Thanks to my Supporters

Early this morning I made another virtual visit to the Toronto Branch of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada.This time the speaker was D’Arcy Boulton, Emeritus Professor of History & Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and the topic was The Development of the Forms and Uses of Supporters by the Peers of England to 1580, as shown in the Earliest Armorials of the Peerage.

The session opened with a fair amount of technological fumbling. Eventually Boulton got his slideshow going and warned us that we would be seeing a lot of manuscripts, which would be identified by collection numbers instead of by names.

We were shown a rapid succession of medieval and Tudor armorials. That by Gelre (1370-1395) was the first to display crests, followed by Shirley’s roll (c. 1450) which still mainly restricted them to foreign kings. Supporters, Boulton said, played a very small role below the level of princes prior to the late sixteenth century. There were many attempts in that era to produce books which contained a full account of the arms of the English peerage, though each omitted at least a few peers for whatever reason. It was further observed that during this time specialised helmets and coronets for peers began appearing in the records. An interesting phenomenon is the solidification of supporters as indicating noble rank, for until the seventeenth century they were not formally restricted to peers and garter knights but examples of usage by lesser knights and gentlemen were still rare.

Later in his talk, our guest discussed some statistics about peers’ supporters. Among seventy-four distinct achievements found by the middle of Charles I’s reign, he found that twenty-four used identical pairs and fifty used non-identical, making one hundred and twenty-four distinct supporters in total. Different peers used the same supporter only if they were agnates of the same lineage or co-heirs of a split peerage. He also identified four fundamental types of supporter: Human, wholly natural beast (eighteen species), semi-natural beast (three species) and imaginary beast or monster (thirteen species). He saw that human supporters were much less popular among English peers of the time than among their Scottish and continental contemporaries.

At the end of the lecture there was time for questions. I asked if he knew anything about the emergence of supporters in corporate heraldry (as opposed to the personal heraldry he had so far covered). He said that corporations began to acquire supporters at a relatively early stage, including all of the greater livery companies of the City of London.

It is often the case that the discussion after the lecture is as blog-worthy as the event proper. On this occasion most of the conversation – punctuated with some very long silences – was between Darrel Kennedy and Sean in New Zealand, the latter showing off his newborn son Arthur. This was the first time I had known anyone bring a baby to a Zoom conference. He joked about being able to blazon infants’ clothes – Argent semé of Blue Whales Proper.

Charles Veale asked if a grant had yet been made to Mary Simon, the new Governor-General. Kennedy said that nothing was yet known but “it’s coming eventually”. I asked about the process behind the heraldic badge granted some months ago to Canada’s Supreme Court. Kennedy said it had started some years ago under Claire Bodreau. He said there seemed to be a fad for every court to have its own arms. I relayed the story of our own Supreme Court’s logo, whose launch in 2009 had met with some public dismay.

Sean then wondered aloud how the supporters of post-1958 life peers differed from those of the pre-modern hereditaries. I recounted my anecdotal experience of nearly-1000 Wikimedia heraldic illustrations that the proportion of peers seeking arms at all is much lower now. I also noted that from about 1800 onwards human supporters appeared more frequently – and are a pain to illustrate. I speculated that life peers might be more disposed to them as non-hereditary supporters could afford to be more personalised. He asked if, in the age of identity politics, human supporters could prove inordinately troublesome. I concurred that there were various heraldic elements – such as Saracen heads, savages and cartoonish African garments – that could be liable to spark outrage among certain circles, and that undoing the damage would be very difficult as coats of arms are not supposed to be redesigned in the manner of corporate logos. Sean recalled speaking to a herald about the design of the old coat of arms of Toronto. There were some First Nations individuals who even volunteered to model for the drawing of the supporters, but wanted to be depicted in Armani suits with mobile phones. I brought up the precedent from the Victorian era that inclusion of modern technology in heraldic achievements tends not to date well. There seemed to be a consensus among the group that one was better off sticking to abstract animal figures.

Moira Scott then asked if any remaining participants could identify the supporters on her clan chief’s arms, but we were none-the-wiser and could make no more profound an observation than that the dark brown women were probably not from Scotland. She noted the resemblance of the feathers to those of the Prince of Wales and wondered if she could incorporate something similar into her own arms without incurring his wrath.

After 01:50 the conversation had reached the point where we were talking about our domestic pets and Arthur’s “deposit”, and it became clear that the session needed to adjourn.

As a coda, I will return to the Sudrian realm. We are not far from the official US debut of All Engines Go and already some Spanish editions have been released. The general reaction from those who have seen them is that they are nowhere near as bad as implied by the trailers and leaked test footage, but still fall short of being good as art in their own right or a worthy successor to the franchise’s legacy.

In aid of that latter goal, I looked for armorial opportunities. Already I have invented arms for the Thin Clergyman himself and illustrated those of the Norrambys, but institutional heraldry has not been covered before. Its People, History and Railways gives two examples of heraldry: The badge of the Sodor regiment is actually blazoned Sable two gloves Argent saltirewise charged in fess with the Rose of Lancaster Proper. The shield of arms of Suddery – the capital city – is not truly blazoned but described as “St Luoc arrayed as a bishop standing in a coracle and holding his crozier” with the motto “Luoc Sodoris Lux”,  St Luoc being a legendary Irish missionary of the fifth century. I have illustrated the regimental badge for Wikipedia but the city arms are impossible without knowing the tinctures, or indeed what Luoc looked like.

The island as a whole is not said to have any armorial bearings nor a civic flag. The latter was invented by the television series, roughly blazonable as Azure a fess Argent fimbriated Or, though it could equally be Tenné.

Arms and the Woman

The heraldic achievements of the Baronesses Hornsby-Smith (left) and Miller of Hendon (right)

This evening I returned to the Yorkshire Heraldry Society for a virtual lecture by Duncan Sutherland, detailing the arms which were sought and borne by Britain’s female parliamentarians since 1958. This is far from the first time that he has made this presentation – in 2019 he performed it in person at the Palace of Westminster. Today, however, was my first time to witness it, thanks to the virtual format.

The majority of these cases were baronesses for life, but there were some others, including the posthumous grant of arms that was made to the late Jo Cox for display in the chamber of the Commons.

In other news, yesterday Ruth Davidson finally took her seat in the Lords, with the title Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links, of Lundin Links in the County of Fife. Also yesterday I made a disappointing excursion to Hull Central Library: some months ago I found in their online catalogue a copy of Debrett’s Peerage 2015 – a much more recent edition than the ones in the university’s library – but of course as the libraries were still under semi-lockdown conditions I could not actually go there to access it. Once the restrictions were lifted I went there hoping to scoop up hundreds of new(er) blazons only to discover that, while the ground floor of the library was open again, the reference section on the first floor was closed for a refurbishment and the staff had no idea when it would open again. Blast!

 

On Ladies’ Garters

Dr Andrew Gray

Just a day after York’s presentation, I attended yet another heraldic zoom lecture, this time by Dr Andrew Gray for the Heraldry Society, concerning Ladies of the Order of the Garter. I made a post about this topic two years ago and advertised it in the chat box. Unusually the host actually drew attention to it, and my site traffic is already seeing an uptick.

The lecture began with the special statute enacted by the newly-ascendant Edward VII in 1901 to appoint his wife Alexandra to the order, followed by a similar instrument in 1910 for Queen Mary. Gray noted that this was unusual at the time but not unprecedented. In 1358, just ten years into the order’s creation, Edward III made Philippa of Hainault a lady of it. Gray mentions that the early gentlemen of the Garter had ladies in their company on ceremonial occasions, though their status – and even identity – is vague. In the period of 1358-1495 Gray identified seventy-four Ladies of the Garter in the records, most of whom were wives of the knights and/or members of the royal family. He notes that there were probably a lot more but the necessary records are missing. The ladies received robes, and wore the garter itself on the upper arm (whereas the men wore it on the leg).

There then followed an examination of the ladies appointed in that time, their arms, and their relation to the contemporary monarchs. One of those highlighted was Jacquetta, Countess Rivers, whom Gray noted had been made famous by Philippa Gregory. She was allegedly descended from the water goddess Melusine and gifted psychic powers, which the present monarch has presumably inherited.

The appointments of ladies of the order ended in 1495 with Margaret, Countess of Richmond and mother of Henry VII. Over the next few centuries there were five female sovereigns of the Garter but no female appointees until the sudden spurt in the twentieth century. There was also some discussion of the issues I raised in my aforementioned 2019 post regarding female crests and helms.

While I enjoyed the presentation it still left me a little confused – I don’t recall learning any explanation as to why the installation of ladies was discontinued in the sixteenth century, nor the precise distinction between plain “Lady” and “Lady Companion”. Still, at least I got to flog the blog rather effectively this time.

The society’s lecture series is taking a break now, and will return on 24th September.

The College of Arms in the Eighteenth Century

The early decades of the eighteenth century saw the College of Arms at its lowest point in its history, when its relevance and even its survival seemed to be in doubt. Very few grants of Arms were being made, heraldic regulation was increasingly ineffective, and the practices of its Officers were in decline. Appointments were sometimes made for the wrong reasons, so that Officers might not be there for their heraldic or genealogical skills. Could the century see a revival of the fortunes of this ancient institution? Could it find new venues for its activities, new areas of expertise, and new sources of revenue? Could heraldry adapt to the changing fashions and aesthetics of the Enlightenment and Romanticism? This talk will seek to examine and answer these questions.

So said the online invitation. Today’s virtual heraldic lecture was given by Peter O’Donoghue, York Herald since 2012. As the title implies, the lecture covered the ups and downs of life and work at the college from 1701 to 1800. As this one, unusually, has been uploaded to YouTube, I do not think it necessary in this instance to type out a long account.

Prorogation with Brenda Hale

The Baroness Hale of Richmond today gave the 2021 Magna Carta Lecture for Royal Holloway, University of London, in which she recounted the events of her 2019 ruling on the lawfulness of prorogation.

The lecture was conducted on Microsoft Teams with over two hundred attendees. Paul Layzell, the college principal, made the introductory speech.

Hale told the tale of the events leading up to her court’s judgement. The prorogation ceremony had taken place on Monday 9th (technically the early hours of Tuesday 10th) September. On Wednesday 11th September three judges of the Inner House of Scotland’s Court of Session ruled that the prorogation was unlawful. On the same day the High Court of England & Wales ruled that the matter was non-justicable. One day later the High Court of Northern Ireland declined to rule on the prorogation as the other courts had already done so.

It was obvious that, there being only one UK Parliament, these contradictory rulings could only be resolved by the UK Supreme Court and that their answer had to be reached relatively quickly lest the alleged unlawful purpose (of reducing the legislature’s sitting time) would already have been achieved before the court could say that it shouldn’t. As with the first Miller case the decision was made to use a maximally-large panel of eleven justices to prevent suggestion that the panel’s composition would have changed the result. The parties were given impossibly tight deadlines to file their written submissions and other documents for the hearings between Tuesday 17th and Thursday 19th September.

Her ladyship treated us to a brief history of constitutional law, including Magna Carta itself of course but more specifically various rulings on the extent and the exercise of royal prerogative powers whether by monarchs themselves or their ministers. She referred to Sir Edward Coke, who as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1607 declared that the King could not overrule courts according to his own preferences, and then in 1610 ruled that the King could not create new criminal offences by proclamation, and that the King had no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows him. Any question of who made the law in the first place was settled by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which William III & Mary II were elevated to the throne on the express condition that only the King-in-Parliament could make law.

Hale referred to other prerogative cases such as Entick v Carrington in 1765 which held that the Secretary of State lacked to the authority on his own to issue search warrants, and Attorney-General v De Keyser’s Royal Hotel Ltd in 1920 which held that prerogative powers could not overturn a statutory prohibition on requisitioning property without compensation. The latter, she noted, is now more famous for the dispute over how “De Keyser” should be pronounced. I recall that episode being reenacted on Have I Got News For You. A more recent case was Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service in 1984, surrounding the government’s attempt to ban – via Order in Council – GCHQ staff from unionising. The Law Lords held that such prerogative powers were subject to judicial review but that national security concerns were a legitimate exception. The most recent precedent was R v Chaytor in 2010, which decided that MPs’ expenses claims were not protected by Parliamentary Privilege because, Hale told us, “Proceedings in Parliament are what MPs do when they go about the core business of the house – taking part in debates, questions committees, votes – not anything and everything that MPs may do when they’re in the Palace of Westminster.”

She then returned to the prorogation hearing, noting that counsel for the litigant from Northern Ireland “had to be reminded more than once that we were not there to decide whether Brexit could be reconciled with the Good Friday Agreement”. She acknowledged that some people were surprised by the speed with which the court was prepared to give judgement, but argued “We were already ten days into the prorogation, so time was of the essence.”. The justices worked at furious speed over the weekend to have draft judgements typed, agreed and processed in time for handing down on Tuesday.

All parties agreed that the court could determine the existence and extent of prerogative powers, but there were disputes over whether exercise thereof was justicable. The justices determined that the case was about the former: The power to prorogue could not be unlimited, for that would foul the principles of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Parliamentary Accountability. The justices concluded that “advising the monarch to prorogue Parliament would be unlawful if the prorogation had the effect of frustrating or preventing without reasonable justification the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for supervising the government”. If the effect of this prorogation was unlawful then it would not be necessary for the Prime Minister’s intent to be reviewed. The court easily concluded that the effect was as described and that there was no reasonable justification – the government’s only explanation of any kind being a memorandum from Nikki da Costa which gave reasons for having a speech from the throne on 14th October (long set in Her Majesty’s diary), but not for closing Parliament five weeks in advance instead of the usual six days or so. It was acknowledged that those weeks included the party conference season when the legislature tended not to sit anyway, but pointed out in this instance MPs and peers might have elected to stay at work to oversee the major constitutional change looming on 31st October.

Finally the government had argued that the prorogation itself, in contrast to the ministerial advice, was a Proceeding in Parliament and thus immune to challenge by any court. There came the meat of Lady Hale’s judgement – although the prorogation ceremony took place in the Lords’ chamber with members of both houses present it was not something that the legislature had debated or decided, rather it was imposed upon them from outside. The court was therefore entitled to question it, and they decided that with the ministerial advice having been unlawful, the Order in Council to which it led must also have been unlawful. In a memorable turn of phrase “…when the royal commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper.” and so Parliament had not in fact been prorogued. The session resumed and the two speakers recalled their respective houses the next day.

After the passage of some further major legislation (further delaying Brexit to 31st January 2020*), Parliament was again prorogued, but only for the standard six days, with the speech still taking place on 14th October as planned. Hale recalled that she and the other justices “went along in our finery to hear it, knowing full well that there was likely to be a general election and another Queen’s Speech before the year was out, and so it turned out to be. I felt very sorry for Her Majesty. She could so easily have been spared it all if it had been clear from the outset that that was the plan.”

Now Hale has five reflections:

  1. If there had been no case, then the legal position would have been the same but “noone would have been any the wiser” without a court to decide it. We need people to bring forward cases when fundamental constitutional principles are involved, even if their personal motivations for doing so are less high-minded.
  2. If the Prime Minister had filed an affidavit saying that he needed a realistic threat of exiting without a deal and Parliament was determined to thwart him, therefore it was necessary to suspend legislative activity, then the case would have been more complicated as it would constitute a justification whose reasonableness the court would have to assess, clearly a more political decision.
  3. Some say it would have been better for the ruling not to have been unanimous, as the inclusion of dissenting opinions would have allowed the public to see how the government’s arguments were acknowledged but refuted. Hale regrets that due to the time pressure it was not possible to rehearse them at length, but insists it was still quite clear what they were. In her view the unanimity of all eleven justices has more power than a split decision would have.
  4. Public approval of the ruling was strongly correlated with support for remaining in the European Union, but not absolutely. She remembers widespread wearing of the spider brooches and t-shirts by people whose views on Brexit she could not know. Indeed, she does not know how her fellow justices voted in the referendum or in general elections. Public attitudes are not always irrelevant, but a question of high constitutional principle cannot be decided in accordance with public opinion on something completely different.
  5. Some say the whole effort was for nothing as the government swiftly won a large majority. Hale disagrees, citing other cases (including Miller in 2016) where a defeat of the government’s prerogative was soon followed by statutory authorisation, but insisting that they all affirmed important constitutional principles regarding the rule of law and the prevention of tyranny.

The baroness’s presentation concluded to as much applause as the software would allow. Matthew Humphreys, Head of the School of Law, then initiated a short question period. He began with the perennial question of whether a codified constitution would have made any difference. Hale replied that constitutions tend to say there will be a legislature to make laws, a judiciary to interpret them and a government to run the country. Commonwealth constitutions often say that the government may exercise the powers previously exercised by Royal Prerogative, without telling you exactly what the Royal Prerogative involves, and thus without answering the questions raised in any of the cases studied. She also believes that, whatever the merits of introducing a codified constitution may be, it is surely never going to happen. Written constitutions tend to be the product either of revolution or of decolonisation. A country with neither of those factors would have little inclination to introduce such a document, and in any case Parliament would not want to limit its own power – as tends to be the point of a codified constitution – especially by allowing the courts to strike down its acts.

I asked the next question: “Had the European Union (Withdrawal) No. 2 Act received Royal Assent at prorogation rather than separately hours earlier, would the “blank sheet of paper” ruling have annulled it in the same manner as it was deemed to have done for the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration & Renewal) Act?”

Her response: “That would require some further research to even reach a tentative view on what the right answer is. We were not considering whether the Royal Assents given at the same time were affected by the “blank sheet of paper”. Off the top of my head it sounds quite unsurprising that they would be, but in any event it wouldn’t have made any difference because we would have had to have reached the conclusion that we did. The fact that the Withdrawal No. 2 Bill received Royal Assent by a different route obviously meant that it wasn’t affected but it wouldn’t have mattered that much if it had been affected because obviously Royal Assent could have been given when Parliament resumed, so these are technicalities which are of extreme interest to aficionados of Parliamentary procedure but they don’t actually affect the principles involved.”

The next question, by Mohammad Sabuj, was “Were there any restrictions in the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court that justices face in the judicial review as opposed to an appeal in this matter? Had an appeal been brought, would that make the decision of the Supreme Court more authoritative?”

Her response: “In both cases we were dealing with judicial review and we were hearing an appeal from a judicial review. The way to challenge the validity of governmental actions in the absence of a statutory right of appeal from that action is by judicial review, so there’s no problem with judicial review – that’s the way to do it. There are certain government actions for which there is a statutory right of appeal but prorogation of course is not one of them.”

The Lord McNally asked: “You said in your remarks about the eleven hard-working justices who made the decision “They are not as diverse as I would like.” How do we make our judiciary more diverse?” He acknowledged having previously asked her that same question back when he was the minister for judicial diversity and “failed totally in achieving anything”.

Her response: “A great deal of progress has been made during this century since we have had the Judicial Appointments Commission and an open, transparent, merit-based process for appointing judges. The gender diversity in the judiciary has improved very considerably. It’s still not as it should be but it’s doing very well. Ethnic diversity is a much more complex problem because the barriers and obstacles to success in the legal profession are different for different ethnic groups and so achieving a proper balance is going to be more complicated. Then there are other dimensions of diversity that are even more challenging, one of which is educational and socioeconomic background. I could bang on about this for quite a long time, but I’d like us to be encouraged by the fact that we do now have a system which is committed to trying to make things better and the good news is that in the tribunals judiciary the gender and ethnic balance is not far short of of what it is in the working population of the comparable age group, which is a great achievement and if it can be done for the tribunals judiciary it can in due course be done for the courts too. Don’t be too downhearted Lord McNally. You didn’t have a silver bullet, there is no silver bullet, but nevertheless progress is being made.”

A.G. Latham asked: “The requirement that the length of prorogation must be justified by adequate reason sounds rather like the proportionality requirement in other words. Would you accept that characterisation of it, and do you think this this will prove to be potentially relevant in other areas?”

She replied: “There are no doubt theses being written as we speak about whether the concept of proportionality is gradually taking over from the concept of irrationality or mens rea unreasonableness in the context of judicial review of governmental action generally, because there are one or two hints in one or two cases that we might move by inaction, but we certainly haven’t got there yet and the cases where we have addressed the problem directly – The Malayan Massacre Case – it was expressly rejected so I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, but the point about the case that we had was that we didn’t really have to think very hard about what might or might not be a reasonable justification. That’s why I raised the question about what if the evidence had been different, because there was very clearly no evidence of any reasonable justification for anything other than a four or five day prorogation in preparation for the Queen’s Speech on 14th October. When you’ve not got anything you don’t have to worry about what might be justification. Somehow I doubt whether the problem’s going to arise again, but if it does of course my successors will have to wrestle with it.”

Paul Evans said: “I was provoked by your reference to the Bill of Rights earlier. You mentioned William & Mary’s acceptance of it when they took the throne and you talked about the unlikelihood of a written constitution”. His audio then failed, but Humphreys guessed that the question would have been “Could Parliament repeal the Bill of Rights?”

Hale replied: “If Parliament repealed the Bill of Rights, would it actually nevertheless retain the concept of the sovereignty of Parliament which was cemented by the Bill of Rights? In theory Parliament can unmake any law, but if they unmade the Bill of Rights I think it’s a very interesting question as to whether the courts could nevertheless say that the principle that Parliament could make or unmake any law remained extant, because that was the result of the revolutionary settlement – and it was a revolutionary settlement – in 1688. That’s another nice one for my successors, but I don’t think you’re going to have it happen so maybe you won’t have to decide it.”

FURTHER READING

*Hale repeatedly said “31st December” instead, perhaps confusing Brexit itself with the end of the transition period.

Cecily Neville by Annie Garthwaite

Host Cynthia Spencer, Chairman Keith Stenner and Writer Annie Garthwaite

The latest installment in my EventBrite saga is today’s presentation to the Gloucester Branch of the Richard III Society by Annie Garthwaite, who has written a historical fiction piece about Cecily Neville (1415-1495), Duchess of York and mother of two kings.

The meeting properly began at 14:00 but the Zoom session was opened at 13:30. Cynthia Spencer, the host, said this was both to reduce the risk of interruption due to technical errors (or people arriving late) and to replicate in some way the socialisation between attendees that would occur at physical meetings. The first few minutes were thus filled with little more than awkward “Hello, hello?”s as early arrivals tested their sound systems. Garthwaite herself had to borrow an office with a fast broadband connection, her own being unreliable. There ensued a more general discussion as to the benefits and drawbacks of conducting all such meetings virtually. The ease of attendance from across a wider geographical area without a long commute was weighed against the subscription fee for the software. I opined that a virtual event’s main weakness was the impossibility of a buffet. Garthwaite recalled having virtual dinner parties – dinner for twelve people but only washing up for two! Inevitably there was talk about not being dressed below the waist.

After many more minutes of functional chatter, Keith Stenner (Chairman of the Gloucester Branch) announced that this was their first presentation of a fiction book. Garthwaite said that she had inherited her mother’s obsession with historical fiction and that her history teacher would pass books along to her. She was particularly enthralled by We Speak No Treason and developed an infatuation with Richard III – one obviously unrequited if for no other reason than the monarch having died five centuries prior.

Likeness by unknown artist circa 1540.

Cecily, the speaker noted, was born in the year of Agincourt and died in the reign of Henry VII. She was the only main protagonist of the Wars of the Roses to personally live through the whole of the conflict period, and spent much of that time as the most powerful woman in England save the queens themselves.

Garthwaite read out an extract from her book, set in Rouen in 1531 with Cecily observing Joan of Arc’s execution.

Returning to her background, she mentioned that she had long been familiar with other important women from the period – Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville – and blamed Shakespeare for Cecily’s comparative obscurity. In his plays the duchess appears old, pious and dull, with few lines and little agency. Our guest went into an explanation of her subject’s childhood and courtship, then (with some fumbling around the screen-share function) showed us a simplified* diagram of Richard of York’s ancestry to demonstrate how he came about his multiple peerages as well as his two claims to the throne. She noted that, despite Richard clearly receiving royal favour at various points, he was always under suspicion from the Lancastrians.

Cecily’s arms – Richard Duke of York impaling Ralph Earl of Westmorland.

Garthwaite said she believed Richard & Cecily to be a marriage of equals, both being highly intelligent and ambitious – Cecily was allowed to operate autonomously in her husband’s business, household and political negotiations. It was a worryingly long time before the marriage produced any children but eventually she sired eight sons and four daughters (most of whom she outlived).

Garthwaite views Cecily’s marriage as the apprenticeship to her true flourishing as a widow, noting that when her son Edward IV acceded to the throne he immediately rushed off to the Battle of Towton, leaving the duchess in charge of the royal household “effectively as regent”, with ecclesiastical and diplomatic correspondence describing her as the true leader of England.

Describing the production process, Garthwaite said she – a novelist not a historian by training – was determined to stick as closely to known facts as possible. Medieval noblewomen did not solely concern themselves with embroidery and maternity, but would be in charge of managing large and complicated household organisations. Cecily’s family conflict was examined – her marriage into the House of York pitted her against her own Beaufort cousins.

After an anecdote about Destiny’s Stone on the Hill of Tara, another extract was read – concerning the Duke & Duchess’s last day in Ireland. This ended the formal presentation. Stenner noted that the book ended in 1461 but Cecily lived to 1495, and asked if a sequel was coming. Garthwaite confirmed that there would.

Spencer then began reading out questions that had been submitted by other attendees. One was about the allegation that Edward IV was the son of Blaybourne the archer and not Richard of York. Garthwaite laughed “I knew this would come up!” and said that the possibility of an affair was gold dust for historical novelists, but she decided that the theory was too tenuous.

Another was how a writer decides which historical events to include and which to omit, given Cecily’s very long life. Garthwaite said she learned to find the junctures which enable you to tell the overall story most clearly. She also said that “Your editor always has different opinions on it than you do.”

Spencer herself then asked about the legal status of decisions made by a woman in that era, and how her household was managed during confinement. Garthwaite replied that a lady of Cecily’s rank effectively had her own household distinct from her husband’s. After her husband’s death and her son’s accession she procured for herself very substantial tracts of land. This demonstrated, in the writer’s view, that female emancipation was not strictly linear – women of Cecily’s time wielded significantly more power than their Victorian or even later counterparts.

I asked Garthwaite what she thought of Cecily’s portrayal by Caroline Goodall in The White Queen and The White Princess** – the only instance I knew of her being played on television besides adaptations of Shakespeare plays. She replied that she had not seen either series and never passed judgement on other writers, but credited Philippa Gregory with renewing public interest in that era of history. Spencer chimed in that Cecily came across as a powerful person and that “It was a weird series but there were a few outstanding performances and I thought she was very good.”. Garthwaite said that while writing her own book she could not read anyone else’s historical fiction for fear of getting their thoughts mixed up with her own. This reminded me of Daisy Goodwin, writer of ITV’s Victoria, saying she would not watch The Crown to keep her own work independent and avoid plagiarism allegations.

The congregation then began to disperse but the session was kept open for a few more minutes so that members could scribble down contact details. I plugged my blog verbally for the first time, though I wish I had got in a moment earlier as by then there were only six out of thirty-one other people still logged in.

I have read and heard about the Richard III Society before but this was my first time directly interacting with its members. I hope there may be more.

*Inevitably, for a fully-detailed family tree for the Plantagenets, Beauforts, Nevilles and Mortimers would require multiple dimensions and still look tangled.

**Notably she was the only character not to be recast, perhaps because she was already an old woman when the first series started and so did not need to be aged up.

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.

Henry and the Trackside Trees

Euan Roger (left) John Varley (right)

This week I got a little carried away with Eventbrite, and consequently this afternoon I attended two virtual talks in rapid succession – both on Teams rather than Zoom.

The first was All aboard a railway for people and wildlife by Women in Sustainable Rail. The session began less than formally with John Varley (Estate Director of Clinton Devon Estates) and Dr Neil Strong (Biodiversity Strategy Manager for Network Rail) getting carried away in a conversation about beavers. Varley spoke about the review he had done in 2018 for the Department of Transport, commissioned by then-minister Jo Johnson.  Varley concluded that the review was about nature and not just trees. He stated that in the 1950s there were fewer trees immediately bordering Britain’s railways than today, yet there was greater overall biodiversity. He noted that people tend to have a spiritual relationship with trees that is not extended to other plants. He delightedly recalled one day being given his own train in the North of England to go around inspecting the ground and interviewing the locals. He urged Network Rail to treat nature as an asset equal with its man-made infrastructure. The next speaker was Jane Dodds, Portfolio Head of Project at the Rail Safety & Standards Board. She told of the negative public perception surrounding Network Rail’s approach to managing vegetation around the lines. Strong then recounted the story of the implementation of the review. He showed photographs of a pilot scheme in Kent where a large row of trees was cut down from the side of the line, with the intention to plant a meadow there instead. He presented a long list of organisations with which he liaised over the course of the scheme. There was a question & answer session at the end which concluded in a similarly awkward fashion with the host offering to send slides and asking anyone still listening to email further questions. I couldn’t think of anything to ask (and wasn’t sure if my microphone worked) to ask so logged off sheepishly.

The second was event Readeption and Revenge: The final years of Henry VI by the National Archives. This detailed the later life of the last monarch from the House of Lancaster, though the lecturer Euan Roger included a brief overview of his early life, when he inherited the throne at aged nine months and was ruled by regents until coming of age. He founded Eton College and King’s College Cambridge, and was said to be overly generous with petitions, even granting the same estate to two people on the same day, to the point where his ministers began screening documents before the King was allowed to see them. The people perceived that senior officials were enriching themselves at the crown’s expense and that profligate royal pardons were undermining the rule of law. Henry’s reign took a serious turn for the worse in 1453 when his mental illness first appeared. He was barely lucid for much of the time, so unable to carry out duties of state. When he recovered he dedicated his life to religious pursuits instead of administrative or military ones. Roger noted, though, that reports of infirmity could have been exaggerated by those seeking political advantage. Without wishing to tell the whole story of the Wars of the Roses again, Henry was deposed by Edward IV in 1461. The new king eventually captured the old, but his imprisonment was relatively comfortable by the standards of the time. Contemporary documents referred to him as “Henry of Windsor” or “late by fact but not by right King of England”. One calls him “Henry Beaufort”, which Rogers suggested could be an attempt by the Yorkists to reframe his ancestry. A fall-out within Edward IV’s court saw the Duke of Clarence and Earl of Warwick depose him, restoring Henry to the throne as a puppet under their joint protection. The readeption only lasted six months before Edward IV had taken the throne again, and weeks later Henry died, officially of natural illness but more probably through blunt head injuries. Henry was buried at Chertsey Abbey, but in 1484 was relocated to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. For this lecture questions were asked in the chat box, but I waited too long to ask mine and so the session ran out of time to answer it.

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I had wished to know why the Yorkists had killed Henry in such an obviously violent manner rather than poisoning him or denying him food, so that it would have been more plausible to claim that his death had been peaceful. Even Philippa Gregory’s version of events had him suffocated with pillows instead of beaten.

The Gunpowder Plotters – Gentlemen all

Earlier this evening I attended yet another virtual lecture, this time by Martin Goldstraw for the Yorkshire Heraldry Society. As the title implies, the lecture concerned the attempt by a group of Catholic conspirators on 5th November 1605 to thirty-six barrels of gunpowder beneath the Palace of Westminster while James I was performing the state opening of Parliament, then provoke a revolution which would install his daughter Elizabeth (later Queen consort of Bohemia) as a pro-papist successor to the throne.

Goldstraw spoke at length about each conspirator in turn, giving not just the blazon of each man’s armorial bearings but also background details of the lineages through which he acquired them. He had digitally illustrated a great many of their shields himself and for this was lauded by many in attendance, but confessed that there were many other artists of ability far beyond his. I tried to plug my own uploads for Wikimedia Commons though I’m not sure if anyone noticed.

After the presentation had finished there was the usual question & answer session. This included some joking about whether Bridlington (where Goldstraw’s sister lived) was part of Yorkshire or “North Humberside”, which prompted Malcolm Lobley (Honorary Treasurer) to talk about the East Yorkshire signs being put up by residents sick of the Humberside name. That the transition took place twenty-five years ago appeared to have slipped his mind.

The College of Arms usually publishes quarterly newsletters in January, April, July and October. Last year it was just January and October. When they didn’t publish an April edition this year either I asked if if this represented a permanent change, but the York Herald (Peter O’Donoghue) reassured me that the college intended to revert to normal after the COVID setbacks of passed. Now, perhaphs for the first time ever, a May edition has been released. Usually my primary interest when reading these is to find an exemplification and blazon for at least one person who has a Wikipedia page. The star in this latest edition is Sir Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the British Council since 2015. Also mentioned, though frustratingly not elaborated, were grants of arms to the Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston and Lord Justice Leveson.

The head of the college is the Garter Principal King of Arms, an office held since 1st April 2010 by Thomas Woodcock, who must retire upon his seventieth birthday tomorrow. His successor has not yet been named. The two assistant kings of arms have also retired recently, as noted in the newsletter.

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