Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Problem with Research

In our day and age, we're used to having-- or at least thinking we have-- clear cut answers. We can visit a library, read a newspaper, turn on the news, plug in keywords on google.


When it comes to historical research, however, especially going back to medieval times and further, the answers are not always clear-cut. Today, for instance, my question is one I thought would be simple: when Niall jousts, what would be the colors on his banner?

There is a wealth of information out there. The question is how reliable it is. Zazzle, for instance, has Campbell crests and badges on a variety of objects. I'm not sure I'd take those as historical fact. Some other sites selling a variety of items with the Campbell family crest show both red and white, and blue and gold. I double-checked the pictures I took at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, and found that the shields they show are for James Douglas, Edward Bruce, Sir Robert Keith, and Sir Thomas Randolph. While Neil Campbell was a close friend of Bruce's, he was not one of the commanders of the four main divisions, so his shield is not listed.

One source, on google books, states, of a very early Campbell, 'his coat-of-arms is unknown.' Further reading in this same book tells us that some of the seals do feature the 'famous Campbell gyrons.' By the mid-1400's, the Campbell shield was 'gyrons undifferenced' or 'Gyronny of eight argent and sable.'

Now we have more questions: what is a gyronny and what is argent? This is easy enough to find out. A gyronny of eight is a shield divided into eight 'slices.' Moving on to another site, I found a number of shields labeled with the name of the pattern and the colors. 'Argent and gules' is red and white. 'Sable and argent' is black and white. 'Azure and argent' is blue and white.

So it seems the Campbell seal was a shield divided into eight 'slices' of alternating black and white, although the coat of arms is unknown-- according to this source.

One source says that in later years, the boar's head came to be on the crest, but apparently not as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century. Another source is very clear in its statement that the Campbells came to Argyl from Perthshire in 1221 and 'had always' had the boar's head as their crest. The full story behind the boar's head as the crest is quite interesting, but that's another story.
In the world of tartans, I find that the Campbell colors are blue, green, and black. This, however, would probably not be on Niall's banner as he jousts.

Another problem with research is the tangents on which you may find yourself traveling, as, for example, looking up new terms such as argent, gules, gyronny. The Web is a perfect name for the internet. I can easily get caught in the fascinating information available, and spent some possibly unnecessary time looking over this site: http://www.heraldsnet.org/saitou/parker/Jpglossa.htm This is a glossary of terms used in heraldry. Very interesting.

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