The Trouble with Tombs

This was a presentation by the University of Liverpool, concerning the history, primarily between the seventh and nineteenth centuries, of how England has dealt with human corpses.

The main speaker was Ruth Nugent. She wanted to examine how the dead were handled literally, emotionally, ethically, spiritually and ideologically. She found that there was rarely much commentary on the relationship between bodies and tombs, students of other subjects would focus on associated details of architecture, geneaology, heraldry and religion but the principles of burial itself were often overlooked.

Until the eleventh century burial within a church building (as opposed to the yard outside) was reserved for royals, saints and clergy. Until the thirteenth it was monasteries that were most sought after as resting places. Due to the long-term problem of overcrowding it was common for bodies to be moved after a hundred years so that the plot could be used for someone else, or because the church was undergoing renovation work. There were cases of corpses stolen by one church from another, and legal disputes between families of the deceased over where the remains could be placed. Sometimes churchmen would claim to “discover” the bodies of legendary figures such as King Arthur. Epidemics, such as the Great Plague, put increased pressure on churchyards due to sudden mass burials. In the nineteenth century secular public cemeteries were opened to give alternatives to church burials, and cremation became more accepted. Laws were passed against intramural burials and exhumation to recycle spaces.

Physical upkeep was always a problem. Tombstones would be chipped away to make ingredients for magical medicines, and sometimes families would carry out clandestine removals of their own ancestors to escape from vandalism. Elizabeth I ordered churches to restore their tombs but often the churches lacked the money to comply. The Civil War left cathedrals in particularly poor condition and soldiers often looted graves. Large numbers of graves underneath churches could cause subsidence. Antiquarians (she named John Leland, John Stow, William Camden, John Waver and William Dering) determined to make written records of tombs and their contents in the hopes that the information could survive even if the physical structures didn’t – partly through interest in history, partly to safeguard their own futures.

The next speaker was David Monteith, who recalled his experience with the reburial of Richard III in 2015. Public consultation revealed a very wide spectrum of preferences for the appropriate manner in which to deal with the late king – some wanting a full tomb, others a simpler box. He noted that many people’s feelings about Richard were hard to separate from his Shakespearean portrayal, and that if the rediscovery had occurred a few years later he would have needed to contend with much more polarised attitudes to memorials. He said that even in Richard’s day it was normal for the dead to be moved or their surroundings altered – Edward IV rebuilt many tombs of his relatives, as later would Elizabeth I. Burial styles changed over the centuries and so there were many valid ways of disposing of Richard. He did, though, have to discourage visitors at Leicester Cathedral from taking photographs with the casket.

Harold Mytum followed. The Church of England has policies for bodies found on consecrated land that parallel those of secular authorities. In medieval times English burials were much the same as continental ones, including frequent recycling of plots. Most above-ground interments in Europe lasted only twenty-five years before the cadaver was moved elsewhere. The Church has a duty to protect and respect human remains, but exhumation can be allowed if it serves the public interest, e.g. the advancement of science.

Andrea Bradley spoke of the challenges involved in securing land for HS2 – with its own bespoke system for the removal and reburial of human remains. They have a specific legal agreement with the Archbisop’s Council that corpses uprooted from consecrated ground must be put down in other consecrated ground.

Ian Dungavell said that burial spaces in cities are getting full again, and few now expect a large grave for themselves in perpetuity, instead accepting that after some time they will be relocated. Re-use of graves in this way has been allowed again (although only in London) since 2007 because there is no alternative possible.

Lin Foxhall, the host, took questions from the audience.

  • On the rise of digital commemoration, Nugent said to be wary of rapid-onset obsolescence. QR codes and URLs might not be functional a century from now and those without compatible technology – even today – would be locked out of interaction.
  • Asked why bodies were so obsessed over, even by cultures who insisted the soul was more important, Monteith suggested that without a standardised metaphysical understanding of death we fill the gap with fear.  He also wondered if we over-medicalise death nowadays.
  • Asked how common it was for bodies to be upgraded to higher-status graves, Mytum said that the emergence of non-religious cemeteries allowed greater commercialism in burial plans. Dungavell said that not everyone has detailed plans for their disposal, and that survivors sometimes need to “park” the body in a cheap grave for a few years while a more elaborate commemoration is organised.
  • Asked if future wills could contain clauses regulating future exhumations, Nugent said that such clauses are already in use. Foxhall said that ecological implications of burial and/or cremation are more closely observed now.
  • Asked if we should go back to communal burials, and why bones are seen as more important than ashes, Dungavell thought bones were treated brutally enough and Mytum said there are already commercial long-burrows.
  • I asked if something like the Necropolis Railway could reappear to allow urban residents to visit relatives’ graves far away. Dungavell said that the original company was unsuccessful as people wanted burials nearby. Ruth mentioned how railway companies had allowed corpses to go in sidings and embankments.
  • Asked about the changing nature of images on graves, Nugent said that some pictures could be very upsetting, especially if photographs peel off. Mytum noted that there had been changes in taste for memorials in the middle of the twentieth century, Foxhall noted very dark imagery in the eighteenth – such as cherubs becoming skeletons.
  • Asked about the need for different funeral and disposal styles for different cultures, Monteith noted he had already seen multi-faith crematoria for that purpose.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Islanders’ Arms

Ever since the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Railway Series last May, I have been looking to bridge my interest in that franchise with my hobby as a heraldist. I had long known that the thin clergyman had invented coats of arms for many characters and institutions within his fictional world, but it was difficult to actually find them.

Of particular importance was a video by Max Davies, better known as Terrier55Stepney, documenting one of many visits that he and other tankies have made to the Talyllyn Railway. This particular video is valuable because at fifteen minutes and ten seconds in it shows a front-on close-up shot of an old sheet of paper on which Awdry had sketched and blazoned four different fictional coats of arms. I had glimpsed this before but never in quite enough clarity to make out the details. Even in this version the handwriting is not always legible. Luckily I found a handful of old posts on the Sodor Island Forums where other fans had also attempted to decipher the text. I have now illustrated all four shields there depicted and uploaded the results to Wikimedia Commons, though whether I shall be able to use them on any Wikipedia articles following last year’s purge is debatable.

CROVAN’S GATE

Escutcheon: Vert a gateway kernelled Or with portcullis closed of the same. In base a glove dexter Argent.

Motto: Ave Amicos Cave Hostes (Welcome Friends, Beware Enemies)

The symbolism here is fairly obvious – the gate is a literal interpretation of the proverbial “gate” (the narrow pass in the hills between eastern and central Sodor) at which King Godred Crovan held the Normans at bay in 1089, while the glove is one of his famous white leather gauntlets.

SUDDERY


Escutcheon: Argent in base three closets wavy Azure charged at the nombril point with a coracle therein a monk erect dexter hand raised in blessing in sinister hand a crozier all Proper.

Motto: Luoc Sodoris Lux (Luoc, the Light of Sodor)

This was the hardest to do and the least visually-satisfying at the end. The arms are pictorial heraldry, showing the legendary arrival of Saint Luoc on the island in the fifth century. There is a discrepancy between sources here – the above blazon refers to simply “a monk” but The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways twice asserts that the arms have him “arrayed as a bishop”, the latter reference specifying “in cope and mitre”. I have said before that human figures usually don’t work well in heraldry, and this is no exception. Awdry does not describe Luoc’s appearance nor his liturgical vestements, so I took a drawing of St Vallier and changed the colours to give a more Anglo-Irish aesthetic, with the mitre using the blue and green shown on the other coats of arms here.

TIDMOUTH

Escutcheon: Quarterly Azure and Vert 1st a lymphad 2nd a Smith’s hammer & tongs saltirewise 3rd a wheel 4th three herrings naiant all Argent.

Motto: Industry and Progress

There is some obvious faux-quartering here, though at least the colour scheme works. The first and fourth quarters refer to the towns history of fishing and later ship-building while the second and third refer to the other industries based there – possibly including the big train station.

THE NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY

Escutcheon: Per saltire Azure and Vert two gloves Argent saltirewise in fess a rose of Lancaster Proper in chief Azure a wheel or winged of same dexter Vert a fleece Argent sinister Vert a mattock Argent hafted Or in base Azure three herrings naiant Argent.

Motto: Nil Unquam Simile (There’s Nothing Quite Like It)

The gloves are here again, though I have elongated and narrowed them to fit the saltire. The herrings also make a reappearance. The winged wheel has a long history in heraldry and has appeared in the arms of a few real-life transport companies. The fleece and mattock presumably represent agriculture and industry, both of which are serviced by the railway but do not have any more specific importance. The rose refers to Sodor’s attachment to the Duchy of Lancaster, though of course its symbolism as such is very much a modern affectation.

While we are here, let us recap the other heraldic images I have mentioned here before:

THE SODOR REGIMENT

Escutcheon: Sable two gloves Argent saltirewise, charged in fess with the Rose of Lancaster Proper.

The blazon is given in the book (described as the regiment’s “colours”), though I wasn’t sure which shape to use for the field. The significance of the red rose and the white gloves has already been explained. The military is not covered much in the franchise so there is little detail to give here.

THE EARL OF SODOR

The Norramby line is mentioned in the book but nothing is said of them armorially. When the earl appears in the 2013 special “King of the Railway” his shield is Azure a pale Argent bearing a representation of Ulfstead Castle, with a jewelled Eastern crown on top and two lions rampant Or as supporters.

Taken as a whole, the Sudrian arms are a mixed bag – just as in real life. The time of matriculation for any of these devices is not specified, though we can guess from both content and context – the North Western Railway was formed in 1915 so its arms cannot be older unless inherited from one of the predecessor companies (earliest 1853). It looks a little too busy, as do those of many real railway companies from the time. The regimental badge, featuring the red rose, is probably from no earlier than Victoria’s reign. The faux-quartering on Tidmouth’s shield suggests a much more modern adoption, most likely by assumption in the mid-twentieth century. The shield of Crovan’s Gate is simple enough that it could be medieval. I am not sure about Suddery as I do not know how far back precedent can be found for the depiction of humanoid religious icons in heraldry.

I notice that blue and white seem to be the most persistent (though of course not universal) colours in the island’s civic and corporate heraldry as well as in the flag. This could be the diagetic reason for the majority of the main characters on the North Western Railway being painted blue. It would also fit the historical connections made in the source material, as blue and white were the livery colours of both the House of Lancaster and the Lordship of Ireland.

UPDATE (1st November)

I have just discovered the website Railway Mania, dedicated to building and running model trains. A subsidiary project is Sodor Histories, an attempt at re-imagining Awdry’s island in as much detail and as realistic a manner as possible. It’s well worth a look for the truly dedicated railfan.

UPDATE (June 2022)

Looking again at Burke’s General Armory, I have found two entries (on page 467) for the surname Hatt:

  • Hatt (co. Berks, Orsett, co. Essex, and London) escutcheon Quarterly Argent and Gules on a bend Sable three chaplets Or crest A falcon’s head quarterly Argent and Gules between two wings expanded Sable.
  • Hatt, or Hatte escutcheon Argent a chevron Sable between three annulets Azure.

Of course neither of these is necessarily linked to the Fat Controller. The only thing ‘People, History & Railways says about his origins is that he was apprenticed in Swindon – which is in Wiltshire, one county to the west from Berkshire, two from London and three from Essex.

Who am I to Judge?

This has been a busy week for state ceremony, yet you wouldn’t know it from the news.

Friday 1st October was the beginning of the legal year 2021-22 in England & Wales, marked by the procession of hundreds of judges in their full dress uniform to a special service at Westminster Abbey. This included readings by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, as well as a sermon by the preacher of Lincoln’s Inn.

The legal year in Scotland began on Monday 27th September. It featured similar events at the Court of Session and St Giles’s Cathedral. The Lyon Court was one of the bodies involved and a number of new officers of arms had their inaugurations.

On Saturday 2nd October the sixth devolved Scottish Parliament had its ceremonial opening, though of course it has been sitting and legislating since May.  The Queen visited the chamber, accompanied by the Duke & Duchess of Rothesay and Edinburgh. Many heralds were in attendance carrying with them the crown of James V.

It is a little disappointing that these events were so ill-publicised, even accounting for the distraction of party conferences and fuel queues. Rather than major newspapers I have mostly had to piece together details of all three ceremonies from the websites and social media accounts of the people involved.

Curiously this is not consistent across time – footage of judges’ processions from a few years ago can be found on YouTube, and some from many decades back are archived by British Pathé.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Judges at Westminster Abbey

Heralds at the Court of Session

The Scottish Parliament

Advocate General to Moderator

The Lord Wallace of Tankerness recently took office as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, having previously served as Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Commons, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords and Acting First Minister of Scotland. Today I attended a virtual interview that he gave for the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.

Not being a lawyer, a Christian or a Scot but merely an Eventbrite-addict, I wondered if I might be asked to introduce myself and then induce some confused looks from the others, but thankfully that did not occur. At the end of the prepared questions the host (Janys M. Scott) opened the floor to other attendees, and I asked his lordship:

As someone who has been a senior figure in both Holyrood and Westminster, what would you say are the main differences – if there are any – between how England and Scotland involve religion in politics and public life?

Wallace said that in both parliaments he knew practicing Christians who brought their faith into their work and it would be wrong to suggest that one had a higher religious standing than the other. In the House of Commons it was sometimes more formalised: Every day would begin with Psalm 67 followed by the same prayers. The only change during his tenure as an MP was that following her divorce the Princess of Wales was omitted from the prayer, though Wallace and others believed that this was the time at which she would have needed divine assistance more than ever. He believed that the “time for reflection” in the Scottish Parliament, which as always faith-based but not always Christian, was more personally useful. In particular he felt there had been “something missing” in the way that after John Smith’s death the daily prayers had not made any reference to him or his family.

The session concluded with Wallace himself reading a prayer. I was grateful for the non-functionality of my own webcam as it spared me from the awkwardness of working whether it was appropriate to bow at that point, or indeed to wave at the other participants. I also attempted yet again to plug this blog in the chat box just before the connection terminated, though its relevance to this group was rather less obvious than to the heraldists with whom I more frequently congregate.

During the course of the session I looked through the list of other guests and found, as one would expect, many prominent representatives of the Scottish legal profession. The name that stuck out most obviously was Brian Gill, former President of the Court of Session, whose Wikipedia page I had only last month graced with a photograph.

It Mitre Be Good

Bowyer (left) and Burgoin (right)

My assault on the Eventbrite buffet continues with Crosiers, and Mitres, and Tiaras, Oh My: A Gamboling Journey Through Ecclesiastical Heraldry by David Bowyer. The session was hosted by Jason Burgoin, president of the Toronto Branch of the Royal Canadian Heraldry Society.

Logging on was difficult: I had expected the meeting to begin at 7pm as listed on the advertisement but then it became apparent that this was Toronto time, so for attendees from the British Isles it would actually be taking place from midnight. The first few minutes were a little tense as the audio quality was very poor and an unknown person let out several primal-sounding screeches that left the rest of us confused. Burgoin, pleading that “We are not IT folks.” advised us that the bandwidth would be conserved and quality improved if everybody not presenting would turn off their cameras and microphones, and indeed there was some improvement. When Bowyer began his presentation he was swiftly interrupted by a notice that the screen share feature was not on.

Bowyer’s presentation eventually got moving. There were 119 PowerPoint slides, each showing an illustration of the titular ecclesiastical objects either in real life or represented in heraldry. He explained the history and symbolism of all the different kinds of hats that could be placed above a clergyman’s arms and the other embellishments that could be placed behind.

After nearly two hours the talk concluded and Burgoin resumed the screen to announce other upcoming events. He was conscious that many overseas viewers had been forced to stay up very late and was keen to answer any questions before they started logging off en masse. There was some time left over for idle chitchat, with one Englishwoman commenting that she had never used Eventbrite before signing up to this two months ago, and that it wasn’t a problem for Brits be up past midnight but she didn’t expect it to go on until 2am. I, in my first verbal interjection to any virtual conference, remarked that one of the advantages of the virtual format was the ability to attend from in bed. Lyon then told us how annoyed he was that the College of Arms in England had granted arms to Bishop Seabury of Connecticut* even though he had been consecrated in Aberdeen. He then announced that he had recently granted arms to the Principal Presbyterian Theological College. They had requested that their supporters be “one man, one woman, one white, one black, one in one academic gown, one in another academic gown” and that “when I described it in the blazon they decided it wasn’t gender-neutral enough so I had to go back and look at new language to be able to express what the students’ aspirations were for the supporters which I managed to do.” I then asked how long the blazon ended up being, expecting that the effort to account for every demographic permutation would have consumed reams of parchment. Instead he replied “Very short, I ended up just blazoning it “two human figures one wearing X one wearing Y representative of inclusion” and they can do what they like with it after that as far as I’m concerned.” and then departed saying he had to preach in the morning. I noted after he had gone that I now had an unusual claim to fame – very few can say that they spoke to Scotland’s chief herald from in bed at 2am. Another member said “We’ll just have to invite Garter to one of these.” and indeed I have often wondered when I will get to see any representatives of the English college on Zoom.

I recognised some of the names, faces and avatars from earlier conferences – such as Liam Devlin. Alexandra Fol, David G. Scott, Richard d’Apice, Brian Abel Ragen and Douglas Anderson were also among the names, though I cannot be certain that they were the ones I have linked.

There are plenty more heraldry conferences to come, as well as plenty on other topics – such as Lady Hale of Richmond discussing her 2019 prorogation judgement. All in good time.

*It wasn’t clear from context if he meant Seabury’s personal arms or the official arms of the diocese.

Sentamu Returns

It was not the norm for bishops to retire. They could be translated to another – preferably more senior – diocese, but one they reached the upper ranks they would expect to serve until death*.

Change began in 1928 when the octogenarian Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury since 1903, decided to step down. He had been one of the Lords Spiritual since his appointment as Bishop of Winchester in 1895 and two days after retirement was reintroduced to the upper house among the Lords Temporal (Baron Davidson of Lambeth, of Lambeth in the County of London). His successor, Cosmo Gordon Lang, retired in 1942 and was likewise ennobled. There was a break in the new trend when William Temple died suddenly in 1944**, but after that the next six (Fisher, Ramsay, Coggan, Runcie, Carey and Williams) were granted baronies after stepping down. The Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975 imposed an obligation for each bishop to retire upon his seventieth birthday. Justin Welby must therefore relinquish his post on 6th January 1926.

The first Archbishop of York to resign voluntarily was William Maclagan in 1908. He died two years later as a commoner. Four of the next five Archbishops were translated from that office to Canterbury, three of them being ennobled as already mentioned. The exception was Cyril Garbett (1942-1955) who died forty-seven weeks after retirement, having accepted the offer of a peerage (reportedly Baron Garbett of Tongham) but not seen the patent sealed. Later Archbishops Stuart Blanch (1975-1983), John Habgood (1983-1995) and David Hope (1995-2005) were all ennobled shortly after the ends of their tenures.

John Sentamu‘s timeline was rather more drawn out. His retirement was announced on 1st October 2018 but did not take effect until 7th June 2020. When the dual honours lists were announced on 31st July there was some consternation that he had not been included. The list released on 22nd December did include him, but it was not until 27th this April that his barony was conferred. Today, nearly a year after leaving the house he was finally introduced. I had expected him to have other former bishops as his supporters (e.g. Carey of Clifton and Chartres) but instead he chose Lady Hale of Richmond and Lord Popat.

Two things struck me about the ceremony. First was the presence of Thomas Woodcock as Garter King of Arms, which surprised me as the College of Arms also has a retirement age of seventy and his is thus five days overdue. The second was that Sentamu, along with so many other peers introduced this year and last, got a little too close to the Lord Privy Seal.

Long before the pandemic it was the norm for the front benches on either side of the chamber to be left empty during an introduction ceremony. I presume this is to reduce the risk of the robed newcomer tripping over other peers’ legs. Ministers tend to wait by the doorway at the right of the throne (leading to the Content lobby) and greet the new peer as he leaves the chamber. This I have seen taking place at a great many introduction ceremonies and I find it quite alarming that often the new member gets right up to the leader of the house’s face without either wearing a mask and in many cases they even shake hands. That nobody else apparently notices this glaring breach of COVID-safety protocol is a real headscratcher.

*There have been rare cases of bishops being deposed for political reasons.
**He was the son of Frederick Temple, Davidson’s predecessor and thus the last in the regular line of those dying incumbent.

And Ever Shall Be

It was always difficult to work out the exact year in which a given episode of Victoria was taking place, given the series’ sloppiness with chronology. Series 2 ended with “Luxury & Conscience” in which Sir Robert Peel resigns as prime minister following the murder of his personal secretary Edward Drummond – events which actually took place three years apart. Series 3 picks up with “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown”, which covers the revolutions of 1848 and features Lord John Russell in charge. Dialogue indicates that the return of the Whigs to government is a recent development. In between these installments is the 2017 Christmas special “Comfort & Joy”, set in 1846 and showing, among other things, the adoption of Sarah Forbes Bonetta (which happened in 1850). The curious thing about the Christmas special is the absence of the political side of things. In real life Russell’s ministry had already been in place for six months but, in the series’ uncertain timeline, the political situation is simply ignored. This is almost certainly deliberate, as the intention is for the holiday special to be a purely family affair. Plus, with more than a year’s gap between the series it’s entirely possible that the later story arcs hadn’t yet been planned out, nor the relevant characters cast.

Flash forward to 2021: The Duke of Edinburgh had wished for a low-key funeral (well, by royal standards at any rate), and the pandemic meant that something on the scale of the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 or even Lady Thatcher’s in 2013 would not be possible. Instead Philip’s coffin was driven a short distance within the bounds of Windsor Castle and then lowered into the vault. Hundreds of soldiers were still present outside, but COVID regulations forbade more than thirty attendees. Ordinarily it would be expected that prime ministers and other senior officials would attend, but Boris Johnson (and, presumably, any others concerned) relinquished his place to make room for more of the deceased’s family. The resulting guest list included eighteen descendants of King George V, eight spouses thereof, three other descendants of Queen Victoria and one spouse thereof. I had wondered if the family or the press would have sought to orchestrate a photograph of Prince George of Cambridge saluting the coffin à la John Kennedy, but it was decided that the great-grandchildren were too young to be involved.

While the masks and social distancing ought to be obvious giveaways, I actually found that the reduced attendance gave the ceremony a strangely timeless quality – it was effectively a bottle show. Other than Mssrs Mozzia and Brooksbank all the people there were the same people one would have expected to see there at had this happened at any point in the last ten years – admittedly Viscount Severn and Lady Louise would have been smaller. Justin Welby might be considered a semi-political figure and he took office in 2013, but as St George’s Chapel is a royal peculiar he played a minor role compared to David Conner, who has been Dean since 1998. Thomas Woodcock as Garter King of Arms could also be considered vaguely political given his role introducing new members of the House of Lords, with that office the public tend to remember the uniform rather than the face. The sounds of the past week, too, were those you’d expect to hear: steady footsteps, military orders, cannon blasts, church bells, and, from the studio, the interminable wittering of Gyles Brandreth. Now the burbling of a Land Rover TD5 has been added to the mix. Even that adds to the timeless effect, since the Defender was in production for a third of a century and without a number plate even I – a subscriber to Land Rover Enthusiast for a few years – could not guess at a glance the decade in which this one was constructed.

Those who have studied British political history know that long ago the House of Commons met in St Stephen’s Chapel, with the Speaker’s chair on the altar steps and the members facing each other in the choir stalls – an arrangement which has been maintained in subsequent legislative chambers in Britain and around the world. As a consequence today’s proceedings – with only a few dozen people carefully spaced apart – resembled a session of the hybrid house, or perhaps even the failed 1am prorogation in 2019. Hopefully on this occasion the ceremony won’t have to be repeated a month later.

Having already done a piece about television scheduling in light of COVID, it would be pertinent to review it in relation to the royal death. Of course major newspapers and broadcasters have documentaries and obituaries prepared years in advance of the event – not just for the Duke of Edinburgh but for a wide range of prominent public figures. Eye 1545 page 18 notes how, in the build up to his centenary on 10th June, contributors often had to do each interview twice – the first speaking in present tense wearing light suits, the second in past tense wearing black ones. It was also noted that, in addition to different networks’ documentaries often – and unavoidably – using the same stock footage and delivering the same story as each other, there were some instances of companies recycling interview footage from their own documentaries in 2011 or even 2007, with talking heads who nowadays are visibly much older or even who themselves have died in the intervening years.

On other occasions this temporal tangle would be cause for disdain, but to commemorate a man who has been “a constant” for longer than most of the world can remember, somehow it feels oddly appropriate.

UPDATE (20th April)

The video I originally embedded (from the firm’s own YouTube channel) has now been set to private. The BBC’s has also disappeared. I have replaced it with the Teletrece version.

UPDATE (1st May)

That one has gone as well. I’m now using the one from 6abc Philadelphia.

Christ Is My Shield

The tomb of Alfred Ollivant in Llandaff Cathedral, his arms impaled with those of the see.

Having composed armorial pages for speakers, Lord Chancellors, universities and schools, this month I turned my attention to the church. The Anglican Communion has sixty-seven bishops in the British Isles. Forty-two of these belong to the still-established Church of England*, twelve to the Church of Ireland, seven to the Scottish Episcopal Church and six to the Church in Wales.

Each bishopric is considered a corporation sole, and for each an official coat of arms is recorded. The incumbent bishop may impale his personal arms with those of the see – symbolically marrying him to the job.

In contrast to the tiresome searching that has often been required to track down the blazons for the aforementioned politicians and educational institutions, ecclesiastical heraldry has proven exceedingly easy. The arms of most of the sees in Britain have been extensively recorded by Burke, Debrett, Fox-Davies, Hartemink and Woodward. Furthermore the vast majority of those arms had already been illustrated for Wikimedia Commons, so I had merely to compile them and type up their respective blazons.

Looked upon as a whole, the quality of Anglican heraldry is rather disappointing. Very little imagination is shown with the choice of charges and many sees have coats so similar as to be barely distinguishable: ten separate sees have the symbol of two keys in saltire and five use a trio of episcopal mitres. Within the province of Canterbury alone the sees of Coventry, Derby and Lichfield all centre on a cross potent quadrate while Guildford, Portsmouth, Truro and Winchester all have keys in saltire with swords. Fox-Davies complained in his writings of grants of personal arms in which the shield merely repeated as charges what should have been reserved for use as external ornaments – helmets, coronets and occasionally staves of various offices. It seems that the use of the mitre on so many diocesean shields is the ecclesiastical counterpart.

Another problem with the arms here covered is that a great many of them specify pictorial representations of humanoid figures. These include a handful of named saints, especially the Virgin Mary holding her baby and in Chichester’s case even the adult Jesus enthroned. Anyone with a working knowledge of heraldry (as well as vexillology and indeed most forms of graphic design) will know that such things are generally best avoided.

Thus far I have talked about the corporate arms of the bishoprics, but earlier this month I attempted to find the personal arms of the bishops themselves, hoping to make personal armorials for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Alas these arms were a lot harder to come by, for Burke and Debrett tend not to list personal arms of bishops and only in recent decades has it become the norm for the primates to transition to the Lords Temporal after retirement**. The only ones which I could find were those of the Bishops of Chester, already researched by the now-defunct Cheshire Heraldry Society. Those escutcheons were much more varied as well as much easier to construct in comparison to many of those which I have done before, so illustrating and uploading the whole lot took only three days.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*This includes the Diocese of Sodor and Man, after which Wilbert Awdry named his island, as well as the Gibraltar-based Diocese in Europe.

**At present John Sentamu is awaiting the life peerage that was announced in December, having left office in July.