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Canadian Heraldic Authority (CHA)

Heraldry Proficiency Program - Level 3


Those who have successfully completed Levels 1 and 2 of the Heraldry Proficiency Program are eligible to complete Level 3 of the program, leading to a Licentiate of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada (LRHSC). This part requires the submission of two projects: a thesis and a heraldic design.



A thesis is a rigorous study of a specific topic or question that demonstrates the writer's familiarity with important literature and methods relevant to the area of research. A thesis must contribute something new to the existing body of heraldic knowledge. A candidate's first step in preparing a thesis is to contact the Chief Examiner of the RHSC with a detailed proposal of the research he or she plans to conduct. If the proposal is approved, a thesis Adviser is appointed who will be able to help the candidate during composition. Once completed, the thesis is submitted to the Chief Examiner, who will in turn submit it to the Academic Examinations Panel (the Panel), whose members will evaluate the thesis based on criteria discussed below. Theses and proposals for theses may be written in either English or French.



A candidate must present to the Chief Examiner a detailed proposal of the subject he wishes to address and of the research he plans to conduct in order to deal with the subject. The proposal will be returned with (i) a full approval, (ii) an approval with reservations (and recommendations for changes), or (iii) a rejection, with an explanation. In the second and third of these circumstances, candidates must resubmit their proposals until they obtain a full approval.

Format of the Proposal

The proposal should be no less than two double-spaced pages (approximately 500-600 words). Each of the areas below should be discussed in enough detail to allow the Chief Examiner to assess the thesis topic and research plan.

Relevance. It is the candidate's responsibility to indicate where his or her thesis topic fits into the rich and interdisciplinary field of heraldry. Any field or any period of heraldry may be included and the subject is not limited to Canada or a Canadian context. The candidate should identify clearly the nature of the paper. No matter what topic or approach is chosen, the candidate should emphasize how he or she believes the thesis will be of significance to heraldic scholarship, or what it will add to our current knowledge and understanding.

Sources.The proposal should include a short review of the literature to be used as sources for the thesis, supplemented by a list of such works in an acceptable bibliographic format. Also included should be plans for other sources, such as persons to interview, buildings to examine, access to private collections, or other requirements for the research project. Any sources listed in the proposal must be available to the candidate once the topic is approved.

Methods to be Used. The candidate must specify how the research will progress. He or she should indicate the availability of the sources indicated above (e.g. various topics may involve the use of books or materials readily available in libraries or on the internet, or that may require use of the Inter-library Loan System, etc). Other requirements – such as travel – should be outlined in the proposal. The candidate should address any ethical implications (such as informed consent) and how he or she plans to deal with them. Questions about possible ethical concerns can be forwarded to the Chief Examiner.



Once the Chief Examiner has approved the proposal, he will appoint an Adviser to assist each candidate in his or her work. The Adviser will assist the candidate with any aspects of the research for, and writing of, the thesis that seem necessary, and will approve the work as it progresses.


Suggested length of the thesis is between 7,000 and 12,000 words, excluding title page, notes and bibliography. Allowing approximately 300 words per page, the thesis should be between 23 and 40 pages long. Theses longer than 12,000 words are acceptable, but anything less than 6,000 words would most likely be unacceptable.


Suggested subjects might include:
  • the history of some distinct element of armorial practice, such as:
    • the use of a particular symbolic motif or set of related motifs in the design of armorial emblems;
    • the use of some distinct type of symbolism in a particular context;
    • the use of some distinct form of insigne (mark of rank, position or honour);
    • the use of some method of indicating cadency; or
    • some form of marshalling arms or crests).
  • the history of the armorial practices of some particular country or region;
  • the history, in a specific period, of a particular body of heralds or heraldic institution;
  • a detailed comparison of the history of certain types of heraldic or armorial practices in two or more countries;
  • a biography of a major herald, heraldist, or heraldic artist, or a collective biography of some set of persons belonging to one of these categories;
  • a study of the contributions to heraldic practices by a certain herald, heraldist, or heraldic artist, or a small group of such persons, including a critical review of their principal works;
  • a study of some aspect of the laws of arms, in one or more countries, with an explanation of the extent of its peculiarities.
See also the Appendix below, in which Auguste Vachon, FRHSC, Outaouais Herald of Arms Emeritus, offers advice to potential candidates about possible Canadian subjects for a thesis.

Whatever the subject, please keep in mind that a thesis should make an argument; it should not simply be a heraldic catalogue or "stamp collection."


Each page of the thesis should be double-spaced and with one-inch margins. Candidates should use the font Times New Roman, with a point size of 12. Please number pages, and please ensure that the thesis is submitted using correct spelling, grammar, and syntax.

Citing Sources. It is important to give credit to any authors or others whose work is either quoted or relied on in developing a thesis. Not giving credit appropriately is plagiarism, one of the most serious infractions in academic work. Normally the Adviser will steer the candidate away from any potential plagiarism, but it is still the candidate's responsibility to avoid it, and to ask when in doubt. If the Panel discovers a case of plagiarism, it will be considered a very serious matter, and will result in the rejection of the thesis, with no possibility of resubmission. Sources must be cited in footnotes and listed in a bibliography, using the format prescribed by sections 9-13 of the Editorial Policies and Conventions (select "submission guidelines" > "AHS editorial policies and conventions") of the Society's scholarly journal Alta Studia Heraldica.

Illustrations. A heraldic thesis is likely to contain illustrations. These may either be integrated into the text, or collected into their own section at the end. Illustrations may be in black-and-white or colour, but they should be large and clear enough to show what the author wishes to show. Each illustration should be labeled using the following as models:

FIGURE 4: Royal Arms of Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, drawn by Fraser Herald Cathy Bursey-Saborin, 1995.

FIGURE 5: A carving of the arms of Lord Lake-Rivers, from the front entrance to Clarington Hall, Dorset, c. 1923 (photo by the author, 11 July 2003).

In other words, each illustration should be numbered and explained. If it appears in a unique exemplification (e.g., as a carving or in stained glass) the location should be mentioned (if known). The artist’s name and date of composition, and the photographer’s name and date of photographing, should also be mentioned (if known).

Permission for Use. Related to citing sources is obtaining permission to use certain types of material, principally those for which a copyright is held by an individual or institution. In the case of published works, this is strictly necessary only if and when the thesis is to be published. In the case of interviews, it would be both courteous and wise to seek the written permission of anyone interviewed to quote anything said during the course of the interview. If the thesis takes a biographical form and involves living persons, the candidate will need to do so in keeping with the current ethical standards governing the publication of materials acquired in this fashion.


For consistency, the Academic Panel members will all use the same set of five grading criteria: a. Research; b. Organization; c. Style; d. Originality; and e. Analysis. The members of the academic panel, in consultation with the Chief Examiner, will arrive at a consensus based on these criteria as to whether the thesis should be passed, returned for revisions, or rejected.For consistency, the Academic Panel members will all use the same set of five grading criteria: a. Research; b. Organization; c. Style; d. Originality; and e. Analysis. The members of the academic panel, in consultation with the Chief Examiner, will arrive at a consensus based on these criteria as to whether the thesis should be passed, returned for revisions, or rejected.

Quality of Underlying Research

The thesis will first be evaluated on the basis of the thoroughness and difficulty of the research on which it was based, judged on the extent and relevance of its bibliography, the number of primary sources employed, and the difficulty of access to all sources.


The thesis must state clearly in an introductory section the question to be addressed, the approach(es) to be taken to it, the arguments to be made, the novelty and significance for the field of the proposed study, and the general category of the work. The body of the thesis must progress in an orderly way in keeping with some appropriate principle of organization, and it must culminate in a conclusion that sums up what has been done in relation to the goals stated.


The thesis must be clear, precise, concise, and unambiguous in expression, and must conform to the norms of grammar, usage, and orthography of Standard English or French.

Originality and Contribution to the Field

Throughout the thesis, the author's arguments must show how he or she is being original and insightful, or how the discussion takes a fresh perspective on a well-known area. The author can show the complexity of the topic by making comparisons to previous works on the same subject.


The quality of the analysis will be the most important basis for the evaluation of the thesis. The analysis should demonstrate at once a command of the literature, of the primary sources examined, of the relevant categories, concepts, and of the terms of heraldic studies, and an ability to use them all effectively in combination in a convincing exposition or argument. In addition, if the thesis is making an argument or presenting material that is subject to interpretive dispute, he or she should attempt to present all sides of the question before indicating which he or she finds most reasonable or convincing. Furthermore, no matter what topic the thesis examines, it is essential that the author indicate any underlying assumptions or possible bias in his or her sources, including reports of interviews with people.



  1. Registration The candidate registers on-line or by mail and pays the registration fee.
  2. Project Assignment The Chief Examiner assigns a Design Project to the candidate. This will usually be to design appropriate arms and badge for a non-armigerous Canadian city or town or other institution entitled to supporters.
  3. Research on the Assigned Municipality or Institution The candidate researches the assigned municipality using, for example, the Internet and/or direct contact with municipal or institutional officials.
  4. Design of Arms and Badge. The candidate designs arms and a badge appropriate to the municipality/institution in question, using his or her research to make them both symbolic and unique.
  5. Submission The candidate submits the following:
    1. An account of his or her research on the subject municipality/institution, and the decisions made as to which features to include and which to discard.
    2. The blazon of the designs for arms and badge.
    3. A black-and-white sketch. This may be by the candidate himself or by any selected artist. It will serve only to determine whether the blazon conveys precisely what the candidate has in mind and will not be judged for its artistic merit.
    4. A symbolism statement (similar to that used by the CHA), explaining the symbolism of the design and how it relates to the assigned municipality/institution.


The members of the Design panel mark the project independently, using the criteria below as a guide. They submit their marks to the Chief Examiner, who averages them. To pass, a candidate must achieve an average minimum grade of 70.

Category Questions for Marker Grade out of
1. Information Has the candidate provided adequate information about the assigned "client"?  5
2. Blazon Is the blazon's language correct and does it describe to the artist precisely what the designer has in mind?  15
3. Design
Do the designs follow heraldic rules?
Are the arms and badge artistically attractive?
Are the designs sufficiently distinctive that they would not likely be confused with an existing achievement?
Would the badge (possibly with the addition of the municipal name) be suitable to serve the function of a municipal logo?

4. Symbolism Do the symbolism of the designs represent significant element(s) of the municipality or institution?  20
Total   100


SUBJECTS by Auguste Vachon, FRHSC

The licentiate level is the third and final level of the Heraldic Proficiency Courses. Its requirements are demanding and the subjects proposed need the approval of the Examination Committee. This level involves preparing a well-written thesis on a subject that contributes substantial new knowledge to the art or science of heraldry or to both. Besides being free of spelling and grammatical errors, well-written implies a scholarly format in the presentation, footnotes or endnotes, and bibliography. The subject should be treated in-depth. Treating an extensive subject superficially would not be acceptable. In such cases, it would be preferable to divide the subject into smaller units such as a specific period or geographic area that the candidate could explore thoroughly. However, the Examination Committee would encourage larger fields of exploration that might involve teamwork and the granting of the licentiate level to all members of the team. If the subject chosen meets acceptance by a college or university for an academic degree, the Committee would be pleased to work with the student and thesis supervisor towards that goal. Before proposing a subject, a candidate should conduct a feasibility study that would gauge the extent of the research and the available sources of documentation. The proposal should outline a methodology to perform the research and present results. The examples listed below are Canadian in nature, but the Examination Committee would welcome subjects relating to countries and periods outside the Canadian experience.


Land claiming ceremonies. Most of the land claiming ceremonies by early explorers involved heraldic content. The subject has already been treated in a well-researched article by Robert Pichette entitled: "Les armoiries de souveraineté et de possession françaises en Amérique" (See the site "Heraldic America"). However, this tradition, which began with Jacques Cartier and John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), represents a vast phenomenon. Dozens of land claims based on heraldic emblems are recorded in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography alone and bringing them all to light would require considerable research. These ceremonies, rich in symbolisms that have political, social and religious implications, deserve analysis. It would appear that a subject of this importance would meet the requirements of a university degree.

Unofficial heraldry in Canada. The unofficial use of heraldry in Canada, including bogus heraldry, is broad and varied. Basically, it can be divided into heraldic amateurs who created heraldry (often naïve heraldry) to fill a need and those who peddled heraldry purely for financial gain. Because it is a vast subject, treating a single aspect of this phenomenon, such as the armorial peddlers and their dubious methods, would no doubt constitute a licentiate subject in itself.


Thoroughly inventorying and analyzing the armorial devices that have appeared on Canadian medals.This analysis would likely involve arranging the devices by groups and analyzing their nature and significance. It may involve highlighting different practices within the varying cultural groups in Canada and the events and historical figures that have become the object of armorial medals.

Thoroughly inventorying and analyzing the armorial devices that have appeared on maps relating to the Canadian territory. Such maps are numerous and date back to the early explorations. Again a methodology for classifying and analyzing results would have to be established.

The types of projects outlined in this section lend themselves well to teamwork. For instance, inventorying the heraldic content of cartoons that have appeared in some major Canadian newspapers would likely necessitate the involvement of several researchers. A number of social and cultural attitudes would no doubt be revealed by the analysis of such an inventory. Also, creating an armorial of the municipal arms for a single large province such as Ontario or Quebec (work already begun by Ian Campbell) would again normally be done by a group. Other team projects would be inventorying the monumental heraldry in Canada (work begun by Daniel Cogné) or inventorying armorial seals (work also begun by Daniel Cogné). There are many other possibilities within this category such as Canadian armorial bookplates and Canadian armorial china.


Some figures stand out as giants in Canadian heraldry. Names that immediately come to mind are those of Edward Marion Chadwick and A. Scott Carter of Ontario, Maurice Brodeur of Quebec and, closer to us, the well-known late Alan B. Beddoe. Biographies of such outstanding Canadian heraldists, accentuating their heraldic contributions, would be welcome thesis subjects.

Many Canadians have laboured in the field of heraldry as heralds, scholars, painters, amateurs, promoters of the field. Their number is large enough to warrant a Who's Who of Canadian Heraldry. This would be an ideal team project.


Heraldry lends itself to investigation by other disciplines such as history, history of art, psychology, law, etc. One useful study would be to establish a profile of the Canadian armiger by interviewing a significant number of persons who have received arms from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. This could help determine what are the deep-seated motives for petitioning arms and if some groups of Canadians stand out as more assiduous petitioners? There are also many legal aspects to heraldry. For instance, it has been claimed that the three fleurs-de-lis on blue in the third quarter of the achievement of arms of Canada is a usurpation of the arms of the Bourbon family. This raises many questions to which only a learned legal mind could find answers or express a valid legal opinion. Were these arms simply those of a family? Since they were certainly also the arms of a sovereign representing a country, could they not be viewed also as representing the country itself at that time? As symbols of sovereignty widely displayed in Canada, do they not form a sufficiently important part of Canadian heritage to appear legitimately in Canada's arms?

Nota bene

The fields outlined here are intended as a guide for candidates. There are, of course, many other areas of investigation relating to Canada, to other countries or historical periods that could potentially lead to the licentiate level.