Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

The Port of London

Officially there are or have been various Londons: first the City of London, founded in AD 43 and a mere square mile to this day, then the County of London created in 1889, and the creature called Greater London has also existed in varying shapes and forms since 1965.

But there is also the Port of London, which has existed since the first century and was once the busiest port in the world, bringing the riches of empire to the metropolis from the four corners of the earth.

The arms of the City of London, London County Council, and Greater London Council.

All these Londons, of course, have over the centuries been granted or assumed their own coats of arms as heraldic emblems of their importance. The Port of London Authority was created in 1908 by an Act of Parliament which some scholars argue is the first law in the world mandating codetermination or workers’ participation in the board.

Its coat of arms was granted a year later in 1909 and features on its shield Saint Paul, the patron saint of London bearing his usual sword, issuing forth from the Tower of London.

The crest above the shield is a galley bearing on its mainsail the arms of the City of London — the Lord Mayor is ex officio the Admiral of the Port of London.

Sea lions act as supporters, also bearing standards of the royal arms of England and of the United Kingdom, while the motto proclaims in Latin May the Port of the Empire Flourish.

For proper heraldry nerds, the arms are blasoned:

Shield: Azure, issuing from a castle argent, a demi-man vested, holding in the dexter hand a drawn sword, and in the sinister a scroll Or, the one representing the Tower of London, the other the figure of St Paul, the patron saint of London.

Crest: On a wreath of the colours, an ancient ship Or, the main sail charged with the arms of the City of London.

Supporters: On either side a sea-lion argent, crined, finned and tufted or, issuing from waves of the sea proper, that to the sinister grasping the banner of King Edward II; the to the sinister the banner of King Edward VII.

Befitting the Port of the Empire, the Authority built a grandiose headquarters at 10 Trinity Square, overlooking the Tower of London featured in its coat of arms.

The PLA moved out ages ago and the building is now a hotel, but it often features in films and television as a government (most prominently in the 2012 James Bond film ‘Skyfall’).

The Port of London Authority has its own flag (above) as well as its own ensign — a blue field with a Union Jack in the canton and in the fly a golden sea lion bearing a trident. Distinctive pennants also exist for the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Authority. (These can be seen here.)

After its foundation the PLA rationalised the layout and organisation of London’s dock system, and their significant constructions allowed the Port to displays its arms on numerous buildings. One such display (above) was recently sold by Westland London.

The main shipping terminal of London is now far down-river at Tilbury and the Authority no longer owns any docks. Its duties however are still numerous — control of Thames ship traffic, navigational safety, pier & jetty maintenance, and conservation — so the century-old Authority still keeps itself quite busy looking after a millennia-old port.

February 23, 2018 3:30 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Arms of the Oudtshoorn Oratory

An explanation of the arms of the Afrikaans-speaking Oratory of St Philip Neri in Oudtshoorn, South Africa (edited from their own information).

The heraldic achievement or the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, Oudtshoorn, was officially registered and recognised by the Bureau of Heraldry in the Staatskoerant of 20 August 2004. According to the Heraldry Act of 1962, these arms and motto now enjoy legal protection and the Congregation also has the right to make an official Oratorian flag and to fly it.
Die heraldiese afbeelding oftewel die wapenskild van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri – Oudtshoorn is in die Staatskoerant van 20 Augustus 2004 amptelik deur die Buro vir Heraldiek geregistreer en erken. Ooreenkomstig die Heraldiese-wet van 1962, geniet die wapenskild en die leuse nou regsbeskerming en het die Kongregasie ook nou die reg om ’n amptelike Oratoriaanse vlag te produseer en te laat wapper.
DIE DRIE VOLSTRUISVERE verwys hoofsaaklik na die Bisdom, Distrik en Dorp Oudtshoorn. Hulle het egter ook Bybelse en geestelike betekenis omdat hulle ons aan die feit herinner dat God oor al sy skepsels waak, die diere van die veld, voëls in die lug en visse in die see – nie net die mens nie – en hulle versorg.
THE THREE OSTRICH FEATHERS refer to the Diocese, District, and Town of Oudtshoorn. They also have biblical and spiritual significance because they call to mind that God keeps watch over all his creatures, the beasts of the field, birds of the air and fish in the sea – not just humans – and looks after them.
DIE DRIE AGTPUNTIGE STERRE, simbole van die Oratorium, is in perfekte balans bo en weerskante van die brandende hart geplaas.
THE THREE EIGHT-POINTED STARS, symbols of the Oratory, are placed in perfect balance atop and beside the burning heart.
DIE PROTEAS, nasionale blom van Suid-Afrika, dui op die lewenskrag van hierdie unieke Suid-Afrikaanse gemeenskap en die potensiaal wat tot blom gebring kan word.
THE PROTEAS, national flower of South Africa, stressed the vitality of this unique South African community and the potential that can be brought to bloom.
DIE BRANDENDE HART in die middel van die asuur skild verteenwoordig die bron en oorsprong van die geestelikheid van St. Filip Neri, die apostel van vreugde en naasteliefde, wat as ’n spesiale genadegawe van God onophoudelik die aanwesigheid van die Heilige Gees in sy hart ervaar en beleef het.
THE BURNING HEART in the middle of the azure shield represents the source and origin of the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the apostle of joy and charity, who as a special gift of God’s grace constantly experienced the presence of the Holy Ghost in his heart.
DIE LEUSE van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri lui “God is ons erns”. Hierdie leuse is doelbewustelik ontleen aan ’n vroeë slagspreuk vir die erkenning van die Afrikaanse Taal. Hierdie selfde taal word nou ingespan om die oudste Christelike tradisie deel te maak van die Afrikaanse leefwêreld.
THE MOTTO of the Oudtshoorn Oratory of St. Philip Neri is “God is Our Earnestness”. This motto is deliberately taken from “This is Our Earnestness”, an early slogan for the recognition of the Afrikaans language. This same language is being used to bring the oldest Christian tradition to the Afrikaans-speaking world.
November 7, 2016 10:31 am | Link | No Comments »

The Accession

Henry Harris Brown, Proclamation of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty King George V at Dublin, June 1911
c. 1911; Oil on canvas, 68 in. x 76.9 in.

A triumphant painting, but a last hurrah. The central figure is Sir Nevile Wilkinson, the last ever Ulster King of Arms & Principal Herald of Ireland, exercising the duties of his office by proclaiming the accession of the new king at Dublin Castle.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty and its legislative acts neglected to make provision for transferring this ancient office to the new Irish Free State, but Sir Nevile carried on regardless for nearly two decades, even issuing two dozen grants of arms on the day before his death in 1940.

After his death, the Oireachtas created the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland to continue the granting of arms, and in some sense the Chief Herald is a spiritual successor to the Ulster King of Arms.

(Image copyright of the Fusilier Museum, London; via Fr Guy)
January 22, 2016 11:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Caped Bear Cubs in Canadian Arms

As my sister was educated (or something to that effect) by Ursulines, a recent addition to Canada’s Public Register of Arms, Flags, and Badges caught my attention. The Queen of Canada granted a coat of arms to the Quebec municipality of Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici in 2013 (pictured above).

The shield of the arms features three chevronels represent the mountains surrounding the area while their number reminds us that Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici is a municipality formed from two townships — Cabot and Fleuriault — and the single seigneury of Lepage-et-Thivierge. The wavy blue stripe represents the Mitis River, while gold symbolises the agricultural industry of the Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici.

The charming aspect are the supporters: two bear cubs. St Angela Merici was the founder of the Ursulines — the Order of St Ursula — and ‘Ursula’ is Latin for ‘little female bear’.

“The bear also symbolizes bravery, thus signifying St. Angela Merici’s martyrdom,” the Canadian Heraldic Authority further explains. “The cloak is one of her traditional attributes. The flags (drapeau in French) honour Angèle Drapeau (1799-1876), the youngest daughter of Seigneur Joseph Drapeau and benefactor of the municipality.”

September 1, 2015 6:25 pm | Link | No Comments »

A Bunny Rampant

The carto-heraldic creativity of MacDonald Gill

If anything, I am a lover of maps, and as a cartophile it’s a fine thing that I spend half my life in South Kensington. Here you will find two of the best antiquarian map merchants around: the Map House on Beauchamp Place and Robert Frew across from the Oratory and right next door to Orsini. Milling about in front of church after mass today I received a tip-off from a friend suggesting I have a look at the window of Robert Frew, as there was a London Underground map with coats of arms of mostly abolished boroughs.

“Sounds like the sort of thing MacDonald Gill would do,” I said, and sure enough upon investigating earlier tonight it is the work of that inventive designer (and brother of Eric Gill).

The most splendid and ridiculous aspect is that in the central place among the municipal heraldry was a putative coat of arms MacDonald Gill thought up for the Underground: a rabbit rampant. Indeed, given the twin characteristics of being speedy and digging the earth, the rabbit is a perfect animal avatar for the London Underground to adopt. Don’t go looking for this design anywhere in the rolls of Garter King of Arms, though: it’s merely the invention of the creative mind of master map-maker MacDonald Gill.

January 5, 2014 11:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

A Lecture by Andrew Cusack

College of Arms Foundation
and the
Committee on Heraldry
of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society

cordially invite you to a talk by



Tuesday 17 September 2013
6:00 PM

Reception to follow

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Open to the public. No charge.
Please rsvp to to reserve a place.

This lecture will provide an overview on the history and evolution of South African heraldry by explaining the significance of the coat of arms of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677). Van Riebeeck was the founder of Cape Town and the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape.

As the founder of the oldest European settlement in southern Africa, he came to be seen as the father of South Africa after the country was unified in 1910. The central elements of his arms — three annulets or — obtained local, regional, and finally national significance, and influenced the design of a wide variety of South African coats of arms, many of which will be examined in this lecture.

September 11, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Danzig in Flag & Arms

The first time I met my friend Rafal, I noticed his necktie bedecked with a subtle heraldic pattern. “I gather you’re German,” says young Cusack, summoning his Sherlockian deductive genius. “What makes you say that?” “The coat of arms on your tie: it’s Danzig.” “Actually I am Polish, and it’s Gdańsk!”

Well, so much for my deductive powers, (and Rafal is a secret wannabe-German anyhow) but the arms and flag of the Baltic city — once German, now Polish — combine the usual strong characteristics of any design: simplicity and beauty. (more…)

April 26, 2013 2:30 pm | Link | 11 Comments »

Hark, the Heralds!

A Humorous Guide to Heraldry
by Jack Carlson
133 pages, hardcover, $15.99

In anticipation of a party in Oriel recently, I enjoyed a pint with some friends by the fire in the King’s Arms and was given a copy of this book, mysteriously shrouded in a plastic bag. Jack Carlson’s Humorous Guide to Heraldry is a welcome addition to the Cusackian library. The author, who wrote the book when he was fourteen, is now an Oxford archaeologist (and rower) but his interests span a broad spectrum. (He is currently researching for a work on rowing blazers, a subject unjustly neglected by academics).

Aficionados of the light-hearted-guide-to-heraldry genre will notice one or two gentle riffs off of Sir Iain Moncrieffe of that Ilk’s Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated, and, since that book is long out of print, evangelists of heraldry will find A Humorous Guide to Heraldry a useful tool for introducing the uninitiated to the appreciable realms of this field. Godfathers will not want their spiritual charges to grow into adults without being able to distinguish the mêlée from the affronté and every life-long student of the world should be able to recognise a cinquefoil or a pheon.

In short: a worthy purchase for the heraldically inclined.

Jack Carlson’s A Humorous Guide to Heraldry is available here.

March 22, 2013 4:04 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Pope Francis’s Arms

The Vatican released information about Pope Francis’s coat of arms on Monday but the image they provided of it was very poorly drafted. Many of us were waiting for the Italian heraldic artist Marco Foppoli to craft his own rendering of our new pope’s arms, and he has duly released it today (see above).

The central motif is the emblem of the Society of Jesus — the Christogram with nails on a sunburst. The star represents the Blessed Virgin while the sprig of nard-flower represents Saint Joseph, the patron of the universal church. Thus the three emblems on Pope Francis’s arms together represent the Holy Family.

Further info available from Il Foglio, Fr Z, and Whispers in the Loggia. (more…)

March 20, 2013 7:50 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Arms of the Irish Universities

University of Dublin
Universitas Dublinensis; Ollscoil Átha Cliath

Dublin University was founded with the idea of creating a collegiate university along the Oxford and Cambridge model. The University of Dublin, however, failed to develop along those lines, and so its sole foundation was the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, more commonly known as Trinity College. Strictly speaking, TCD and the university are distinct entities in law, Trinity being the only college of the university.

The university’s arms, granted in the nineteenth century, are blazoned Quarterly azure and ermine. First quarter a book open proper, bound gules, clasped or, and in fourth quarter a castle of two towers argent, flamant proper. Overall in the centre point the harp of Ireland ensigned with the royal crown. The castle with fired towers is a reference to the arms of the city of Dublin. While it is the university, not Trinity College, that awards degrees, the university arms were not used on degree certificates until 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was granted an honorary doctorate of law in St. Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle. (more…)

April 14, 2011 8:02 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The House of Moctezuma

Noble Descendants of the Aztec Emperor

The last Emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma II (usually anglicised as ‘Montezuma’) suffered an ignominious end: defeated by the Spanish, some accounts have him being stoned by his former subjects, while others claim he died of starvation, refusing to eat food not worthy of an emperor, still more claim Cortés had him killed. Many of his descendants embraced Christianity and found favour from Mexico’s new overlord, the King of Spain. (more…)

October 24, 2010 10:00 pm | Link | 16 Comments »

Antipodean Heraldic Philately

One of my favourite series of stamps comes from New Zealand. In 1929, the New Zealand Post Office commissioned the Englishman H. L. Richardson, an artist and teacher at the Wellington Technical College, to design a series of fiscal revenue stamps, or duty stamps. The design employed the New Zealand coat of arms in a variety of colours depending on the value of the stamp. Richardson erroneously had the lion in the crest of the arms hold aloft a New Zealand flag instead of the Union Jack that he was supposed to carry. The crest was changed to a crown in 1956 (along with a series of other changes) to signify that New Zealand had by then become a sovereign realm of its own. Richardson’s stamps were withdrawn from use in 1967 when New Zealand’s currency was decimalised. (more…)

September 26, 2010 4:54 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Heraldic Discrepancies in Fashion

Ralph Lauren’s Modern Field Collection

THERE IS ATTENTION to detail and then there is pedantry, and I hope this falls into the former rather than the latter. Among the numerous e-mails which find their way into my electronic postbox are occasional notifications from the Polo Ralph Lauren corporation, a multi-faceted operation involved in the design, sale, and distribution of fairly decent items of clothing. Just one such e-mail received just the other day informed me of Ralph Lauren’s new ‘Modern Field Collection’, yet another judicious tie-in to take advantageous of the patriotic (or vicariously patriotic) impulses of the consumer before, during, and after the 2010 World Cup. As someone who is interested in national and cultural symbolism, most especially heraldry, I was mildly intrigued and clicked through to find a veritable gold mine of discrepancies which I hope the reader will forgive my exposition of. (more…)

July 18, 2010 7:50 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

Dr. Cornelis Pama

Die grootste Suid-Afrikaanse heraldikus

Ferreira — Bezuidenhout — Swanepoel

THE GRANDPAPA OF South African heraldry studies is undoutedly Dr. Cornelis Pama, a heraldist, genealogist, author, and editor of great importance in the field. Pama was one of the original members of the State Heraldry Council when it was founded in 1963 and refined the genealogical numbering system invented by Christoffel Coetzee de Villiers in the nineteenth century and which is now known as the de Villiers/Pama system in recognition of his contribution.

When I resume acquisitioning for my personal library, a whole slew of Pama’s works are on the ‘works sought’ list. Foremost among them is the excellent Lions and virgins: Heraldic state symbols, coats-of-arms, flags, seals and other symbols of authority in South Africa, 1487-1962 which I frequently made use of in the Stellenbosch university library.

Pama also wrote Heraldiek ABC (1980), Heraldiek in Suid-Afrika (1956), Simbole van die Unie (1960), British Families in South Africa: Their Surnames and Origins (1992), The Wine Estates of South Africa (1979), Vintage Cape Town: Historic Houses and Families In and Around the Old Cape (1973), and a history of the South African Library (the Cape Town institution which has since been foolishly merged with the Staatsbiblioteek in Pretoria to form the National Library of South Africa). The S.A.L. received his important private collection of over 800 genealogical and heraldic books and other works after Dr. Pama’s death in 1994. (more…)

May 4, 2010 8:02 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

Hollandic Heraldry

The Eden Spiekermann group, who were responsible for the redesign of The Economist in 2001, recently developed this logotype for the Dutch province of North Holland. The conjoined legs of the ‘N’ and ‘H’ integrate the province’s coat of arms.

March 14, 2010 8:02 pm | Link | No Comments »


Written and illustrated by Andrew Cusack (at 7 years of age)

Were I to review this book, I would say it is riddled with inaccuracies and depicts a stereotypical Hollywood version of Scotland far-removed from reality. But then, it was written in 1991 by a seven-year-old (yours truly), which is already eighteen years ago now. The ultimate schoolboy error is that I was apparently incapable at age 7 of producing a vexillologically accurate reproduction of the Saltire. My incorrect version of the Scottish appears like the old Greek flag, a white cross extended across a blue field. (See the correct flag here). (more…)

January 17, 2010 4:07 pm | Link | 21 Comments »

The Coat of Arms of Massachusetts

Massachusetts is all over the news of late as the northerly state holds a special election to fill the seat left empty by the death of the notorious Senator Edward Kennedy. The Democratic Party outnumbers Republicans by three to one in the land, but their candidate is fighting tooth-and-nail against the G.O.P. challenger. Crucially, half of Bay State voters are independents, and the Republican candidate is polling well among floating voters. But, of course, the pedantry of politics does not normally fall under the purview of this little corner of the web. Rather, let us consider the heraldic achievement of the Bay State. The most handsome and successful arms are marked by their simplicity. (For a host of excellent examples, consult the roll of Sweden’s provincial and town arms). The heraldry of the American states can tend toward the over-complicated, but the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a noble exception.

The central motif of the Indian with bow and arrow has appeared almost consistently from the beginning. A native appears in the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in which the appeal “Come over and help us” pours from his lips. The arms of the neighboring Plymouth Plantation likewise depicted a native, in Plymouth’s case quartered between the arms of a Cross of St. George. Disregarding the earlier attempt to form the Dominion of New England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony were finally united in the Province of Massachusetts in 1691, and received a seal depicting the English royal arms.

Late in 1774, revolutionaries established the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to subvert legitimate authority in the province, subversion which erupted into open warfare in April of the following year. The rebels created their own emblem depicting an English colonist instead of an Indian, now armed with a sword and a copy of Magna Carta. The motto Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem (“By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty”) was chosen, a quote attributed to the English republican Algernon Sydney.

In 1780, the rebel provisional government adopted a new device created by Nathan Cushing. The Cushing design resurrected the Indian, and added a single star symbolizing the province’s statehood to accompany the native. Paul Revere engraved the design, the original impressions of which are preserved in the Archives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (more…)

January 13, 2010 9:44 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

The Zamoyski Window

Downside Abbey, Somerset, England. (more…)

October 12, 2009 12:01 am | Link | No Comments »

The Evolving Heraldry of the Dominions

WHAT DO THESE three coats of arms, their representations produced for the 1910 coronation, have in common? The first thing that might come to the mind of most of the heraldically-inclined is that all three are the arms of British dominions; from left to right, of Australia, Canada, and South Africa. Aside from this commonality, however, each of these three arms have been superseded.

The Australian arms above were granted in 1908, and superseded by a new grant in 1912, though the old arms survived on the Australian sixpenny piece as late as 1963. The kangaroo and emu were retained as the shield’s supporters in the new grant of arms which remains in use today.

The Confederation of Canada took place in 1867, but no arms were granted to the dominion so it used a shield with the arms of its four original provinces — Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick — quartered. As the remaining colonies of British North America were admitted to Canada as provinces, their arms were added to the unofficial dominion arms, which became quite cumbersome as the number of provinces grew. A better-designed coat of arms was officially granted in 1921, and modified only slightly a number of times since then.

South Africa‘s heraldic achievement, meanwhile, was divided into quarters, each quarter representing one of the Union’s four provinces: the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. While South Africa is (like Scotland, England, Ireland, and Canada) one of the few countries to have an official heraldic authority — the Buro vir Heraldiek in Pretoria — the country’s new arms were designed by a graphic designer with little knowledge of the rules & traditions of heraldry. As a result, the design produced is unattractive and very unpopular, unlike the new South African national flag, introduced in 1994, which was designed by the State Herald, Frederick Brownell, which enjoys wide popularity and universal acceptance.

The current arms of Australia, Canada, and South Africa are represented below.

October 5, 2009 8:04 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Die Wapenskild van die Universiteit

EDUCATION IN STELLENBOSCH began as early as 1685, but it wasn’t until 1866 that the Stellenbosch Gimnasium was founded. Like the (English-language) South African College in Cape Town, the Dutch/Afrikaans Gimnasium was a school covering secondary, and tertiary education. Twenty years after the foundation of the Gimnasium, it was renamed the Victoria Kollege in honour of the Queen’s jubilee of 1887. In 1918, the Parliament of South Africa finally reorganised education in the Cape, and separated both the South African College and the Victoria Kollege into their respective secondary and tertiary parts. SAC was divided into the University of Cape Town & the South African College Schools, while the Victoria Kollege was divided into the University of Stellenbosch & the Paul Roos Gymnasium.

Along with gaining proper status as a university, the Universiteit van Stellenbosch also adopted a coat of arms in 1918. In the language of heraldry, the University’s coat of arms (or wapenskild in Afrikaans) is described as:

Quarterly: I and IV: Or, three towers gules 2 and 1; II: Azure, the head of the Roman goddess Minerva wearing a winged helmet, argent; III: Azure, three oak twigs each with two leaves below and an acorn above, argent, 2 and 1; Upon an inescutcheon sable, an open book proper, with a red initial letter S in upper dexter, and with two seals, one red and one blue, pendant from the book.

The “three towers gules” come from the arms of the town of Stellenbosch, and find their origin in the personal arms of Governor Simon van der Stel who founded the town in 1679. The quartering of yellow and blue (“or” and “azure”) was also inspired by van der Stel’s arms. Minerva symbolizes learning obviously, while the oak twigs represent the magnificent oak trees planted by Governor van der Stel, many of which still grace the streets of the town. The motto, Pectora roborant cultus recti, is Latin for “A sound education strengthens the spirit/character”.

Regrettably, the university tends to use its corporate logo of a stylised ‘S’ and oak leaf instead of its splendid heraldic achievement. The arms of the university can nonetheless be found around the town, displayed architecturally on numerous university buildings, in official university publications, on student clothing, and of course on the university tie.

September 17, 2009 4:59 pm | Link | No Comments »
Home | About | Contact | Categories | Paginated Index | Twitter | Facebook | RSS/Atom Feed | © Andrew Cusack 2004-present (Unless otherwise stated)