Coats of Arms: An Introduction to the Science and Art of Heraldry
Modern History Press (2022)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (03/2023)
“Coats of Arms” by Marc Fountain introduces readers to the intricacies of Heraldry. Heraldry is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the practice of devising, blazoning, and granting armorial insignia and of tracing and recording genealogies.” Fountain’s introductory text details the history of the practice and describes the cultural and social significance coats of arms have had for centuries, particularly in Western Europe and the United Kingdom. With colorful and helpful illustrations to depict what the book seeks to teach, Fountain has instilled new life in the subject matter.
“Coats of Arms” was interesting to me, particularly because in the last year or so my fiancé and I have been diving into our own genealogies and even did one of those Ancestry DNA tests. In my perusals of records and images, I have come across a lot of coats of arms throughout my own family tree, so it was especially interesting to learn about how my ancestors might have gone about establishing their coats of arms.
I think a lot of people write off subjects, such as heraldry, as obsolete, especially in the United States, since coats of arms have never really been a significant part of American culture and, unlike England, we do not have a body of government responsible for regulating Coats of Arms. “Coats of Arms” provides an intriguing reminder to readers that the history which contributed to our sociocultural histories (and even our individual ancestral histories) is, in fact, far from obsolete. Through studying Heraldry, we are provided a glimpse into the rules and guidelines of what it might have meant to be a knight in medieval England, or a member of the nobility such as a Viscount with a large estate, or even a member of the ruling elite. Towns, institutions, and even entire countries also have been known to sport their own coats of arms. Throughout history, expressing individual and collective identities has been a staple of human culture, and coats of arms played a vital role in that.
“Coats of Arms” was a fun, fascinating read that was full of information, yet broken down into easy-to-read sections so that the flow did not feel bogged down at all or like I was being bombarded with too much new information at once. Interactive history is one of the best ways to interest audiences of all ages and demographics into learning more about our collective past. It would be a fantastic addition to social studies curriculums in middle schools and high schools. I remember learning about coats of arms in my own preteen years and recall that we had to do a project designing shield to represent our families. Having a resource like Fountain’s text to assist me would have made the project even more fun (and, I am sure my final design would have turned out a lot better than it actually did)! It can also be enjoyed as a recreational read by adults, as well.