I’ve been doing some genealogical research lately. I think that I’ve traced my paternal lineage back to Peter Dodge, a 13th century Englishman who was presented a coat of arms by Edward I for his help in England’s brutal war with Scotland and the subjugation of its king, John de Balliol. Balliol’s chief rival for (and eventual successor to) the Scottish throne was Robert the Bruce.
That’s right. One of my ancestors was supposedly rewarded for his loyalty to Edward “Longshanks” and thus would have been a natural enemy to both William Wallace and Mel Gibson.
So this coat of arms had better be a real humdinger to offset all the militarism and patriarchal blusterings of pre-bubonic England, right? Enter James Hedingley, Edward’s official man-at-arms, who describes the design as a “Barry of Six: Or and Sable: on a Pale’gules, a Woman’s Breast Gouttant.”
Uh-huh. That’s a lactating human breast on my family coat of arms, folks. You don’t need to conjugate any French to understand what gouttant implies here.
But hold up because it gets worse.
According to this 1892 article in The Scottish Review, authors John Woodward and George Burnett complain that Hedingley’s proclamation is “obviously fictitious,” thus making the Dodge clan’s subsequent claims to cultural rank as little more than “spurious genealogy.” Woodward and Burnett take particular umbrage at how heraldry, “one of the most useful handmaidens of history,” has been used by forgers, charlatans and assorted other wanna-bes to subvert “private rights” and History (if not Reality…) itself.
What all of the above boils down to is a very unpleasant either/or for yours truly. If Woodward and Burnett are correct, I’m part of a dubious (and potentially criminal) lineage of coat of arms squatters who hitch their collective wagon to perhaps the most conniving and ruthless imperialist son of a bitch to ever sit on the English throne. And if they are mistaken, and it turns out ol’ Longshanks really did bestow this particular honor on Peter Dodge somewhere around the turn of the 14th century, my family coat of arms is emblazoned with arguably the most sexist image to ever grace military-grade hardware.
If I have anything to say about it, in my next life, my ancestral coat of arms will have a slightly different image: A Rock, Divinely Encumbered By The Proverbial Hard Place.