Feature of the Month: Blome's Art of Heraldry

In 2016 Senate House Library is commemorating the quartercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare. This year’s Features of the Month celebrate books published in the same year as Shakespeare’s first four folios: 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. This is the second of three books featured from 1685.

The Art of Heraldry, in Two Parts
Richard Blome
London: H. Sawbridge, 1685
[Rare] F1c [Blome]

The publisher and bookseller Richard Blome (ca 1635-1705) began his career as a heraldic painter before becoming a publisher and bookseller. His output was diverse, including biblical themes, The Gentlemans Recreations (a general encyclopaedia and a description of various sports), and a translation of Antoine Le Grand’s Entire Body of Philosophy. Much of his work, however, was heraldic and topographical.

The manual shown is a reissue of Blome’s An Essay to Heraldry in Two Parts, published by Blome himself in 1684 and sold at his lodgings. It was popular enough for a second edition to be published in 1693.

The genre was well established. Several heraldry books had appeared in the first half of the seventeenth century, the most popular of which was John Guillim’s substantial A Display of Heraldrie (four editions, 1610-1638) – a work to which Blome declares his indebtedness on the title page for the method of describing achievements (the coat of arms with all the surrounding elements, such as crests, supporters and mottos). Blome appears to have been taking advantage of a renewed interest in heraldry when he produced this manual, with the 1670s and the 1680s seeing a number of issues of new books and sheets on heraldry and reissues of old ones, including William Dugdale’s The antient usage in bearing of such ensigns of honour as are commonly call'd arms (1682), Peter Heylyn’s Help to English History, Benjamine Smithurst’s Britain’s Glory, and England’s Bravery, and Matthew Carter’s Honor Redivivus. Blome’s particular claim for his book is the amount of information in a small space: “small in bulk, yet large in substance” (A2r), he informs Sir Henry Goodrick in his dedication, and: “I may presume to say that there hath been nothing yet extant of this nature so full in so small a compass” (A3r) In it he defines terms, gives examples, sets out rules for creating a coat of arms, names the bearers of some arms, and lays out the different ranks of nobles. He also explains the symbolism of colours with their associated precious stones and planets and the significance of the choice of bearings used in heraldry: for example, “Birds are of a more noble bearing than fish for that they participate [sic] more of the fire and air the noblest elements” (p. 172).

Senate House Library acquired the book during the Second World War, a rich time for antiquarian acquisitions. This is one of fifteen copies recorded on ESTC, of which eight copies are in the United Kingdom and the other seven in America.

Blog post details

  • 1 Nov 2016

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