The International Association of Amateur Heralds

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Basic Knowledge


Some people joining the Association will have little basic heraldic knowledge. To fully understand and appreciate many of the things which are done or discussed within the Association's framework it is necessary to have enough knowledge of the subject.

This knowledge can be gained by members themselves in a variety of ways, for example, through:

  •  reading
  •  formal examinations
  •  searching the web
  •  discussions about heraldry in the various "forum" message boards which exist
  •  belonging to a heraldry society and taking part in that society's activities.

A number of heraldry societies have formal heraldry examinations or offer advice on educational resources:

  • The International Association of Amateur Heralds has its own Basic Heraldic Knowledge tests. Members who wish to sit for this BHK exam should first nominate themselves by email to the VP-Heraldic Education, at vp_ed@amateurheralds.org
  •  The Heraldry Society has three examinations - Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced, leading to the Society's Diploma and the post-nominal of DipHS.
  •  The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada has examinations on the Art and Science of Heraldry
  •  The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (UK) includes studies in heraldry as part of a wider syllabus (these are now tested through the Heraldry Society examinations).
  •  The American Heraldry Society offers information on educational resources through the AHS Director of Education.

A recommended list of reading can be contentious, but some guidance may be helpful. For someone with very little or no previous knowledge "Discovering Heraldry" by Jaqcueline Fearn, 96 pp. is a good place to start. Copies are often available on eBay. From that level, the Association regards the later revisions of "Boutell's Heraldry" as a basic text. That book contains most of the general starting information for anyone interested in heraldry, based on English heraldry. The "rules" of heraldry can vary between countries. Sometimes the use of heraldry is governed by law, sometimes by custom or convention, and sometimes left to the individual. The student should proceed with caution! Having said that, there is still something definable about heraldry: it is a matter for each individual to find out for themselves just what that definition is.

Heraldry is not just about coats-of-arms, and here are some of the areas of heraldry in the general sense which may repay study. All of these areas have their aficionados!

  •  Personal heraldry
  •  Corporate heraldry
  •  Civic heraldry
  •  Ecclesiastical heraldry
  •  Military heraldry
  •  Orders, decorations and medals
  •  Flags, banners, standards, pennants
  •  Bookplates

The following, in alphabetical order, is a reading list to take those interested further along the path of learning from the basic "Boutell's Heraldry". 

Book Title in bold type.

Beddoe, Alan (revised by Strome Galloway) Beddoe's Canadian Heraldry Belleville, Ont., Mika Publishing Co., 1981, 224 pp. Somewhat out of date now, but a good source of information about pre-1988 heraldry in Canada.

Brooke-Little, John An Heraldic Alphabet revised edition, London, Robson Books, 1996, 234 pp. A useful heraldic dictionary by a veteran English herald.

Child, Heather Heraldic Design London, Bell & Hyman, 1965, 180 pp. A classic guide to producing heraldic art.

Dennys, Rodney The Heraldic Imagination London, Barrie & Jenkins, 1975. 224 pp An examination of rolls of arms and heraldic creativity, with a fascinating list of heraldic monsters.

Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles A Complete Guide to Heraldry London, Bracken Books, 1993. Originally published in 1909, this is regarded by many as far superior to "Boutell's Heraldry" whilst covering much the same ground. At times it is a little idiosyncratic, which adds to its attraction. Look for the edition revised by John Brooke-Little. 513 pp.

Franklyn, Julian and Tanner, John An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Heraldry Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1970. A detailed and well-illustrated reference work.

Friar, Stephen A Dictionary of Heraldry New York, Harmony Books, 1987, 384 pp. An excellent resource with superlative artistic examples.

Friar, Stephen and John Ferguson Basic Heraldry London, The Herbert Press, 1993, 200 pp. A good general introduction to heraldry, with some excellent paintings by Ferguson.

Greaves, Kevin A Canadian Heraldic Primer Ottawa, Heraldry Society of Canada, 2000, 56 pp. Very accessible yet thorough. Ideas about heraldic design are included, and there is substantial Canadian content. Available from the Heraldry Society of Canada.

Gwynn-Jones, Peter The Art of Heraldry: Origins, Symbols, Designs London, Parkgate Books, 1998, 128 pp. The author is the present Garter King of Arms, and this book contains some interesting English grants.

Jamieson, Andrew Stewart Coats of Arms Andover, Pitkin, 1998, 29 pp. A beautiful brief overview.

Lovett, Patricia The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry London, The British Library, 2000, 320 pp. A beautiful book.

Moncreiffe, Iain and Don Pottinger Simple Heraldry Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953, 64 pp. A delightful classic, the work of two Scottish heralds.

Neubecker, Ottfried Heraldry: Sources Symbols and Meaning London, McGraw-Hill, 1976, 288 pp. Profusely illustrated, it examines each component of a coat of arms.

Paston-Bedingfeld, Henry and Peter Gwynn-Jones Heraldry London, Bison Books Ltd., 1993, 160 pp. A good overview of heraldry by two English heralds, illustrated with examples from the College of Arms.

Pastoureau, Michel Heraldry: an Introduction to a Noble Tradition New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1997, 144 pp. A beautiful little book by a leading scholar.

Slater, Stephen The Complete Book of Heraldry London, Lorenz Books, 2002, 256 pp. A lavishly illustrated and wide-ranging introduction to heraldry. This is the first international publication that gives substantial coverage of Canadian heraldry. (The publishers have produced parts of this book in card covers to maximise sales: buy the complete version!)

Swan, Conrad Symbols of Sovereignty University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1977, 272 pp. A historical overview of national and provincial arms, flags and seals.

Symbols of Canada Ottawa, Dept. of Canadian Heritage, 2002, 59 pp. The most recent update of the federal government's guide to national and provincial symbols, available from Publications Canada.

von Volborth, Carl-Alexander The Art of Heraldry Poole, Dorset, Blandford Press, 1984, 224 pp. This book contains some valuable design advice as well as an overview of artistic styles through the centuries.

von Volborth, Carl-Alexander Heraldry: Customs, Rules, and Styles Poole, Dorset, New Orchard Editions, 1981, 229 pp. This work is filled with interesting examples, with a focus on European personal heraldry.

von Volborth, Carl-Alexander (edited by Hubert Chesshyre) Heraldry of the World Poole, Dorset, Blandford Press, 1973, 251 pp. A handy little book in hard cover providing an eclectic tour of heraldry in many countries.

Znamierowski, Alfred The World Encyclopaedia of Flags London, Lorenz Books, 1999, 256 p. A comprehensive work on flags today.