I have revised a piece I wrote about the arms of my high school (Trinity College School of Port Hope, Ontario), and placed it on its own page. Unfortunately, for now, no link is appearing on the bar above.
Something I did not know: both the state emblem and the state flag of the Republic of India refer to Ashoka the Great, who ruled the Maurya Empire from 268 to 232 BC. This empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 in the wake of Alexander the Great’s visit to the subcontinent; Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka is widely regarded as one of India’s greatest emperors. Legend has it that he converted to Buddhism after witnessing the great destruction of the Kalinga War, and his Edicts – which prescribed benevolence, kindness to prisoners, and respect for animal life, among other things – may still be read on pillars set up throughout India. One of these, at Sarnath, is topped with a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back; this was adopted as an emblem by the Dominion of India in 1947, and retained by the Republic in 1950.
For some reason I thought that the emblem at the center of the Indian flag was supposed to be Gandhi’s spinning wheel, but in fact it’s a dharmachakra (dharma wheel). This one has 24 spokes and it appears on a number of edicts of Ashoka, including the one at Sarnath (see the base that the lions are standing on).
(The eight-spoked wheel of Buddhism is another dharmachakra.)
I suppose that Ashoka’s Buddhism makes him someone that both Muslims and Hindus can admire.
UPDATE: Scott Meacham’s Dartmo also remembers my proposal for a coat of arms for Dartmouth.
UPDATE: From the Valley News, a depiction of Dartmouth’s new primary logo, and prescribed typography (with the old combination below):
Some have noticed that the new “tree-in-D” logo bears a remarkable similarity to Stanford’s athletic logo, a pine tree growing in front of a cardinal-colored athletic-font capital “S.” I think that’s what I don’t like about it – it looks like something that might appear on a sports jersey or football helmet, and any university that uses athletic symbols as its primary symbols has seriously misplaced priorities.
Here is a collection of all the seals of the Ivy League:
And here is a collection of its coats of arms:
As you can see, five Ivy League universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Cornell) have seals featuring coats of arms, and it is no big matter to extract those arms, colorize them, and employ them on their own. Columbia and Penn (the two on the lower left) have allegorical seals, and so had to contrive proper coats of arms, which they did very well: Columbia’s crowns refer to its original name of “King’s College,” and Penn features references to the arms of Ben Franklin and William Penn. Dartmouth (lower right) is an anomaly: its seal shows an allegorical scene of Indians being drawn from the woods towards a college building by the light of God – but this is rendered on a shield, with supporters. So when Dartmouth got around to designing a coat of arms in 1944, it just used a simplified version of that shield. As a consequence, Dartmouth’s arms are not really heraldic: they too depict a scene, which has only ever been shown in outline. Furthermore, the subject matter is somewhat unpalatable to our current sensibilities.
Thus my proposal for a heraldic coat of arms for Dartmouth, which would look nice and would make the College the symbolic equal of its peers. Here is Scott’s rendition of it:
Of course, I was about seventy years too late propose such a thing. The meta-message of a coat of arms – essentially, “I am in a formal European tradition extending back to the thirteenth century” – is not really popular these days either.
A followup to a post from 2015: the village of Whitesboro, N.Y., has modified its seal as of this past summer. The seal still illustrates the wrestling match between Hugh White and an Oneida chieftain, although it now shows the two as evenly matched; it does not show White actually winning. The landscape is also more interesting, and the clothing more historically accurate.
This week we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation the only way we know how… heraldically! This post will trace the history of the identifying emblem of Canada from the seal of the United Provinces of Canada (1841-67), through the confederated coat of arms (1867-1921), to the royal arms we’re familiar with today.
Prior to 1867, “Canada” referred to a polity that had been created in 1841, out of the union of two previous entities, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. These two British colonies had had their own seals, and the seal of the United Province of Canada displayed these seals side-by-side. Here is an example of this United Province seal reproduced on a pin dish manufactured by Doulton & Co. in 1967. The seal of Lower Canada is on the left, and the seal of Upper Canada is on the right.
This seal is also carved above a door to the East Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Of course, the two seals of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were not nearly as important as the Royal Arms hanging over the whole thing, which represented the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland… and by extension everywhere else that the British had conquered.
The seal of Lower Canada (“Can. Inf.”) features an oak tree, a river and ships at anchor, and, in the distance, a town and church on a hill. The motto, “Ab ipso ducit opes animumque ferro,” can be rendered as “it derives power and courage from the steel itself” (from the Odes of Horace). (Earlier versions of this seal had a pruning knife on the ground. The idea is that the knife had been used to prune the oak tree, thus the tree’s sawed-off branch. This likely refers to the creation of Upper Canada, which was carved out of Quebec in 1791, leaving a rump state designated Lower Canada.)
The seal of Upper Canada (“Can. Sup.”) features a calumet or peace pipe, with an anchor and a sword of state, all bound together by a crown of olives. Above this device is representation of the royal crown, and in the upper right hand corner is the Union Jack. Below it are two cornucopias. The text around the circle, “Imperi porrecta majestas custode rerum caesare,” can be translated as “The greatness of the empire is extended under the guardianship of the sovereign” (this is also from Horace).
Both of these seals may be seen inside the Parliament buildings (near the entrance to the House of Commons if I remember correctly).
But throughout the Empire, the Royal Arms are what mattered the most. Since 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the throne, they have existed in the form shown below. On the shield, the three gold lions on red represent England, the single red lion on gold represents Scotland, and the gold harp on blue represents Ireland. (England and Scotland are also represented, respectively, by the lion and unicorn supporters.) “Dieu et Mon Droit” (“God and my right”) is the motto of the British sovereign; “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” (“Shame be to him who thinks ill of it”) is the motto of the Order of the Garter, England’s premier order of chivalry. (The deer, fish, water, and boats are all decorative. This rendition was done by Alexander Scott Carter and was part of a larger painting celebrating the silver jubilee of George V in 1935. It adorned the ceiling of the lobby of the head office of the Imperial Bank of Canada in Toronto until the 1960s, when the building was pulled down.) These arms were used extensively in colonial- and dominion-era Canada, and you can still see them here and there, especially in courthouses.
On July 1, 1867 the first British North America Act went into effect. The Province of Canada was redivided and the new entities named Ontario and Quebec. But they were confederated, along with the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in a new polity designated the Dominion of Canada.* This polity had its capital at Ottawa and enjoyed a sort of home rule status within the British Empire. Each of its constituent provinces was granted its own coat of arms, and the arms of the Dominion were simply these four coats of arms all combined on the same shield. Here it is in full colour; Ontario is in the top left, Quebec in the top right, Nova Scotia in the bottom left, and New Brunswick in the bottom right.
You can see it on the Canada Gate at Buckingham Palace in London.
On a monument to the Northwest Rebellion at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
And on the nineteenth-century letterhead of the Auditor General.
The Dominion of Canada, like the United States to its south, was expandable, and it wasn’t very long before other provinces joined Confederation. The first to do so, in 1870, was Manitoba, to the west of Ontario. And just as the US added a star to its flag with every new state, so also did Canada add a new coat of arms to its shield with every new province (although these arms could themselves change over time). A five-provinces shield may be seen on this Royal Canadian Insurance Company stock certificate, dated 1874. The arms of Manitoba, featuring a galloping buffalo, are in the bottom right. (The supporters, taken from the British Royal Arms, are unofficial, but I like the nineteenth-century custom of showing them leaping out from behind the shield.)
For some reason, this coat of arms appeared recently on the label of an Alsatian wine. My friend Rafal Heydel-Mankoo posted this to Facebook.
In 1871, British Columbia joined Confederation, and in 1873 and Prince Edward Island did as well, giving rise to a seven-quartered coat of arms. The lion, crown and leaves on the bottom left represented British Columbia until 1895; the trees on the bottom right are an early form of the arms of PEI.
Here is another rendition of the above, from a nineteenth-century butter keeper. The colours are a tad eccentric but we do see PEI’s motto, “Parva sub ingenti,” that is, “the small under the protection of the great,” from the Georgics of Virgil.
In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were added as provinces, bringing the total number to nine. But the plate below, although featuring nine sections, actually predates 1905. It shows, in the seventh and eighth spots, E.M. Chadwick‘s designs for the Northwest and Yukon Territories (this is before Alberta and Saskatchewan were carved out of the Northwest Territories). In the sixth spot, it also shows his design for the arms of Prince Edward Island, which had not yet received a proper grant of arms. The arms in the center, with the Union Jack and sun, represent British Columbia.
Below is a proper nine-provinces coat of arms, in use from 1907 to 1921, on display on the Dominion Express building on St. James’s Street in Montreal. You can notice certain changes: in the center, British Columbia’s arms now have the Union Jack above the sun, and on the bottom left, Prince Edward Island has reverted to its trees (now also with a lion). Alberta’s mountains are in the lower center, and Saskatchewan’s wheat sheaves are in the lower right. The supporters are decorative.
Here is a coloured version of the shield above, on the fly of the Canadian red ensign. (It seems as though there was no standard ordering of the quarters; in fact, the original four-provinces shield remained in common use throughout this period.)
The trouble with a nine-quartered shield, of course, is that it is rather unwieldy. There were those who wanted to simplify it, and in the wake of the First World War that simplification took a certain British-patriotic form, emphasizing the ties that bound Canada to its metropole. Here is the full coat of arms as it was assigned in 1921.
I understand that the College of Arms was under orders from the Colonial Office to give the Canadians whatever they wanted – and what they wanted, at the time, was something that proclaimed a close association with the United Kingdom. So Canada’s Royal Arms ended up looking like a variant of the British Royal Arms, with identical quarters for England, Scotland, and Ireland. France (three gold fleurs de lys on blue) and Canada (three maple leaves on white) flesh out the design. The idea is that the top four quarters represent Canada’s “four founding races.” But Canada has always had more ethnic groups than the English, Scots, Irish and French – more importantly, the quarters displayed represent the royal arms of those particular places. Although Canada and the UK share a monarch, even in 1921 they were separate countries, and ideally we should not find lions and harps on Canada’s coat of arms, any more than we should find maple leaves (or kangaroos, or fern leaves, or proteas, or what not) on the royal arms of the UK.
But this is what we have got. At least a shield with five sections is simpler than a shield with nine. And it certainly looks classy! The motto, “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” (“From sea to sea,” from Psalm 72), is especially appropriate to Canada’s history and geography. Here it is carved above the doors of the Centre Block of the parliament buildings in Ottawa:
And here is the whole thing carved into the facade of Postal Station B in Ottawa:
Here is a numismatic rendition from the 1940s that I posted last year. I like how artist Kruger Gray has depicted a real compartment (actual ground for the supporters to stand on), and has omitted the motto, helmet, mantling and crest. This is an allowable artistic decision and nicely simplifies the composition.
For much of the twentieth century, Allan Beddoe’s rendition was standard, and appeared on the currency notes (shown is a detail of the one dollar bill that was in circulation between 1974 and 1989). The colour of the maple leaves at the bottom of the shield was undefined in 1921 – they were usually depicted as green, but in 1957 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker decreed they should be red, and thus they have remained.
In 1987, Canada Post released a stamp celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, featuring a handsome stylized version of the arms of Canada on a pinstriped background. I have in my possession a clipping of a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail (Toronto), taking issue with the torse – the red and white striped ribbon between the helmet and the lion above the shield. The correspondent points out that the white, not the red, stripe is supposed to be on the left. (This is true, but of all the things that can go wrong in heraldic art, not that big a deal, in my opinion.)
Since 1995, the standard rendition of the arms of Canada has been by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, who serves as Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The main substantive difference is the addition of the motto-circlet of the Order of Canada around the shield, bearing the legend “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam” (that is, “desiring a better country”). I like how she has rendered the mantling on either side of the helmet as ten maple leaves, one for each province (Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949).
Here is a rendition of these arms on the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa. The famed Chateau Laurier hotel can be seen in the reflection.
What does the future hold for Canada’s coat of arms? My friend D’Arcy Boulton argued in the 1970s that it ought to be the three maple leaves alone, and I agree with him. (I would also substitute a proper compartment for the rose-thistle-shamrock-lily “bouquet” one normally sees beneath the shield, which is insubstantial and repeats the notion that Canada had four founding races.) A coat of arms blazoned Argent three maple leaves conjoined in one stem Gules would, like the current flag of Canada, be simple, accurate, and inclusive of all Canadians.
But as with anything symbolic, it would take a huge amount of political will to get it changed.
In the meantime, let us celebrate 150 years of confederation! Yay Canada!
Update: The demise of a coat of arms for Canada made up of the arms of its provinces has not diminshed peoples’ desire to see all the provincial (and territorial) coats of arms displayed together.
* Regarding the word “Dominion”: Canada is a monarchy, but officially it is not the Kingdom of Canada but the Dominion of Canada. The reason for this moniker, apparently, is that when the British North America Act went into effect in 1867, the British and Canadians were worried about annoying the United States with any forthright assertions of monarchy and so chose “dominion” as a euphemism, from Psalm 72:8: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” (The sentiment also appears in Zachariah 9:10, “His dominion shall be from sea even unto sea”). This verse also provided Canada with its motto, and “dominion” turned out to be a useful title, denoting home-rule status in the British Empire, later granted to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland, even if Australia was known officially as the Commonwealth of Australia, South Africa the Union of South Africa, and Ireland the Irish Free State.
You would never know that Canada was a dominion from anything official, however. Two alleged problems exist with the title: “Dominion” does not exist as a French word (the two Biblical verses are “il dominera de la mer à la mer” and “sa domination ira de la mer à la mer”), and it reeks of a colonial junior partnership. But neither complaint is valid. Yes, “dominion” didn’t exist in French in 1867, but surely there has been enough time for it to become domesticated in that language – I have found it in several French dictionaries in its precise sense of “self-governing country in the British Empire following the Canadian model.” Under the influence of French, “surveil” is now an English verb, and “imaginary” an English noun – surely we can allow some influence in the opposite direction?! “Dominion” need not connote an undesirable political situation either. It is true that, on account of the Statute of Westminster (1931) and the Constitution Act (1982), Canada now enjoys a lot more than “home rule,” but there is no reason why Canada cannot still be a “Dominion” – it was the original Dominion, after all, and as long as it is ruled by the Queen (or King) of Canada, the title is surely appropriate.
Addendum: there is a story behind the sesquicentennial logo at the top of this post. In 2013 the government announced a short list of five potential sesquicentennial logos, none of which was very inspired. In response, a group of Canadian designers announced their own list, which included some real gems (click and see) (update: Wayback Machine). The government then announced a contest and selected the winning entry, by a nineteen-year-old digital art student, in 2015. This did not go over well with the professionals. (I think they’re right on some level, but the winner was better than the original five, for sure.)
According to my daily planner, today is Día de la Bandera, that is, flag day in Mexico. Wikipedia states that “The date was selected [in 1937] because more than a century earlier (February 24, 1821), the “Plan of Iguala” or “Plan of the three guarantees” was proclaimed by Agustin de Iturbide and General Vicente Guerrero. This plan was based on three principles: Religion, Independence and Unity, which were represented by the flag’s colors.”
Also from Wikipedia, a photograph of a collection of Mexican flags on display at the Mexican History Museum of Monterrey, Nuevo León:
The central device on the flag is the Escudo Nacional, that is, the national shield (even if it isn’t a shield as such). Here is the current standard depiction:
That is, it shows a Mexican golden eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake, an image that has resonance in both Aztec and European culture.
And here is the harp’s evolution since 1862. Looks like Guinness wanted to reintroduce some detail.
Now, the harp has been a symbol of Ireland since medieval times; King Henry VIII chose it as the main charge in Ireland’s coat of arms when he elevated Ireland to the status of a kingdom in 1541. King James I added it to the arms of the United Kingdom when he acceded in 1603, and it has remained there ever since.
Most of Ireland, of course, is no longer under the control of the British monarch. The Free State, upon its creation in 1922, chose the harp as its state emblem. The specific rendition that they used was that of Brian Boru – somewhat like the Guinness logo. From Wikipedia, here is an image of the seal of the Irish Free State:
And from my own collection, the obverse of an Irish pound coin from 1990:
The flag of the president of Ireland even uses the same color scheme as the royal arms: a blue field, a gold harp, and silver strings.
You’ll notice that the Irish state harp faces to the left – unlike the Guinness harp, which faces to the right. Apparently, the reason for this is that the Brian Boru harp was trademarked by Guinness in 1876, and the Irish State had to distinguish their harp from the Guinness one! An article on Irish Central can tell you more. This resurfaced as an issue in 1983, according to the Irish Times:
The office of the attorney general recommended registering the harp facing in both directions with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to give maximum protection from image theft.
But the government feared Guinness could challenge the decision as it had been using a “right-facing” harp symbol “some fifty years or more before the founding of the state”…
Patent agents Tomkins & Co, employed by the government on the case, informed officials the following month, however, “we do not consider that mirror images of the harp symbol could be notified to WIPO” under existing rules. While the state might be able to register a right-facing harp “it is possible that such notification could debar the registration by Guinness of their trademark in territories where they do not currently trade but may wish to do so in the foreseeable future”.
The government took the agents’ advice and in 1984 registered with WIPO a “generic”, nine-stringed harp facing in just one direction – left.
And here I thought that it was not an issue between Ireland and some commercial concern, but between Ireland and the United Kingdom. By using the same direction (and color scheme) of the harp in the arms of the kingdom of Ireland, surely the Irish State was simply trying to claim Irish symbols for itself – as though to say, “We’ll take it from here, UK!” But I guess that the form of the harp matters too. You can understand why only the Brian Boru harp would be good enough for the Irish State – and certainly more appropriate than a topless female – leading to the aesthetic conflict with the Guinness Co.
In addition to the post below on medieval heraldry, I have also collected numerous examples of “heraldry” before it came into existence. For your pleasure:
• Herodotus, The Histories, book I: “The Greeks are indebted to [the Carians] for three inventions: fitting crests on helmets, painting devices on shields, and making shields with handles.”
• Numbers 2:1-2: “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.'”
• Vegetius, De Re Militari, II:18: “To prevent soldiers straying from their comrades at any time in the confusion of battle, they painted different signs for different cohorts on their shields, digmata, as they call them themselves, and it is customary to do this even now. Also the name of each soldier was inscribed in letters on the face of his shield, with a note of which cohort or century he was from.”
• Tacitus, Germania, ch. 6: “There is nothing ostentatious about [the Germans’] equipment: only their shields are picked out in the colours of their choice…. To throw away one’s shield is a supreme disgrace, and the man who has thus dishonoured himself is disbarred from attendance at sacrifice or assembly.”
• Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum: “Constantine was directed in a dream to cause the heavenly sign to be delineated on the shields of his soldiers, and so to proceed to battle. He did as he had been commanded, and he marked on their shields the letter X, with a perpendicular line drawn through it and turned round thus at the top, being the cipher of Christ.”
• Beowulf (lines 331-37). Beowulf arrives at Heorot:
A high-mannered chieftain
then inquired after the ancestry of the warriors.
“From whence do you bring these embellished shields,
grey mail-shirts, masked helmets,
this stack of spears? I am spokesman here,
herald to Hrothgar; I have not seen
a body of strangers bear themselves more proudly.”
• Homer, Iliad, bk. 18. Hephaestus makes a shield for Achilles:
First of all he forged a shield that was huge and heavy,
Elaborating it about, and threw around it a shining
triple rim that glittered, and the shield strap was cast of silver.
There were five folds composing the shield itself, and upon it
he elaborated many things in his skill and craftsmanship.
(This passage is followed by 124 lines describing all those things, including the earth, the sky, the sea, the sun and moon, two cities [one celebrating a wedding feast, the other at war], a field, a vineyard, a farmyard, and a dancing floor, making it the earliest recorded blazon, and surely the longest.)
Largely through the readings of my interdisciplinary course on medieval chivalry, which I am teaching again this semester, I have husbanded a number of passages dealing with a favorite subject of mine: heraldry. Like Melville’s librarian, I reprint them here.
• Gerald of Wales, De principis instructione (English, 12th cent.). It’s difficult to see how exactly this would work (interior of the shield, maybe…).
When King Arthur went out to fight, he had a full-length portrait of the Blessed Virgin painted on the front of his shield, so that in the heat of battle he could always gaze upon Her; and whenever he was about to make contact with the enemy he would kiss Her feet with great devoutness.
• Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (English, 12th cent.). This one’s a little better – and the shield has a name, to boot.
Arthur himself put on a leather jerkin worthy of so great a king. On his head he placed a golden helmet, with a crest carved in the shape of a dragon; and across his shoulders a circular shield called Pridwen, on which there was painted a likeness of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, which forced him to be thinking perpetually of her.
• The Poem of the Cid (Spanish, 12th cent.). Don Jerome talks to the Cid, in terms not exactly in accord with his status as a cleric.
Wishing to honour myself and my order, I demand of you the privilege of striking the first blows. I carry a banner and a shield with emblem of roe deer emblazoned on them. I wish to essay my arms, as it may please God, to bring me joy and give you greater satisfaction.
• Chretien de Troyes, Lancelot (French, 13th cent.). The first herald to appear in literature does not seem to be a very competent one.
On this bed Lancelot was reclining, completely disarmed. As he lay there so uncomfortably, suddenly there appeared a fellow in his shirt-sleeves, a herald-at-arms, who had left his coat and shoes as a pledge at the tavern and came rushing in, barefoot and in a general state of undress. He found the shield in front of the door and inspected it, but was quite unable to recognize it or tell who owned it or was to bear it.
• Later in Lancelot. If you can’t impress the ladies with feats of arms, you can always do so with your knowledge of heraldry!
The queen was back in the stand with the ladies and maidens; and with them too were numerous knights without their arms who had been captured or who had taken the cross, and who interpreted for them the armorial bearings of their favourite knights. They say among themselves: “Do you see the one now with the golden band across the red shield? That’s Governal of Roberdic. And you can see that next one with an eagle and a dragon painted side by side on his shield? That’s the son of the King of Aragon, who has come to this country to win honour and renown. And can you se the one beside him who is spurring so hard and jousting so well, the one with part of his shield green with a leopard painted on it and the other half azure? That’s the much-loved Ignaures, the popular lover. That one bearing the shield with the pheasants painted beak to beak is Coguillant of Mautirec. And do you see, to his side, those two on dappled horses and with sable lions on their golden shields? One is called Semiramis and the other is his companion, which is why their shields have the same decoration. Do you see too the one whose shield is painted with a gate from which a stag seems to be emerging? I swear that’s King Yder.” Such were the explanations given in the stands.
• Chretien de Troyes, Perceval. You’ve got to get those measurements right.
While they were getting ready and arming in the hall, through the door enters Guigambresil bearing a golden shield, on which was an azure band. The band covered precisely a third of the shield, accurately measured. Guigambresil recognized the king and duly greeted him; but instead of greeting Gawain, he accused him of felony.
• Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, fit 27 (English, 14th cent.). Gawain gets his shield, and we get a different explanation for the symbolism of the pentangle than the neo-pagan one in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Then they showed him the shield of shining gules,
With the Pentangle in pure gold depicted thereon.
He brandished it by the baldric, and about his neck
He slung it in a seemly way, and it suited him well.
And I intend to tell you, though I tarry therefore,
Why the Pentangle is proper to this prince of knights,
It is a symbol of Solomon conceived once
To betoken holy truth, by its intrinsic right,
For it is a figure which had five points,
And each line overlaps and is locked with another;
And it is endless everywhere, and the English call it,
In all the land, I hear, the Endless Knot.
Therefore it goes with Sir Gawain and his gleaming armour,
For, ever faithful in five things, each in fivefold manner,
Gawain was reported good and, like gold well refined,
He was devoid of all villainy, every virtue displaying…
• Jean Froissart, Chronicles (Netherlandish, 14th cent.). A dispute over an emblem during the Hundred Years War.
Just as Sir John Chandos had ridden round observing part of the French dispositions, so one of the French Marshals, Sir Jean de Clermont, had gone out reconnoitering the English. In doing this, it so happened that their paths crossed and that some strong words were exchanged. These knights, who were young and in love, were both wearing on their left arms the same emblem of a lady embroidered in a sunbeam. Sir Jean de Clermont was by no means pleased to see his emblem on Sir John Chandos and he pulled up in front of him and said: “I have been wanting to meet you, Chandos. Since when have you taken to wearing my emblem?” “And you mine?” said Sir John. It is as much mine as yours.” “I deny that,” said Sir Jean de Clermont, “and if there were not a truce between us, I would show you that you have no right to wear it.” “Ha,” replied Sir John, “tomorrow you will find me more than ready to prove by force that it belongs to me as much as to you.” With these words, they each turned away, but Sir Jean de Clermont shouted, as a further provocation: “That’s just the sort of boast you English make. You can never think of anything new yourselves, but whenever you see something good you just take it!”
The Order of Canada was established in 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebration. It was to be a native equivalent of the various British orders of merit, in particular the Order of the British Empire. If you’re interested, see my friend Chris McCreery’s book for more.
The motto of the Order of Canada is “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam,” that is, “They desire a better country.” If you’re in the Order at any level, and you’ve got a coat of arms, you can insert a circlet bearing this motto around your shield. This is a British tradition: motto-circlets were invented so that members of other orders (e.g. the Order of the Bath, the Order of St. Michael and St. George, the Royal Victorian Order, etc.) could have something to put around their shields parallel to the Garter, the device of the oldest and most prestigious order of all; Canada continued this tradition, especially after the establishment of the Canadian Heraldic Authority in 1988. From Wikipedia, two illustrations of this phenomenon:
Now, I’m all for tradition! And I’m happy for the existence of the Order of Canada, the CHA, and the heraldic motto-circlet. But the other day in church something caught my attention: a reading from Hebrews 11 (verse 16):
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
So, I wondered as I sat there, is this where the motto of the Order of Canada comes from? (Just as the motto of the country itself, “A Mari Usque Ad Mare,” comes from Psalm 72.) Alas, no: here is verse 16 from the Vulgate:
nunc autem meliorem appetunt id est caelestem ideo non confunditur Deus vocari Deus eorum paravit enim illis civitatem
“Meliorem” picks up on “patriam” from two verses earlier, but look at the verb: appeto -ere, meaning “to make for, grasp at, seek, (of places) to make for or go to,” not desidero -are, which means “to long for what is absent or lost, to wish for; to miss, find a lack of.” I guess the word “desiderata” (things desired) also fits in this sense, because you don’t have those things yet. So members of the Order are desiring a country that doesn’t yet exist, or once existed but does not anymore? Surely this is not what the government wants to imply! Should we therefore introduce a resolution to the House of Commons changing the Order’s motto to “Appetentes meliorem patriam,” implying that members are seeking a better country, even though the one they have is still pretty good – and also making the motto congruent with a biblical source?
I have enough experience with making these sorts of suggestions to know what the answer would be… still, one can always dream….