Whether you blame it on participation trophies, a rotten economy, or Sir John Vanbrugh’s disastrous tenure as the College of Arms’ Clarenceux King of Arms from 1704 to 1725, the facts are indisputable: Californians, millennials, and Californian millennials have long been more interested in “blazing it up” than “blazoning it up.” But one young woman is trying to usher in a return to traditional heraldry: Suits star Meghan Markle! The 36-year-old Northwestern graduate and Duchess of Sussex has been assigned a California-inspired coat of arms designed by Mr. Thomas Woodcock (the Garter King of Arms and Senior Herald in England) and approved by the Queen of England herself. In an apparent effort to reach out to young people who might consider heraldry “stuffy” or “old fashioned,” the news went out on Kensington Palace’s Twitter account, complete with a color picture:
While baby boomers may cringe at the kind of shorthand the internet encourages—is that the coat of arms or the full heraldic achievement?—the up-and-coming generation of nobility grew up with social media and can switch fluently between Twitter lingo and the euphonious Latin of Bartolus de Saxoferrato’s fourteenth-century treatise Tractatus de Insigniis et Armis. But every generation agrees that a blazon is worth a thousand pictures, so here’s Markle, blazoning it West-Coast-style:
Azure a Feather bendwise Argent quilled between two Bendlets Or all between two like Feathers Argent quilled Or.
California knows how to herald! The azure field (blue background, for you squares in the audience) represents the waters of the Pacific Ocean, while the Bendlets Or (gold rays) stand in for the famous sunshine of Markle’s hometown of Los Angeles. If you think there’s a lot more going on in the image than is described in the blazon, you’re right. For starters, as a married woman, Markle’s coat of arms is displayed impaled by the arms of her husband, fellow millennial coat of arms enthusiast Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex. Henry’s blazon is even more traditional than his wife’s; here’s just the part dealing with the escutcheon:
Quarterly, 1st and 4th Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure (for England), 2nd quarter Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland), 3rd quarter Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland), with over all a label of five points Argent the first, third and fifth points charged with an Escallop Gules…
Vox Victorians eat your hearts out! In Markle’s full heraldic achievement, the escutcheon is flanked by two supporters, one representing her husband (the lion) and the other representing Markle herself, a songbird with open mouth. Like the quills on her escutcheon, the songbird represents communication, a nod to her career as an actress that also, perhaps, alludes to the way Markle and her husband are “communicating” to young people that heraldry is cool again. At the shield’s base bloom wintersweet from Kensington palace, and golden poppies, California’s state flower. West Coast represent!
While the rest of her generation is only just beginning to learn about heraldry, with rising stars like Meghan, Duchess of Sussex publicly embracing the field, a return to the retro, James-Bondian cool of heraldry’s 1960s heyday may well be on the horizon. Millennials inspired by Markle to seek out a coat of arms of their own should submit a petition to the Earl Marshal of the College of Arms outlining the honors they’ve received from the Crown (along with a fee of £6,075), prove that they are members of the legitimate male line of an armigerous family, or become nobility themselves through marriage or conquest.