(Example of a CCA Armorial certificate. Sizes: 11"x14" [US], A3 [Intl.])
Welcome to the Clan Crawford Association Armorial project. The mission of this project is twofold: 1) to record and register the newly assumed arms of our members in an illustrated armorial, and 2) to combine members' entries in our armorial with their genealogy and Y-DNA data, and compile them all into a registry for posterity. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first clan association to independently establish such an armorial/register.
We strongly recommend that members read the FAQs and CCA ARMORIAL PRIMER sections before moving ahead with payment and registering their assumed arms.
We hope that the information supplied here will be educational to members who might be new to the subject of heraldry, and that it will encourage them to contribute to House Crawford’s heraldic legacy.
HISTORY OF ASSUMED ARMS
To the extent that it is thought of at all, the topic of heraldry—the design and use of coats of arms—probably seems impossibly archaic, effete, and elitist to most modern Americans. And yet, American history is rich in personal, military, and civic heraldry. About one-half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence bore arms of some sort, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and George Washington. Many twentieth-century US presidents had coats of arms, as well: both Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt shared very similar arms based on the burgher arms of their common Dutch ancestor.
Today, the practice of heraldry is more widespread than ever. The first question that often arises—who has the right to bear arms—remains a controversial one among those acquainted with the subject. It remains a common misconception among Americans that “family crests” (as they are often mistakenly called) are the sole reserve of "older" wealthy families who descend from the aristocracy or gentry. But this has no real historical merit when one looks at European history in general: only in Great Britain were armorial achievements associated exclusively with the upper classes. This was not the case in most of Europe. Of course the aristocracy or gentry bore arms, but it did not follow that all who bore arms were aristocrats or gentry. In many cases, they weren’t.
In practice, heraldry was largely unregulated in much of Europe--and with the notable exception of the British Isles, it remains largely unregulated today.
Heraldry began with feudal nobility around the early 12th Century, but it quickly spread down through the classes in medieval societies, first among lords and knights, then trickling down to merchants and tradesmen. In many parts of Europe, even peasants bore arms. (During the reign of Louis XIV, arms were actually imposed on peasants, in order to tax their use.)
It’s important to note that heraldry was born of custom rather than law. For the better part of the Middle Ages, assuming arms and informal inheritance were the only means for a person to acquire arms. These are the arms one finds in the earliest armorial rolls like the Armorial Wijnbergen, in which arms were recorded but not necessarily regulated. In fact, the first known official “grant” of arms appears in the mid-14th Century, issued by the Duke of Bourbon.
Heraldry doesn’t really begin to be regulated in most parts of Europe until the 16th Century, and even then it was often rather lax and inconsistent in practice. Some countries, like Switzerland, never regulated it at all. In contrast, Scotland and England were and remain the most high-handed of all heraldic authorities. But even in strictest Scotland, arms weren’t tightly regulated until around 1672.
In Continental Europe, the self-assumed arms of non-nobles like merchants and tradesmen were often called “burgher arms”, and coexisted for centuries with the arms of nobility. Burgher arms were largely unregulated, and this remains the rule in most parts of Europe. Many of these middle-class arms came to be used in America. For example, the Roosevelt arms (three roses on stems on a white shield) is an example of humble Dutch burgher arms that eventually became one of the most well-known emblems in the American upper class.
The arms of nobles weren’t all that different from those of the middle and lower classes, although they tended to be more elaborate: in most of Europe, supporters and crowns are still reserved only for nobility, and in the U.S. only cities, states, and governmental departments have supporters on their coats of arms.
America has a deep heraldic tradition, and while there are a handful of independent nonprofit associations who record American arms, there is no official institution that governs the use of heraldic arms in the United States. Since the founding of the U.S. there have been several attempts at setting up an American heraldic authority, but all of them have failed for various reasons. Thus in America, new personal arms are assumed, not matriculated or granted, as they are in Britain. In many ways, the conditions of heraldry in the United States resemble that of Twelfth-Century Europe.
American heraldry draws primarily from British heraldry, but since this country is a cultural melting pot, American heraldry also draws from the Continental European tradition of “burgher arms”, in which merchants, tradesmen, or even peasants could and often did assume their own arms. American heraldry is a synthesis of these European traditions, using whatever rules are deemed relevant and befitting a republic.
In America, as was the case in Early Medieval Europe, heraldry as it is practiced takes precedence over heraldry as it is governed. Early Americans, being hard-nosed pragmatists, were not fastidious armigers. They used whatever arms were passed down to them, disregarded the ancient British practices of cadency and marshalling, and asked few questions. Armorial seals were not fawned over as aesthetic objects: they were devices used to authenticate documents and claim ownership of expensive items. If they served their function then that was sufficient, as far as their bearers were concerned. The Gore Roll, the oldest American armorial roll, is full of arms that are of erroneous or dubious provenance. Nevertheless, many of these arms are still used by descendants of earlier bearers. The marks of difference (stars, crescents, etc.) seen in many of these arms were intended to be only temporary marks of difference between siblings. But after being passed down through the generations completely unchanged, they’ve become permanent, historical elements in those arms, which the current bearers wouldn’t dare remove. Thus these traditions, which may have had specious beginnings, can gain an informal legitimacy over time, just as they did in Europe.
Beyond military and civic heraldry, American coats of arms do not represent anything other than the associations, families, or people who bear them. They do not take on the trappings of nobility like supporters, garters, or crowns—and so confer no status, privilege, or title. With this in mind, objecting to the use of heraldry makes as much sense as objecting to the widespread use of surnames. An American coat of arms serves the same function as a person’s name, but in a symbolic form. This may sound pretentious, until you realize that heraldry was born of a time when few people could read.
For some, a coat of arms wouldn’t mean anything to them unless it was passed down from a direct ancestor. This is a perfectly valid, respectable point of view. But for those who wish to participate in their clan’s heraldic practices and establish a new tradition to pass down to their descendants, assuming arms is a far more valid option than buying the cheap, bogus “traditions” sold by online “bucket shops” that sell the same poorly-rendered coat of arms to as many unwitting Joneses and Smiths as they possibly can.
Assumed arms might not enjoy the same prestige as arms granted by the Court of Lord Lyon, but a humbler, simpler form of heraldry seems appropriate for a society that eschews crowns, knighthoods, and titles. In general, an American coat of arms honors the bearer, the family, ancestors and descendants, but it doesn’t elevate them.
GETTING STARTED WITH PAYMENT, DESIGN, AND REGISTRATION
If you've read this far, then you’re probably ready to start the process of designing and registering your assumed arms.
The CCA’s Heraldry Committee can help you devise a lasting armorial achievement for yourself, your family, and your descendants. The design phase is a collaborative process between the registrant, who explains what he or she would like to represent in their arms, and the CCA Heraldry Committee, whose expertise enables them to devise a solution that is both beautiful and meaningful to the bearer. Allen Crawford, an award-winning professional designer/illustrator with a good knowledge of heraldry in general, and Crawford heraldry in particular, will assist and advise you. He’s not only the designer of this armorial: he’s also a participant (you can see his CCA certificate of arms at the top of this page). CCA Vice President Raymond Crawfurd, being extremely well-informed in Crawford heraldry, serves as an advisor and consultant to both Allen and CCA members who register in the Armorial.
Upon approval of the design and completion of the artwork, members will be emailed a print-ready PDF certificate that they can print, frame, and mount on their wall. The certificate will include their name, an illustration of their arms, and a "blazon"--a written heraldic description of their arms. (Unless requested otherwise, US members will receive an 11x14 inch certificate. International members will receive an A3 certificate.)
Recording your assumed arms in the CCA Armorial and Registry is as inexpensive as we can possibly make it: a flat rate of $150. This includes 1) Allen's assistance in creating the design, 2) the artwork, 3) entering the arms in the CCA Armorial, and 4) entering your arms, genealogy, and Y-DNA information in the CCA Registry. (For comparison, the fees of the Lyon Court are £2,386 for the grant of shield and crest with or without motto, and the fees of the College of Arms in London are £5,750. The Canadian Heraldic Authority charges an initial fee of $435, but there are several important extra fees to cover artist's work etc.)
Again: what we are offering is not a grant of arms, like those given by the traditional heraldic authorities in Scotland, England, and Ireland. We record your arms in our armorial and compile it into our register, along with your genealogical and Y-DNA information.
We hope we've provided enough information here for you to have a clear idea of our mission, which is to establish a heraldic, genealogical, and genetic registry for the benefit of future Crawfords. We believe that we're not only creating an invaluable historical resource, but we're also establishing fresh, new heraldic traditions that will complement and enhance the ancient heraldic traditions of our house.
If you have further questions, please get in touch with either Raymond or Allen:
Below is a link to order your own Crawford heraldic design for USD$150.00.
FURTHER READING ON HERALDRY:
The American Heraldry Society
The Gore Roll (photos)
The Court of the Lord Lyon
The Heraldry Society of Scotland
The Canadian Heraldic Authority's Public Register of Arms
A classic short introductory book to heraldry: Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated
Heraldic law (or lack thereof) in the various nations of the world