The Heraldry of Bond, Blofeld and Fleming

In the dedication for Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ it reads:

‘for SABLE BASILISK PURSUVIANT
and HILARY BRAY
who came to the aid of the party’

But who is Sable Basilisk?

This is in fact, was based on “Rouge Dragon” in the College of Arms. Rouge Dragon was the title of heraldic researcher Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees.

Mirrlees held the post of Rogue Dragon Pursuivant from 1952 to 1962 at the College of Arms in London. In 1960, during this time at the College of Arms, he provided Ian Fleming with background information pertaining to heraldry and the College of Arms in 44 pages of research and notes, to which Fleming replied with glowing thanks and payment.

In a further thanks, Fleming created the character Sable Basilisk and based him upon Robin who had asked Fleming not to use his ‘Rouge Dragon’ in the book; so in a play on words, Fleming used Mirrlees’s address, a flat in Basil St and combined it with a dragon-like creature, a basilisk, to come up with the name.

Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees

Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees with a companion.

Mirrlees (an occasional golf partner to Fleming) discovered that the line of the Bonds of Peckham bears the family motto “The World is Not Enough”, which Fleming appropriated for Bond’s own family. Two years before Fleming even met Sean Connery, he asked Mirrlees if any Scottish roots could be traced for which he located English, Irish and Welsh branches but no Scottish branch. This somewhat dispels the theory that Fleming altered Bond’s origins to match those of Connery.

The fictional Bond family motto

‘The Worlds Is Not Enough’ – The fictional Bond family motto

On a visit to the College of Arms in the novel, Bond finds that the family motto of Sir Thomas Bond is “The World Is Not Enough”, and that he might be (though unlikely) Bond’s ancestor. On the pretext that a genetically-inherited minor physical abnormality (a lack of earlobes) needs a personal confirmation, Bond impersonates a College of Arms representative, Sir Hilary Bray to visit Blofeld’s lair atop Piz Gloria, where he finally meets Blofeld.

Mirrlees’ traced his own genealogy and discovered the common family trait from Spanish antecedents, that they are born with no ear lobes. Fleming grafted this characteristic on to the book’s villain Blofeld and this trait would be carried through to the film adaptation, although the character based on Mirrlees would have a name change to Sir Hilary Bray.

The name Hilary Bray was that of an old-Etonian contemporary of Fleming who worked at the stockbroking firm Rowe & Pitman. Ann remarked he was the nicest of Ian’s friends and ‘had a good war’. Later he would live the life of a hermit in the Scottish Highlands, bird watching and hill walking.

42518_view 02_02It is revealed that Fleming actually began his research with Robin Mirrlees from the College of Arms a few years before conceiving of the OHMSS novel specifically desiring a basis to give Bond a Scottish ancestral background prior to Sean Connery getting the role.  While some in the Bond fan community believe that Connery had been the reason for Fleming’s revelation of Bond’s Scottish origin, Helfenstein makes a strong case that Fleming had wanted to tap into his own Scottish ancestral origins years before Connery had come into the picture.

While Mirlees’ research hadn’t yielded any results confirming a Scottish background for Bond, he did provide a motto for the Bond family crest that would forever hold significance to the Bond franchise and provide a credo for Fleming’s characterization which fit Bond to a tea: “The World is Not Enough.”

[Jack Lugo from his review of Charles Helfenstein’s book on the making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service]

Work began on the dust jacket on May 15th, 1962 by Richard Chopping who faced a tough challenge painting the coat of arms and his own hand as reference, for the picture of an artist’s hand in perspective.

The cover did not feature the usual juxtaposition of beauty, danger and death, which, especially considering the content of this particular novel, is unusual. Instead, this cover depicted an artist, illustrating James Bond’s heraldic coat of arms with the Latin ‘Orbis Non Suffict‘, which translates to ‘The World Is Not Enough‘.

This image is somewhat reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s ‘Drawing Hands’ from 1948, in which one hand draws another; especially considering that for this cover Chopping himself is the illustrator.

The Blofeld Coat of Arms

In 1968 Rodney Dennys was consulted by the makers of the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. He was first was appointed assistant to the Garter King of Arms, then finally Somerset Herald at College of Arms, and not for nothing was he also a former 20 year veteran of the Secret Intelligence Service.

In the book and the film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld has written to the College of Arms seeking to have his rights to the title and arms of the Comte de Bleuville. Fleming describes Blofeld in his novel as having the ‘hairy heel of Achilles’, a weakness that Bond could exploit. “Hairy heel” is British slang for “ill-bred,” derived from literal breeding: a poorly bred horse has too much hair about its fetlocks. Blofeld’s ill-breeding manifests in his snobbish desire to become a Count at any cost.

Desperate to become Comte Balthazar de Bleuville, he requests a formal confirmation of the title from the College of Arms, whose employees remark on how “Snobbery and vanity positively sprawl through our files.”

Syd Cain’s original production illustration of Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s coat of arms.

Syd Cain’s original production illustration of Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s coat of arms.

  • The Boar Motif: Used to reflect Blofeld’s ferocious character.
  • The Mountain: Used to reflect Piz Gloria
  • Pearls on the crown: These determine rank, there are 9 which signifies a Count
  • Mascles: The diamond shapes on the shield are on the actual Blofeld arms and are there for realism
  • Double cross of Lorraine: Signifies Blofeld’s Western European ancestry
  • The Motto: Arae Et Foci – Of the Air and Soaring

Let the Deed Shaw (Scottish for ‘show’)

“Let the deed shaw” is the Fleming clan’s Scottish motto, originating from the 1300s.

Ian Fleming’s fascination with heraldry was evident by his own family Clan Fleming crest, and their motto: “Let the Deed Shaw.”, which he had proudly emblazoned on the boxes of his rare book collection.

The surname Fleming is derived from the French, le Fleming, which indicates that the family originated in Flanders, as it literally translates to mean “a man from Flanders”.

While heraldry may seem anachronistic snobbery to some, it still provides a fascinating look into the rich history of many great families and even the made-up ones.

Incidental Intelligence

Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees

Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees

Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de la Lanne-Mirrlees (born 13 January 1925) was an author and former officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. After several years of ill health, he died at a nursing home in Stornoway on 23 June 2012, aged 87.

‘Dashing’ Scottish aristocrat whose bed-hopping ways were an inspiration for James Bond dies (Daily Mail)

The book Sable Basilisk, with only six copies known to be in existence, is a slim volume of advice Fleming received in preparing heraldry materials for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Rodney Dennys – retired from SIS after 20-year career; was appointed assistant to the Garter King of Arms, finally Somerset Herald at College of Arms. He was also married to Graham Greene’s sister Elisabeth who was a secretary in Stewart Menzies wartime office. He shared a room with Kim Philby for six months; knew but disliked Anthony Blunt; remembered Donald Maclean being in a shambolic state in Cairo, and reckoned he was the only person in London who had never met Guy Burgess. – Rodney Dennys Obituary (The Independent)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Gerald Wadsworth

Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins: SNOBBERY

Postcards from Piz Gloria

5 thoughts on “The Heraldry of Bond, Blofeld and Fleming

  1. Sorry, but can how much evidence there is/what is the evidence Fleming got this book in 1960? I only ask because this was research used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was written in 1962 around the time Fleming will have met Connery, and as the book includes a reference to Ursula Andress, the influence of the films is already showing.
    Granted Fleming may have done the research just for background and only decided to use it several years later, but if the 1960 date is simply taken after the fact by someone who may have misremembered, than it is is also possible that Fleming’s question about Scottish ancestry was in fact prompted by Connery.
    Thanks!

    • Apologies, there was an issue with the internet and my comment was sent accidentally. Although I would still be interested to hear of evidence other than the dated letter in your article, that must surely stand as sufficient evidence in itself.

  2. Charles Helfenstein’s excellent book is the source for Fleming asking the College of Arms in late 1960, during the course of genealogical research, if Bond possibly had Scottish roots. Why did Fleming ask this? Because he had a Scottish paternal grandfather. And since Bond shared many of Fleming’s attributes, his creator was naturally curious if Bond also had Scottish ancestry.

    But there is a big difference between having Scottish ancestry and identifying as a Scot. The facts are that in every Bond book before OHMSS Bond was explicitly identified as English–identified by himself, by the narrator, and by other characters. Only after Connery was cast, during the writing of OHMSS, did Fleming suddenly reveal that Bond was half-Scottish and regarded himself as a Scot (“we can be married again in an English church, or Scottish rather. That’s where I come from”). The Ursula Andress reference in OHMSS shows how the upcoming Bond film was in Fleming’s mind when he was writing the book.

    Before Connery there was no indication whatsoever in the books that Bond had any Scottishness in him. It’s possible that without Connery Fleming would have written OHMSS with just a brief reference to Bond’s Scottish roots, so later on we would not have had Bond calling himself a “Scottish peasant” in TMWTGG. But with Connery’s casting, Fleming decided to suddenly stress Bond’s Scottishness. Fleming’s own Scottish roots helped prompt this. And he also gave Bond a Swiss mother, perhaps because of the book’s Swiss setting, his own experiences with Switzerland, and because he was very fond of giving his characters split-nationalities (an interesting topic for a later post).

  3. Pingback: POSTCARDS FROM PIZ GLORIA - From Tailors With Love

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