In the Middle Ages, heralds were employed by nobles and kings to act as diplomats. Another type of herald evolved from the minstrels who hung around at tournaments and watched the knights and others who jousted. They began to record the coats of arms and names of the people who participated, and eventually advised people who wished to take up arms. Eventually (1483 in England) the heralds because bureaucrats working for the king, who travelled through the countryside looking at arms in use. People without the right to use arms were forbidden to continue; legitimate arms and their bearers were recorded--for a fee paid to the king. This lucrative system brought in plenty of money to the English government during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Heralds today are still active in England and Scotland, where they continue to get paid a fairly large amount of money to register arms.

In writing, a herald is a person, thing, or event that calls the hero to adventure. It is the personification (or, as the case may be, objectification) of Joseph Campbell's Call to Adventure.

In the archetypical plot, the hero is leading a fairly normal (or difficult) life, with no particular expectations of change. Then the herald comes, and explains why an adventure is necessary. Examples include Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, Montag and Clarisse McClellan, Harry Potter the Hogwarts' owls, Luke Skywalker and the two droids, and Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect.

However, in many cases the herald is not a person, but an event. In The Martian the herald is a sandstorm, in Sense and Sensibility the herald is the death of Henry Dashwood, and in Attack on Titan it is an attack by titans.

And at times, the herald can simply be an item (and this item is sometimes also a MacGuffin). In Half Magic it is a magic coin, and in Through the Looking-Glass it is simply a looking glass.

The herald is a highly flexible role, and as with all of the archetypes authors play around with them -- that's part of the fun of being an author. In an ODTAA plot there may be many heralds, and in complex plots with multiple heroes, they may share a herald, but they may not. Campbell notes that a common initial response to the Call to Adventure is The Refusal of the Call -- that is, the herald is often ignored or disregarded at first, until Hagrid knocks down your front door, Vogons blow up your planet, or stormtroopers murder your family.

Her"ald (?), n. [OE. herald, heraud, OF. heralt, heraut, herault, F. h'eraut, LL. heraldus, haraldus, fr. (assumed) OHG. heriwalto, hariwaldo, a (civil) officer who serves the army; hari, heri, army + waltan to manage, govern, G. walten; akin to E. wield. See Harry, Wield.]

1. Antiq.

An officer whose business was to denounce or proclaim war, to challenge to battle, to proclaim peace, and to bear messages from the commander of an army. He was invested with a sacred and inviolable character.


In the Middle Ages, the officer charged with the above duties, and also with the care of genealogies, of the rights and privileges of noble families, and especially of armorial bearings. In modern times, some vestiges of this office remain, especially in England. See Heralds' College (below), and King-at-Arms.


A proclaimer; one who, or that which, publishes or announces; as, the herald of another's fame.



A forerunner; a a precursor; a harbinger.

It was the lark, the herald of the morn. Shak.


Any messenger.

"My herald is returned."


Heralds' College, in England, an ancient corporation, dependent upon the crown, instituted or perhaps recognized by Richard III. in 1483, consisting of the three Kings-at-Arms and the Chester, Lancaster, Richmond, Somerset, Windsor, and York Heralds, together with the Earl Marshal. This retains from the Middle Ages the charge of the armorial bearings of persons privileged to bear them, as well as of genealogies and kindred subjects; -- called also College of Arms.


© Webster 1913.

Her"ald (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Heralded; p. pr. & vb. n. Heralding.] [Cf. OF. herauder, heraulder.]

To introduce, or give tidings of, as by a herald; to proclaim; to announce; to foretell; to usher in.



© Webster 1913.

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