Posts tagged ‘joseph mcmillan’

Regarding the Marques de La Floresta’s authority to certify personal arms

Joseph McMillan, the noted American heraldic scholar (whose arms are displayed above), proposed that as an extension of the recent conversations regarding the Marques de La Floresta, it may be of interest to read the decision by the Spanish Council of State from 1995 (Número de expediente: 2437/1995 [JUSTICIA E INTERIOR]) regarding the Marques’ authority to certify personal arms. The original text can be found here:

Back in 2006, Mr. McMillan had posted a thorough summary of the decision on the Usenet group rec.heraldry in English in a thread discussing the topic. Here is the text in his own words (posted here with his permission and with minimal edits for context & formatting – any emphasis is mine):

This very interesting report clarifies the Marques de la Floresta’s authority (or rather lack thereof) to issue certifications of personal arms.

The document at the site is an opinion of the Spanish Council of State, issued on 30 November 1995, in response to a request from the Ministry of Justice.

On 19 January 1995, La Floresta submitted a brief to the Ministry of Justice asking for the confirmation of his credentials as Cronista of Castile and Leon and for the convocation of a tribunal to examine his qualifications for the title, so that he could receive the certificate from the Ministry of Justice required by the decrees of 1915 and 1951 governing the appointment of Cronistas.

On 26 June, nearly six months having passed without a response, he resubmitted his request, stating that despite exercising the duties of Cronista of Castile and Leon since 1991, it had been made known to him that obtaining the certificate from the Ministry of Justice was necessary for him to continue in this role. He argued that the Ministry had the obligation either to convoke the examining tribunal or to confirm his appointment by use of the transitory provisions of the 1951 decree, as it would otherwise be preventing him, contrary to law, from exercising his profession, and would also cause him to suffer significant damages in terms of both income and reputation.

As part of his submission, the Marques included copies of the decree of the C&L government naming him to the post and of his commission as Cronista of C&L, which stated that La Floresta would posess all the powers and competencies of the ancient Chronicler-Kings of Arms of Castile and Leon, including the power to issue certifications of genealogy, nobility, and the right to use coats of arms.

The view of the Ministry of Justice, as submitted to the Council of State, was that Don Vicente de Cadenas was at that time the only person entitled to exercise the duties contemplated by the 1915 and 1951 decrees. The Ministry went on to say that “the matter of the Cronistas de Armas has been examined on more than one occasion from diverse perspectives, always arriving at the conclusion that the present moment does not appear ideal to raise this matter because of the social repercussions it would obviously have.”

What the Council of State ruled was that the 1982 royal decree that gave the autonomous communities jurisdiction over “the awarding to local corporations of styles, honors, and distinctions, as well as the granting to municipalities and provinces of municipal coats of arms” effectively created a second kind of Cronista, which it called a “chronicler of municipal arms.” The 1915 and 1951 decrees did not apply to chroniclers of municipal arms, since chroniclers of municipal arms do not issue certifications or grants on their own authority; they only make recommendations to the community junta (government), which makes the final decision on the grant of the arms. Moreover, they have no need for qualifications in genealogy and nobiliary law, since their duties do not require expertise in these subjects.

On the other hand, an appointment by an autonomous community as a chronicler of municipal arms does not entitle a person to carry out the duties of a chronicler of family arms, which is the term the Council applies to Cronistas appointed in accordance with the 1915/1951 decrees. The autonomous communities do not have authority over family heraldry or rights to noble titles; that authority continues to reside exclusively in the Ministry of Justice. The Junta of Castile and Leon therefore exceeded its authority when it purported to grant the Marques de la Floresta the powers to issue certifications of personal arms, genealogy, and nobility, and the Marques could not lawfully exercise such powers.

So the Marques’s contention that the refusal of the Ministry to validate his credentials was interfering with his ability to carry out his duties was rejected. He did not need the approval of the Ministry of Justice to carry out his legitimate functions of advising the Community government on matters of provincial and municipal heraldry and vexillology. It went on to say, in very firm terms, that an autonomous community government’s having unlawfully exceeded the bounds of its authority could not logically constrain the Ministry’s free discretion in exercising its own prerogatives under the 1915/1951 decrees.

The Council also stated that:

  1. The Ministry had the exclusive right to decide when and whether to hold examinations in which all aspiring Cronistas could take part. No individual person had legal standing to demand the convoking of the examining tribunal.
  2. The transitory provisions in the 1951 which the Marques had suggested could be used to validate his appointment applied only to persons holding the position of Cronista at the time the decree was issued–the Marques de la Floresta had not yet been born at that time. Moreover, they were required to submit their credentials for validation within 30 days of the publication of the decree. The Marques de la Floresta had not met that deadline.
  3. “It is possible to differentiate clearly between the two competencies [of chronicler of family arms and chronicler of municipal arms] without losing sight of the fact that the circumstances that in large measure were responsible for the issuance of the Decree of 1951, namely the reestablishment of the nobiliary laws in 1948, are replicated today with the [1988] changes to the 1922 decree on nobiliary succession] and with the new stricter norms for the proof of relationships.” [Comment: This could be construed as suggesting that it may be an opportune time for the Ministry to reconsider its position on raising the issue of new Cronistas of family arms.]

The above is an excellent write-up that sheds some light on the topic for those who are interested in the topic.

Adoption and Heraldry

Arms of Joseph McMillan

The American Heraldry Society (AHS) is very much respected in the heraldic world and maintains one of the most popular forums dedicated to heraldry in the English language. What especially differentiates the AHS from the other societies and forums is the particular focus on heraldry in the United States, taking into account the mixed heritage of its people and the intricacies of its Constitution.

A thread was recently started in the forum of the AHS dealing with the question of how to differentiate the arms of adopted children vis a vis those of biological children.

As expected, the thread evoked a flurry of responses and examples of what happens in other countries were brought up.

Some jurisdictions, such as England and Scotland, have developed elaborate practices on how to differentiate the arms that children inherit and have devised special marks for adopted and “illegitimate” children. For example in England, just like a second-born son would differentiate the arms with a crescent, an adopted child would use a chain link to denote the “link” to the adoptive family.

However, as the AHS covers the United States, what happens elsewhere is not really relevant.

Joseph McMillan, whose arms are at the top of this post, is the Director of Research for the Society and also a member of its Board of Directors. He has a very deep and extensive knowledge in heraldry and has published numerous articles in academic journals both in the USA and abroad. He very clearly put together the most reasonable position, that I agree with 100%, and is very much in line with the traditions and laws of the United States.

Here is his post:

Let me preface this with the obligatory acknowledgement that I know this is a free country, everyone can do heraldically whatever he pleases, and no one elected me the heraldry czar. (I would, however, ask that a family that adopted arms two weeks or two years ago not try to dignify these whims under the heading of “custom.”)

Now here’s why differencing for adoption in the United States is un-heraldic and even un-American.

The English rule requiring a mark of difference to be added to arms inherited by an adopted child is justified on the grounds that the English adoption statute excludes adopted children from succeeding to dignities. Arms were famously described by the Court of Chivalry in the 1954 Manchester case as being “in the nature of a dignity.” But in the United States arms cannot possibly be in the nature of a dignity, because American law does not recognize the existence of inherited dignities.

Furthermore, applying the English (or Scottish) practice on this matter to American arms is anachronistic. Modern adoption–that is, the kind of adoption in which the child of perfect strangers becomes a legally full-fledged member of another family–is a distinctively American invention that was introduced in the mid-19th century. It wasn’t until 1926 that such adoptions were possible in the UK, and some time after that that the kings of arms came up with the chain-link difference to signify that a child was adopted. By that time, we in the United States had been adopting children and presumably allowing them to inherit arms on level terms with their siblings for the better part of a century.

Finally, consider that the reason the English heralds devised a difference for adopted children in the first place was that there was, in their view, a legal distinction between biological and adopted children that still had to be signified in the arms. It is the same logic that drives them to insist on differences for bastardy and, until recently, to insist that married women could only bear arms impaled with those of their husbands. In all these cases, the heraldic “sign” signified a reality that existed in the law of the land outside of heraldry. The same is true of the logic behind differencing for cadency.

But ever since adoption as we know it was invented, the laws in the United States have always treated adopted children as fully equal to biological children. For example, the first modern adoption statute, the Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act of 1851, states: “A child so adopted, as aforesaid, shall be deemed, for the purposes of inheritance and succession by such child, custody of the person and right of obedience by such parent or parents by adoption, and all other legal consequences and incidents of the natural relation of parents and children, the same to all intents and purposes as if such child had been born in lawful wedlock of such parents or parent by adoption, saving only that such child shall not be deemed capable of taking property expressly limited to the heirs of the body or bodies of such petitioner or petitioners.” To require differencing for adoption in the United States would therefore be to impose the use of a sign when there’s nothing substantive for it to signify.

Which strikes me as bad heraldry.

Joseph McMillan, posted on May 9 2011 in the forums of the American Heraldry Society

I don’t think any commentary is necessary as the above stands on its own.


Is it snobbish to have a Coat of Arms?

The misconception that having a Coat of Arms makes you somehow “special” has existed for centuries and, unfortunately, I haven’t seen it get any better.

To add fuel to the fire, the inability to escape from the media circus that has become the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton on April 29th has given a lot of exposure to the recent grant of arms to the bride’s father.

Arms of Ms. Catherine Middleton blazoned:
Per pale Azure and Gules a Chevron Or cotised Argent between three Acorns slipped and leaved Or

In an article publised in the Daily Mail on April 20th, 2011 there is a side panel with the attention grabbing headline “How do you get a Coat of Arms” and here is a snippet of the text therein (reprinted and attributed to the Daily Mail):

However, that doesn’t mean that just anybody can pay the fee and get a coat of arms. The cumulative knowledge of the Earl Marshal gathered over hundreds of years has given them the skill of tactfully suggesting that people don’t proceed with their application.The late Peter Gwynn-Jones, a former Garter King of Arms, once said: ‘In practice, eligibility depends upon holding a civil or military commission, a sound university degree or professional qualification, or having achieved some measure of distinction in a field beneficial to society as a whole.’

This is all fine and dandy for the United Kingdom but, and pay attention here: THE BRITS DID NOT INVENT HERALDRY AND THEIR RULES DO NOT APPLY TO THE ENTIRE WORLD! Not only that, even in the British Isles heraldry existed before the College of Arms came to be and no grants or registrations were necessary. For example, there are some ancient families in England (listed in the Domesday Book) with arms that are just as old who wouldn’t be able to present a grant of arms if their lives depended on it (e.g. the Scropes of Danby).1

The United Kingdom (and I’m including Scotland here) have come up with some very elaborate rules and have a very enviable heraldic tradition that works very well for them. English heraldic experts have contributed much literature and a big part of my heraldic library is by them. But, just like German rules don’t apply in London, English rules don’t apply in Berlin. Most people tend to forget that and assume that what what happens in the UK is the only way.

Heraldry, from the very beginning has been a means of identification. Nothing more and nothing less. We’ve all heard the stories of identification in battle of knights in armor etc. but, heraldry was used beyond the battlefields from where it originated.

At a time where the vast majority of the population was illiterate, symbols were easy to identify and use. Heraldry (and badges) were used in lieu of a signature by anyone who needed it. This is why more than just the nobility adopted and used arms.

This is also why your average pig farmer in the 15th century didn’t have a coat of arms: he didn’t need it! But, he was more than eligible to adopt them if he so wanted to, let’s say, brand his pigs with his mark.

Another example of non-nobles having arms is the Armorial Général de France where about 70% of all the arms listed belong to merchants, artisans and others.

The same could be said about Germany, Switzerland and most of the non-English world.

Specifically in the United States, anyone can adopt, devise and use a Coat of Arms at any time and for any reason. Unfortunately, there isn’t any legal protection of arms in the country but, you do have the option of publishing it and registering it with private registries.

A Coat of Arms is nothing more than a heritable form of identification that does not give it’s owner any more “special” status than coming up with a signature to sign checks & documents with does.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this entry: Heraldry is snobbish if you also think that having a signature is snobbish.

Oh! One more thing: in those places where grants of arms come from a sovereign, the grant does not ennoble the recipient. This is another major misconception but, I’ll save it for another article.

1. Posted by Joseph McMillan in the forums of the American Heraldry Society
Image from the College of Arms of England, Wales and N. Ireland

Official Heraldry in the United States

For those who don’t know, the American Heraldry Society (AHS), under the auspices of its Director of Research Joseph McMillan, has done a tremendous job of researching not only the national arms but also those of the individual states comprising the USA.

The main entry on this topic on the AHS site is split into two categories:

  • The national arms
  • The arms of the states

In the first section, the author delves into some of the more interesting topics regarding the arms of the nation. Perhaps the most interesting sections (to me) are those on the criticisms and on the myths & misconceptions.

The second part is noted as a never ending work in progress as more states are investigated and the findings published. Here, you will find information about the arms of:

The link to the article is:

I also highly recommend reading through the rest of the site as it is a true treasure trove of information. If you live or hail from the USA, I would urge you to sign up for a (free) account on the AHS forum. The discussions there are (usually) very illuminating and moderated to keep the quality high.

Note: Images from the AHS site and Wikipedia


Bucket shops

It has been mentioned before on this blog that, usually, the arms follow the surname. Most people already know this and is of no surprise.

As a result of this knowledge, many come to the conclusion that if they are named, for example, “Andrews” and they find a coat of arms somewhere attributed to the “Andrews” family, then they can use those arms themselves. However, that is not entirely accurate. Some would even say that it is entirely wrong!

Unless one can prove descent (patrilineal in most heraldic traditions) from the person who bore a specific coat of arms, those arms cannot be used. If one can prove the appropriate descent, then one should use the correct mark of cadency. Finally, if one can prove descent but there aren’t any marks of cadency to show the relationship with this early armigerous ancestor, the new coat of arms must be altered enough so that there is no confusion between the two.

But, just like with everything else, there are people out there that take advantage of this lack of knowledge. You may have run into them at the mall or online after searching for “coat of arms” with your favorite search engine. These enterprises are called “bucket shops” and sell unsuspecting customers a coat of arms belonging to others with the tacit understanding (if not the explicit statement) that the customer is entitled to them.

Though, I should say I’m not condemning all of those selling these coats of arms as they may not know any better themselves.

If you have fallen victim to the erroneous belief that everyone with the same surname are entitled to the same coat of arms, it may make you feel better to know that even Ronald Reagan (before he became President) made the same mistake. This is mentioned in the excellent article on President Reagan’s arms by Joseph McMillan on the American Heraldry Society’s web site.