A Thistly Issue

I have written before about the intricacies of the Order of the Garter. Although it technically has only one grade (in contrast to the Bath which has three, or the British Empire which has five), there are many finely differentiated categories of membership. It is traditionally said that the order is limited to twenty-four knights companion at a time, but of course the reigning monarch himself is always the sovereign of the order (and all others), so really it was twenty-five. Then the Princes of Wales had automatic membership, so it was twenty-six. On top of that, George III in 1786 created the separate status of “royal knight”, so that his unusually large brood of sons could be installed without crowding out everybody else. In 1813 a further category of “stranger knight” was instituted so as to allow the appointment of supernumerary foreign members.

The position of female members is even more complicated. From the time of Richard II it was common to appoint ladies of the order, though even after many years I am still unsure as to their exact status and function. The last such lady appointed was Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, in 1488. After that the installation of women to the order was discontinued completely, and for the next four hundred years the only women to wear the Garter robes were the queens regnant. After Victoria’s passing her son Edward VII, her grandson George V and her great-grandson George VI each installed their consorts as royal ladies by special statute. The Princess Elizabeth was also made a royal lady in 1947 and the stranger category came to include foreign female monarchs. From 1987 the statues were altered to allow non-royal women to be Ladies Companion of the order on the same basis as the non-royal men, the first example being the Duchess of Norfolk in 1990.

Wikipedia’s list of members for the order took pains to colour-code and differentiate between the different categories of membership. Curiously, while the modern ladies from Queen Alexandra onwards were all included, the medieval ladies were omitted. Long ago there had been a separate smaller page listing them, but it had been deleted on the recommendation to merge with the larger list. For unknown reasons that merger was never actually carried out, so that the medieval ladies were simply forgotten.

Yesterday, with the aid of one other editor, I worked to correct that problem. The sixty-four Garter ladies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are now included in the table with their own colour code and numbering. For completeness, I have also added entries for those monarchs who were not already members of the order prior to accession.

Having finished that task, I then wondered if the page for the Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s Garter equivalent – would need a similar refurbishment. The list page I found was of a very different table design to that used for the Garter, or indeed the other chivalric orders, bearing sharp black borders around cells and being organised by century instead of by monarch. It took just over a day to completely convert the content to the more usual format. On the one hand, the Thistle has fewer categories than the Garter – sixteen knights brethren and supernumerary extra knights. On the other, the list did not differentiate one type of member from the other in the way that the Garter’s did, so in many cases guesswork was required and it is likely that the whole numbering system will need to be redone at some point to account for any I’ve missed.

While going through this, I received a notice that I had been granted access to the Wikipedia Library. This was intriguing, for it was an innocuous, easy-to-miss announcement of what turned out to be quite an important perk of being an editor. According to a video I found from last summer, the library has actually been around for about a decade, but until recently there was no systematic effort to advertise it, and so the vast majority of eligible members (including me) had no clue it existed. Having only discovered the resource today I cannot yet report on how useful it will be, but it looks promising so far.

It’s not all good news – for a long time I have been vexed by the positioning of “Sir” and “Dame” in the infoboxes of such subjects as are entitled to them. I prefer them to be in the name field, rather than among the honorific prefixes. Previously this appeared to be the consensus among the editors who frequented the articles of knighted politicians and civil servants, though not necessarily those of actors and musicians, with only a small number of persistent miscreants persisting otherwise. A fortnight ago this was discussed and my contribution was sought. It appeared that my stance was going to win out, but when the matter went to vote my supporters were rarely to be seen. We’re doomed to ugly box-headers for the forseable future, one supposes.

Railway Heraldry with Gordon Casely

Casely with the Scotsman, 10th April 1966

Today I virtually attended the Alan Watson Memorial Lecture by the Heraldry Society of Scotland, focusing on the coats of arms of Britain’s railway companies since Victorian times.

Before the presentation proper, Edward Mallinson gave a speech commemorating Alan Watson himself – a heraldist, philatelist and trainspotter who died last year.

Gordon Casely added to the tributes, then began his lecture. He noted that the society had never covered railway heraldry in its lectures before, and insisted that “to sample the pleasures of such heraldry, one doesn’t need to be a railway enthusiast, far less a loco-spotter, number-bagger, rivet-counter, or even an anorak. Casely himself had been a railway journalist in the 1960s, and in later decades a campaigner for higher quality rail services in Scotland.

He prefaced his historical tour was a health warning – railway heraldry is an absolute mess, almost all being borrowed, bogus or thieved. He also said that much of it amounts to heraldry we don’t really deserve – badges, totems, insignia, emblems, motifs or devices, rather than coats of arms. As to why this had occurred, he suggested that Victorian-era Lyons and Garters had both “missed their trains” when it came to “the heraldic iron horse”. He said that he had examined over two hundred sets of heraldic devices used by railways in Britain, and could count on his fingers the real coats of arms. Still, railway heraldry was always interesting and entertaining.

His first example was a plaque at Edinburgh Waverley station commemorating Sir Nigel Gresley. The coat of arms above the text is that of the London & North Eastern Railway (real and legal, unusually), rather than Gresley’s own.

In the next slide, I am sad to say that our speaker made an error. He showed my illustration of the arms of the Gooch baronets of Benacre Hall, although he attributed them to Sir Daniel Gooch, 1st Baronet of Clewer Park and Chairman of the Great Western Railway. He compared these to the arms to those displayed on the stall plate of Major John Gooch in the chapter room of the Order of St John, and thought it curious that the latter’s arms contained railway references (a wheel in centre chief and on the crest) while the former’s did not. Having checked in Burke’s, I can say that the arms of Sir Daniel and his successors do contain those elements, and that Casely was simply using the wrong image.

The vast majority of railway arms showed a shield within a strap and buckle. Within the Scottish clan system, such an arrangement marks that one is a junior member of the group rather than the chief, and thus the captains of industry were making themselves look like mere corporals. Of the five major railways in Scotland circa 1920, four used a buckle around their main emblem while the Caledonian Railway simply copied the pre-1603 royal arms of Scotland. Scottish railways in modern times are no better. Casely recalled writing to the chief executive of the Great North Eastern Railway in 1996 suggesting arms be adopted. What resulted was, in Casely’s words, “a real fruit salad”, featuring two oval shields within a strap and generic Scottish floral emblems crammed between. Particularly bad was the logo of the English, Welsh & Scottish Railway, which instead of the unicorn represented Scotland with a stag more appropriate to Northern Ireland. A case study was made of the Deltics (“a proper locomotive”, Mallinson interjected). An earlier plan was for this class to be called Heralds, with individual vehicles named after specific heralds (i.e. Albany, Rothesay, Ross, Orkney, Marchmont and Stirling, plus Glasgow).

Moving down to England, the Great Western Railway used the “entirely bogus” emblem simply placing the arms and crests of London and Bristol side by side, even though the line ended at Paddington and never penetrated the square mile. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway borrowed the shields of the two county towns, while an early emblem for the Hull & Barnsley Railway used an ermine pavillion based on those employed (incorrectly even then) by peers of the realm. Casely was particularly contemptuous of the Cornwall railway, whose seal used the shield of the Duchy, ensigned it with the heir apparent’s feathers, and shoved some industrial tools behind it. A smorgasboard of other railway emblems was shown, most following the trend of simply stealing the civic arms of their connected towns or badges of the royal family.

At last some “real” heraldry was featured – the Great Central Railway matriculated from the College in 1898, making it likely the first railway in Britain with legal heraldry, and used them on just about everything.

Arms were adopted for British Rail following nationalistation in 1948, technically those of the British Transport Commission. The crest alone was used on a roundel on the sides of many trains. Two versions of this were used – with the lion facing either dexter or sinister depending on which side of the train you stood. Allegedly Garter Bellew went apoplectic upon realising this. The famous cycling lion was similarly reversible.

Casely also mentioned that a handful of lines never used any kind of emblem – such as the North Sunderland Railway which he personally visited in 1951. His conclusion was that though railways have long used a large selection of emblems, badges and other quasi-heraldic insignia, the majority of it would not be heraldry as we know it. He wondered if heraldists had “some work to do” in convincing modern rail companies to seek legal grants of arms.

This was, by the speaker’s assertion, the society’s first in-person lecture for eighteen months. A hybrid system was in place, with an uncertain number of people sitting in the lecture hall and two dozen (including myself) attending virtually. What annoyed me about this setup was that all of the virtual attendees had been forcibly muted and the chatbox was disabled. Members physically present were invited to ask questions at the end of the presentation, but we had no ability to interact. This was a deep disappointment as I was keen to advertise the island armory post that I published a week ago. The only function I found still working was the “raise hand” button, which I and one other attendee used, but I never got to see if this was acknowledged by the hosts as while Mallinson was advertising an upcoming lecture my internet connection failed. By the time I got it working again the meeting had concluded and the session had closed.

FURTHER READING

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.

Documenting Scottish Armory

 

Last year I noted that the Lyon Court was putting out an online crash course in Scottish heraldry. A major component of this was the list of all the blazons of defunct local councils. Yesterday I decided to take this ready-made armorial and convert it into a Wikipedia page. I intended this to complement the page that already existed on English counties, begun almost sixteen years ago.

The vast majority of the arms concerned had not already been illustrated, and for that matter the municipal corporations themselves did not have biographies to the level of their English counterparts – if at all. Fortunately there is a much greater degree of standardisation among the heraldry of Scottish local government, especially the regional councils of which all but one had the same background and differed only in their central charges, and so to create and upload a large number of emblazonments to fill the gaps was a relatively rapid process. There is a long way still to go, however, especially in finding blazons for present-day institutions.

On a partly-related note, earlier today I discovered a YouTube channel dedicated to Scottish Heraldry – Abarone’s Armorial by Ethan L. MacDonald, Herald of Clan MacKinnon USA. Though I had not seen the channel before I recognised the man’s face and voice from some of the virtual heraldic conferences I have attended over the past few months. MacDonald also managed to arrange a one-on-one interview with Lyon. By and large his content is not original – much like A Royal Heraldry it mainly reiterates the information already known to anyone who has read the relevant Wikipedia pages and the images are the familiar ones from the Commons. In particular I found it a little suspicious that he put out a video on heraldry from Tolkien’s Legendarium just a few months after I initiated the article on it. Still, it is nice to see more coverage of the subject in video form, as until a few years ago there was very little, and what did exist was overwhelmingly focused on the rudiments of heraldry from the middle ages or from the perspective of fantasists and reenactors, with precious little about the modern era. That Scottish heraldry is so much more likely than English to be documented on YouTube is also a bit of a mystery.

21st Century Scots Heraldry with Gordon Casely

Left: Casely finishes his speech. Right: Lyon models his hoodie.

Today I attended another Zoom lecture, this time arranged by the Heraldry Society of Scotland. This one went rather more smoothly than the one six months ago, though I still think that putting it on YouTube or similar would be more practical in the long run.

Our main speaker today was Gordon Casely, described as “a freelance journalist, heraldist and piper” by the host Edward Mallinson (the Society’s Social Secretary). His presentation was on what he perceived as a rise in grants of arms and interest in heraldry more generally. His anecdotal evidence for this was that he had attached a new hard drive to his overloaded computer for all of his hi-resolution heraldic images – a problem I too have encountered since last summer. More objective information was provided in the form of grant and matriculation records from the Lyon court in certain years: fourteen for the year 1720, four each for 1820 and 1821, then thirty in 1920. He described these as appalling output figures, which would shock any work study manager or time & motion engineer. Later in the session Dr Joseph Morrow – on the seventh anniversary of his appointment as Lord Lyon King of Arms – confirmed that in modern times the norm is between fifty and sixty-five new grants per year as well as matriculations, and that about 10% of the court’s business is from the commercial sector. He also said that in the last year, due to people having more time on their hands for such things, the court had seen a 50% increase in new petitions, though all of them had to be managed by electronic correspondence rather than meeting in person.

Casely told us of the records for time taken to complete an application, the longest being Banchory Community Council (thirty-seven years) and the shortest the Aberdeen Association of Civil Engineers (twelve minutes). He complimented the latter’s multilayered symbolism – simultaneously it represented a bridge over water, a stream, a cross section of a pipe half-filled with water, the sweep of a bend in a road, a ditch and a mound, as well as the letters ACE.  He was less happy with the arms of Gordon District Council, describing them as “how not to design a coat of arms, unless you’re in the Clydesdale Bank school of heraldry”.

He sang the praises of the late Anthony Maxwell, his longtime colleague. He drew attention to a commission Maxwell had done of the arms of Dr Tom Tait on the side of a carriage at a railway heritage centre in Derbyshire. He confirmed to “those anoraks who are watching” that it was the only British Rail Class 119 Diesel Multiple Unit in preservation. I did a little searching and can now say more specifically that it is DMCB 51073 on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

After the main talk had ended there was an opportunity to ask questions, though on this occasion I couldn’t think of one – and indeed I wasn’t sure that my microphone was working. When the structured questions and answers concluded the session moved to informal chatter among the veteran members with occasional interjections by outsiders. This included showing some rather garish heraldic tattoos that they had seen, and then Lyon putting on a heraldic hoodie that he had received as a novelty gift.

A few more heraldic zoom lectures are scheduled for later this year, including a Canadian one that, for Brits, begins at midnight. That could prove an interesting experience!

The Public Register of Arms

The Lyon Court recently announced that it is giving a virtual tour of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. The name “virtual tour” is a little misleading, implying as it does a 3D experience, or at least a video. Instead we have an illustrated guide, showing how blazons were recorded over the centuries, and how the style of heraldry changed – especially in the case of the “landscape” which became pervasive in the Georgian era.

The blog post can be found here.

Parliament and Devolution with Adam Evans

I should start doing caption contests with these.

Dr Adam Evans, Clerk of the Welsh Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, gave the second talk of the term. He commented that he was impressed by the turnout for a discussion of this kind by undergraduates on a Friday, especially given how many public gatherings were being disrupted by the recent pandemic.

Dr Evans was careful to note that, whatever the practicalities or political considerations, devolution is distinct in law from federalism – the devolved institutions are created on the UK Parliament’s authority, rather than vice versa.

Devolution, he noted, has been asymmetric, with different regions having different levels of devolved power. The Scottish Parliament has near-complete autonomy, with social security being the only notable area of domestic policy reservation. The National Assembly for Wales is a little more restricted, lacking control of police and the judiciary. The Northern Ireland Assembly has more complicated arrangements, with some matters “excepted”, others “reserved” and the rest “transferred”. In England there is not devolved parliament, but there has decentralisation of certain powers to local authorities and the creation of regional ones. Devolution is considered “a process, not an event” and occurs as a pragmatic response to political pressures rather than according to anyone’s master plan. There were disagreements as to what would be the outcome of the devolution process – some hoped it would kill off nationalist movements which threatened the continuation of the United Kingdom, others feared it would embolden them.

Whereas the House of Commons is elected by first past the post, which normally delivers a majority of seats for a single party, the devolved legislatures have varying forms of proportional representation, which normally make this impossible. Scotland and Wales use the additional member system, in which constituency results are balanced out by regional lists. In Wales the executive has always been formed by the Labour Party, going in and out of coalitions with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru depending the balance of power. Lib-Lab coalitions also governed Scotland for the first eight years, but for the National Party has ruled for the last thirteen years – five of them with an unexpected parliamentary majority. Northern Ireland’s setup demands a power-sharing agreement between the largest Unionist and Nationalist parties, with official opposition legally impossible for some years. The latter situation has frequently been unstable, most recently with the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal that put the assembly out of action for almost three years.

Our guest talked a little too slowly, resulting in our session being interrupted by the arrival of the next class before his presentation had finished. We adjourned during pleasure as before – though not all of the buffet arrived on time and we were staring at an empty table for a few minutes – then he finished his speech in the question period by looking at Westminster’s role in the process. He noted that the Commons had adopted English Votes for English Laws in 2015, which had added a grand committee stage to certain bills which did not affect Scotland or Northern Ireland. He said that in most cases this was a mere formality, and the time needed to set up the chamber for the grand committee was greater than the time for which the committee actually sat. He also recalled SNP members being rather loudly disgruntled with the arrangement. He also looked at the constitutional guardianship role of the Lords and suggested they were in effect the chamber for the union.

[This slide reminded me of certain passages I read some time back about British politics during the nineteenth century, in which it was considered that the colonial parliaments – and indeed the British – should only have a lower house, with the Lords becoming the upper house for all of them. Obviously this policy was never enacted.]

Questions and answers are broadly summarised as follows:

Will there be a one-Yorkshire devolution deal, replacing Dan Jarvis’s Sheffield City Region? There is no great appetite for it. A proposal was made for devolution to the north east but it was rejected.

Will there be a resolution the representation of nationalist parties on regional committees in the House of Commons, and the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, or does the government think it can do what it wants now it has a majority? The Future Relationship committee is only due to exist for one year so its composition won’t be that important. As for Scotland, the SNP chair might decide to hold all the meetings in Scotland, knowing it will be impractical for English Conservatives to fly north two days a week.

For the “leveling up” project, wouldn’t it be better to give greater powers to existing local authorities rather than creating new assemblies? There has to be a balance between devolution and centralism. The UK government doesn’t want to give so much away that its own authority is undermined. The treasury has been happy to let local councils set business rates, but less keen to devolve other tax-raising powers. Notably Margaret Thatcher abolished metropolitan county councils because they were using their powers to impose tax policies that were contrary to her will, and in some cases illegal. There’s also the risk that if you give powers to the north then the south will start wanting them as well.

As is becoming a trend, I asked the final question of the sitting. Jumping on the points made in the answer given just before, I enquired as to the sustainability of the last twenty years’ devolution policy given the tendency towards competitive nationalisms in different regions – would devolution tend to a point where all parties and groups were appeased, or would the lower administrations continue demanding more and more powers be ceded until the central government had nothing left?

Evans replied that the current trend was not sustainable, pointing to similar goings-on in Spain. He noted that the Scottish Parliament was probably the most powerful provincial legislature outside the Swiss Cantons, yet the National Party still continue to insist on devolution going further. He brought up a request for Scotland to have a separate immigration policy, given its demographic differences from the rest of the UK. He also said that devolutionary politics depend on who is in power in which place, and that voters may eventually get tired of continual constitutional debates. He said that the central administration recognises the need, much of the time, to reject calls for further concessions, but that sometimes it was politically impossible to resist. If, for instance, the last general election had resulted in a Labour minority government, it may have been dependent on SNP support and therefore compelled to allow more powers to be devolved to Holyrood. The main point, Dr Evans said, is that since 1949 the UK has accepted the principle of self-determination: that if a people really don’t want government by Westminster then they cannot feasibly be forced to accept it.