Liberal and left-leaning news orgs are happily publicizing the latest evidence of the dishonesty by the Human Stain (and his family). He has allegedly ripped off another family’s coat-of-arms and rebranded it (you guessed it) as “TRUMP.” I have a few thoughts that may prove unpopular, but here goes:
First, this seems to be a pretty venial sin compared to the heights of grifting and inept spycraft that he and his administration have reached in just 125 days in office, but okay: more evidence of unscrupulous douchebaggery. We get it!
But second, and my real point here: historians know that coats-of-arms are all bull$hit, don’t we? We know that all titles, knighthoods, and the like are all made up at some point or another, so who cares? Someone was knighted or ennobled because he agreed to fight with the king, or let the king screw his wife, or loaned him money, or performed some such base and ignoble service to the crown, and that’s it. That’s all titles and coats of arms mean!
They’re meaningless pretentions, so go ahead and steal or make up a coat of arms yourself! (It’s really easy–I made one for La Famille Historiann in about 3 minutes with Google translate and this website. If you’re a Latinist, you can skip the Google translate step and do yours in 2.5 minutes!) You’re only carrying on a rich tradition of westerners making stuff up about their allegedly illustrious ancestors to compensate for their own insecurities. Americans and Canadians have done it for centuries, and I’m assuming that Europeans have been just as snobbish and devious as their New World cousins all along.
Fun fact: Esther Wheelwright, the subject of my latest book, perpetuated a fake family coat of arms herself! It’s true–she was given a silver chalice and a place setting engraved with the supposed Wheelwright coat of arms by her nephew Nathaniel Wheelwright when he visited her in the convent in 1754. This was a smart move on his part that must have thrilled her–she was among the few choir nuns who had no family connections or prestigious relations who could serve the interests of the order. This expensive gift, complete with a coat of arms, was proof that she came from an elite family, if not an entitled one!
But wait, there’s more! Esther Wheelwright later painted the coat of arms onto a piece of silk and sent it back to some family members in New England, along with the oil painting that now hangs in the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. (For all the details, please see The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, chapter 6!) My point here is that Americans dig the “class” they think they can get from faking this kind of fake-to-begin-with pedigree, and it fools a lot of other Americans. (Just not me, and I’m guessing not most of you, either.)
If you think I have a low opinion of people who get all upset on behalf of plagiarized coats of arms, don’t even get me started on people who fetishize blood relations and alleged genealogical connections. As the daughter of an adopted person, I was already skeptical of this, but once I started using and learning about genealogies in the course of my research, I found out how disconnected and full of adoptions and “natural children” most family histories really are. (Families lie about everything! Please, reflect on your own family’s history and experiences, and then read that back a few centuries if you think I’m being too harsh.)