Murdoch Mysteries

I was pleased to note a historically accurate Canadian red ensign flag in Season 11, Episode 16 of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries, in contrast to an earlier appearance. The plot of this episode (“Game of Kings”) revolves around an international chess tournament taking place in Toronto in 1905. The players’ nationalities are represented by little tabletop flags. 

Constable George Crabtree has gone undercover as a Canadian entrant. His flag shows the original four-provinces shield devised for the Dominion of Canada in 1868, featuring the arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. It is true that Canada had nine provinces by 1905 (Alberta and Saskatchewan had been admitted on September 1 of that year, and Crabtree makes a reference to this in Episode 13 when, thinking he’s dying, exclaims “I’ll never see Egypt or any of those new provinces we have now!”). A nine-quartered shield for Canada was devised in the wake of this, but the original shield was still in widespread use until 1921. 

An American competitor is represented by a US flag with 45 stars on the canton (count them!), for the number of states in the union at the time – Utah having been admitted in 1896. Oklahoma (1908), Arizona (1912) and New Mexico (1912) would soon raise the total to 48.

Poland did not exist as an independent country in 1905, but a Polish player has entered the tournament and is represented by the flag of the Polish National Government 1863-64, which had been proclaimed following the January Uprising (although the bottom stripe, according to Wikipedia, should be blue).

Wikipedia.

The coat of arms is for “a proposed Polish–Lithuanian–Ruthenian Commonwealth which never came into being. It consists of the Polish White Eagle, the Lithuanian Pahonia and the Ruthenian Archangel Michael.”

Wikipedia.

Other Polish references in this episode include the Szczerbiec (the traditional Polish coronation sword) and the Husaria (Polish knights who wore decorative wings while mounted). 

Heraldic Seal for Dartmouth – A Proposal

Earlier this summer I wrote a letter to the president of Dartmouth College, which I reproduce below, with added links. (No reply as of yet.)

***

Dear Sir,

When I was a student at Dartmouth in the early 1990s, some Indian figures remained in the official symbolism of the College, most notably on the Dartmouth seal, the Dartmouth shield, and the Baker Library weathervane. Two years ago, the College deprecated the shield in favor of the new “D-Pine” logo, and I heard the announcement this week that the Baker weathervane is to be taken down as soon as possible.

That leaves the seal:

Please know that I am not writing to defend it. There are, indeed, a number of problems with it. Like the Dartmouth shield, the seal depicts Native people being drawn out of the woods to receive the light of the Gospel, or at the very least a European-style education. Such a scene now strikes us as offensive, and in fact was all false propaganda to begin with, being an aspect of Eleazar Wheelock’s PR efforts to keep donations coming. Wheelock designed a seal of Dartmouth College that specifically references the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a missionary society founded in 1701 in London:

Similarities between the Dartmouth seal and the SPG seal include the natives on the one side, the larger European technology on the other, writing in the air, and an irradiated object over the whole thing.

The Dartmouth seal is also religious in other ways. One of the supporters carries a Christian cross:

And the Hebrew at the top reads “El Shaddai,” meaning “God Almighty”:

Note that it’s on a triangle, referencing the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity (as though to say: “We know Hebrew! But please don’t confuse us with the original Hebrews.”)

Such details are not appropriate for a secular college.

I do not know if there has been a movement on campus against the Dartmouth seal. Given recent trends I can certainly understand if people might want to devise a new seal that accurately reflects Dartmouth’s history and is more in accord with its current values. If it is to be changed, allow me to propose that Dartmouth adopt a seal featuring a properly heraldic coat of arms. An example might look like this:

When well-designed, a heraldic shield is simple and recognizable, and neatly encapsulates an organization’s identity. In this case, the coat of arms says “I am an academic foundation (building, books) named after the Earl of Dartmouth (stag’s head) and located in rural New Hampshire (also stag’s head)” – with no references to Natives or Christianity. Heraldry places a university in a long tradition stretching back to the thirteenth century and suggests that it is dignified and deserves to be taken seriously. One does not need to use a coat of arms on a daily basis to express one’s identity (the D-Pine logo, as far as I’m concerned, does this quite well), but it is nice to have a coat of arms should the need arise – for instance, on those occasions when all the Ivy League coats of arms are displayed together.

I repeat that I am unfamiliar with the campus climate. I do not know whether anyone has said anything about the seal. I can understand why people might want it changed, but I can also understand why they might want to retain it too, for historic or sentimental reasons. If it is to be deprecated, however, please consider replacing it with an appropriate, well-designed, and dignified coat of arms.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Good ’94

National Logos

Note: This post was originally published in July. When I corrected an error that I noticed, WordPress somehow considered it a new post, thus its appearance here. 

Two examples of national-level rebranding have been recently announced. I thought that one was decidedly better than the other. 

1. In Australia, something called the Nation Brand Advisory Council has urged the adoption of a logo featuring a stylized wattle, Australia’s national flower, with “AU” superimposed over it. 

Brand New.

Other variants of this logo may be seen at Brand New, where we also read the Council’s statement:

We love our kangaroo – it is currently the most internationally recognized shortcut to Australia. But we considered whether it would shift perception of our nation, or simply reinforce what people already knew about us.

Further, to adopt a kangaroo as our national symbol would require agreement on a new single ‘roo’ (by all agencies currently using kangaroos) as dual-branding situations of multiple kangaroos sitting side by side will not work. Therefore, with consideration for the mark to co-exist with existing national symbols, this led to a recommendation against the kangaroo.

New Brand Mark: The council’s preference for the Nation Brand mark was the wattle – it’s our national flower and while not immediately recognizable internationally, it will become so over time.

Our proposed Nation Brand mark balances a literal and abstract interpretation of a wattle flower. It’s an optimistic burst of gold positivity. Co-created with our indigenous design partners Balarinji, the mark is embedded with a cultural richness and graphic voice that speaks distinctively of Australia.  

I don’t really know what’s going on here. What body is this new wattle mark supposed to represent, exactly? Is the idea that it will replace the kangaroo eventually as a top-level national “brand” for all things Australian?

australianmade.com.au; Wikipedia.

Here are two such kangaroo logos, one for the Australian Made Campaign, the other for sports fans. The rendition on the left seems somewhat dated (like it’s representing a brand of tennis shoe c. 1985), and obviously boxing is appropriate for sports but not necessarily for trade. But it would be easy enough to come up with a new kangaroo logo, methinks, which would probably be more appealing than the proposed wattle. I like plants, but animals have personality. Moreover, this particular wattle looks like a “complex data visualization” or the results of a particle accelerator experiment – or even a coronavirus! (I also wonder if it isn’t Australia’s equivalent of favoring the protea over the springbok – the idea being that the kangaroo represents the bad old days?) 

Wikipedia.

A better rendition of the flower can be seen in the Golden Wattle Flag, one in a long list of proposed Australian flags. The seven petals (representing the six states plus the Northern Territory) form a seven-pointed Commonwealth Star, familiar from the current flag and from the crest in the national coat of arms. If a wattle is absolutely required, this one is probably a better choice!

2. The Icelandic Football Association (Knattspyrnusamband Íslands) has unveiled a new logo. Previously it was this, which was used both by the Association itself and by the national teams:

Logos-download.com.

I like the stylized rendition of Iceland’s flag, but sports teams don’t actually need allusions to the sport itself in their logos. Thus I like the KSI’s new, ball-less wordmark it adopted earlier this year, and I especially like the logo it has just prescribed for its teams:

Brand New.

This is perhaps a little too complex for a team logo, but it is certainly aesthetically appealing in its way, and is most appropriate to Iceland: it’s a stylized rendition of the four supporters that surround Iceland’s coat of arms.

Wikipedia.

At first glance these supporters are the four living beings of Revelation 4:7, later used to identify the authors of the each of four gospels, but note that the coat of arms has a dragon instead of St. Mark’s lion. That is because the four supporters are in fact the (pagan) Landvættir, i.e. the four traditional protectors of Iceland. According to Wikipedia:

The bull (Griðungur) is the protector of northwestern Iceland, the eagle or griffin (Gammur) protects northeastern Iceland, the dragon (Dreki) protects the southeastern part, and the rock-giant (Bergrisi) is the protector of southwestern Iceland. 

One small problem with the logo is noted by an Icelandic-expert friend, who comments:

I love this new logo, though they’ve got the wights out of order. The only one that is appropriately placed is dreki – the rest don’t map onto the areas that they are supposed to protect.

A good point, but forgivable, I think, if it means that the Landvættir can all fit together in such an awesome way. Well done, Iceland!

Murdoch Mysteries

The Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries (2009-present) is set in Toronto, starting in the 1890s. It’s a lot of fun; we’re currently up to season seven in our binge-watching. The characters are compelling, the plots not too convoluted, the art direction appealing, and the “future foreshadowing” (references to Area 51, the CN Tower, or Twitter, for instance) most amusing. I especially like hearing place names that I remember from my southern Ontario youth, like “Coboconk,” “Peterborough,” or “Grafton,” or seeing buildings like Victoria Hall, Parkwood Estate, or Boulden House (at Trinity College School) in various scenes. 

Through season six, the only flag on display in the show has been the Royal Union Flag, a.k.a. the Union Jack. 

To my puzzlement, these flags are often shown flying upside-down. But I reckon this subtly erroneous usage has always been a problem with this flag and the producers are in fact being historically accurate! 

Although I do wonder whether the Canadian Red Ensign wouldn’t have been flown more in the 1890s. A red flag with the Union Jack in the canton is at heart a naval ensign; throughout the British Empire it was often differenced with something in the fly, and some of these local variants achieved widespread use indeed, far beyond identifying ships. Canada’s flag was one such. It dates from the 1870s, was promoted for government buildings in 1891 by Governor-General Lord Stanley, and became Canada’s “civil ensign” in 1892. So you would think it would appear more than it has in the show. However, as far as I can tell, its first appearance is in season seven, episode one (set in 1901 as the portrait of Queen Victoria is being taken down in Station House Four, and Inspector Brackenreid proclaims “God save the King,” i.e. Victoria’s successor Edward VII).

The trouble with the Canadian red ensign is that the local signifier was the Canadian coat of arms. This means that one must watch for anachronisms, as Canada’s coat of arms itself changed as more provinces were accepted into Confederation. In 1901 there were seven provinces, although the original four-provinces shield also remained in common use. Flourishes like wreaths, crowns, and beavers could also be added at the manufacturer’s whim. But no one would have flown a red ensign with the coat of arms that was granted in 1921, or the version that was prescribed after 1957 (with red leaves, as in the image). 

This anachronism is especially glaring in season six, episode twelve, in which Julia Ogden is on trial for killing her husband. The Canadian coat of arms on display on the wall behind the judge was drawn by Allan Beddoe and dates from 1957. It’s far more likely that the arms on display in a courtroom in 1900 would be the royal arms of the United Kingdom. (And I wonder whether flags would actually be displayed in this context – it seems an American custom.) 

Royal arms. Wikipedia.

Royal arms in Osgoode Hall, Toronto. Wikipedia.

People just don’t know heraldry anymore. 

Heraldic Bookplates

To amuse myself during this time of lockdown, I created a bookplate based on my coat of arms (granted in 2006 through the Canadian Heraldic Authority). It’s somewhat Germanic in style, with the crest becoming the mantling. 

This is one of the things that I’ve always loved about heraldry: as long as you follow the blazon, you can depict a coat of arms in any style you wish, the whole thing or only part of it, and with any number of other decorative features. I admit that this is not my first heraldic bookplate! 

This one was drawn for me by Daniel Mitsui in 2014. I love his birch tree, and his mastery of detail in general. 

He also did this drawing for me, which I’ve had put on a stamp, for those paperbacks that don’t quite merit a full bookplate. It consists of the charges from my arms removed and shown on their own, as though they compose a heraldic badge.

Mr. Mitsui also did bookplates for my two daughters, with the shield moved to the side of the tree, and a cadency mark placed on the other side for balance. In Canadian heraldry, a heart denotes the first daughter, and an ermine spot the second. 

The great Gordon Macpherson did this one for me in 2007, consisting only of my crest (and helmet and mantling) and motto (which means “Fight the good fight,” from 1 Timothy 6:12). 

I did this one for my wife in 2003, illustrating her arms from the Bureau of Heraldry in South Africa. 

Gordon Macpherson drew this one in 2007. I quite like its neoclassical design. Technically heraldic impalement (i.e. two coats of arms side by side on the same shield) suggests the wife, as though she is “Mrs. Jonathan Good.” But in these times, I see impalement as representing a partnership and thus both people equally. So this one goes into books that are “ours”!

Festum Sancti Andreae

November 30 is the feast of Saint Andrew. To mark the occasion, the British Library posted this image of St. Andrew to their Facebook page, from MS Addl. 35313, f.214v, a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century manuscript. The saint carries his distinctive X-shaped cross.

British Library.

They note that “St Andrew is the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Italy’s Amalfi, and Barbados. Singers, spinsters, maidens, fishmongers, fishermen, women wanting to be mothers; those with gout and sore throats all claim him as their patron saint.”

But that the British Library omitted “Scotland” from that list of patronage seems a terrible oversight, as several commenters pointed out. To help rectify it, we present some distinctively Scottish images of St. Andrew.

Pinterest.

A bejeweled sash badge of Scotland’s Order of the Thistle, with St. Andrew carrying his X-shaped cross.

ngw.nl

A similar image appears in the embellished fourth quarter of the arms of the Scottish Episcopal Diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane.

Wikipedia.

The first quarter of the diocesan arms consists of a simple Azure, a saltire Argent, which is widely used as the national emblem of Scotland, but which in fact is technically the arms of the Bishop of St Andrews. Such heraldic anomalies occur from time to time.

Wikipedia.

And here are the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral in Fife. The reason why St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland is that the saint’s relics were enshrined here, and were the object of medieval pilgrimage. Needless to say such practice was streng verboten in Presbyterian Scotland, and the cathedral fell into disuse and ruin. All the same, the idea that St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland survives to this day. 

South Africa

Congratulations to South Africa, whose national rugby team defeated England’s this morning in Japan to win the William Webb Ellis trophy, i.e. rugby’s World Cup. A post in celebration, featuring (what else?!) South African symbols.

Wikipedia.

South Africa has a pretty cool flag, which was adopted in 1994 as symbolic of the new political dispensation in that country. I knew the designer, Frederick Brownell, who sadly died earlier this year. He wrote that: “The unique central design of the flag, which begins as a ‘V’ at the flagpost and comes together in the centre of the flag, extending further, as a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly, can be seen as representing the convergence of diverse elements in South African society.” The colors (black, blue, green, “chilli red,” gold, and silver) have no set meaning, however, since “individual colours can have widely differing meanings for different people” and thus “may be interpreted freely” – although clearly black, gold and green are the colors of the African National Congress, and “chilli red” (halfway between orange and red) can represent the orange and red that have appeared in the Dutch and Dutch-derived flags that have historically flown over the country.

Wikipedia.

South Africa’s old flag, which waved over the Union, and then the Republic, of South Africa from 1928 to 1994, is almost universally known as the “Apartheid flag” and is not seen flying much these days. In fact, South Africa’s Equality Court recently ruled that public displays fo this flag now amount to hate speech, except for certain cases of “journalistic, academic, and artistic expression.” The flag was the (originally) orange, white and blue flag of the Netherlands, with the central band showing the flags of the three combatants in the Boer War: the United Kingdom, and the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (ZAR, or the Transvaal). These little flags were supposedly arranged in such a way that no flag had precedence over any other, and as you might expect this design was a compromise between the English and Afrikaners, reached after great rancor in 1928. Even those extremists who want their own Afrikaner Volkstaat aren’t likely to fly this flag, since the existence of the Union Jack on it has always annoyed them!

Wikipedia.

South Africa’s coat of arms underwent a similar transformation in 2000. The current coat of arms features central shield with two red-ochre Khoisan figures greeting each other. Other elements include elephant tusks, ears of wheat, a crossed spear and knobkierie, a protea flower, a secretary bird, and a Khoisan motto meaning “diverse people unite.” 

I confess that I like SA’s previous coat of arms better, if only because it’s more properly heraldic. The shield features an amalgamation of symbols representing the four South African colonies that were united and granted dominion status in 1910: the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal. But it’s more European than African in form, and since South Africa is now divided into nine provinces, its symbolism is also obsolete. 

Wikipedia.

South Africa’s parliament got its own emblem in the same style as the new coat of arms in 2007. A drum rises out of a protea flower, which is ensigned by a sun and rests on a book. The sun represents healing the divisions of the past and improving the quality of life for South Africans. The drum calls parliament to order, and the book at the bottom represents the constitution, whose initial words “We, the People” are prominently displayed.

Wikipedia.

The parliamentary emblem replaced one that had been in use since 1964, which featured (I believe) South Africa’s parliamentary mace crossed with its Black Rod mace, between the old coat of arms and the crest. (Needless to say, these maces have been updated too.)

Finally, we have the emblem of the team itself. South Africa’s national rugby team is known as the Springboks, and its logo is a leaping springbok. 

Wikipedia.

The logo appears on most things associated with the team… except for the front left of their jerseys. Like the flag, the coat of arms, and the parliamentary maces, the springbok, to many people, is representative of the old ways. Until 1994 the team was by policy all-white, and the ANC, which took power that year, saw the springbok as symbolic of this. If you’ve seen the movie Invictus (2009), you’ll be familiar with the story of how the sports ministry wanted to replace the rugby team’s springbok with the king protea, South Africa’s national flower, and how Nelson Mandela, in an attempt at reaching out to South Africa’s white population, personally intervened to prevent it. When South Africa won the World Cup at home in 1995, Mandela donned a springbok jersey to present the Webb Ellis trophy to the team captain Francois Pienaar. It was a great moment in post-Apartheid reconciliation. 

Telegraph.co.uk.

Classicrugbyshirts.com

You’ll notice, though, that the jersey at the time featured a springbok leaping through a wreath of protea flowers.

JG

The Springboks’ jerseys from 1999 also featured a protea in addition to its namesake bovid. (The photograph is from a replica jersey in our possession.) Clearly the team was trying to do its own outreach. 

Wikipedia.

The protea-springbok device was in use as late as 2007.

Footballkitnews.com.

But the ANC did not give up, and by the World Cup of 2011 it finally prevailed. With Mandela out of the picture, the party could finally force the team to decorate the fronts of its jerseys with the protea alone, although you’ll notice a small springbok on the left sleeve.

Wikipedia.

The team’s jerseys for this year’s tournament follow the same pattern – protea device on the front left of the jersey, springbok on the left sleeve. 

The South African.

Although for the Rugby Championship this year the springbok was on the front of the jersey, along with the protea (and a shirt sponsorship – can’t let any revenue escape!). As you can also see, the team is racially integrated these days – the photo is of Herschel Jantjies, a coloured scrum-half from Stellenbosch, who was one of ten non-whites on the thirty-one man World Cup squad. 

It’s nice that the springbok has not been entirely effaced. But whatever the symbol, there’s no arguing with success. Congratulations, South Africa! 

Colonial Seals of Canada

Warning: this post is technical and pedantic.

Two years ago I wrote a post about the evolution of Canada’s coat of arms. Prior to Confederation in 1867, though, it seems that no colony regularly used a coat of arms. Instead, colonies represented themselves with emblematic seals, on the rare occasions when they needed to. Few people know about these seals nowadays; it seems that joining Confederation and adopting a coat of arms went hand-in-hand.

One place where you can see some colonial-era seals is in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, near the entrance to the House of Commons. I took these pictures in 2006, but I only noticed just now that they aren’t exactly parallel to each other. 

Upper Canada (i.e. Ontario).

Lower Canada (i.e. Quebec).

New Brunswick.

Nova Scotia.

You will notice that the seals of both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have renditions of the royal arms hanging over an emblematic scene, a feature that does not exist in the seals of Upper and Lower Canada. This wasn’t always the case, however: Conrad Swan’s Symbols of Sovereignty (1977) illustrates colonial-era seals for both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that are simply the emblematic scenes. 

“Obverse (proof impression) and reverse of the 1817 Great Seal Deputed of New Brunswick of George III.” From Swan, Symbols of Sovereignty, 150.

“Great Seal Deputed of Nova Scotia of George III, in use from 1818.” From Swan, Symbols of Sovereignty, 128.

Or rather, what we have here are double-sided seals, with the emblematic scene on one side, and the royal arms on the other. There was a time when official instruments featured seals hanging by ribbons from the bottom of the document, in which case it was possible for a different design to be impressed on either side of the wax. Letters Patent originating from the College of Arms in London are still done this way, as is the honorary grant of arms to the Virginia Senate:

What seems to have happened, over the course of the early nineteenth century, is that dependent seals went out of fashion, and seals impressed directly into the document became more common. Thus, the royal arms had to migrate from one side of the seal to the other, so that both the arms and the scene could appear on the same side. This shift occurred in Upper and Lower Canada as well:

“Proof impression of the Great Seal Deputed of Upper Canada of Victoria.” From Swan, Symbols of Sovereignty, 167.

“Proof impression of the Great Seal Deputed of Lower Canada of William IV, 1832.” From Swan, Symbols of Sovereignty, 111.

Note the dates here: the first is from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), and the second from the reign of King William IV (1830-37), while the double-sided ones are all from the reign of George III (1760-1820). 

Actually, the seal of Upper Canada for Victoria could not have seen much use, because in 1841 Upper and Lower Canada were united to form the United Province of Canada (subdivided into “Canada West” and “Canada East,” but still one polity). The seal of the United Province of Canada showed both seals of Upper and Lower Canada together, under the royal arms, as had become the custom by that time. 

A. & P. Vachon Collection, Canadian Museum of History.

So I would say that the display in the House of Commons could have been done slightly better. It should either show four emblematic scenes alone, for Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia – or it should show only three seals with the royal arms over the emblematic scene: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and United Canada, as representing the political situation on the eve of Confederation. (People forget that only three colonies came together in 1867, because immediately Canada was redivided into Ontario and Quebec.)

But as I say, each of these now-provinces has a coat of arms, and that’s what people know. These coats of arms are what got engraved into the provincial seals. From Wikipedia, here is Ontario’s:

The royal arms appear in the centre, while Ontario’s arms are at the base, both of them within a glorious Victorian-Gothic frame. 

Apparently this was a template: other provinces have the same design. Quebec certainly did:

From Swan, Symbols of Sovereignty, 114.

Swan designates this as the “Present Great Seal of Quebec” but the design did not last very long after his book was published in 1977. The previous year, you see, the Parti Québécois had taken power in Quebec, and proceeded to refashion it in their image. From Wikipedia, here is the real present seal of Quebec, which dates from 1979:

So they jettisoned both the royal arms and their provincial arms, which features references to Britain and Canada as well as France. (Frankly, I’m surprised that they haven’t changed this as well.) 

Wikipedia. 

Instead, the current seal just features a simple fleur de lys, done in the standardized Quebec style (and a ring of fleur de lys around the exterior, like the hem of the old Quebec Nordiques sweaters). You’ll also note an acute accent over the first “e” in Quebec, even though accents are optional on capital letters – and no reference at all to Quebec being a “province.”

Vive le Québec libre! 

Mason-Dixon Line

The Mason-Dixon Line, which separates Pennsylvania from Maryland, became emblematic of the divide between slave and free states prior to the Civil War (thus is it sometimes erroneously called the “Mason-Dixie Line”). It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to end a territorial dispute between the Province of Maryland and the Province of Pennsylvania.

Wikipedia.

What I did not know is that this dispute actually broke out into violence in the 1730s. From the Wikipedia entry on Cresap’s War:

Hostilities erupted in 1730 with a series of violent incidents prompted by disputes over property rights and law enforcement, and escalated through the first half of the decade, culminating in the deployment of military forces by Maryland in 1736 and by Pennsylvania in 1737. The armed phase of the conflict ended in May 1738 with the intervention of King George II, who compelled the negotiation of a cease-fire.

I do not know how many people actually died as a result of Cresap’s War (which is also gloriously known as the Conojocular War, after the Conejohela Valley where it was fought).

The American Heraldry Society posted some pictures of the demarcation stones of the Mason-Dixon Line to Facebook:

These feature the arms of the respective colonial proprietors: William Penn on the left, and Lord Baltimore on the right.

St. Maurice and the Eagle

This post comes almost two years too late, but this falsehood has shown a remarkable tenacity:

Background: the “Unite the Right” rally, held in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017 really unnerved a lot of people. The idea is that Donald Trump’s election emboldened members of the far (or “alt-“) right to “come out,” and to start demonstrating in favor of racism, nativism, and xenophobia – and to kill a counter-protester by running her down with a car. Donald Trump then claimed “moral equivalence” between the two sides, thereby illustrating his fundamental awfulness. Some of the participants in the rally made reference to things medieval, on the principle that the Middle Ages represent white Europe unsullied by mass non-white immigration. Such references seemingly implicated the discipline of Medieval Studies, and they provoked a huge reaction: the Medieval Academy, along with almost thirty other groups, unequivocally condemned “the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy,” and continued:

As scholars of the medieval world we are disturbed by the use of a nostalgic but inaccurate myth of the Middle Ages by racist movements in the United States. By using imagined medieval symbols, or names drawn from medieval terminology, they create a fantasy of a pure, white Europe that bears no relationship to reality. This fantasy not only hurts people in the present, it also distorts the past. Medieval Europe was diverse religiously, culturally, and ethnically, and medieval Europe was not the entire medieval world. Scholars disagree about the motivations of the Crusades—or, indeed, whether the idea of “crusade” is a medieval one or came later—but it is clear that racial purity was not primary among them.

This impulse has animated some people ever since. They are not willing to ignore such things as being beyond their concern or control (people refer to the Middle Ages all the time for various reasons, and there’s nothing professional medievalists can do about it, because they don’t actually “own” that time period) or as just a small part of the overall imagery presented at the rally (Charlotte Allen counted “exactly two” medieval costumes, and as Tom MacMaster notes, the protestors made far more use of nineteenth and twentieth century imagery than they did medieval). Instead, it has become extremely important for some people to present the Middle Ages in such a way that “rescues” them from white nationalists. Now, I’m no white nationalist, but as I said before, I don’t care for truth-bending either, no matter how noble the cause.* It’s a bit of a stretch, for instance, to designate the Vikings as “multicultural and multiracial.” (No, you can’t cherry-pick the one former Arab slave who took a Danish wife and settled in Normandy. You need a proper population sample! Numbers are of the essence here. That Vikings ended up losing their identity wherever they settled is the opposite of multicultural.) And as Andrew Holt said about the Crusades:

I can understand Professor Gabriele not wanting to give ammunition to those on the political right with whom he disagrees, particularly when they make crass calls for medieval solutions to modern problems, but misrepresenting what scholars of the crusades think is not the way to do it, and will backfire in the end.

This brings us to the black eagle of St. Maurice, referenced in the tweet above. The story goes that St. Maurice was a third-century commander of the Theban Legion, a Roman unit recruited in Upper Egypt and composed entirely of Christians. Emperor Maximian ordered them to march into Gaul, where they were to be employed in putting down a rebellion. Ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods for the success of the mission, the Thebans refused, and were twice decimated as a punishment – with the survivors then massacred. This took place at Agaunum, now Saint-Maurice, in Switzerland. As the name change reveals, St. Maurice became the stand-in for all the other martyred Thebans, some 6600 of them, and a monastery was established there in his honor. St. Maurice subsequently became a popular medieval saint, a patron of Savoy, Lombardy, Burgundy, and Sardinia, a patron of soldiers (particularly the Pontifical Swiss Guard), and of weavers and dyers, and the namesake of many religious foundations, including twenty-two English churches. Most important, for our purposes, is his patronage of the Holy Roman Empire, which seems to date from the reign of Henry the Fowler (919-936). Henry granted the Swiss canton of Aargau to the Abbey of St. Maurice in return for Maurice’s lance, sword, and spurs, which became part of the regalia used at Imperial coronations. Henry also built Magdeburg Cathedral, dedicated to St. Maurice. Emperor Otto the Great translated the saint’s relics there in 961, and had himself entombed there upon his own death in 973.

Of course, it must be said that, in common with many early martyrs, there is no historical evidence that St. Maurice or the Theban Legion ever existed. The earliest sources attesting to them date from 150 years after their alleged executions, although it is entirely possible that some Christians really were put to death in the area, from which an elaborate story was later spun. According to an article in Greenwich Time, St. Maurice wasn’t depicted as black until the thirteenth century. Why this particular attribute? It’s logical that someone whose origins were so far up the Nile should acquire a sub-Saharan phenotype, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the etymological similarity of “Maurice” to “Moor” had something to do with it. Why this shift should have happened in the thirteenth century I do not know, although it does point to medieval European knowledge of non-white Christians, perhaps inspired by contact with Ethiopians during the Crusades (Ethiopians maintained a presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), or as the result of an Ethiopian embassy to the pope in the late fourteenth century. Just as the Three Kings, from the twelfth century, could be depicted as European, African, and Asian, one for each of the three known continents, so also does a black St. Maurice point to the universality of Christianity. In this sense, the medievalists are right: medieval Europeans clearly were not “racist,” but only because they were deeply Christian, and truly believed that every person on Earth was a potential member of the faith. (An artistically black St. Maurice says nothing about the presence of phenotypically sub-Saharan Africans in Europe.)

Lucas Cranach the Elder & Workshop, Saint Maurice, ca. 1522-25.

But the tweet above was about another emblem: a black eagle borne by one young man on a shield at Charlottesville, and by St. Maurice on a banner in a painting dating to the sixteenth century, judging by the style of the armor. Why does St. Maurice carry such a banner? The image tweeted seems to be a preliminary sketch or an elaboration of a painting of St. Maurice by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). It originally formed part of an altarpiece, commissioned by Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, for a church in the Saxon city of Halle. Saxony, of course, was within the Holy Roman Empire, and the banner that St. Maurice holds is actually the banner of the arms of the Holy Roman Empire – a black eagle displayed on a gold field.

“Shield and Coat of Arms of the Holy Roman Emperor, drawn in the style the late medieval period. Also used as shield of arms (generic) by the King of the Romans.” Wikipedia.

One finds other Imperial representations of St. Maurice bearing this shield.

Apparently from the Church of St. Antony, Bitterfield-Wolfen, c. 1499.

Design for Reliquary bust of St. Maurice. Heiltumsbuch, fol. 228v., 1525-1527. Aschaffenburg Hofbibliothek.

In other words, the eagle is associated with the Holy Roman Empire, and St. Maurice is one of the patrons of the Empire; thus does he bear the shield of the Empire. It’s not actually “his,” or it’s only his at second hand. We see this with other saints – sometimes St. George, a patron of England, is shown bearing the three lions of the kings of England, and sometimes St. Michael, a patron of France, is shown bearing the fleur de lys of the kings of France. It might be somewhat egotistical for a votary to assign his own attribute to his patron saint (rather than for a votary to bear his patron saint’s attribute as an act of devotion), but it did happen from time to time.

St. Maurice, therefore, is by no means the “original” bearer of this standard. The reason eagles are associated with the Holy Roman Empire is because the Romans themselves employed eagles as identifying devices, particularly of their legions, and when heraldry developed in the twelfth century it was only natural that the Holy Roman Emperors should have chosen an eagle as an identifying device. Eagles were also used by other successor empires to ancient Rome, including the Byzantines (specifically, the Palaiologos dynasty that ruled it from the eleventh century), the Tsars of Russia, and Napoleon as the Emperor of the French. You could say that Maurice, as the commander of a legion, has a natural right to an eagle as his own attribute, but it would make far more sense for this to be in the form of a Roman aquila (a three dimensional sculpture of an eagle atop a pole), and you would need to find actual artistic evidence of him doing so prior to the twelfth century and the elaboration of heraldry. In other words, the succession seems to be Eagle -> Empire -> St. Maurice, not Eagle -> St. Maurice –> Empire.

As for the other eagle, that appears to be a commercial product of an outfit called West Wolf Renaissance:


From the website:

VIKING BLACK EAGLE SHIELD WITH FORGED IRON BOSS

This is a beautiful handmade and hand-painted wooden Viking shield featuring a Black Eagle design inspired by Viking and Norse shields of old. This shield features a solid oak body which measures about 30 inches across and is 1/2 inches thick…. Because this shield is made of real wood, please note that the wood-grain background shown in the pictures may vary slightly from the shield you receive (this is simply due to the nature of the wood). The front of the shield has also been applied with several coats of topcoat/varnish to protect it through the centuries. So whether for the wall or the battlefield, this shield is well balanced and ready to serve.

Note that the design is “inspired by” Norse shields – it is not necessarily a reproduction of an actual shield. It looks to me like it was taken from Wikipedia’s rendition of the Raven Banner:

Other shields offered for sale by West Wolf Renaissance feature medieval, classical, Mayan, and even cinematic designs (e.g. the emblem of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, or the houses from Game of Thrones). The company also offers reproduction/fantasy jewelry, clothing, and weapons. Who buys this stuff I do not know, but presumably there are LARPers or “fandoms” out there who enjoy playing medieval dress-up, without scrupulous attention to historic detail.** It might be possible, therefore, that the company helped itself to the shield of the Holy Roman Empire and reimagined it in a Viking style, but my hunch is that the two shields actually have nothing to do with each other. To show an eagle “displayed” (i.e. spread out) is a logical way to show it, black is a common enough color to show it in, and the background hue is coincidental – the HRE shield is formally gold, whereas the Viking shield is just natural wood. (Actually, if the shield is based on a real Norse model, then it would have priority over the shield of the HRE, since the Vikings were active before the development of true heraldry, and we could accuse the HRE and St. Maurice of bearing a stolen Viking shield! Furthermore, it might not even be an eagle: note that it’s in the style of the Raven Banner, and one of the words in the URL is “raven.” It would certainly make sense for the bird to be a raven, given that it’s an attribute of the Norse god Odin.)

Any symbol can have a variety of referents. As the lion is the king of the beasts, so also is the eagle the king of the birds, and like all emblems has been used at various times and various places, by various people, to reference various things. (Actually, in a Christian context, an eagle is most likely to be associated with St. John the Evangelist.) Even a black eagle “displayed” on a lighter-colored background is not the exclusive property of any one group, and you simply cannot take two superficially similar things and juxtapose them in the service of “proving” anything. This is one reason why Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is so ridiculous. No, you actually need to establish a chain of transmission, and you would think that art and cultural historians would understand that.† I mean, St. Maurice can also be shown wearing a red cross – does this mean that the “true, original” bearer of this device is St. Maurice, not St. George, St. Ambrose, or the Diocese of Trier?

Medieval Milanetc.

But what do you expect from Twitter? The place is a sewer, the “crystal meth” of social media, and it seems to encourage people in their worst habits of mind. Not only is there the 140-character limit, which prevents the elaboration of complex ideas, there is also a great premium on winning social status through scoring “sick burns” or at least by acquiring lots of followers. Thus our tweeter’s assertion that “Nazis aren’t happy” about her juxtaposition. Who are these people, and are they really all “Nazis”? Or is this all just an imaginary setup to prove to her claque how brave a fighter she is?

Alas, memes can be powerful things, and this one has firmly lodged itself in the medievalist consciousness. Even the executive director of the Medieval Academy went in for it (from All Things Considered, September 2017):

LISA FAGIN DAVIS: There was one young man who was carrying a shield with a black spread eagle that was clearly co-opted from either the Holy Roman Empire or – there’s actually a saint. And it’s kind of ironic. He’s an African saint who carries that standard. And I suspect the gentleman carrying the shield didn’t realize that.

ULABY: That was St. Maurice, revered during the medieval period. He came from Egypt.

It was relayed on History.com in December 2017:

One man carried a round shield decorated with a black eagle. It was a curious choice, considering the eagle image is strongly associated with a Saint Maurice, a Roman general of African descent who became a saint in the early Middle Ages

The white supremacist in Charlottesville carrying that image was probably unaware that it’s strongly associated with a black Catholic saint, and this disconnect illustrates a larger trend. Hate groups that adopt medieval iconography as symbols of white supremacy usually have misconceptions about that historical era. One of the most common? That Europe in the Middle Ages was unvaryingly white.

Earlier this year I heard a speaker who repeated the idea that the Viking eagle of Charlottesville was really the eagle of a black saint, and just recently another friend posted this to Facebook, from one of her students’ exams:

Historians have the difficult job of interpreting sources in the context they were intended. With white supremacy, gender equality, and current social classes, it is nearly impossible to see the past through an unbiased scope uninfluenced by these current issues. In Charlottesville many protesters used a medieval symbol as a symbol of racial hatred, when truthfully the symbol was worn by a black saint.

So it looks like this notion will be with us for some time to come…

Once again, I state that I am not in favor of white supremacy – although I confess that, apart from the car crash, I didn’t find the Unite the Right rally to be any more shocking than what Antifa routinely gets up to at its demonstrations. But in general I am in favor of proper historical analysis, developed with as much detail as necessary, and not superficial Twitter-zingers, even in the service of things we dearly want to believe.

In brief:

• The arms of the Holy Roman Empire date from the twelfth century and are a reference to the Roman eagle.

• St. Maurice, as a patron of the HRE, bears the arms of the HRE in some depictions, but it’s not a symbol of St. Maurice as such.

• St. Maurice, as an Egyptian, only began to be portrayed as black starting in the thirteenth century.

• The West Wolf Renaissance shield is either a reproduction of a Viking design, or an imagined one (they did not answer my email enquiry).

• If it is a reproduction, it predates the shield of the HRE, and is probably better seen as Odin’s raven; either way, its connection to the shield of the HRE is almost certainly coincidental.

• Truth exists, and it’s more important than feelings.

• Academics should get off Twitter.

* But… quod est veritas? This is an interminable debate, which might go back to the conflict between realists and nominalists in medieval universities, or to Livy and Pollio, if Robert Graves is to be believed. Postmodern historians are fond of saying that there’s no such thing as truth, only competing narratives, and that all history writing is essentially fiction. No, there is no such thing as an omniscient and unbiased historian – we all come to the table with our perspectives and areas of strength (and weakness). But there is a big difference between people who acknowledge this and still hold up the idea that events actually happened in the past, and we can get at them through studying sources that have come down to us from those events, and people who believe that since truth is so elusive, we might as well not even try, and we can say anything we want about the past, because why not?

I cannot abide this position. Any respect that historians get is utterly dependent on people trusting us to deal honestly with the past. They know we are liberal, but they still think that we know some facts that others don’t. However, when we say whatever we want because it is in accord with our politics, that is a problem.

** I am of two minds about this. In general, just as I favor a search for Truth in historical scholarship, I am also in favor of getting the details right in any sort of historic recreation. But I am also fully aware that such concerns can border on pedantry and wet-blanketness. If the goal is to have fun, then why not go for an overall effect, rather than get bogged down in all the details?

† No, I am not prepared to accept any arguments based on “serendipity” or “synchronicity” or any other such mumbo-jumbo.