Ahead of Yourself

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/03/George_Hayter_-_The_Marriage_of_Queen_Victoria%2C_10_February_1840_-_WGA11229.jpg/640px-George_Hayter_-_The_Marriage_of_Queen_Victoria%2C_10_February_1840_-_WGA11229.jpg

To the extent that most people have heard of heraldry at all, they conceive it as the study and management of coats of arms. Certainly that is what the majority of my posts on the topic have discussed. That is not a herald’s only concern, however, for armory tends to intersect with other interests. Genealogy, vexillology and phaleristics are the obvious ones, but also within orbit are matters of ceremony and protocol, which often centre heavily on precedence.

Orders of precedence determine the seating plans of formal dinners and the sequencing of parades or processions. Certain institutions whether public or private may have their own specific orders of precedence, and even unaffiliated civilians may be required to adopt them for their extended families at weddings and funerals. What tends to concern heralds and heraldists, though, is the general order of precedence for an entire country.

The order of precedence for England & Wales (though that distinction is a recent one) can be documented descriptively as early as 1399, but the earliest extant prescriptions are the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539 and an ordinance issued by commissioners of the office of Earl Marshal in 1595 (itself based largely on the Lord Chamberlain’s order from 1520). It arranges the royal family and the grades of the aristocracy (peers, knights, esquires, gentlemen and their offspring) as well as the holders of important government, judicial and ecclesiastical offices. The sequence reflects the relative importance of certain jobs in Tudor times and earlier, which is often rather different to the level of power they exercise today. The Lord President of the Council and the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal – now sinecures given to the leaders of the houses of Parliament – rank just below the royal family while the secretaries of state who make up the bulk of the cabinet rank just below barons and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a redundant setting below the privy council.

The bulk of the scale has remained intact to the present day – and been repeated at the start of each edition of Burke’s and Debrett’s, though royal warrants have been issued on occasion to make small updates, such as the insertion of new orders of chivalry or of offices not formerly recognised.

The Lord High Treasurer was once a great officer of state*, but when it was put into commission the commissioners had no precedence, even after it became convention for the First Lord of the Treasury to be the de facto head of government. Victoria’s prime ministers would frequently walk into formal gatherings behind barons of their own nomination. The job of Prime Minister was at last given formal recognition by a warrant in December 1905 placing him in the position his grandfather office would have conferred. The Speaker of the House of Commons ranked rather low until a warrant in 1919 put him just after the Lord President. Other offices have fallen away over time, such as the Vice-Regent in Spirituals, the Lord High Steward and the Lord High Constable.

As with so many such matters, the situation in Scotland is less well documented. The earliest extant prescription is Edward VII’s royal warrant from February 1905. Indeed, that may be the earliest ever such instrument, for the preamble admits “a Scale of Precedence in Scotland has not been defined with due authority” and “doubts and a diversity of practice have arisen in consequence”. The order within the royal family is much the same as for England, with the exception that the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland during the sitting of the General Assembly outranks everyone except the sovereign – including the Duke of Rothesay. The office is currently held by Prince William, who thus temporarily precedes his own father. Following the nephews of the sovereign – cousins are mysteriously omitted – there is a complicated insertion explaining that the Lord Lieutenants, Lord Provosts and Sheriffs Principal rank above the Lord Chancellor within their own jurisdictions. Following the Lord Chancellor the other Scottish high officers are listed, then the ranks of the peerage and orders of chivalry in a manner near-identical to the English version. The Church of Scotland is rather different in status and structure to the Church of England so there are no bishops listed for the Scottish scale. Senators of the College of Justice are ranked similarly to High Court judges and Lords Justices of Appeal, though other senior Scottish judicial figures are ranked above the viscounts whereas their English counterparts are below barons. I note that the position for Secretaries of State is not defined in the Scottish scale either.

Small amendments have been made to the scale in subsequent years – most prominently in 1999 to clarify the positions of office-holders in the devolved administration. Even so, there are some glaring omissions:

A series of constitutional reforms in the latter noughties saw the duties of the Lord Chancellor carved up: His administrative role in the English & Welsh judiciary was devolved to the Lord Chief Justice, his executive powers to the Secretary of State and his presidency of the upper house of Parliament to the elected Lord Speaker. Plans to abolish the chancery altogether were dropped and the incumbent’s ceremonial precedence was not pushed down, but it was deemed necessary for the others to be raised up. The Lord Speaker was given precedence immediately after the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is curious that the upper house was not given ceremonial priority here, though that could be in recognition of the superior vintage of the latter office as well as the greater degree of power he has within his institution. The Lord Chief Justice had previously been placed below the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, similarly redundant as all holders in nearly three centuries had been privy councillors and/or peers. A warrant in 2007 promoted him to just below the Lord Speaker, as well as moving the Master of the Rolls (still usually commoners) to just below the barons.

The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary previously ranked solely by their necessary peerages. Upon their reconstitution as a separate Supreme Court, the justices (who from then on would not be ennobled) were placed immediately below the Master of the Rolls, while the President was placed immediately below the Lord Speaker – and thus above the Lord Chief Justice. A difficulty arises here because the Supreme Court is a UK-wide institution while the Master of the Rolls only exists in England & Wales. The precedence of non-baronial Supreme Court justices in Scotland is thus undefined – though all at least are members of the Privy Council. The President also has this problem, although it may be masked by the complexity of the incremental insertions – Scotland had its own privy council prior to the Acts of Union, with its own Lord President whose responsibilities and status were comparable to those of his English counterpart. Logically the Lord President for Great Britain (and later the United Kingdom) would continue to have the same precedence as his provincial predecessors, but the Scottish scale from 1905 makes no reference to the post. This in turn means that the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Speaker and the President of the Supreme Court are all without a defined rank in Scotland. Even the Prime Minister is left without a place, since the Archbishop of York is England-only**. It is no wonder that the Scottish scale was described by one contributor in 2011 as “a bit of a mess” and by another as “complete horlicks”.

Northern Ireland is an even worse story – there is no scale properly defined, and the Wikipedia article uses an unofficial, descriptive list from Burke’s 106th edition in 1999, which tellingly says “as in England” rather frequently.

A common feature of all three is that men and women are listed separately***. The bishoprics and various public offices are exclusively listed in the male scale. There were insertions into the women’s for dames of various orders of chivalry (outranking wives of knights of the same), but subsequent warrants regarding ministers and judges do not bother to specify which list they are altering. A convention has developed among Wikipedians (and probably everyone else who has to mind these matters) that any office held by a woman is temporarily transposed to the female scale, but without authoritative guidance we cannot be certain.

Another curiosity is that the general scale is formally headed by “The Sovereign” while the ladies’ scale is headed by “The Queen”, such that a queen regnant is technically first man as well as first woman, and while a king’s wife is a queen consort a queen’s husband is nothing at all until a special warrant is issued for his benefit. While we’re on the subject of the royal family, our attention should turn to the four – soon five – grandchildren of the Prince of Wales.

It is unusual for an heir apparent to be a grandfather before his accession to the throne. George IV (as regent) almost managed it in 1817 when his daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales was pregnant but she and the baby predeceased him. Edward VII had quite a few – Lady Alexandra Duff (later Duchess of Fife) in 1891, Lady Maud Duff (later Countess of Southesk) in 1893, Prince Edward of York (later Edward VIII) in 1894, Prince Albert of York (later George VI) in 1985, Princess Mary of York (later Princess Royal), Prince Henry of York (later Duke of Gloucester) in 1900. The first two were through a daughter so don’t really count for these purposes and the latter four were still small children when Victoria died, which means it was never necessary to define their place at state functions, though their titles and styles were subject to some dispute. Prince George of Cambridge is now older than Edward VIII was at his great-grandmother’s death and could be into adulthood – or at least adolescence – by the time of the next demise of the crown. Without any specific place for them within the royal family section, Wikipedians have determined that George and his cousin Archie rank as eldest sons of dukes of the blood royal. This status is below the non-royal dukes, who in turn are below the great officers already described****. Charlotte, as the daughter of a royal duke, similarly ranks below the duchesses. This makes sense if you consider royal dukes to be an unofficial sixth extra rank of the peerage above the normal dukes. By extension one would expect Prince Louis, as younger son of a royal duke, to rank immediately below the eldest sons of normal dukes who in turn are just below the marquesses. Instead his place is just below the earls but above the eldest sons of marquesses. This placement is rather confusing as it breaks the otherwise-consistent pattern by which children of peers are stationed. I don’t think there were any royal dukes in England with children of their own in 1520 and there certainly weren’t any in 1595, so the logic behind the original decision eludes me.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The great officers of state (Lord High whatever) in ancient times are not to be confused with the great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary).

**Whether any of the Church of England’s officials should have precedence in Wales is questionable after 1920.

***Bizarrely, in the Scottish warrant from 1905 these were called “The Scale of General Precedence” and “The Scale of Precedence for Ladies”. The ladies are therefore special, one logically presumes.

****One must wonder if the current Lord President of the Council has ever sought a bow from the prince – only to follow protocol, of course.

To Be Then Here Holden

Dissolution day has arrived for the Welsh Parliament with just a week to go before the election. The documentation I found on the matter did not specify a precise time, so my default assumption was that it took place at midnight. Since the Senedd only has sixty members it took under an hour to delete the “MS” post-nominals from all of their pages. For good measure I also created a box that could be slapped on the top of each article removing any doubt over the nature of events. I hope that in time the politically-oriented communities of Wikipedians will adopt something similar for all elections of this kind (preferably with a dedicated bot) as I think it is far more efficient than laboriously removing each and every reference to incumbency from each and every page. Also today the UK Parliament would be closing down, though not for an election.

Having been in session since 17th December 2019, Parliament was prorogued this afternoon, to re-open on Tuesday 11th May. As expected, the ceremony was much modified to meet the requirements of social distancing. The Lords Newby (Liberal Democrat) and Judge (Crossbench) were still named in the letters patent – along with Welby and Buckland, of course – but it was only Fowler, Evans and Smith who physically took part. Unlike in the abortive attempt of September 2019 the three commissioners were not huddled together but spaced apart, and it is clear now that the temporary bench between the woolsack and the throne is in fact three smaller stools which, until this occasion, were always pushed together. Black Rod summoned the Commons as before (reciting her command in a robotic fashion that suggested some very determined memorisation), but instead of walking in two columns with government members adjacent to their shadows the MPs had to shuffle awkwardly in single file. Upon reaching the Lords’ bar, Mr Speaker and Black Rod stood at the far ends of the panel behind the crossbench with the Clerk of the House of Commons in the middle some way back, while the Serjeant-at-Arms did not appear to be there at all. The nodding and doffing between Commons and Commission only occurred once each on entry and departure instead of the usual three times. A doorkeeper could be seen in the archway directing MPs to stand on the steps either side as they came in. The Reading Clerk (Jake Vaughan) read the patent as before, but for a while I wondered where the other two clerks were – given that since the start of the pandemic there has only been one chair at the table instead of three. For a moment I feared that Vaughan was going to have to do both parts of the Royal Assent maneuver himself – perhaps darting either side of the table – or that another clerk would be participating virtually. Instead the Clerk of the Parliaments (Simon Burton) and the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery (Antonia Romeo) strode into the chamber from either side behind the commissioners, did their part as usual, then swiftly exited the same way.

When Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech had been read aloud and the MPs dismissed, Fowler stood up and stepped ahead of the woolsack while Evans and Smith sidled out to his right – in contrast to the normal procedure in which Evans would have moved first and thus brushed in front of him – then went out of the chamber behind the mace-bearer as normal. As this was to be his last sitting day as Lord Speaker I had wondered if there would be any cheering – let alone applause or other gesture of celebration – from the peers spectating, but instead the procession was as solemn as any. Upon returning to their own chamber MPs again had to arrange themselves in a distanced fashion while Sir Lindsay recited the list of acts granted assent. Handshaking was against regulations, so members merely bumped elbows or exchanged nods with the speaker either side of the perspex screen as they departed past his chair.

The timetable published some weeks back for the election of a new lord speaker would have had the winner (The Lord McFall of Alcluith, Senior Deputy Speaker since 2016) assuming office this Saturday and presiding for the first time next Tuesday, but the government’s decision to seek prorogation this week instead of next means that the new speaker’s debut will in fact be at the state opening. Exactly what role he will play there is still uncertain, for little more information has been revealed about the changes that ceremony will undergo to remain COVID-compliant.

What I often notice about royal commissions in Parliament is that the cameras and microphones are left running even when nothing is formally happening. In the upper chamber I heard Lady Smith converse with the backbenchers. I couldn’t make out the whole conversation

Smith: If you make me laugh you’ll be in trouble.

Unknown: The ~~~~* know how you feel.

Smith: Every sympathy.

Unknown: It’s nice to have some other people dressed.

Smith: You haven’t got to wear a hat though, have you?

Unknown: Well they do – he has a mitre!

Smith: I think it would fit better now I’ve got so much hair.

Unknown: The first law of politics is Don’t Wear A Funny Hat.

Smith: Don’t wear a subtle one either.

Unknown: As long as you don’t break into song.

Smith: My mates from school are all watching.

Unknown: Is the Lord Speaker allowed to keep his?

Smith: I’d hate to see what they’re saying on WhatsApp at the moment.

The rest of the conversation was insufficiently intelligible to transcribe, but I think one of the unknowns joked about Smith having her hair cut around the hat and somehow being electrocuted.

Also emerging today was the last of the Lord Speaker’s lectures from Fowler’s tenure, involving the Lords Mandelson and Clarke of Nottingham. For some reason it is unlisted.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*It sounded like “conventioners” or “adventurers” but in context it clearly referred to the bishops, and indeed Archbishop Welby was probably one of those replying.

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.

The Bus Law of By-Elections

Portraits by Richard Townshend, 12th January 2020 (CC-BY-3.0)

It has been nearly two years since the last by-election to the UK House of Commons – in Brecon & Radfordshire, where Jane Dodds unseated Chris Davies. This is said to be the longest gap since the end of World War Two, though I suspect you could look a lot further back than that and not find one. It is quite remarkable that over the course of 2020 no MPs died despite several testing positive and one having to be put on a ventilator.*

Things got moving again on 16th March when Mike Hill, facing an employment tribunal, took the Chiltern Hundreds. A by-election for his constituency of Hartlepool is scheduled to take place on 6th May, alongside the many local elections across the country. Already eleven candidates have been put forward. The list is rather fascinating in that three former Labour MPs will be competing against each other for different parties: Paul Williams (Stockton South 2017-19) is still fighting for the red rose but Hilton Dawson (Lancaster & Wyre 1997-2005) is now secretary of the North East Party which seeks a devolved parliament for the region similar to those in Scotland and Wales and Thelma Walker (Colne Valley, 2017-19) has defected to the Northern Independence Party which seeks to revive the ancient kingdom of Northumbria as a democratic socialist republic. The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer is a farmer and Hambleton (North Yorkshire) District Councillor. Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) is putting forward businessman John Prescott (not the former Labour MP) and the Liberal Democrats have chosen Andy Hagon, a teacher who also stood there in 2017 and 2019. It has cause some controversy (and mirth) to note that so few of the candidates are actually from Hartlepool. Once the domain of Peter Mandelson, this constituency is part of the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour seats that has swung towards the Conservatives after voting to leave the European Union. You might reasonably think that any seat which stayed red in 2019 couldn’t possibly go blue now, but a recent Survation poll gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead. Obviously it’s too early to call at this stage, but the prospect of the government gaining a seat from the opposition again in just over four years would be seriously humiliating for the latter, although we can hope that on this occasion the prime minister will not be tempted to go for a snap general election as a consequence.

On 23rd March Neil Gray took the Manor of Northstead, vacating the constituency of Airdrie & Shotts in order to contest the same seat for the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood**. In this instance the returning officer has decided that it would be safer not to have the two polls on one day, so instead the by-election will take place a week later on 13th May. The candidate list for this election is not yet as long, nor as amusing. Notable here is that there has not been a Commons by-election in Scotland since Inverclyde in 2011 and never at all where the National Party was defending.

On 4th April Dame Cheryl Gillan died at the age of 68 following “a long illness“. She had been MP for Chesham & Amersham since 1992 and was the twenty-fourth most senior by continuous service. No candidates have yet been announced for this by-election and neither has the writ been moved when the others were. Partly this is because she died when the Commons had already risen for the Easter recess, and partly it is because of the convention to delay political machinations until after the late member’s funeral.

*The other place was less lucky, with Lord Gordon of Strathblane succumbing to COVID on 31st of last March. A few hereditary peers have retired or died of other causes in that time but their by-elections have been repeatedly postponed.

**This is required by the party’s rules, rather than those of either legislature.

An Insoluble Problem

Nearly five years ago, in one of my earliest posts on this site, I discussed how the National Assembly for Wales recalled to deliberate on the Tata steel crisis a few days before the body was due to dissolve for the upcoming elections.

That election day – 5th May 2016 – was dubbed “Super Thursday” by some commentators owing to the great number and variety of different polls going on at the same time around the country. Thursday 6th of this year’s May will be an even bigger event because the pandemic forced a delay in last year’s elections and so this year all those elected in 2016 will be up again as well as those elected in 2017.*

A major difference with this cycle is the need to conform to COVID regulations. The present lockdown is hoped to be the last and most UK adults have now received at least one vaccination, but it is likely that for many months to come there will still be strict controls on public mingling. The rapidity with which the pandemic situation can change, and the consequent need for various legislatures to make adjustments to the law at short notice, has caused another, less visible change in the electoral timetable.

Yesterday the fifth Scottish Parliament sat for what was intended to be its last meeting. Under normal circumstances it would have dissolved today, but instead it is merely receding, with dissolution not set to occur until the day before the election. The Welsh Parliament** undergoes a less drastic change, receding on 7th April and dissolving on 29th. The intention of these changes (which are intended to be a one-off) is to allow either legislature to reconvene should the pandemic require immediate attention during the campaign.

As a Wikipedian, this saves me some work. Normally after the dissolution of a large legislature I and other editors spend many hours racing through the pages of ex-lawmakers to delete the relevant post-nominals and remove any suggestion of incumbency, then reverting after the election as members are voted back in. This time around we have decided not to bother for the Scottish Parliament as the dissolution period will last only a day*** and so we would probably be reverting the edits before we had even finished making them. The Welsh Parliament might still be worth the effort as their dissolution period is a whole week and it has fewer than half as many members. At some point it will be worth looking into the possibility of creating a bot account to make these kinds of edits for us, so rote are they.

The process of dissolution is not universal. In other countries, such as Germany and the United States, incumbent lawmakers continue to hold office until after the election (and may even continue to sit during this time) so that there is no vacancy between old and new members. This is also the case in Britain for most local councillors.

The London Assembly and Mayor will also be up for election this year. Their set up is somewhere between a local government and a national one, and it is not clear from what literature I can find whether it has a dissolution in the way that the parliaments do. Their guide for candidates says that “In normal times it would be expected for the new Mayor and Assembly Members to come into office on Sunday 9th May, following declaration of the election results on Friday 7th May.” which to me suggests that the outgoing Mayor and AMs remain incumbent during the election period.

*Exceptions are Scottish and Welsh local elections which are on a five year cycle and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had a snap election in March 2017. These will all be up again on 5th May 2022.
**The change of name from National Assembly for Wales to Welsh Parliament (or Senedd Cymru) occurred on 6th May. AMs simultaneously became MSs.
***In practice it could be more like two or even three days depending on the exact hour on which dissolution occurs and the time taken to count the votes.

FURTHER READING

Deutschland 89 in Brief

The natural result of trying to remember the plot.

I was not aware of Deutschland 83 when it first came out, only seeing it on 4OD in 2017, shortly after taking up residence at Ferens Hall. The plot of the first series is, in retrospect comparatively simple: Martin Raunch is recruited from East Germany to spy on West Germany and has to convince his home government that Operation Able Archer is not a real missile strike.

At Lambert Hall two years ago I watched Deutschland 86, set three year’s later when the GDR is facing bankruptcy and the Stasi must concoct wild schemes to acquire worthwhile currency. This includes selling weapons to both Iran and Iraq while they are at war with each other, as well as Botha’s government in South Africa whose policies and ideology are in sharp opposition to their own. Alongside this is the ongoing AIDS crisis, which is itself a money-grabbing opportunity as the East can sell its citizens’ blood to the West, as well as use them in less-than-ethical trials for potential cures. All the while Martin is desperately trying to get back home and see his toddler son Max.

This final series begins at the fall of the Berlin wall and the realisation that the entire Second World is in its death throes. The Stasi disbands and shreds its documents for fear of upcoming revolution. Martin is by now working for (and simultaneously against) three countries’ intelligence services and fleeing around Europe to avoid himself or his son being kidnapped or killed.

That summary barely scratches the surface of the convolution of the storyline, with a large recurring cast and constant switching of sides. Helpfully last autumn a promotional montage was released with Jonas Nay narrating (in English) a recap of everything that happened in the first two series in anticipation of the third’s release.

The series was more popular in Britain than its home country, with the highest ratings of any foreign-language drama in the history of British television. It was of particular appeal to me as much of my history course for both GCSE and AS-Level had been about communism, German division and the Cold War. My only real problem was that upon seeing Martin for the first time I was struck by his resemblance to Wesley Crusher. This thought never fully left me throughout the run.

The United Kingdom itself does not play a significant role in the series, bar the odd mention of Thatcher opposing reunification. The finale caps of with a rapid flash forward through international politics since 1990, including clips of Merkel, Farage and – of course – Donald Trump waxing lyrical about his southern border wall. Obviously that last part may have lost a little significance as Trump was voted out of office shortly after the series aired and construction of the wall has been halted. Obviously the franchise was launched long before the EU referendum, and even before the one on Scottish Independence, but watching it now from a British perspective the tale of a former superpower facing an increasingly-ungovernable population, looming threats of dissolution and a forsaking of its entire national constitutional philosophy makes for a rather uncomfortable omen.

On What Authority

A sign welcoming drivers to Humberside, defaced by black and white splatters.

By Adpopulum, 1992 (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The people of Yorkshire have an unusually strong local identity compared to those of other English regions, and Kingston-upon-Hull a greater notability (or perhaps notoriety?) compared to other cities.

Around 208 CE York was established by Emperor Septimius Severus as the provincial capital of Lower Britain. A reorganisation in 296 made it the probable capital of Second Britain. From around 450 to 654 it was the capital of the Anglian Kingdom of Deira, which then became the southern half of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. From 867 to 954 it was known as Jórvík and was under Danish rule. It was during this period that the North, West and East Ridings* were established to subdivide the area. The territory was absorbed into the unified Kingdom of England in 954, then from 966 to 1055 an Earl of York was appointed to govern on the monarch’s behalf.

Prior to the Norman conquest the earls of England had each ruled multiple shires and considered themselves of equal stature to continental dukes, but William of Normandy did not want to be outranked and so diminished them to one shire each, putting the earls level with European counts and so leading to their administrations being called counties. The county system emerging from this time remained fairly stable until Victoria’s reign.

Parts of Cumberland, Lancashire of Westmorland were split off from Yorkshire in the twelfth century, but by the time of the 1831 census it was still by far the largest of England’s forty then-counties, having more than more than twice the acreage of Lincolnshire or Devon and nearly thrice of Norfolk. The Local Government Act 1888 removed many administrative duties from the courts of quarter sessions and invented county councils to take them on instead. The three ridings, already given separate sessions, also had their own separate councils. The next big reform was the Local Government Act 1972, which sought to radically alter the county map of England and Wales so that the borders corresponded to the modern – rather than medieval – population distribution. Yorkshire’s three ridings were abandoned. A few smaller parts around the edges were given to other neigbouring counties, and the rest reconstituted as four entities – North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and Humberside.

The non-metropolitan county of Humberside mainly replaced the East Riding, but also incorporated parts of the West Riding and northern Lincolnshire. It was subdivided into nine districts, all of which obtained borough status: North Wolds, Holderness, Kingston-upon-Hull, Beverley, Boothferry, Scunthorpe, Glanford, Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Although the government had used the term Humberside in planning since 1964 and the BBC had launched Radio Humberside in 1971, the creation of a county by that name was strongly disliked by a significant proportion of its residents. In 1981 North Wolds renamed itself East Yorkshire and Beverley became the East Yorkshire Borough of Beverley. Already by the 1990s it was clear that the county could not last. With effect from 1996 the area was reformed yet again. Those parts which had been in Lincolnshire were returned, while the Yorkshire part was made into the new ceremonial county (also called a lieutenancy area) called East Riding of Yorkshire. The governance of the new county was split between two unitary authorities – Kingston-upon-Hull became one, while Beverley, Boothferry, Holderness and North Wolds were merged into the other, which confusingly was also called East Riding of Yorkshire.

Even though Humberside has now been dead longer than it was ever alive (as well as longer than I have been) the name continues to haunt us in the aforementioned radio station, the fire service, the airport, the scouts and the police force. There was even a Humberside Police & Crime Commissioner created in 2012. A lot of junk mail continues to put Humberside in our address, and many official notices put up by the former borough councils are still in place.

Hull itself has a place in the national consciousness – particularly in comedy – long before its designation as City of Culture. By the end of the thirteenth century the King’s town upon the River Hull had an active market, a travelling funfair, a seat in the House of Commons and a royal charter. From 1331 the burgesses had the power to elect a mayor. Another charter in 1440 created the municipal corporation and made Hull a county of itself (an early version of the same idea that a unitary authority today expresses). Seven years later the county’s boundaries were widened to include some nearby villages, which were sometimes called Hullshire. These were removed in 1835. The 1888 act made Hull a county borough. Victoria bestowed city status on the town to commemorate her diamond jubilee. George V upgraded the mayor to lord mayor after opening King George Dock. The city council replaced the corporation in 1972.

Readers may be wondering why I have bothered to tell them all of this. Well, in Eye 1540 I came across this passage in the Rotten Boroughs section:

HOW DEMOCRACY WORKS (1): Labour Hull city council is keen to get into bed with Tory East Riding of Yorkshire Council to set up a combined authority. Jumping on the devolution bandwagon with an elected mayor and all could bring in a hoped-for £1.6bn in Whitehall funding.
Under the planned timetable for the creation of the combined authority, a deal will be signed off by 31 March. But public “consultation” on any agreement will not start until late June at the earliest. How might the (meaningless) public consultation go?
Back in 2014, Hull wanted to extend its boundary to take over part of East Riding, so a referendum was held. Fewer than 2,000 voters were in favour, with more than 51,000 against, so the plan was ditched. But this time the public may not have any effective say in the matter.

Looking back I found a story about the plan in the Hull Daily Mail from October, with other hints still earlier but public interest only really seems to have picked up a few days ago. The gist of the plan seems to be that the existing councils will remain, but they will pool their resources to form a combined authority similar to that used by metropolitan counties, and on top will be a directly-elected “metro mayor”. It is not clear if the mayor will absorb the role of the existing Police & Crime Commissioner, as has been the case in other regions. It will also be interesting to see what name the combined authority will take – most have been named after the counties in which their constituent districts are situated, and indeed the county councils which used to be there before 1986, but in this case one of the districts has the same name as the overall county, so most likely the combination will be called something like “Hull & East Riding”, a redundancy akin to saying “Parliament and the Lords” or “Europeans and the French”.

The existence of directly-elected executives is a new development in Britain, and one at odds with the traditions of our constitution. This has long been a nation of parliamentary government, not presidential. The scramble for local and regional devolution has not been without controversy, especially the PCCs. The cost of and confusing of so many reorganisations in local administration also tends to provoke public anger. Many mock the patchwork of differing political structures across the United Kingdom, but attempts to standardise them never really seem to work. In particular it is noted that local personal identity tends to align more with the pre-Heath counties than with the modern ones, which were designed around administrative efficiency rather than emotional allegiance.

In this instance any controversy over the merits of the plans themselves is accompanied by anger at the secretive manner in which negotiations were carried out, and in the apparent intention of both central and local government to impose the new system without public consent. Two items arrived in my postbox today: Issue 39 of Your East Riding, and a campaign leaflet. The first is keen to announce that East Riding won Council of the Year 2020, but makes no mention of the new combined authority, merely having a brief segment about the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership on page 5. The second is credited to Matthew Grove, who was Conservative PCC from 2012 to 2016 but has since defected to the Liberal Democrats. Half of the front page is dedicated to a large-lettered condemnation of the deal and its negotiation process.

There is also a partisan component to consider here, which the Eye briefly mentioned. Generally it is observed that urban voters lean to the left and rural voters to the right. This is clear in recent election results for the two districts.

Hull City Council, 2018: Labour 31, Liberal Democrats 24, Conservatives 2.
East Riding Council, 2019: Conservative 49**, Liberal Democrat 8, Yorkshire Party 2.

The latter result is particularly impressive given that the UK-wide results were disatrous for the Conservative party. While there have been times when the Liberal Democrats gained significant footholds, the norm has been for Labour to have a majority within City of Hull and the Conservatives an ascendancy without. By contrast, the metro mayoral elections across the combined county would be very tight races. I wonder if, without the promise of such a large payment, the existing council leaders would have been more reluctant to relinquish such secure areas of control.

As this blog is so often about heraldry, I will end with some of the arms of the authorities I have been discussing.

Kingston-upon-Hull: Azure three ducal coronets in pale Or. Certified in 1879 but seen in use as early as the fifteenth century.

York: Argent on a Cross Gules five Lions passant guardant Or. Recorded in the 1584 visitation but in use as early as Edward III’s reign.

On 11th February 2004 Hull was also granted a badge of Three coronets in pale Or without the blue background.

The creation of county councils in the nineteenth century led to a proliferation of county heraldry, which previously had been inapplicable. In medieval times it was considered that helmets and crests were appropriate only for human men not impersonal corporations, so older grants of arms are of just a shield, though York obtained semi-official permission to ornament its arms with sword, mace and cap of maintenance in 1396. By Victoria’s reign this principle had been abandoned and so later civic grants of arms frequently include crests, supporters and mottoes. In contrast to the city arms which have been carried through multiple reconstitutions, the county arms have been designed anew as often as the counties themselves.

East Riding County Council (1889-1974): Escutcheon Per chevron Argent and Or in chief two garbs Proper and in base an eagle displayed Azure on a chief Sable three Roses of the first barbed and seeded Proper; crest On a wreath of the colours on a garb fessewise Or an eagle displayed Azure; motto Solis Ortum Conspicere. Granted 28th February 1945.

Humberside County Council (1974-1996): Escutcheon Per fess Sable and Gules on a fess wavy Argent between in chief a coronet Or between two roses Argent barbed and seeded Proper and in base two fleurs de lis Or a bar wavy Azure; crest On a wreath Or and Gules rising from flames Proper a demi-eagle Azure goutté d’Or armed also Gold holding in the beak a sword point downwards Proper hilt and pommel Or; supporters On the dexter a dolphin Argent finned Or charged on the shoulder with a terrestrial globe Azure the land masses Or supporting an anchor Proper and on the sinister a female figure habited representing Ceres with cornucopia all Proper upon a compartment per pale water barry wavy Azure and Argent and a grassy field Proper; motto United We Flourish. Granted 28th July 1976.

Holderness Borough Council (1974-1996): Escutcheon Per saltire the chief Azure charged with a sun in splendour Or the base barry wavy Argent and Azure the dexter flaunch per fess Vert and Sable the sinister flaunch per fess Sable and Vert each charged with a rose Argent barbed and seeded Proper; crest On a wreath Or Vert and Sable within a mural crown Argent charged with a saltire Gules an ancient ship with one mast and two sails set standing on the poop a man with cocked hat and telescope beneath his sinister arm Sable mantled parted Vert and Sable doubled Or.; supporters On the dexter side a mermaid on her head a Roman helm proper and holding in her exterior hand a trident Or and on the sinister side a Triton on his head a horned Danish helm Proper and brandishing with his exterior hand a sword Argent pommel and hilt Or; motto Think Right Do Right; badge A Viking ship with sail and pennon flying within an annulet compony Or and Argent. Granted 30th March 1978.

East Riding of Yorkshire District Council (1996-present): Escutcheon Barry Vert and Or on a chevron engrailed plain cotised Gules three roses Argent barbed and seeded Proper; crest Issuing from a mural crown Argent an eagle displayed Gules armed and langued Azure supporting with the dexter talons a sword hilt upwards and with the sinister talons a crozier in saltire Or mantled Gules doubled Argent.; supporters On the dexter a lion Azure guardant armed and langued Gules gorged with a wreath of barley supporting between the forelegs a trident Or on the sinister a demi-horse Argent langued Gules maned Or the feet webbed Vert conjoined to the lower half of a hippocampus Vert supporting between the forelegs set upon a staff a cross fleury Gules.; motto Tradition and Progress. Granted August 1996.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Choosing_the_Red_and_White_Roses.jpg
Finally a note about the roses: while the white rose was indeed a badge used by many heads of the House of York, and the red rose a badge used by many heads of the House of Lancaster, the status of each as the badge of its respective faction was imposed retroactively by Henry VII’s creation of the Tudor rose upon his marriage to Elizabeth of York, then bolstered by William Shakespeare’s writing of the Temple Gardens scene in Henry VI, Part 1. The name “Wars of the Roses” came into common use after 1829 in reference to said scene. Their use of symbols for the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire emerged still later. Notably the roses appear frequently in municipal grants of arms since the 1888 reforms but not in earlier ones. In spite of what some may claim today, the conflict was not a petty rivalry between two northern counties.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The term riding literally means one third (in contrast to the farthings used prominently by a different famous shire) so one of the compass directions had to be left out. Much like the Diocese of Sodor and Man, the name was eventually adopted for a fictional location in Winifred Holtby’s novel. The BBC adapted the novel in 2011 for a miniseries, some parts of which were filmed close to my house.
**Two of them, Leo Hammond and Benjamin Weeks, were at university with me at the time of the election.

More Podcasts

For the whole of January I wondered when the third episode of the House of Lords podcast was going to arrive. On 10th February it finally did so. The Lord Patel, Chair of the Science & Technology Committee, was interviewed about healthy ageing. The Lord Cashman, former MEP and actor, recalled his role in founding Stonewall. I hope that new episodes will be produced more frequently in future so that momentum is not lost among potential listeners.

The Heraldry Society recently started a podcast of its own, the first episode being an interview of Quentin Peacock about Digital Heraldry. Peacock spoke about the time and difficulty of creating high-quality vector graphics. Notice was also taken of the growth of online heraldist communities in recent years.

Back on Wikipedia, I have spent the last week constructing another armorial page – that for Anglican Bishops of the Diocese of Chester. The bulk of the necessary information was found on the website of the now-defunct Cheshire Heraldry Society. The vast majority of the escutcheons (no crests or mottoes listed) were simple enough to recreate in a short time, so that it only took a few days to illustrate and upload the whole lot. Creating the list page itself was also quite easy, given that I am well used to the template by now. It is too early to say if the page will survive. At present no other editor appears to have noticed it at all. If it is accepted then I may go on to produce armorials for the more senior bishoprics of Canterbury and York, though so far I have not found the relevant information so conveniently assembled.

UPDATE (15th February)

Searching around I uncovered this presentation by Dr Adrian Ailes for the National Archives, recorded a decade ago.

The Chris Whitty Collection

Since about 2015 I have been an avid consumer of the public lectures put out by Gresham College. Initially the main draw for me was Vernon Bogdanor’s lectures on politics, followed by Simon Thurley’s series on the history of British architecture. The college has a sizeable online back-catalogue in addition to a high rate of new updates, so I was rarely stuck for something to watch.

By 2019 (or maybe it was 2018) I was branching out into lectures about medicine. I do not recall exactly which such video it was that I chose first and nor, until last year, did I remember much about the speaker. When the coronavirus crisis began and the government began doing daily press conferences, I did not think of Professor Whitty as a familiar name or face. Occasionally I think this of a public figure only to discover that I have edited their Wikipedia page years prior, but even that was not the case here. It was only upon searching for him on YouTube and finding familiar thumbnails that I realised I had seen him before.

Sure enough, Whitty spent some years as Visiting Professor of Public Health, and is currently Professor of Physic. He has produced seven series of lectures for the college since 2013, and continues to do so even during the pandemic.

In addition to these he has been the star – or at least a participant – of quite a few other videos over the years.

As far back as July 2012 he gave the Walker Institute Annual Lecture for the University of Reading, talking about Climate Change & Development in Africa.

In February 2013 he gave a speech at the STEPS Centre Symposium about the importance of evidence in health policy. In contrast to his eventual catchphrase, he makes a point here of deliberately including no slides at all. There was also a Q&A session.

In September 2014 he told the Science & Development Network why synthesis is key to science influence.

In late January 2015 he lectured the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene on forty years of fighting Malaria. That October he returned to talk about the pitfalls of eradication attempts.

In March he was a team of speakers lecturing the Royal Society of London about the inside story of the ongoing Ebola epidemic.

In June 2015 he chaired a panel discussion on the control of Malaria, presented by the Faculty of 1000.

In this one from five years ago he is interviewed alongside Professor Dame Sally Davies (his predecessor as Chief Medical Officer for England) about the experience of giving medical advice to the government.

In 2016 he gave a speech to launch the Centre for Global Health Research for Brighton & Sussex Medical School, in which he talks about global demography and its implications for the prevalence of various diseases.

The next week he appeared alongside Nicola Blackwood MP (then Chair of the Science & Technology Select Committee) and others in a panel discussion on Ebola vaccination.

Two months later he recorded a short message for International Nurses day, played by the National Institute for Health Research. Another month after that he gave a presentation commemorating the last ten years of the institute’s work.

In July 2017 he was asked how UKCDS contributes to development.

In April 2018 he launched the King’s Global Health Institute. In May he gave the George Griffin Lecture for the Association of Physicians of Great Britain & Ireland, talking about the direction of health research. That December he gave a short speech at the IDEAL International Conference about the importance of scientific evaluation of innovation.

In September 2019 he was filmed by the Medical Research Council advising on how to influence policy and practice in health prevention.

The most interesting videos are those from the first two months of 2020, just before the pandemic made him famous nationwide. On 23rd January he was interviewed for Public Health England about the importance of physical activity – a theme which has remained prominent in government policy since. On 27th February he appeared at the summit session for the Nuffield Trust to talk about health trends and projections over the next twenty years. At this stage the virus is a looming threat but has not yet taken over. Whitty is asked how he plans to deal with the coming epidemic. His answers are still abstract but already there are references to school closures, banning of mass gatherings and “flattening the peak”.

Leaving YouTube aside for the moment I also found two brief clips of him on DailyMotion: on 31st January he told ODN it was too early to tell if the virus would spread, and outlined the plans the government had in place to stop it. On 6th February he gave advice for those showing symptoms to self-isolate.

On 3rd March the Prime Minister held the first of what would turn out to be a very long series of press conferences on the coronavirus outbreak. Chris Whitty stood to his right and Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Adviser) to his left. You might expect me to close here by saying “the rest is history” but, unfortunately, this particular piece of history is far from over yet.

The Next State Opening

There has been a lot of uncertainty over the last few years with respect to the beginnings and endings of parliamentary sessions. It might have been hoped that in 2021 the process would go back to normal, with a speech from the throne each May (typically the third Wednesday, with prorogation the week before). Now, alas, the pandemic could have thrown that out as well. A Cheapo’s Guide to London currently hints that it will take place in October, while Parliament’s own website gives no information at all. It is likely that any planned date could be changed many times depending on how events unfold in the coronavirus saga.

The key difference between this year and last is that now we have a smorgasbord of vaccines to thwart the disease and – in contrast to our poor performance in controlling the outbreak – are distributing them much faster than most other countries. Priority for vaccination is given largely in descending order of age, which could mean that for a few months of this year we have the paradoxical situation in which the elderly are safe to mingle outside while the young have to remain shielded. Overall this bodes well for the House of Lords, the majority of whose members are aged 70 and over. The Lord Speaker went for his first vaccine back in December. The Queen received hers in January. If the government’s target of 2 million vaccinations per week is maintained then the majority of Britain’s population, including nearly all peers, should have received at least one vaccine dose by the start of May.

Still, that doesn’t mean the ceremony will be plain sailing: likely there will still be some social distancing required and face coverings will remain prominent, which could dampen the splendour a little. In particular the crowding of MPs in the cramped space behind the bar of the upper chamber could prove dangerous, and it may be required that only a small delegation from the lower house is allowed to come. Of the frontal foursome it is probable that Mr Speaker (63), Black Rod (55) and the Commons Clerk (62-ish) will have immunity but the Serjeant-at-Arms (44) might not. As with the introduction ceremonies there could be some subtle changes in choreography to allow the key players to stand further apart.

The preceding prorogation would need to have such tweaks as well – although attendance for that is usually quite a lot lower anyway. Lady Evans of Bowes Park is by far the youngest of the five commissioners and thus probably the last to be immunised, unfortunate given that as the Leader of the House she is the one least able to be substituted, as well as the one who sits in the middle and the one doing all the talking. It could be that this year’s prorogation is again done with just three commissioners in attendance rather than five. It is hard to find the dimensions of the chamber online but I think there might just be room to space them out properly, though perhaps it may have to be contrived so that they sit in a triangular instead of linear formation.

To make matters worse, the devolved legislatures in Cardiff and Holyrood are expected to go up for election in the same month. They traditionally welcome the monarch for an opening ceremony in the summer months – though unlike in Wesminster the speech is not a prerequisite for the commencement of parliamentary business. As with so much in this phenomenon, all we can do is wait and see.

UPDATE (22nd March)

The government has put out a press release announcing that the state opening will be on Tuesday 11th May, “adapted, with reduced ceremonial elements and attendees to ensure it is COVID-secure”.