Laws and authorities
January 2010 / December 2013

Heraldry authorities

SINCE 1814, a variety of official bodies in the United Kingdom and South Africa have been involved with South African heraldry. The Bureau of Heraldry and the Heraldry Council are now the only authorities.

British authorities

From 13 August 1814 to 31 May 1961, South Africa was partly or wholly within the British Empire and its successor, the British Commonwealth of Nations. This gave South Africans access to the British heraldic authorities. Even though South Africa's Roman-Dutch law did not require official British recognition of coats of arms, scores of individuals, associations, institutions, municipalities, and governments, obtained grants of arms from them.

Since 1961, both the English and Scottish authorities have continued to grant arms, from time to time, to South African applicants of British descent, or in connection with appointments to the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

You'll find a list of British grants of coats of arms here.

College of Arms (England) — England's heraldry authority, which grants coats of arms to 'eminent' gentlemen and ladies and to corporate bodies. The majority of British grants of arms to South Africans came from the College, the first being Sir Jan Truter's in 1837.

From 1953 to 1961, the Heraldry Society of South Africa acted as an unofficial channel to the College of Arms.

Lord Lyon (Scotland) — In Scotland, it is illegal to bear a coat of arms unless it has been granted or recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and recorded in the Lyon Register. Only people who are "virtuous and well deserving" qualify for grants of arms. A number of Scottish South Africans have obtained grants, or matriculated paternal arms, over the years, the first being David Tennant in 1872.

Ulster Office (Ireland) — The Ulster Office was Ireland's heraldry authority until 1943. Since then, the College of Arms has been the authority for Northern Ireland, and the Irish republic has had its own Chief Herald. A number of Irish South Africans obtained grants from the Ulster Office, or had their existing arms confirmed. The first appears to have been Charles Fair in 1896.

South African authorities before 1963

Before the Bureau of Heraldry was established in 1963, various government departments dealt with heraldic matters in South Africa.

State Archives — Until the late 1950s, the Union (later State) Archives – particularly the Cape Archives Depot – dealt with many enquiries concerning heraldry. From the mid-1940s, the Archives often warned the public against buying the bogus "family coats of arms" that were being sold in the country.

Between 1949 and 1954, chief archivist Dr Coenraad Beyers acted as heraldic advisor to the Union Defence Forces. Later, the Archives regularly advised municipalities on heraldic matters, and occasionally designed coats of arms and flags for official bodies.

Department of the Interior — From 1935 to 1959, the Department of the Interior registered the 'badges' (which could include coats of arms) of schools, clubs, and other associations and institutions under the Protection of Names, Uniforms and Badges Act. The purpose was to protect the badges against unauthorised use.

Provincial administrations — From 1949 (Natal), 1951 (Transvaal), and 1953 (Cape and Orange Free State) to 1969, the respective provincial administrations gave municipalities legal protection of their coats of arms by publishing notices in the provincial Official Gazettes. From 1963 to 1969, the provincial administrators had the authority to grant the arms before they were gazetted, but only the Cape and South West African administrators actually did s0.

Malan Committee — In 1951, the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (SA Academy for Science and Art) appointed a committee to investigate the state of heraldry in South Africa. The committee, comprising Prof Gabriel Malan, Dr Coenraad Beyers, and architects Frederick Masey, Gerhard Moerdyk, and Prof Geoffrey Pearse, recommended that the State Archives should establish a heraldry division to give direction and encourage good heraldic practice. The government accepted the recommendation, but was slow to act upon it.

Pelzer Committee — In 1956, the Department of Education, Arts & Sciences (which was responsible for the Archives) appointed a committee to report on the legal, financial, organisational, and other requirements for the proposed heraldry authority. The committee, comprising Prof Adriaan Pelzer, Dr Beyers, Capt Hein du Toit of the defence force, and Cornelis Pama, recommended following the Swedish model.

Department of Education, Arts & Sciences: Heraldry Section — In 1959, the Department of Education, Arts & Sciences established a Heraldry Section, under Dr Beyers, to take over the registration of associations' and institutions' names, uniforms, and badges from the Department of the Interior, and to manage official heraldry. Inter alia, it devised the official coat of arms for the SA-administered territory of South West Africa, and drafted the legislation to establish the proposed heraldry authority. This was passed in 1962, as the Heraldry Act.

Bureau of Heraldry and Heraldry Council

Bureau of Heraldry arms.

The Bureau of Heraldry and the Heraldry Council have been South Africa's heraldry authorities since June 1963. They form an autonomous part of the State (now National) Archives, and operate under the Heraldry Act 1962.

Organisation — The Bureau, which replaced the Department of Education, Arts & Sciences' heraldry section, originally consisted of a State Herald, a senior professional officer, and an administrative assistant. An art department was built up from 1965. The Senior Professional Officer was replaced by an Assistant State Herald in 1977.

The Council comprises a chairperson and members appointed by the responsible minister. Council members include the State Herald ex officio, heraldists, artists, historians, judges (until the mid-1990s) and specialists in African languages and culture (since the mid-1990s). The Assistant State Herald acts ex officio as Council secretary.

The titles 'State Herald' and 'Assistant State Herald' were changed to 'National Herald' and 'Deputy National Herald' in 2004. Around that time, the Bureau was divided into two sections: heritage promotion (under the National Herald) and creative (under the Deputy National Herald).

Marcel van Rossum (Deputy National Herald) and Themba Mabaso (National Herald) wearing tabards at the 2006 International Congress.

Official titles seem to be flexible, as the National Herald is also described as the 'Director of the Bureau of Heraldry', and the DNH as the 'Deputy Director of Design & Registration', while 'State Herald' is still used in the Heraldry Act and in notices published in the Government Gazette.

In Europe, heralds traditionally wear tabards displaying the arms of the monarch or state whom they serve. A tabard of the old South African coat of arms was made but, reportedly, not actually worn. Tabards of the new South African arms were made for the National Herald and Deputy National Herald to wear at the International Congress of Genealogical & Heraldic Sciences in 2006.

Ministerial responsibility for the Archives and the Bureau has changed several times over the years : Education, Arts & Sciences until 1968 ; Cultural Affairs 1968-70 ; National Education 1970-94 ; Arts, Culture, Science & Technology 1994-2002 ; Arts & Culture 2002- .

South African herald's baton.

President Swart granted an official coat of arms to the Bureau in 1965. Since 1966, Heraldry Council members, including the State Herald, display crossed herald's batons behind their personal arms, while holding office. Similar batons are displayed behind the full achievement of the Bureau's arms. Reportedly, at least one State Herald marshalled the Bureau arms with his own while holding office.

Functions — The Council's original functions were to advise the minister and the provincial administrators on heraldic matters ; to approve coats of arms submitted for registration ; to consider any appeals against the State Herald's decisions ; and to consider objections from the public to the registration of particular arms.

"On behalf of the Council and Bureau of Heraldry, it is hereby certified that a coat of arms, as illustrated on the dexter side hereof and blazoned hereunder, has been registered for --[Name]-- in terms of subsection 2(d) of section three and paragraph (b) of section fourteen of the Heraldry Act 1962 (Act No 18 of 1962) as the inalienable property of the above-mentioned person."
Text of the Bureau of Heraldry certificate 1966-c71

The Bureau's role was to receive applications, submit them to the Council's Coat of Arms Committee and then to the full Council ; to advertise applications in the Government Gazette for objections ; and to register those arms approved by the Council and issue registration certificates.

This process was cumbersome, especially in the case of municipal coats of arms which had to be referred to and from the provincial administrations as well. The Act was therefore amended in 1969 to streamline the whole system.

Since 1969, the State Herald has approved applications for registration, and the Council's primary role has been to determine policy for him to follow. The Coat of Arms Committee was replaced by a Heraldry Committee, which assists the State Herald with matters which he refers to it.

"This is to certify that a coat of arms as blazoned and illustrated above have been registered in terms of the Heraldry Act for
--[Name]--"
Text of the Bureau of Heraldry certificate 1966-c71

Until 1984, the Council continued to deal with objections to individual registrations, but since then this has been delegated to the Heraldry Committee. The Council deals with appeals against Committee decisions.

A mission statement was adopted in the late 1990s : "To provide a relevant and efficient heraldic and related service to the people of South Africa."

Since the early 2000s, the Bureau has been included in the government's programme of "heritage transformation". It has been given various objectives, such as developing 'new heraldic idioms' which reflect the country's African heritage, and promoting the national flag through the 'Flag in Every School' project. Since 2005, the chairperson of the Council has been an ex officio member of the National Heritage Council.

The Bureau's mission statement now reads : "To promote social cohesion through the design of heraldic symbols and popularisation of national symbols."

References :
  • Bureau of Heraldry; Annual Report of the State Herald (1982- ).
  • Bureau of Heraldry Database.
  • Dept of Education, Arts & Sciences; Annual Report (1961-62).
  • Heraldry Act 1962, as amended.
  • Bodel, J.D.; 'Registration Procedure: Heraldic Emblems' in Archives News (May 1975); 'Background to the Establishment and Functions of the Heraldry Council and Bureau of Heraldry' in Archives News (Jun 1977).
  • De Waal, D.P.; 'Die Bewaringsfunksie van die Buro vir Heraldiek' in Archives News (Mar 1989).
  • Heraldry Council Collection (National Library of SA, Cape Town : MSB 662).
  • Heraldry Society Collection (National Library of SA, Cape Town : MSB 663).
  • Maree, B.; 'Unique Heraldic Tradition' in SA Panorama (Jul 1984).
  • SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns; Jaarverslae (1950-52); Feesalbum 1909-1959 (1959).

Picture credit :
  • Wikipedia : photo of heralds in their tabards.

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