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ASOIAF Heraldry


Angel Eyes
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How come some of the heraldry in the books is relatively simplistic compared to real life? Take the coat of arms of Richard, Duke of York (one of the inspirations for Ned Stark), whose personal coat of arms is decidedly complex. The most complex we really get is someone like the Tyrell brothers having their sigil in multiples depending on their sequence of birth, Cleos Frey, whose arms is the Lannister lion and the Frey towers quartered, or Lady Dustin's arms which are the Ryswell horsehead and Dustin halberds (described in-text as long-axes) quartered.

Take Ramsay Snow/Bolton's theoretical coats of arms detailing his titles: Son of Roose Bolton (meaning Bolton flayed man), Lord of the Hornwood (Hornwood moose) and Lord of Winterfell (direwolf). How would that look?

Besides, I would have thought GRRM would like detailing what is on various coats of arms as much as he takes a page to list ships, or to describe food, or how somebody's body is reacting to dysentery.

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The heraldry of the major houses was fixed with the first book and the complex worldbuilding wasn't all there yet, that came gradually.

The simplification of the heraldry is linked to the simplification of the entire rank system. Estates in Westeros don't seem to be combined to have multiple holdings where stewards are managing the lesser properties. A Westerosi lord would usually rule from their own single seat, and if a 2nd title comes to a family in one generation it would seem to be split in the next generation with the lesser lordship going to a second son. So that gives the in-universe explanation of why the heraldry remains simple.

 

There is a also a comment about quartering arms being 'hungry for honour' - maybe this is Bran's about the Walders? It seems to indicate quartering is not fashionable - those entitled to the wear the arms of a higher ranked house perhaps disdain quartering to include lesser arms. 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Angel Eyes said:

How come some of the heraldry in the books is relatively simplistic compared to real life? Take the coat of arms of Richard, Duke of York (one of the inspirations for Ned Stark), whose personal coat of arms is decidedly complex. The most complex we really get is someone like the Tyrell brothers having their sigil in multiples depending on their sequence of birth, Cleos Frey, whose arms is the Lannister lion and the Frey towers quartered, or Lady Dustin's arms which are the Ryswell horsehead and Dustin halberds (described in-text as long-axes) quartered.

Take Ramsay Snow/Bolton's theoretical coats of arms detailing his titles: Son of Roose Bolton (meaning Bolton flayed man), Lord of the Hornwood (Hornwood moose) and Lord of Winterfell (direwolf). How would that look?

Besides, I would have thought GRRM would like detailing what is on various coats of arms as much as he takes a page to list ships, or to describe food, or how somebody's body is reacting to dysentery.

If I recall, early heraldry were simplistic, much like most of the ASOIAF ones. Also on the field of battle, you have to be able to clearly discern the banners.

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21 minutes ago, Ran said:

Some remarks from GRRM indicate that he didn't want to be pinned down to a system with complex rules. As @Corvo the Crow says, he prefers the idea of a less regulated, freer system of heraldry where there's no real right or wrong.

He still uses some of the more "advanced", should I say, rules where it would be necessary. Say Walder Rivers' reverse color bend sinister coa for example.

Or house Vikary, which tells me that it's most likely descended from the Redtusk and and a bastard Reyne daughter or The Manderly knight with three mermaids upon white, a woolfield man and a Manderly daughter.

 

Edited by Corvo the Crow
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On 2/18/2022 at 3:15 PM, Buried Treasure said:

The heraldry of the major houses was fixed with the first book and the complex worldbuilding wasn't all there yet, that came gradually.

The simplification of the heraldry is linked to the simplification of the entire rank system. Estates in Westeros don't seem to be combined to have multiple holdings where stewards are managing the lesser properties. A Westerosi lord would usually rule from their own single seat, and if a 2nd title comes to a family in one generation it would seem to be split in the next generation with the lesser lordship going to a second son. So that gives the in-universe explanation of why the heraldry remains simple.

 

There is a also a comment about quartering arms being 'hungry for honour' - maybe this is Bran's about the Walders? It seems to indicate quartering is not fashionable - those entitled to the wear the arms of a higher ranked house perhaps disdain quartering to include lesser arms. 

 

 

The rank system's simplification is certainly a bit bothersome, like tiers are never really established outside of lords, landed knights, and whatnot.

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On 2/18/2022 at 6:26 PM, Angel Eyes said:

How come some of the heraldry in the books is relatively simplistic compared to real life? Take the coat of arms of Richard, Duke of York (one of the inspirations for Ned Stark), whose personal coat of arms is decidedly complex. The most complex we really get is someone like the Tyrell brothers having their sigil in multiples depending on their sequence of birth, Cleos Frey, whose arms is the Lannister lion and the Frey towers quartered, or Lady Dustin's arms which are the Ryswell horsehead and Dustin halberds (described in-text as long-axes) quartered.

Take Ramsay Snow/Bolton's theoretical coats of arms detailing his titles: Son of Roose Bolton (meaning Bolton flayed man), Lord of the Hornwood (Hornwood moose) and Lord of Winterfell (direwolf). How would that look?

Besides, I would have thought GRRM would like detailing what is on various coats of arms as much as he takes a page to list ships, or to describe food, or how somebody's body is reacting to dysentery.

Because real life heraldry was, in medieval times, actually very simple.

https://mythicscribes.com/miscellaneous/basics-of-heraldry/ 

Heraldry originally (as in, in the time when books are basically copying) served as a principal way of battlefield identification. This meant that heraldic insignia had to be unique but also relatively simple, so as to be identifiable from distance. It only became as complex as you describe later on, when it stopped being used for identification and was mostly used for glamour and prestige.

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On 2/18/2022 at 11:26 AM, Angel Eyes said:

How come some of the heraldry in the books is relatively simplistic compared to real life? Take the coat of arms of Richard, Duke of York (one of the inspirations for Ned Stark), whose personal coat of arms is decidedly complex. The most complex we really get is someone like the Tyrell brothers having their sigil in multiples depending on their sequence of birth, Cleos Frey, whose arms is the Lannister lion and the Frey towers quartered, or Lady Dustin's arms which are the Ryswell horsehead and Dustin halberds (described in-text as long-axes) quartered.

Take Ramsay Snow/Bolton's theoretical coats of arms detailing his titles: Son of Roose Bolton (meaning Bolton flayed man), Lord of the Hornwood (Hornwood moose) and Lord of Winterfell (direwolf). How would that look?

Besides, I would have thought GRRM would like detailing what is on various coats of arms as much as he takes a page to list ships, or to describe food, or how somebody's body is reacting to dysentery.

Richard of York’s is also simple. He simply pushed in a bunch of coat of arms of places he ruled or claimed as his own. That doesn’t make it complex. Dynasties I’m GOT are assumed to always keep the original name and coat of arms despite inheritance considering how long existent they are

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Sigils and heraldry in ASOIAF are part of the larger ways the author uses symbolism and metaphor.

For instance, House Arryn has a falcon on its shield and we have many references to flying in Lysa and Sweet Robin's stories. The blue of the sigil is probably linked to the Eyrie being built with marble imported from Tarth (Brienne is strongly linked to the color blue) and to Lysa wearing blue on the morning Sansa builds the snow castle (the same day Lysa "flies" out of the moon door). While this forum hasn't entirely sorted out GRRM's color code, I know that he carefully uses colors to show symbolic links and allusions. Along with animals and other symbols in sigils, the colors are part of the larger symbolism. 

As you point out, many of the sigils go only a couple of layers deep into symbolism - meaning the author may give us only one image and a color. The slightly more complex sigils use quartered images showing an alliance of two houses in a person's family tree or a younger son or bastard branch that uses a multiple of the family symbol or reversed colors. 

But there are some more complex "sigils": Littlefinger uses the titan's head when it pleases him, but his personal symbol of the mockingbird in other situations. One day he is wearing a maroon doublet and he tells Tyrion he got tired of wearing his own House colors. 

Walder Frey's current (last?) wife is Joyeuse Erenford. House Erenford seems to play no other role in the series, other than to provide a young bride for this creepy old man but I think she is supposed to embody a lot of symbolism so GRRM gives her a name starting with J (only a few key characters and the Tower of Joy have this letter) and a strangely detailed sigil: 

Quote

They blazon their arms with a golden heron, beaked and gambed black, standing with a silver fish in its beak, on pink.[1][2]

It's a water bird, which may be a nod to the Riverlands location of the House. It has captured a fish, which may allude to the Frey attempts to bring down House Tully (trout sigil). But why does the author specify the gold heron with black legs and a pink background? The colors are probably important symbols, and maybe someday we will understand what they represent. (I suspect the pies containing living birds - at Joffrey's wedding feast and at the wedding feast in The Mystery Knight - might be clues about the noble Houses with bird sigils.) 

For the many sigils that seem to present only one color and one image, my guess is that GRRM is using them as part of his pattern of paired symbols. I have theorized in other posts in this forum that there are many pairs of forces or qualities that GRRM is showing in imbalance and that will be brought into balance as the characters complete their quests: shaggy and sharp; bitter and sweet; dwarf and giant; winter and summer; stallion that mounts the world vs. mountain that rides; smiler and slayer; etc. So two properties in opposition or in balance is a pattern the author uses in many situations throughout the books.

We see symbols in one sigil united with another sigil through betrothal, marriage, an out-of-wedlock affair, a bannerman or military alliance, knighting of one knight by another or some other process of unification. Often, these unification ceremonies bring together only two layers of symbols as a marriage involves the uniting of two houses. Over time, the Starks collected the symbols associated with northern Houses by combat victories or by marrying each new generation to one of its bannermen. Other times, the unification ceremonies are complex, such as a king employing seven members of the king's guard or a Trial of Seven set of combatants involving seven unified sigils fighting another set of seven sigils. I think you could make a case that the mercenary armies in Essos or the Brotherhood Without Banners often bring together a group of sigils GRRM wants to show in a unified group. 

So the individual shields may not show the complexity but the story often does. 

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6 hours ago, HoodedCrow said:

I guess that Joyeuse is ironically named like the Tower of Joy. Didn’t think of herons ( homonymic?)as fishers but of course they are. I think it’s also supposed to be tacky, like a pink flamingo ornament, but that would have been overkill?

Except that pink as a House color is closely associated with House Bolton. In their case, I think it has to do with flayed skin or blood mixed with, hmm, maybe snow?

I forgot to mention that the Erenford heron might also be linked by wordplay to Harrenhal. 

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