Monday, September 5, 2016

The Right to Bear Arms

     In medieval times, heralds had the dicey job of running messages between rival warlords across a tense battlefield under a flag of truce.  Between bloody wars they had the much safer job of colorfully announcing the contestants in entertaining tournaments and jousts.  The only problem was the contestants were anonymously clad head to toe in body armor.  So each considerately carried some sort of identifying symbolism on his shield.  A bear and a ragged staff meant the Earl of Warwick was tucked away inside all that clanking, creaking metal.

     So the heralds became experts and eventually even the respected arbiters of who was who among the elite, judging who had the right to claim membership in any particular bloodline.  Often this involved the bestowing of great wealth upon whomever a herald decreed was the rightful heir among sometimes many rival legitimate and illegitimate claimants.  Each of the great clans evolved a unique coat of arms incorporating symbols depicting that particular ancestry.

     In 1484 King Richard III set up the College of Arms in London.  It’s still one of the few heraldic authorities in the world, consulting on ceremonial matters, researching bloodlines, keeping meticulous records.  Still deciding who has “the right to bear arms.”

     Nothing whatever to do with weaponry.

     Interesting how certain such phrases in our complex language have morphed into entirely different meanings over time.


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