An Illustrated Dictionary of Heraldry

Compiled by John Cilia La Corte



A complete dictionary of heraldry conceived to enable the reader find, within one volume, all there is to know about heraldry, made easily accessible without the need to search elsewhere. Each term will be found in alphabetical order, fully defined and illustrated with, in most cases, an adjoining image. The rules of heraldry are also explained so that arms, and the manner in which they are constructed, may be understood and, when found verbally described rather than painted, correctly interpreted.


Review by Adrian Strickland in the Sunday Times of Malta, 13 February 2011:

Modern books on heraldry are very often recycled versions of previous publications, or even the same publication in a new jacket So with an inquisitive mind I opened Heraldria Illustrata, looking into another dictionary of this esoteric subject. Ubiquitous, but not generally known and much less understood.

Privately printed, and therefore at some inconsiderable personal commitment, John Cilia La Corte sets out almost 300 pages of text, peppered with mainly full colour illustrations of shields of arms, and amply illustrates the meanings of the terms used in heraldry.

lt is thought that heraldry appeared in Germany at the end of the 11th century. This outstandingly flexible art form developed into a science, with its own conventions and rules, in the capable hands of the heralds, whose task it was to act as messengers between leaders of warring armies, to prepare the muster rolls recording those knights and noblemen present on special occasions, and of course, to record the casualties left on the field of battle.

To do the latter, like good civil servants, they devised a language that only they and perhaps a few noblemen understood, this is called blazon, from the noise of a trumpet, which was usually blown prior to an announcement, as when a knight rode into the tournament lists, and had his pedigree announced and his arms described.

This language, derived front Norman French, in daily use today in the 21st century still uses words like fitchy, barry and fleurett, which one can at least guess the meaning of.

Cilia La Corte’s book includes all these usual terms one encounters in blazon. so one can relatively easily understand what is being described.

However, this dictionary is a magnum opus of about 20,000, (mostly colour) illustrations in its pages. Each of them graphically explains what a particular word in blazon means. These are coupled with verbal explanations, more in the style of earlier heraldic dictionaries, produced at a time when every illustration had to be hand drawn. and engraved on a copper or steel plate, and even then could only he produced in monochrome, like earlier editions of the classic Boutell’s Heraldry.

Appearing among these pages are heraldic terms that in about 40 years of avid interest in this esoteric science called heraldry, or more properly, armoury, I have never come across. These terms nevertheless facilitate blazoning of many unusual figures and shapes found on shields of arms.

Terms like knobber, hastilude, jelloped, manchet, nowye or a cross gringol�, the last of which means a cross, the extremities of which end in heads of serpents.

Many more of these gems grace the pages of this unusual dictionary, making it a veritable mine of information, not only for heraldists, but also other enthusiasts like cross word lovers, and scrabble players.

The entries are often cross referenced, so that a variation of something quite ordinary with a different but unusual name may also be found, like ‘icicle: see goutte reversed’, which is a way of indicating a drop-shaped charge is upside clown.

Armoury quickly captured the hearts and souls of the nobility of Christendom. One of its possible origins could have been the death of Harold, King of the Saxons, who at the battle of Hastings lost his kingdom after a fatal arrow in one eye.

This had led to the demise of the open helm with noseguard, to the development of the pot helm that concealed the face of the wearer, rendering him unrecognisable and forcing upon the warrior class a method of individual identification of combatants in battle and in tournaments of the late Middle Ages.

Today, all states have arms, most provinces, municipalities, guilds, banks, insurance companies, schools and universities have arms, usually granted by the fons honorem or heraldic authority of the state.

The petitioning (or adoption) of arms is usually intended to enhance the image and status, and by association their trustworthiness. It is a shame several sovereign states do not maintain a heraldic authority, which would lend seriousness to this practice.

Anyone with an interest in heraldry would find this book fascinating, every one with a serious interest should have this book at his/her elbow for many reasons, but especially for design, blazon, and identification, and of course, amusement.

The compilation of this book is the end product of years of research, and represents a labour of love by the author Cilia La Corte, a heraldist and an avid genealogist living in London.