Islanders’ Arms

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

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

CROVAN’S GATE

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

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

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

SUDDERY


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

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

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

TIDMOUTH

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

Motto: Industry and Progress

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

THE NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY

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

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

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

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

THE SODOR REGIMENT

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

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

THE EARL OF SODOR

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

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

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

UPDATE (1st November)

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

Matters of the Harp

Heraldists and historians will know that there have long been two versions of the British royal arms. Prior to the death of Elizabeth I the arms of England had been three yellow lions passant guardant on a red background, while those of Scotland had been one red lion rampant on a yellow background. When James VI of Scotland ascended to the English he quartered the arms of both countries to indicate their personal union, albeit varying the precedence so that each kingdom had its own arms in both the first and fourth quarters with the other’s confined to the second. This duality continued even after the 1707 union into Great Britain, although the “English” version is the standard one used internationally, with the Scottish version being purely for internal purposes. Though the first, second and fourth quarters of the shield have chopped and changed much over the centuries, the third quarter of both shields has consistently been Azure a harp Or stringed Argent. This represented the Kingdom of Ireland since its creation in 1542, though its usage in other capacities can be traced back much further. Prior to 1603 Ireland was not referenced in the English royal arms. What is a little perplexing to those interested in this subject is that neither James nor his successors ever created a distinct Irish arrangement of the shield as he had English and Scottish ones. Instead it seems that Ireland (both before and after the 1801 union) used either the same arrangement as in England or the harp alone.

One might have expected some other curious heraldist to have come up with such illustrations by now – for the interpolation is fairly simple – but I could not find any, so set about performing the thought experiment myself. After a few hours of cutting and splicing Sodacan’s familiar pictures I had produced Irish arrangements not just of the royal arms in their present state, but for every other variation that has occurred since the union of the crowns.

There were some aesthetic challenges here, the most prominent of which is that the harp in the fourth quarter has to be significantly smaller than that in the first to fit the curve of the shield, though that would be alleviated if the instrument would face right rather than left (as in the Guiness logo). It also produces some interesting colour combinations – especially in the 1714 version where the impalement of England & Scotland lines up perfectly with that of Brunswick & Lüneburg.

Readers will note that I have only made shields here, not full achievements. That is largely because I was unsure what the other elements would be. While the crowns, supporters, mottos and crests for England and Scotland solidified long before their personal union and have been consistent ever since despite numerous changes to the shield, those of Ireland are much less clear. A crest was designed for James I (A tower triple towered Or from the portal a hart springing Argent attired and unguled also Or) but it was not much used, and neither supporters nor motto were granted at all. Occasionally depictions can be found which copy those pieces from the English achievement, but this is the result of artistic fancy rather than official sanction. I would hesitate to put the Order of St Patrick around the shield, since it was only instituted in 1783 and became dormant in 1974, never achieving the same prominence as the Garter or Thistle nor appearing much in heraldic art. Certainly the present Republic of Ireland uses the shield alone and the achievement of the government of Northern Ireland from 1924-1972 is of sufficiently different appearance and origin to be ruled out as any indication of what to use here.

On a different note, the YouTube channel Terrier55Stepney recently put out a video documenting another visit to the Talyllyn Railway. Fifteen minutes in the camera points at a framed page of drawings and blazons for Sudrian heraldic devices. I mentioned this before but this time I could see the whole page (though the legibility of the handwriting remains a difficulty). I hope to have illustrated at least some of them fairly soon.

The Deputies That Weren’t

In the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle it was announced that Dominic Raab, First Secretary of State since 2019, had been appointed Deputy Prime Minister. This would appear to be the latest in a long though intermittent line of appointments to that title. On closer inspection, however, the line may not be as long as once thought. A year ago the Wikipedia page listed eight people as having held the post, with a footnote about a possible ninth. By last month, that had been revised to just three official title-holders, supplemented by alternate lists of many more unofficial ones.

The main sources for these were Vernon Bogdanor’s 1995 book The Monarchy and the Constitution, Jonathan Kirkup & Stephen Thornton’s 2015 article ‘Everyone needs a Willie’: The elusive position of deputy to the British prime minister, Rodney Brazier’s 2020 book Choosing a Prime Minister: The Transfer of Power in Britain, and the Lord Norton of Louth’s 2020 book Governing Britain: Parliament, Ministers and Our Ambiguous Constitution. The latter has been much advertised on his lordship’s blog in recent months. The differences in the lists that they give shows that there is much scholarly dispute over who can be canonically considered a deputy prime minister in this country. In addition to those who were thought to have the title but actually didn’t, there are several listed as not having the title but still performing essentially the same function.

Different authorities have different criteria for who should be counted – Bogdanor lists those who chaired the cabinet in the prime minister’s absence and chaired numerous cabinet committees, Kirkup & Thornton use a five point checklist:

  • Styled as Deputy Prime Minister in Hansard or the Gazette
  • Designated as such by the Prime Minister
  • Recognised as such by their cabinet colleagues
  • Listed second in the cabinet hierarchy
  • Answered Prime Minister’s Questions

Clement Attlee, generally considered the trope maker and codifier, was Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955, a period which included the 1940-1945 wartime coalition government. Churchill had him appointed Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1940, then Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in 1942, then Lord President of the Council in 1943. He deputised for Churchill in parliamentary questions and cabinet meetings, with many sources saying he essentially ran all domestic business of the government while Churchill focused on the war. Curiously the time period usually given for his tenure as DPM begins only in February 1942. The Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield asserts that George VI’s minute for that reshuffle just said “Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs” and that it was Churchill who wrote “Deputy Prime Minister” on a separate paper. Bogdanor also asserts that Attlee was never formally given the latter title by the King.

Herbert Morrison was Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons through most Attlee’s premiership from 1945 to 1951, switching to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the last few months. He is counted by Bogdanor, Kirkup & Thornton and Norton but not by Brazier.

Sir Anthony Eden was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during Churchill’s peactime ministry of 1951 to 1955. He is considered by all the lists to have functioned as DPM, though the King did not formally appoint him as such.

R. A. Butler is counted by all, though there is dispute as to when he took office. Under Eden and Macmillan he held several overlapping posts: Lord Privy Seal (1955-59), Leader of the House of Commons (1955-61), Chairman of the Conservative Party (1959-61), Secretary of State for the Home Department (1957-62) and First Secretary of State (1962-63). Brazier considers him to have been DPM beginning in 1955 but Norton believes he only started in 1962. Both agree he ceased when Douglas-Home replaced Macmillan in 1963.

George Brown became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1960 and remained so throughout Wilson’s first two governments, resigning after the general election of 1970. From 1964 to 1966 he was First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, then he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs until 1968. It could be a typo, but Brazier apparently still considered him to have been DPM after that despite him no longer being in government.

Michael Stewart was First Secretary of State from 1966 to 1968 then Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs from 1968 to 1970, succeeding Brown in both offices. He is counted by Bogdanor as well as Kirkup & Thornton to have been DPM in the last two years.

Curiously none of the authors consider Barbara Castle (First Secretary of State 1968-70) to be worthy of inclusion.

Reginald Maudling had been appointed by Heath as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party in 1965. He was appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department following the party’s election victory in 1970. He resigned both posts in 1972. Bogdanor and Brazier consider him to have been DPM for two years.

William Whitelaw was Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1991, being created Viscount Whitelaw roughly halfway through this period. He was appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1979, then Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords from 1983 to 1988. All the lists include him as DPM while he was in government, but are clear that he did not actually hold the formal title.

Sir Geoffrey Howe is widely considered to have been DPM from a reshuffle in 1989 until his famous resignation in 1990. He held the posts of Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. When I commented on Norton’s blog suggesting his inclusion the noble lord replied:

Sir Geoffrey Howe was offered the title, but as he explained in his autobiography:
Charles Powell then contacted him to tell him that Buckingham Palace ‘had had a little difficulty in accepting the official description “Deputy Prime Minister” . They were proposing to follow the precedent of Eden with Churchill and use the form of words: “Sir Geoffrey will act as Deputy Prime Minister”.

Michael Heseltine, it seems, is the first to be definitively appointed Deputy Prime Minister. He held the title from 1995 to 1997 as well as being First Secretary of State.

John Prescott was the second canonical incumbent. He had been elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and was appointed Deputy Prime Minister after the general election of 1997, resigning both posts in 2007. For his first four years in government he was Secretary of State for Environment, Transport & the Regions. Thereafter he was First Secretary of State.

It is another curiosity that none of the lists include anyone for Gordon Brown’s premiership, even though the Lord Mandelson (First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council 2009-2010) was widely considered to be DPM for the last eleven months of New Labour.

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats throughout their coalition with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, was the third canonical DPM. He was also appointed Lord President of the Council and Minister for Political & Constitutional Reform. He regularly stood in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.

William Hague was First Secretary of State through the same period. He was the second Conservative in the cabinet hierarchy and answered Prime Minister’s Questions when both of his superiors were absent. He was the senior member of Cameron’s shadow cabinet and so probably would have been DPM had the party won outright in 2010.

George Osborne was First Secretary of State and second in the cabinet ranking during Cameron’s second government of 2015 to 2016. He answered Prime Minister’s Questions in Cameron’s absence.

Theresa May did not appoint a DPM for FSoS during her first ministry. Most seem to have assumed that Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer) was deputy by default. When she missed PMQs on 7 December it was David Lidington, Leader of the House of Commons, who stood in for her.

Damian Green was appointed First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office in June 2017 but had to resign in scandal in December. He was second in the cabinet ranking and deputised at PMQs.

David Lidington was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from January 2018 to July 2019. He was second in the cabinet ranking throughout despite not holding either of the usual titles. He again deputised at PMQs during this period.

Dominic Raab was appointed First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs in July 2019. He resigned both posts this month in favour of Deputy Prime Minister, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Justice. Bizarrely many press sources called this a demotion. He took charge of the government last year when Boris Johnson was in intensive care, and has deputised at PMQs many times, including last week. He would appear to be the fourth canonical DPM, having the title in Hansard as well as in government publications (no Gazette mention yet). Oddly the cabinet rankings until recently had him below the Chancellors of the Exchequer (Sajid Javid, then Rishi Sunak) and the most recent list of cabinet committees showed he wasn’t chairing any of them.

One might reasonably be wondering at this point as to the constitutional distinction between Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. Put simply, the latter actually exists in law. Every time a new first secretary is appointed there will be an order in council recording it, in the same way as for all the other secretaries of state. The office commands a salary in its own right and so an incumbent does not need to hold a sinecure in conjunction. This is in contrast to Deputy Prime Minister, which has no legal existence and is, in effect, simply a courtesy title given by the actual Prime Minister. Every holder of the title has simultaneously held at least one other ministerial office.

There is, though, one way in which First Secretary of State is like the Deputy Prime Minister and unlike the other secretaries of state. As I commented to Norton last year:

The main difference between the First Secretary of State and all the others is that he is a minister without a ministry. While there is an Order in Council to appoint a new First Secretary of State each time, there has never been a statutory instrument to establish a corresponding First Department. For this reason there is a little similarity with the title of Deputy Prime Minister in that leaving the position vacant has the same practical effect as abolishing it (indeed the press often don’t know which term to use), because the role cannot be proven to exist if it is not occupied.

Ever to Succeed

News has broken that two days ago Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, Mrs Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, gave birth for the first time. Her yet-unnamed daughter is eleventh in line to the throne. I wished to edit the relevant Wikipedia article accordingly, but that proved difficult as the list had multiple levels of indentation to reflect the generations and all the numbers had to be changed manually.

There is a challenge in deciding just how many names to include on the page. The legitimate non-Papist descendants of George I’s mother number well into the thousands nowadays and the vast majority of them are non-notable. The editors have here decided to limit the display to the descendants of the sons of George V. In practice this just means Bertie, Harry and Georgie, since David and John both died without issue. Even that restricted selection comprises sixty-three living people, of whom thirty-two have no pages of their own.

The clumsiness of editing this list brought up an idea I had some years ago for giving each member of the diaspora a numerical code to indicate their position within the succession. The electress herself, being the origin of the succession, would be 0. Her eldest son Georg Ludwig would be 1, her next son Frederick Augustus 2, Maximilian William 3 and so on. For each generation a digit is added, so Georg’s offspring George Augustus and Sophia Dorothea would be 1.1 and 1.2, while George Augustus’s children would be 1.11, 1.12, 1.13 and so forth. Under this system Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent & Strathearn would be 1.11141 while Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York would be 1.111411221. Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark would, I think, be 1.111416331. The beauty of this system is that the crown always goes to the living person with the lowest number, rather than each new birth or death close to the throne forcing everyone downstream to be renumbered.

There are downsides, of course. First, there is always the danger of one day discovering a missing sibling who died young and was forgotten to history. Second, until the commencement of the Perth Agreement the crown followed male-preference primogeniture, so any girl’s code was liable to change upon the arrival of a brother. Third, if any person in the line has more than nine legitimate children then the numerals would be inadequate (as in George III’s case, though perhaps there one could only number his nine sons and omit his nine daughters, none of whom had surviving children of her own), and an alphabetical system might be needed instead – Elizabeth II would be AAAADAABBA and the late Prince Philip AAAADAFCCA.

On a related note, I have been keeping tabs on Judiciary UK for some months looking at new judgements as they come out. My main interest was Bell v Tavistock, but the day before that was resolved my eye was caught by the decision of Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division) not to publish the Duke of Edinburgh’s will. Sir Andrew spoke at length about official etiquette regarding the royal family, and shed some light on that term’s definition. For Wikipedians, academics, press and others, there has always been a little confusion as to when membership of the family ends**. Is it the top X in line to the throne? Everyone descended from the current monarch? All descendants in the male line from George V? From Victoria? Everyone styled Royal Highness? Everyone on the balcony at Trooping the Colour? Then there are the gradations – often the headlines talk of “minor royals”, usually meaning the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent but sometimes including the Prince of Wales’s siblings and niblings, while mentions of “senior royals” are even more nebulous. One reason for this difficulty is that there are really three separate types of rank within group – precedence is determined by one’s relationship to the incumbent monarch, style and title by generations’ removal from any monarch and succession by primogeniture of descent from Sophia. McFarlane, in his judgement, may have given some more substance on which to build at least the latter’s definition.

From paragraph 15: This Court has been informed that in recent times the definition of the members of the Royal Family whose executors might,as a matter of course,apply to have the will sealed up has been limited to the children of the Sovereign or a former Sovereign, the Consort of the Sovereign or former Sovereign, and a member of the Royal Family who at the time of death was first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person. In addition, the wills of other, less senior, members of the Royal Family may have been sealed for specific reasons, or, as the list of names suggests, a wider definition of “Royal Family” may have been applied in this context in earlier times.

From paragraph 23: The confidential note that was disclosed and is attached to Charles J’s judgment contains an interesting account of the development of the practice of sealing Royal wills during the last century. That note provided that, in particular,the practice of applying to the Family Division applied, as a matter of course,to ‘senior members of the Royal Family’ who were defined as:

•The Consort of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;

•The child of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;and

•A member of the Royal Family who, at the time of His/or Her death, is first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person.

This means that, for judges’ purposes “senior royal” essentially means monarchs themselves, their consorts and their children (not necessarily children-in-law), as well as the first two in line to the throne and their children. Monarchs’ children are easy enough to spot from the rest, with the definitive article in their princely styles and their coronets of crosses interspersed with fleur-de-lys, but the latter category could be unstable – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of York would have been senior by this definition during their grandfather’s reign but would have lost that status had Edward VIII sired children of his own.

Applying it to the current situation, then, we can see that the seniors of the present royal family are:

  • HM The Queen
  • HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  • HRH The Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  • HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  • HRH The Princess Anne, Princess Royal
  • HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex
  • HRH Prince George of Cambridge
  • HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge

There is one part of the judgement with which I take issue – paragraph 13 says It is understood that the first member of the Royal Family whose will was sealed on the direction of the President of the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division was His Serene Highness Prince Francis of Teck. Prince Francis was the younger brother of Princess Mary of Teck who, upon her marriage to King George V, became Queen Mary in 1910. Later that same year, at the age of 40 years, Prince Francis died. An application was made for the will to be sealed and not published. The application was granted. This is a little misleading, as Mary married Prince George, Duke of York in 1893 and became Queen on his accession in 1910. The judge’s text implies that she didn’t marry him until he was already King.

*Some in the press have claimed that as her father is an Italian count, the baby will be a countess, but the title is not recognised by the Italian republic or by the United Kingdom. Most likely she will be Miss [[Firstname]] Mapelli Mozzi.
**Of course, any family can present this difficulty as few are consciously defined by any formal rules.

UPDATE (1st October)

Princess Beatrice’s baby is named Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi.

A Grand Total

It is not entirely easy to count how many heraldic illustrations I have made for Wikimedia Commons over the years. Do I count badges separately from shields? Do I include achievements I’ve made twice? What about ones that have been deleted?

When I finished updating my gallery at the end of July the shields and lozenges collectively numbered nine-hundred and sixty-six. Over the course of August I have illustrated at least another thirty-four.

My official one thousandth coat of arms is that of the Barons Darebury, a relatively short and low-profile line of peers whose distinctions include High Sheriff of Cheshire and Chairman of Aintree Racecourse.

Having cleared this benchmark, I move onto the next project. Last year I unveiled my armorial of universities in the United Kingdom. This year I have made a similar list for the universities in Canada. This one has so far progressed much more rapidly, as Canadian heraldry is very easily searchable in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges, in contrast to British heraldry which often involves a great deal of searching around for clues. The register had blazons for fifty-four fully-fledged universities, as well as twenty-nine subsidiary colleges or faculties and four related voluntary bodies.

The items in this list are organised by province, though they are not evenly spread – forty of the eighty-seven institutions are in Ontario, with the University of Toronto alone having fifteen distinct grants. Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island, by contrast, boast only one each. Another strange trend is that Canada’s heralds seem to have been inordinately fond of sealing their letters patent on the fifteenth and twentieth days of the month.

I am struck by one major problem – although I have quickly compiled many dozens of blazons I can find illustrations for only two of them. On the actual pages of these institutions one can frequently find an image of the coat of arms copied directly from either the register or the university’s own website, claimed under fair use. Such a justification does not fly on pages such as the one I am making, so I will have to call on the aid of all Wikimedia’s great armorial artists to fill the gaps.

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.

Are You Equal To It?

Several times before now I have written of the frustration in locating up-to-date sources of heraldic information. For the last few years the latest edition of Debrett’s Peerage I could access was from the year 2000 and the latest of Burke’s was from 2003.

Earlier this week I found Debrett’s Peerage 2019 advertised on Amazon. Unusually it had the “Look Inside” feature enabled. Ordinarily this preview only allows one to read the first chapter, with some barely even getting through the title and contents pages. This one, however, had hundreds of pages included. That made it all the more annoying that so many of the early pages were spent on essays, anecdotes, company history, biographies of the royal family and explanations of the peerage system itself (the latter two generally not changing much from one edition to the next). For some time I feared that the preview would end before it actually got to the part for which I was looking. Thankfully that did not occur, and I got as far as Chorley before the page went blank. I was able to harvest previously-unknown blazons for more than a dozen recent-ish life peers and a few hereditaries as well. For those whose titles come later in the alphabet I had to think of alternative strategies.

The Baroness Hale of Richmond is one whose blazon I have sought for many years. Her arms, or rather the motto that goes with them, has been elevated to fame in certain media circles, particularly after her prorogation ruling. Despite this, the newspapers almost and press releases never actually showed a picture of her arms nor quoted any part of the blazon. As with Michael Martin, it leads me to wonder if none of the journalists have actually seen it either and they’re all just copying each other. When I spoke to her ladyship over Teams two weeks ago I considered asking her outright to find her letters patent and hold them up to the camera, but ultimately opted for a more lecture-relevant question instead. In fact I had seen her arms before, in August 2018 when someone on a forum somewhere (I cannot find it again) linked to a photograph of her lozenge, showing two scrolls in saltire between four towers in cross. Unfortunately the picture included no contextual clues to its authenticity, so when I recreated that image and added to her Wikipedia page it was swiftly removed for lack of evidence. On the day of the prorogation ruling the heraldry subreddit discussed her arms using my image as their reference. From that thread one user (account since deleted) posted a link to a different illustration which included the motto and supporters (presumably a photograph of the letters patent), but which still omitted the blazon and any other contextual details so was no more useful for encyclopedic purposes. Still, it gave me an idea:

Google Books is variable in what it shows you – a book out of copyright usually has its full text available, but one still protected may show you only a small sample, the exact extent of which is at the discretion of the owner. A lot of books have a generous preview, others yield nothing at all. Debrett’s Peerage 2015 and 2019 were of the latter sort, but 2008 and 2011 allowed the “snippet view”, where if you search the text for a certain word or phrase it will bring up screenshots of those terms with maybe a couple of lines above and below. In Hale’s case I was fortunate to already know what I wanted to find and, upon typing “two frogs” into the small search bar, found it. I was amused to see that Debrett’s had translated the motto Omnia Feminae Aequeissimae as “Everything to the Most Just Woman” and not “Women are equal to everything” as her fans have widely quoted.

The Lord Tebbit was a similar case. I found a few scattered references to his coat of arms including a polecat – derived from what had originally been an insulting political nickname – but no further detail or illustration. Searching for “polecat” returned the blazon for his crest, supporters and motto, then searching for bits of those eventually got me the blazon for his shield. The Lord Brittan of Spennithorne’s arms were completely unknown to me, but when I searched for him by name the snippet showed the top of his crest. I guessed it was a sheep, then searched for “crest – a sheep” and found the full details.

All in all this is quite a cumbersome process but not entirely fruitless. I hope to find more soon.

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.

The Arms Business

Two days ago I was contacted by Charles Matthews, former Wikimedian in Residence for the Betty & Gordon Moore Library at Cambridge, saying that Karl Wilcox, developer of DrawShield, wanted volunteers to assist with the next stage. Matthews contacted me because I was, in his mind, “certainly adept with heraldry software”. It was with a heavy heart that I told him the less glamorous truth: I do all of my heraldic art on PowerPoint and Paint. He said it was still interesting to know my methods, so I put together a video of the process by which I make each piece.

For those unfamiliar, blazon is heraldry’s own language, and DrawShield is an attempt at a translator tool. The software allows you to type a blazon into a small box, for which it then generates an illustration of the shield, comprising charges drawn from a bank from Wikimedia Commons. As anyone who has had to use an online translator will know, the subtleties of even an apparently-simple phrase can be difficult to teach to a machine. Drawshield occasionally has difficulty when sentences are factorised for word economy (e.g. noting the tincture at the end of a list of multiple charges, rather than separately for each one) or when it is asked to illustrate a charge not encountered before. Syntax also tends to be a difficulty as blazons are generally written with as little punctuation as possible and attempts to break up the long run-on sentences can drastically change the meaning.

It seems, based on the snippets given to me, that Matthews and Wilcox are attempting to rectify exactly these problems, with the former showing me a list of new charges sought for inclusion. He also boasts a substantial gallery of those he has already made.

More troubling, though, is the artistic element: To depict an aesthetically-pleasing shield requires careful consideration of the relative sizes of elements within the escutcheon. Sometimes the same charge may be depicted in different ways within the same emblazonment, tapering or stretching to fit the curves of the shield. Furthermore an asymmetric charge may have a centre of gravity which is distinct from its centre of width, requiring careful spacing. These decisions are too fine and too subjective for the computer, which instead drops out coats with a lot of empty background and charges too small to properly see. The end result is often an image that is technically correct but looks subjectively cheap and inauthentic. The main advantage, of course, is speed – even my relatively crude pictures take 20-40 minutes depending on complexity while those of Sodacan or RS-Nourse must take a far longer time, but DrawShield can spit out multiple coats of arms in a minute. It would therefore be a very useful tool in filling any gaps or catching up on backlogs in instances where blazons are known but images have not yet been added. I would not, however, recommend it as a permanent solution for the arms of anyone whose page is viewed with a serious degree of regularity. Matthews says “It would be great to work on a reference collection for heraldry that was uniform.” but compared to the works that already exist I fear such uniformity would represent a levelling-down rather than up.

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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