships displayed in the similar arms of families with a joint history, the similarities between many municipal and regional arms based on historical parallels, and even the peculiarities of practice in the way helms are traditionally rendered in different countries. Much incidental information on both British and Continental families also appears. For instance, the arms of the noble Pacchioni family of Bologna includes a modified version of the chief in the Angevin arms because the armiger was a supporter of the King of Naples and Sicily. And the arms of Edward Irving of Kirkintilloch include a brisure of a second son of a third son of a second son. An excellent tool for both the genealogist and the heraldic artist.


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Wagner, Sir Anthony R. Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms. London: HMSO, 1967. xxvii, 609p.

Wagner, late Garter Principal King-of-Arms, was undoubtedly the most knowledgeable man in his profession in this century. This very detailed history of the origins and duties of the medieval herald, the court of chivalry, the often eccentric personalities of later heralds and their effects on the orders of knighthood (Knights of the Garter very nearly became hereditary in the eighteenth century, for instance), and the problematic role of the herald in the twentieth century, is a surprisingly engrossing social history of Britain from a peculiar viewpoint. Wagner also was noted for a certain drollery of style that may catch the reader off-guard.

NOTE: For broader coverage of the same and related topics, though at a rather more technical level, see Wagnerís Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages: An Inquiry into the Growth of the Armorial Function of Heralds (London: Oxford University Press, 1939).


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Wagner, Anthony. Historic Heraldry of Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1939 (London: Phillimore & Co, 1972).

The College of Arms commissioned a series of 142 modeled and painted panels and shields in connection with the New York World's Fair of 1939, which were presented to the United States at the outbreak of the war. Most eventually went into storage at the Smithsonian until their resurrection in this volume on heraldic art. All are illustrated, described, and put into historical context, and they range in time from Simon de Montfort and "Strongbow" (Richard, Earl of Pembroke), through Cromwell and John Milton, to Cecil Rhodes and Ernest Rutherford.


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Wise, Terence, Richard Hook, & William Walker. Medieval Heraldry. (Men-at-Arms series, 99) London: Osprey Publishing, 1980. 40p.

Osprey is well known to students and enthusiasts of military history of all periods, as well as modelers and gamers, for its concisely written and heavily illustrated studies of wars, campaigns, individual battles, military units, arms and armor, and uniforms. This volume is a bit of a departure. Where most books on heraldry concentrate on the theory and practice of the art itself, this one is more interested in the practical uses to which it was put by armored knights and their followers, both in battle and in the lists. This includes such topics as liveries, surcoats, banners, and horse trappers. Also, where heraldry books written in English tend to consider English practice almost to the complete exclusion of the Continent, Wise knows that the institution of knighthood was much broader than a single country, and that the loyalties and interests of its members were more than merely national. The first section lays out the origins and purpose of heraldry, including its spread beyond the nobility and the knights to the merchant class, and even lower. Then comes the shield, both as armor and as a canvas for display, and a short but accurate discussion of its divisions and the charges placed upon it (again, including patterns and symbols that were common in France and Germany but seldom if ever seen in Britain). A section on the livery and maintenance system includes the fashion for badges and the association of certain color combinations with certain families or ruling houses. Crests originally were actual three-dimensional constructions worn atop the helm (at least, when "on parade"), and the introduction of mantling, scarves, and wreaths were an outgrowth of this. Finally, a knightís mount shared in some of the glory by displaying all or part of its riders arms on its caparison. Overall, this is an excellent introduction to the other side of heraldry.


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Woodcock, Thomas & John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. NY: Oxford University Press, 1988. xii, 233p.

An excellent introduction to the field by the Somerset Herald. Chapters cover the origins and evolution of the heraldís art, the marshalling of arms, the technical aspects of blazoning, and even the proper decorative use of heraldry. The emphasis, naturally, is on Britain, but Europe and the United States are included as well. Very nicely illustrated, too, with a thick section of color plates. Another nice gift book.


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Reference & Practice of Heraldry


Boutell, Charles. Boutellís Heraldry. Revised by J. P. Brooke-Little. NY: Frederick Warner, 1983. x, 368p. [originally published 1891]

Probably the most popular general text on the subject, and with good reason. From the first appearance of Boutellís Manual of Heraldry in 1863, through the dozen or more revisions and complete rewrites that followed, its purpose always has been to provide clearly written, up-to-date information on (primarily) the British system of heraldry for the general reader. Relatively nontechnical, considering the subject, it includes a sampling of many subordinate topics: The history of heraldry, definitions and specialized terminology, the visual art of armory, differencing and cadency, the crest and motto, royal heraldry and orders of knighthood, and "recent trends and developments." The Warner reprint is well-illustrated, with numerous color plates.


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Burke, John Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time. London: Burkeís Peerage, 1884 edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967). xxiv, 1,185p.

The 1884 edition — the last one — includes 60,000+ blazons of English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish arms. There are no illustrations except for the royal family and incidental examples in the glossary of heraldic terminology. A straight-forward reference work which assumes the readerís ability to convert text into a mental image, but this could not otherwise have been squeezed into 1,185 double-column pages! The perfect companion to Burkeís Peerage and Burkeís Landed Gentry. Hard copies are not cheap, but still a bargain. (However, like many out-of-copyright works, this is now available as a free download on Google Books.)


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Fairbairn, James. Fairbairnís Crests of the Families of Great Britain & Ireland. 2v. Rev. ed. NY: Heraldic Publishing Co., 1911 (NY: Bonanza Books, 1986 in 1 vol.). [originally published 1800]

Volume 1 is an alphabetical index by family name to the crests illustrated in black-and-white in Volume 2. The crest which appears above the shield in most arms often tells its own story about events in the familyís history and is worth paying attention to. Also useful is the extensive list of mottoes, with translations (but see Elvin, below).


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Friar, Stephen & John Ferguson. Basic Heraldry. NY: Norton, 1993.

There are in existence a great many guides and textbooks of heraldry, most of which inevitably repeat much the same information in much the same way. Heraldry is, after all, a conservative topic. Friar is an established heraldic authority as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, while Ferguson is a highly regarded heraldic artist and illustrator, which makes this volume one of the best available on the visual depiction of coat armor in all its aspects, from the standards of the Romans to the assumed arms of Dwight Eisenhower. The history of English arms proceeds from the golden dragon of the West Saxons through the leopards (or lions) of the Angevins (as illustrated by a surviving seal of Eleanor of Aquitaine), and on to the Commonwealth (which nevertheless included royal symbols). Many seals of noble families are reproduced, including the Warennes, Mortimers, Montacutes, Bohuns, Hollands, Talbots, Staffords, and many others. The evolution of the royal arms is followed in great detail, as it encapsulates so much of the history of the nation. The authors also provide an excellent exposition on the development of the multilayered Union Flag, on trends in contemporary grants of arms (including those to American citizens), and on civic and corporate heraldry, as well as giving limited attention to heraldry on the Continent. Friar also has some pointed comments to make regarding overly ostentatious augmentation and the decline in heraldic taste. The latter part of the volume explains the parts of the complete achievement, the nature of ordinaries, subordinaries, and charges, and the use of colors, metals, and furs. Fergusonís illustrations throughout, both pen-and-ink and airbrushed color, are excellent and clear. This is by no means the only book to which the student should refer but itís an excellent one with which to start.


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Le Févre, Jean. A European Armorial: An Armorial of Knights of the Golden Fleece and 15th Century Europe. (Edited by Rosemary Pinches & Anthony Wood) London: Heraldry Today, 1971. 222p.

The 15th century armorial reproduced here (not in color, unfortunately), comprises a series of 53 striking equestrian figures in full tournament heraldic dress. The boldly drawn figures, most of them of sovereigns and great nobles, are highly stylized, to emphasize the heraldís art. Heraldry was still evolving at this time, and works of this kind were creating the precedents still followed today.


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Louda, Jiri. Heraldry of the Royal Families of Europe. NY: Clarkson Potter, 1981. 308p.

A great book for armchair browsing and background reading. Unexceptional information in the charts, but they are accompanied by full-color blazons.


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Parker, James. A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry. New ed. Oxford: James Parker & Co., 1894 (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1970). xxxii, 659p.

If you donít know the difference between "masculy" and "lozengy," or if you canít envision a "gilly-flower," this is the book for you. Besides the 600+ pages of alphabetical, often illustrated listings, Parker includes a complete synoptical table of principal terms, logically and systematically arranged. Itís also easy to become absorbed in longer articles on heraldic oddities like the "Collar of SS" and the putative arms of Prester John.


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Paul, James Balfour. An Ordinary of Arms Contained in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. 2d ed. Edinburgh: W. Green & Sons, 1903. xxiv, 428p.

If you have an illustration or text description of Scottish arms and no idea to whom they belong, this is an excellent place to start. Graphic features — chevron, fess, greyhound, Maltese cross, mullet — are arranged alphabetically, with 5,500+ separate contexts described and pertinent individuals noted. And thereís a complete name and rank index.


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Rietstap, Johannes B. Armorial General. 2v. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1904-26 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967).

Rolland, V. & H. V. Supplement to Rietstapís Armorial General. 2d ed. 9v. London: Heraldry Today, 1969.

Rolland, V. & H. V. Illustrations to the Armorial General. 6v. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1903-26.

Rietstapís intention was to compile the blazons of every armorial family in Europe, from Brittany and Utrecht to Dorset and Transylvania, and he made an excellent start before his death, though he ventured the opinion that the labor involved would be too great to complete it. Many, many names appear in his work that were previously collected nowhere else. The father and son team of V. Rolland and H. V. Rolland took twenty-three years to complete the monumental work (the Supplement), which eventually included more than 100,000 distinct blazons. The Rollandsí six volumes of illustrations were intended to make life easier for those to whom formal heraldic language was as foreign as the French in which Rietstap wrote his descriptions. For uncommon names, and especially for non-English names, Rietstap and all the supplementary volumes to his original work can often provide a jumping-off point — the discovery that, somewhere in the past, a family in which youíre interested was important enough to be entitled to coat-armor.


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Siebmacher, Johann. J. Siebmacherís Grosses und Allgemeines Wappenbuch . . . Vermehrten Auglage. . . . 137v. (total). Nürnberg: Von Bauer & Raspe, 1890-1901.

Imagine a treasure trove hidden somewhere in a huge hedge-maze and you may begin to appreciate the forbidding but enticing vastness of Siebmacherís "Great and Universal" work. First, thereís the "Alte Siebmacher," covering the period 1605-1806 in 37 volumes; then thereís the "Neue Siebmacher," for the period 1854-1961, in 100 volumes. Arrangement by series and volume is geographical, but the "General-Index" usually will get you to the right place, as well as providing a detailed explanation and plan of the multiple, overlapping series. Nearly 15,000 families are included, in relatively short entries, from the earliest reliably documented history (around the tenth or eleventh century for most of the German states) to the present. Cross-references are numerous and one can build up quite a network of interconnected influential families. About half of each volume is text, with heavy reliance on standard abbreviations; the second half is a complete armorial of the families described. A difficult source to use, and some foreknowledge of the family being researched is almost essential, but with perseverance and a modest command of genealogical German, one may discover the details of relationships, offices held, military activities, and political and familial alliances from a time many centuries earlier than one would have thought possible.


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Heraldry as Art


Dennys, Rodney. The Heraldic Imagination. NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975. 224p.

A well-produced, lavishly illustrated, and yet very informative volume on the artistic aspects of heraldry and how European styles and symbolisms affected British armory. Especially interesting are the discussions of "attributed" arms, such as those of Christ and King Arthur; apparently, it was unthinkable to medieval heralds that gentlemen of such significance and rank should not have been assigned official arms.


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Franklyn, Julian. Shield and Crest: An Account of the Art and Science of Heraldry. 3d ed. London: Macgibbon & Kee, 1967. xvi, 518p.

"Blazonry is as factual and concise as a bill of lading." The late authorís two-year course in heraldry at the City Literary Institute in London was the first awakening of serious interest in the subject for many later authorities, and this volume became their home reference. Itís still one of the most reliable printed sources around. Throughout the chapters on colors, ordinaries, charges, helmets, heraldic beasts and plants, differencing, and royal heraldry, are interspersed brief and often witty historical essays, genealogical anecdotes, thoughtful speculation as to the origins of various devices, and detailed comments on proper interpretation by heraldic artists. Franklyn assumes some knowledge of English history, and while there is a scattering of color plates, the 465 annotated black-and-white illustrations actually are far more useful.


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Friar, Stephen. Heraldry for the Local Historian and Genealogist. (History Handbooks series) Phoenix Mill, Gloucs., UK: Sutton Publishing, 1997 (corrected edition, 1996).

Americans tend to think of heraldry as a subject existing in a world of its own with little or no application to modern genealogy — unless one is attempting to claim a royal connection. Throughout Britain, though, arms are found carved in stone over doorways and fireplace mantle boards in country houses, engraved on plaques and funerary monuments and memorialized in stained glass in churches, painted on ceilings in college dining halls, and rendered in three dimensions beside the gates of castles. A familyís arms might be reproduced on their furniture, linen, livery, and carriages. The latter third of this heavily illustrated volume largely repeats the explanation of heraldic terms and rules from Friarís earlier book (above), but his explorations among and explanations of public heraldry may serve as an eye-opener.


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Hasler, Charles. The Royal Arms, Its Graphic and Decorative Development. London: Jupiter Books, 1980. xi, 387p.

To quote from the Introduction, this book "is not primarily concerned with heraldry — were that so, two dozen illustrations would have sufficed. But to do full justice in terms of graphics, two thousand might not be too many . . . to demonstrate the infinite variety of treatments which are possible still. . . ." The royal achievement, throughout its evolution from the three lions (or leopards?) of Richard I, has been painted on shields and on vellum, inscribed in brass and cast in iron, carved in giant marble blocks and on hanging pub signs, woven into tapestries and worked in petit-point, incised in glass and printed on stationery, and — most recently — stamped out in nearly abstract form on polystyrene product containers by those holding Royal Appointments. The exquisite and sometimes radical interpretations of many artists may be found here. The royal arms and supporters have been rendered in humorous but friendly style and they have been lampooned and caricatured in decidedly unfriendly fashion. A truly beautiful and enlightening art book, of which only one serious complaint may be made: It includes not a single illustration in color!


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Woodcock, Thomas & John Martin Robinson. Heraldry in Historic Houses of Great Britain. NY: Abrams (for the National Trust), 2000. 240p.

Visit the ancestral home of an ancient titled family in Britain (many of them now in the care of the National Trust), and youíre likely to be confronted by carved lions, painted greyhounds, and basilisks figured in the table linen. Thereís not a baronial manor that doesnít feature heraldic symbols everywhere they can be portrayed, a sort of billboard advertising the dignity of the resident family. More than fifty sumptuous homes are featured in this coffee table volume, including Tattershall Castle, property of the Cromwells, Blickling Hall, which belonged to the earls of Buckinghamshire, and Baddesley Clinton, seat of the Ferrers family, of medieval origins. There are more than a hundred full color plates and illustrations, plus another hundred heraldic line drawings. In explaining the symbolism depicted and the uses made of it, the authors include a great deal of anecdotal history of the great aristocratic families. A treasure trove for art and architecture historians as well as heraldicists.


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Associated Topics


Elvin, Charles N. Elvinís Handbook of Mottoes. 2d ed. Revised with Supplement and Index by R. Pinches. London: Heraldry Today, 1971. xi, 294p. [originally published 1860]

Since a motto is not usually an integral part of a Grant of Arms, it can be adopted or changed at will . . . nor need one ever possess arms to adopt a motto. These were collected not only from peerages and county histories, but from bookplates, carriages, plaques in churches, and other sources. One of my favorites is "Latet anguis in herba" — "The snake lurks in the grass," adopted by the Anguish family.


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Palliser, Bury (Mrs.). Historic Devices, Badges, and War-Cries. London: Sampson Low, 1870 (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1971). 435p.

In addition to formal heraldry, many noble families and individuals through history have adopted informal, personal visual emblems and symbolic phrases and mottoes. Ferdinand "the Catholic" of Aragon employed the Gordian knot cleft with a sword — to symbolize his conquest of Moorish Granada — and the motto "Tanto mounta" ("Tantamount") to indicate his assumed equality with his queen, Isabella (a presumption which the Castilians never admitted). The book brims with addictive miscellanea and minutiae of history at the personal level. Feuds, jealousy, and ambition from all corners of Europe are represented . . . and more than a few puzzles, such as the intended symbolism behind the device of "an elephant looking at the moon in adoration."