Now that Meghan Markle is officially the Duchess of Sussex, what does her coat of arms actually mean? Well, to start, there are lots of California references. According to a statement released by Kensington Palace, the coat of arms was approved by the Queen, who worked closely with Markle on the design, which is meant to be both “personal and representative.”
“The blue background of the shield represents the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, while the two golden rays across the shield are symbolic of the sunshine of The Duchess’s home state,” says the palace. “The three quills represent communication and the power of words. Beneath the shield on the grass sits a collection of golden poppies, California’s state flower, and wintersweet, which grows at Kensington Palace.”
The coat of arms is lined with golden poppies, which is California’s state flower, while the red crown, at the top of the image, is lined with patterns of crosses, strawberry leaves and fleurs-de-lys. But it all feels so plain, no?
Markle is symbolized as a white songbird, with an open beak and a quill representing communication and the “power of words,” while Harry is represented by a lion. Overall, the golden rays on the shield represents “sunny California.” Not everyone is fan though, it has been called an asymmetrical mess and ‘the biggest design crime of 2018.’
Meghan Markle Breaks with Tradition
A few notable accents have proved this coat of arms has, in fact, broken with royal traditions. It’s usual for the bride’s family name to be represented in the design (Kate Middleton’s coat of arms features ‘Middleton’ as well as her mother’s maiden name). This is not where it ends, however, as Megan and Harry will get their own “conjugal coat of arms” in the coming years.
“Every Coat of Arms has been designed to identify a person, school or organization, and is to last forever,” Thomas Woodcock, Garter King of Arms at the College of Arms, told PEOPLE magazine. “Heraldry is Europe’s oldest, most visual and strictly regulated form of identity and it surrounds us in Britain, giving clues to our history and surroundings.”
According to The Heraldry Society, which has an aim to educate on the history of heraldry, “the blazon – the written description of the arms – can use a combination of English, Norman French and Latin, often with poor punctuation and abbreviations,” and was used “originally the passport or DNA record of its time.” However, Markle’s coat of arms has no words at all, and in that way, it also breaks tradition.
While Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was watched by over 23m viewers, the cultural relevance of her coat of arms in pop culture has been lukewarm. There have been rare, or no, mentions of it in the Twittersphere, besides one U.S. company, which is using an embroidery machine to make Markle’s coat of arms design into a custom jacket with her design.
But is the coat of arms of Meghan Markle truly a strong piece of design? “The design has stuck very closely to the age-old illustrative genre without reaching for something in keeping with the untraditional union and wedding ceremony itself,” said Scott W. Santoro, an adjunct professor of graphic design at the Pratt Institute and the principal of Worksight. “I’m not suggesting that the design look like a cow brand, but there’s an elegance in communicating with solid graphics that are drawn in the simplest of terms, rather than relying on outlines, shading and gradient colors to separate shapes. My policy in both teaching and practice is to communicate with signs, not scenes.”