Sunday, May 17, 2015

Family crests and Jacksons

Heraldry is as much an art as it is a science. My own introduction to it came when I was an Alderman serving on the Mission City Council in the mid to late 1980s. Canada’s Chief Herald met with us to design our very first coat of arms. It was a pleasant distraction from talking about why the sewer pipes near the prison kept corroding and leaking (was it the diet?).

Mission City Coat of Arms
Designing coats of arms is akin to designing a blog template using something like WordPress or Google. There are all these designated places where the right bits need to be tucked in, in the right format, and there are rules about what should go where. Here is the usual template for a coat of arms:

An achievement in heraldry is a full display of all the heraldic components to which the bearer of a coat of arms is entitled. SOURCE: Wikipedia.
When it comes to deciding what gets included in a coat of arms, the word entitled is one of those very dodgy words. Who is the person who ultimately decides who can use certain heraldic components? On the website of the Mission City Coat of Arms, there is a description of what ended up being included, but there is no description of how they got included. This is not unusual in heraldic design, but in this instance, I had a front row seat.

The Herald was a thoughtful man, well versed in his trade, and he arrived - as any good designer does - with a suggested template and thoughts about what should go into it. Since Mission City was a town that had grown up around an Oblate mission, he suggested that the core of the design should include a cross. Heraldry has its own equivalent of Clip Art elements. In this instance, the cross that he was showing us did not look anything like an Oblate cross.

Thankfully, our Herald was a good listener. He considered all of our suggestions, and after I winged and whined about a generic cross not being suitable, he tromped around the Oblate graveyard to see what an Oblate cross looked like. Then he included it.

The core of the design, the shield of arms, is a new symbol in heraldry, the Mission cross…. On the Mission cross is placed the form of cross favored by the Oblate Fathers, whose school marked the beginnings of the District in modern times

In the grassy bit called the supporters you can see some strawberry flowers. I had asked that they be included as a way to recognize the Japanese farmers. They had been forced out of their farms in 1941, and then lost them because of a specious link - racially based - between them and the bombing of Pearl Harbour. As it turned out, the strawberries did get included in the coat of arms, but not that part of the rationale.  Ah, well…

The reason for this lengthy ramble about heraldry is because I am working on a post about Sir Thomas Jackson, and the sheldrakes – in other words: ducks - in his coat of arms.

ARMS: Ermine on a pile azure between two fountains in base proper a Sheldrake or. CREST: Upon a fountain proper a Sheldrake or. MOTTO Aut Mors aut Vitoria (Either death or victory).
I continue to be curious about whether the sheldrakes were included because the British herald thought they were a good fit, or to what extent it was because Thomas Jackson requested them. Is there any correspondence in their files? I am less curious in answering the contemporary question of Who Do you think You Are? than I am in answering the question: Who Did He Think He Was? Did he believe that he was related to Richard Jackson of the Forkhill Trust fame? My guess is that he did, and there are considerable grounds to buttress this case. I will get to that in a future post.

Over the years, I have made several requests to the College of Arms to see if I can run this to ground, but perhaps I have been sending my enquiries to the wrong place. This morning, I found a new website – or at least new to me - and it may work better than what I have been doing so far. I will keep you posted.

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