I would not have been able to write the odd title of this story, if I had not once been a keen student of Heraldry. I was about 12 when I discovered Heraldry, the ancient and chivalrous art of the illumination (design) and emblazonment (description) of coats of arms. The lovely old Norman French language and cadence of a full heraldic emblazonment was enchanting to me. It felt like a rare and romantic skill to read, and then to be able to draw, solely from the description a shield bearing “Azure, a wavy bend sinister or; on a chief ermine, charged three bezants” . In Plain English: “A blue shield, with a wavy gold diagonal stripe oriented left up; and at the top third, a broad horizontal white band with little black tufts of fur, containing three small superimposed gold circles” (Pardon inaccuracies – I am recalling skills some 50 years old!).
Heraldry was a completely useless area of research but at 12 or so I was not yet seriously distracted by girls, so it was a harmless enough excursion. Also, girls seemed not in the slightest impressed with my heraldic skills. Actually, on mature reflection, a gift of the Heraldic gab is pretty useless for picking up women at any age.
I became quite good at memorizing the old language and understanding the variations in coats of arms and achievements, the whole collection of escutcheons (shields), crests, helmets and mantles, and supporters (the creatures and humans that hold the shield). I liked some of the words a lot: Rampant was a strong word meaning animals rearing up on their hind legs. Azure and gules were cool ways to say blue and red. Bastard was naughty-sounding but actually not at all rude, which was the flavor of the word to me before I learned Heraldry: somebody’s parents had not been married and they could have coats of arms too, although slightly different than legal progeny in that a bastard’s coats of arms had waviness and sinister-directed charges (the objects embellishing the shields).
I was thrilled to find out from my mother that my mother’s side of the family was armigerous. We had the right to bear our coat of arms, because we were descended from Llewellyn the Great. But because my Uncle Ed was the sole male descendant on my mothers side, only could publicly show the coats of arms. The disappointment was much tempered a few years later when I found out that there was more than one Welsh chief called Llewellyn, and they had been chiefly at the long-ago times of the Viking, Hun, Saxon, Roman and later Norman invasions. So that was long enough for most of Wales to be descended from a Llewellyn the Great or two.
I took my Heraldry studies seriously, although I was a poor student of potentially more rewarding math, science, and languages. Still, I was the first child in the United Kingdom to study Heraldry as my project for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. The Duke was the patron of a program which was intended to mature young people into heroes and heroines. There were three grades: bronze, silver and gold. One had to be able to perform physical activities, show mental acuity, and be able to conceive and complete a Project. Some children did Butterflies, others acted in plays, and so on. I chose Heraldry. The Project was easier than meeting the athletic standards like running so far in some many minutes, or leaping so many feet. Usually on a cold, rainy day.
To monitor my progress on the Project and success at completing it, a special program was conceived by one of the Royal Heralds Pursuivant, or somesuch. His name was Mr. Fox-Something. He had much the same name as a famous Fox, a long-dead author of a classic tome on Heraldry. The Herald was a very elderly man living near Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, which meant I had the adventure of going downtown to a posh neighborhood. Unaccompanied, which seems odd, now. He was a crusty old bachelor, surrounded by musty books piled ahigh everywhere, and he had a flock of budgerigars (parakeets) that flew around freely, and pooped vert, dappled and wavy argent et noir et gris, sur mon coat et armes…
Mr Fox-Something devised an exam for me which I passed with flying colors, scoring in the high 90’s. I cannot recall if I completed the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme at Bronze level. But I did not continue on in the Scheme to higher levels. Probably because I had little heroic potential and had discovered that girls were much more appealing as Projects…