George RR Martin recommends some history books on his website, so I decided to order a few. The Dictionary of Heraldry arrived the other day. I opened it up, and low and behold, the first few pages are filled with the seals of England’s oldest noble families: the Percys, de Veres, Stranges, and others. These seals date back to the first centuries after the Norman conquest.
What’s most interesting about these early seals is that they include the word “SIGILLUM” on them. Sigillum is the Latin word for seal, signet (as in the ring used to impress an image into wax), and emblem. Typically today, we refer to the emblems nobles used on badges as devices. However, it seems just as likely that nobles used a word originating from Latin like sigil or sigillum to describe their emblem.
Sigil is a great choice for the heraldic devices in Game of Thrones; sigil is old, mysterious, evocative.
To learn more about how sigils in Game of Thrones compare to sigils in the real world, check out Sigils in Game of Thrones, Medieval Marketing.
George RR Martin’s History Book Recommendations
In addition to the Osprey military history series, Martin also recommends the books listed below. I’ve added a few comments about my impressions of them.
THE MEDIEVAL SOLDIER Gerry Embleton & John Howe. This provides a very clear, simple introduction into the life of the medieval solider. It is definitely targeted at re-enactors, so for better or for worse it has lots of modern color photos.
A DISTANT MIRROR Barbara Tuchman. I already had this book, and it is excellent. I believe it was quite revered when it was released.
MEDIEVAL SWORDMANSHIP John Clements
THE MEDIEVAL WARFARE SOURCE BOOK David Nicolle
THE DICTIONARY OF HERALDRY by Joseph Foster. This looks like a fantastic reference, and I suspect if you study it you really get a sense of the patterns that arose. Right now, however, I’m just trying to get a basic understanding of heraldry, which is surprisingly complex.
If you’re interested in heraldry or even just love the sigils on Game of Thrones, I *strongly* recommend The Complete Book of Heraldry by Stephen Slater. I love this book! It is extremely clear, concise, and every single glossy page has multiple colorful images. It is recently out of print, so you can get it very cheaply on Amazon or somewhere like that (e.g., ~$2.65 on Amazon + shipping).
TOURNAMENTS by Richard Barber & Juliet Barker
GREAT CITIES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD by L. Sprague de Camp
THE CHRONICLES OF ENGLAND, FRANCE, SPAIN, AND OTHER PLACES ADJOINING by Sir Jean Froissart
You can also see some additional seals at this book, Some Feudal Lords and Their Seals, which is on openlibrary.org.
By Jamie Adair