Friday, 11 August 2017

Know your Heraldic ABC (Arms, Badge and Crest): Part 2 - Armorial Achievements Explained

It's this Liveryman's opinion that every Liveryman should have a working knowledge of heraldry sufficient to explain their Livery Company's coat of arms to friends, family and guests. Heraldry has been described as the shorthand of history and in that respect the arms of a Livery Company are, or perhaps should be, a concise representation of the Company's origins and purpose.

This article is the second in a two part series that provides Liveryman with the knowledge required to learn their heraldic ABC (Arms, Badge and Crest). It is not intended to explain the coat of arms of each and every Livery Company, there are two excellent books that do that far better than I can (details at the bottom of this article).

This second part explains an Armorial Achievement and its component parts. If you haven't already done so you may wish to read the first part on debunking the myths of heraldry before going further.

What's an Armorial Achievement?

Earlier this year my daughter joined the Brownies and quickly made a plan to obtain every badge by Christmas. She is making rapid progress against that plan and my wife and I have already sewn nine badges on her sash. The sash is a visual record of my daughter's achievements and affiliations of which she is rightly proud to display.

So it is with an Armorial Achievement, a written and visual record of all the heraldic achievements granted to the armiger (person to whom the arms are granted). The record is in the form of a document called Letters Patent, simply a 'Letter lying open' for all to see, that grants armorial bearings to a single named person, or to an entity that is a legal person e.g., a corporate body such as a Livery Company or corporation sole such as an ecclesiastical office. A person who has one or more Armorial Achievements is said to be armigerous.

Who grants Armorial Achievements?

The Letters Patent is granted by a heraldic authority of which there are three in the Commonwealth Realms: HM College of Arms in London (covering England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Australia, New Zealand, and so on), The Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh (covering Scotland) and the Canadian Heraldic Authority in Ottawa (covering Canada); each derives its authority to grant arms from the Sovereign as fount of honour.

Since the ultimate authority to grant arms is the exclusive right of the Sovereign, it is possible for a reigning monarch to grant arms directly, but as a practical matter the granting of arms even to members of the Royal Family is delegated to the various heraldic authorities.

It is possible for an armiger to be granted several achievements, for example they may start with arms and a crest and later be granted supporters if they reach a certain rank (e.g., peer of the realm, knight of an Order of Chivalry). Just as with my daughter's badge collecting progress in the Brownies, higher achievement can result in the addition of new heraldic achievements for the armiger.

Letters Patent Granting Arms and Crest to the Armourers & Brasiers' Company

This all starts to get a bit technical, tied up as it is in legal and heraldic language so let's explain with the example.

The Arms, Badge, Crest and Supporters (ABCs) of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists

The Arms, Crest and Supporters of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists

The Information Technologists' Company were granted arms in 1989 when still a City of London Guild. Strictly speaking the term arms refers to everything on the shield, i.e., the key and sparks on the green and blue background below the gold section at the top of the shield.

That said, the phrase 'coat of arms' has become widely accepted as meaning the combination of arms, crest, supporters and motto scroll. Only a purist would argue the point outside of learned heraldic discourse.

The arms of the Information Technologists' Company are described in Blazon (the language of Heraldry) thus:

Per pale Vert and Azure a double-warded Key in pale the bow in base and the wards in chief radiated Or amid six Mullets each of six points also radiated Or a Chief Gold

You will notice the absence of punctuation in the blazon, this is normal practice. While this blog article isn't a lesson in blazon, if you read the sentence slowly and break it down you can probably work out what some of the less obvious words mean.

While on the subject of meaning, the Information Technologists' attach certain meanings to the charges (symbols) and tinctures (colours and metals) employed in the arms. Green is for the colour of the data display terminals of the early computing era, blue is the colour of electricity, the key implies knowledge, the sparks are also for electricity and gold is used for its conductive qualities.


As explained in the first part of this blog article, a crest is a separate thing to the arms and sits atop a helm. In this case the crest is Mercury issuing from a crown of rays.

There is a convention in heraldry that the orientation of the helm is an indication of social rank. It is more conventional for the helm of a Company to be shown facing off to the left as you view the arms. Such an arrangement would mean Mercury was sitting sideways on the helmet so the helm is shown facing forward.

The crest is described in the blazon thus:

In a Crown rayon Or a demo-figure of Mercury vested Vert purfled Or over his sinister shoulder a Mantle Azure lined Or on his head a Petasus Argent winged Or and his dexter arm raised pointing with the index finger upwards to and supporting at its lowest point a Mullet of six points radiated Gold

Having read this, I now realise why Liverymen of the Information Technologists' Company (myself included) wear a royal blue sash, trimmed with gold, over their left shoulder when in formal dress.

Mercury is a messenger, and a speedy one at that, so he is an appropriate character to represent the role of Information Technology in transferring information swiftly, and he does it through the medium of electricity, hence the spark.


The shield is held up by supporters which are a Griffin and Pegagsus. For reasons I won't bore you with the position and direction of the arms, crest and supporters is described as if from behind the shield looking out toward the viewer, so the Griffin is on the right or Dexter side of the arms.

The supporters are described in the blazon thus:

Dexter a Griffin and Sinister a Horse both gorged with a Wreath Argent and Gules and both winged Azure the under-wings Vert and all semi of Mullets of six points radiated Gold

The supporters stand on a motto scroll, which in English heraldic law does not form part of the armorial achievement and can be changed at will. Not so in Scotland where the motto forms part of the legal grant.

The motto of the Information Technologists' Company is CITO meaning swiftly

So far, so good, but what happened to the Badge?

A Badge is a heraldic device that is never worn or displayed by the armiger, rather it is to be used by their followers. In times past a Badge might have appeared on the uniform of servants, staff and other persons who owed allegiance to the armiger.

The Information Technologists' Company were also granted a badge in 1989 although it is rarely seen or used. The badge appears below on a pennant that was flown from a yacht and is now preserved in IT Hall.

The badge is described in the blazon thus:

A Falcon affronty wings displayed head to the dexter per pale Vert and Azure beaked and charged on the breast with a Mullet of six points radiated Or alighting upon a Book expanded proper leathered per pale Azure and Vert clasped Or the page inscribed CITO in letters Sable and edged Gold

The Badge of the Information Technologists' Company
So now you know some of the components of an Armorial Achievement which are Arms, Badge, Crest and Supporters. There are other achievements that an armiger may be granted including a Standard (tapering flag) and various accoutrements that can surround the shield or hang from it, particularly the collars of Orders of Chivalry and insignia of Crown honours. Those topics are beyond the scope of this article and may be a source of inspiration for further reading.

Displaying the Armorial Achievements

There are endless ways in which an armiger may display their achievements, some of those employed by the Information Technologists' Company include: Livery Company ties, cufflinks, placemats, stained glass windows, engraving on gold and silver plate, embroidery on robes, a flag and my personal favourite the CITO cap which uses 'charges' (symbols from the arms) and the City's sword and mace to decorate a rather fine cap.

The CITO cap of the Information Technologists' Company
Further Reading

If you have enjoyed this two-part blog article and would like to explore the heraldry of the Livery Companies in more detail there are two exceptional books on the subject. The first known affectionately as 'Bromley and Child' was published in 1960 and covers the period from the earliest armorial bearings to a corporate body, the Drapers' Company in 1439, through to the development of the Modern Livery Companies up to 1954.

The second book was published earlier this year by Richard Goddard, Past Master of the Watermen and Lightermen's Company and covers the period 1954 to 2017 during which now fewer than 55 City of London Livery Companies or ancient Companies without Livery have either been granted arms or have been granted supporters or a badge to their existing arms.

The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London (Bromley and Child, 1960)
The Heraldry of the Livery Companies of the City of London since 1954 (Goddard, 2017)

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