Friday, 10 June 2022

Heraldic Alphabet 2022

Welcome to my 9th Heraldic Alphabet celebrating International Heraldry Day with coats of arms in the lgbt community. Some nations don’t yet allow women to use shields, only ovals or diamond shaped lozenges. For the sake of uniformity I will only use shields. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Arms of Office – arms of an institution of which a person was the nominal head, used only during their term of office.

Assumed – arms adopted by a person or family where no heraldic authority exists in their lifetime or location, or are not officially registered if one does exist.

Attributed - arms designed retrospectively to historical or legendary people who lived before heraldry existed.

Family – arms usually borne by the senior bloodline family member. Other family members are often required to add certain differences. Some nations allow all family members to use the arms unaltered.

Marital – Both spouses with a coat of arms can place them side by side on one shield. Heraldic heirs place theirs on a smaller shield or lozenge over their spouse’s. Wives can also display the arms of their husband only.

Personal – a) inherited family arms used by the individual, with or without specific differences; or b) new arms granted by an official heraldic authority.

Quarters – a minimum of 4 divisions of a shield with a different inherited coat of arms in each. Some individuals are entitled to bear many more quarters. The quarters are numbered left to right, row by row.

Without further ado, here is the 2022 Heraldic Alphabet (peers are listed by their title):

A) Alexander the Great (356 BC- 323 BC), King of Macedonia. Attributed arms. Alexander had many coats of arms designed by medieval heralds. This is the earliest I can find. For more information see this article.

B) Countess Erszsébet (Elizabeth) Báthori (1560-1614), serial killer. Family arms granted to her paternal ancestor in 1325. It represents dragons’ teeth, reflecting the legend of the family’s founder killing a dragon. Sometimes the teeth are shown coming from the other side. Over the years the teeth have also became stylised as white triangles. All versions have been used by the family.

C) Sir Henry Channon (1897-1958), Anglo-American member of the UK parliament. Personal arms, probably granted to him in the 1930s after being naturalised as a British citizen. I haven’t found any information about these arms or its symbolism.

D) Olga de Meyer (1871-1931), artists’ model and arts patron. Family arms, being the arms of the Caracciolo family of Naples (Olga’s paternal grandfather was Giuseppe Antonio Caraccciolo Pinelli, 4th Duke of Castelluccio). Olga married twice and could have borne marital arms in each case.

E) Erté (1892-1990), real name Roman Petrovich Tyrtov, Russo-French costume and set designer. Family arms of the Tyrtov family. Erté was a direct descendant of 16th century Tatar warlords who were granted a coat of arms by the Tsar of Russia.

F) Clyde Fitch (1865-1909), US dramatist. Family arms of the Fitch family of Norfolk, UK, from whom Clyde descends. This is an example of a family with “ancient” and “modern” arms. In quarters 1 and 4 are the modern arms adopted around 1633. In quarters 2 and 3 are the ancient arms used before 1633. The crosses are allusive (they allude to the family in some way). When ending in a point crosses are known as “fitchy” or “fitchée”.

G) Capt. Richard Gorges (1876-1944), implicated in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. Personal arms as the 3rd son (indicated by the star) of his father. Another “ancient” and “modern” arms. The ancient arms is the blue spiral in the 3rd quarter representing a whirlpool. They are canting arms (i.e. exactly representing the family name – “gorges” is Latin for “whirlpool”). The family were involved in a court case in 1347 over who was entitled to use the blue and yellow checked arms in the 1st quarter. The Gorges lost and had to add the red chevron. In the 2nd quarter are the arms of the Russell family who adopted the Gorges name after becoming their heirs. The 4th quarter shows the arms of Richard;s mother, the heir of the O'Kelly family.

H) Tim Hely Hutchinson (b.1953), publisher. Personal arms as the 2nd son (indicated by the crescent) of the Earl of Donoughmore. In quarters 1 and 4 are the Hutchinson arms; in quarter 2 are the Hely arms, his paternal ancestors who married the Hutchinson heiress; and in quarter 3rd are the Nickson arms, whose heiress married into the Hely family.

I) Francesco Italia (b.1972), Mayor of Syracuse, Sicily, since 2018. Arms of office, being those of the town of Syracuse granted on 8 December 1942 by the Consulta Araldica del Regno d’Italia. The eagle holding a heraldic thunderbolt has been a popular Italian emblem since the Roman Empire, and is said to represent Jupiter. Other sources say it represents Jupiter as Zeus in eagle form when he kidnapped Ganymede. See here for the queer angle on that story.

J) John Sam Jones (b.1956), Mayor of Barmouth, Wales, 2014-15. Arms of office, being those of the town of Barmouth (probably assumed). I can find no record of them being officially granted, though they have been used for over a century and appear on the mayoral chain of office and the council website, amongst other places. The dragon’s head refers to a legendary sea monster said to haunt the shores of Barmouth.

K) Robert King, 4th Earl of Kingston (1796-1867), Anglo-Irish politician. Personal arms as the Earl of Kingston, first known to have been used by his ancestor Sir John King (d.1637) which appear in Sir John’s funeral entry recorded at the College of Arms, London. There is probably no connection between these and the O’Kelly arms (see Richard Gorges above).

L) Frances Norma Loring (1887-1968), US-Canadian sculptor. Assumed family arms, used by her ancestors, the Lorings of Hingham, Massachusetts, descended from the Lorings of Axminster, Devon, UK. However, these arms are recorded as those of the Lorings of Suffolk on the opposite side of the country. I can find no link between the two families. The Suffolk family arms appear on a tombstone of Frances’s ancestral relatives in the Old Granary Burial Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, indicating the family had assumed them before the 18th century.

M) The Mann family. Family arms. Thomas Mann (1815-1955), German writer, his daughter Erika Mann (1905-1969), and two of his sons, Klaus Mann (1906-1959) and Golo Mann (1909-1994), were all members of the lgbt community. The arms was adopted in 1840 by their ancestor Johann Siegmund Mann (1761-1848) upon his election as President of the St. Anna almshouses, Lübeck. Whether they were officially registered or granted is uncertain. The Manns were wealthy merchants and the arms feature Mercury, the god of commerce.

N) Maria Nirod (1879-1965), Maid of Honour at the Imperial Russian court. Family arms of her paternal family, the Mukhanovs of St. Petersburg. In 1903 she married Count Feydor Nirod and could have used his coat of arms. After his death in 1913 Maria became a surgical nurse and partner of Vera Gedroitz (see her arms here).

O) Jayne Ozanne (b.1968), member of the General Synod of the Church of England. Family arms of her paternal ancestors on Guernsey, Channel Islands. Although some sources state that the Ozanne family had a coat of arms in the 14th century this design is more reminiscent of arms often granted in the 16th. My research is incomplete, and Jayne may descend from members of the family who were granted an altered version of these arms in the 18th century.

P) Katherine Phillips (1631-1664), poet, sometimes called “the Welsh Sappho”. Marital arms, being those of her husband, James Phillips, MP (d.1674). James descended from the third son (indicated by the star) of Sir Thomas Philipps (yes, the name is spelt differently) of Picton Castle.

R) Frederick “Russ” Russell-Rivoallan, UNESCO diplomat. Personal arms granted to him on 15 December 2010 by the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Red and white represent Canada, while ermine represents Brittany (whose arms are ermine), the home of his partner, Pierre Rivoallan. The dovetail division symbolises the dove of peace, and the tree represents Brampton, Ontario, where Russ was raised – the city’s flag contains a pine tree.

S) Edith Jemima Simcox (1844-1901), trade unionist and social reformer. Family arms, being those of her father George Price Simcox, the 2nd son (indicated by the crescent) of Thomas Greene Simcox of Harborne, Staffordshire. The arms were granted by the College of Arms on 16 May 1821 to Thomas’s father.

T) Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), Italian poet. Family arms used since the 15th century. Like Gorges above these are canting arms – “tasso” is Italian for “badger”. The horn appears in the arms of the town of Cornello where the family originate. It may also represent a post horn, the Tasso family founded the European postal service. The senior branch of the family were postmasters for the German Emperor who granted a double-headed eagle to replace the horn. The family germanised their name to Taxis and are the ancestors of the Princes von Thurnund Taxis, who still have a badger in the centre of their arms today.

U) Nicolas Chalon du Blé, 2nd Marquis of Uxelles (1852-1730), Marshal of France. Personal arms as the marquis. These are the family arms of the du Blé family, used since the 1200s. The Uxelles title comes through the marriage of an ancestor to the heiress of the Baron d’Uxelles in 1537.

V) Carl van Vechten (1880-1964), American writer and photographer. Family arms, being those of his direct ancestor Teunis Dircksen van Vechten of Utrecht. Teunis migrated to the US in the 1630s. A variation which shows the bar on a red background with battlements only on the top edge of the stripe is recorded in some sources.

W) Mary Spencer Watson (1913-2006), British sculptor. Possible family arms. These are carved into the memorial stone of her father George Spencer Watson in St. James’s church, Piccadilly, London. Although the family can be traced back to 17th century Yorkshire, there’s no clear link between this family and another of the same name living in the same place at the same time, who had a different coat of arms.

Y) Anna Yevreinova (1844-1919), feminist writer and the first Russian woman to earn a Doctor of Law degree. Family arms, granted to her Jewish ancestral uncle, Yakov Evrienov (1700-1772), State Councillor, and inherited by his descendants only. So, technically, Anna would not have been entitled to use them, but I’ve included them out of interest.

Monday, 16 May 2022

William and John: Part 6) Outlaws and Villains

We return to the story of Sir William Neville and his partner Sir John Clanvowe. Last time we concentrated on Sir John’s writings, specifically my theory that he wrote the original version of the Robin Hood ballad later printed as “The Geste of Robyn Hode”, the basis of every film and television version that are familiar today.

Today we look at characters in “The Geste” and discover how some of them can be connected to Sir John and Sir William.

First of all, forget about the characters who don’t appear in “The Geste” – Prince John, King Richard, Maid Marian, and Friar Tuck. They were added to the legends later. So, which of the remaining characters are connected to Sir John and Sir William? Below is a family tree to help explain those connections.


The man who appears in "The Geste" is the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, not the Sheriff of Nottingham. (See here for my own connection to the real Sheriff of Nottingham.) He is never mentioned by name, though historians suggest he may have been modelled on Sir Henry Fauconberg. When King Edward II visited Nottingham in 1324 to pardon outlaws, an event which features in “The Geste”, Sir Henry Fauconberg was the High Sheriff.

The Fauconberg family were related to the Nevilles. Sir William Neville’s aunt was married to Sir Walter Fauconberg, whose father leased a manor in Holderness, East Yorkshire, to his second-cousin (i.e. they shared one set of great-grandparents), who the father of High Sheriff Sir Henry Fauconberg.

As a supporter of King Edward in a rebellion of 1322 Sir Henry was rewarded by being appointed Commissioner of Array for Yorkshire, responsible for raising troops for battle. However, he got this appointment at the expense of his predecessor, Lord Waleys, the grandfather of Sir William Neville’s wife, Elizabeth. Lord Waleys’ manors were seized by the Crown and he had to pay a large fine. Even though he was pardoned by King Edward at Nottingham (as Robin Hood was in “The Geste”) in 1324 and had his manors returned, his appointments weren’t and he would have had no good feelings towards Sir Henry Fauconberg.

Other High Sheriffs have also been suggested as the model for Robin Hood’s archenemy.


In "The Geste" Little John says he is the disinherited heir of a manor in Holderness. Sir Henry Fauconberg had an older brother called Sir John who, for reasons that are not clear, was deprived of manors in both Holderness and Sherwood. However, there is an absence of any recognition between Little John and the High Sheriff when they meet in “The Geste”, though Little John was in disguise at the time and probably didn’t want to be recognised.


This character who doesn’t appear in “The Geste” yet is now an integral part of the legend and can be linked to the Fauconbergs. He first appears in a separate manuscript ballad dated to around 1475.

Historians suggest that Gisborne refers to a town in Lancashire just over the Yorkshire border. However, others have pointed out that in Sir John Clanvowe’s lifetime, Gisborne was also a name applied to the town of Guisborough in Northumberland. Guisborough was a familiar to Sir John Clanvowe and the Neville family as they would have passed through it on their way to the Neville estates in the north, and the lords of Guisborough at the time were the Fauconbergs. So, I believe Guy of Gisborne should today be called Guy of Guisborough.

Bearing in mind that Guy of Gisborne was a bounty hunter it would be the High Sheriff to whom he would have handed Robin Hood. With his Fauconberg connection Guy would be another suitably villainous addition to the ballads. Which makes me wonder, is the earliest surviving manuscript of “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne” copied from one that Sir John Clanvowe wrote a century earlier?


Sir Roger of Doncaster and his mistress the Prioress of Kirklees murder Robin Hood in “The Geste”.

Doncaster is a Yorkshire town (and my birthplace) between Barnsdale and Sherwood. A family called de Doncastre lived in the area during the 1300s and some of them held judicial and manorial offices. For instance, Sir John de Doncastre was steward to the Abbot of St. Mary’s in York, an abbott from whom Robin Hood stole in “The Geste”.  Being in the abbot’s service, this would place Sir John, named as Sir Roger of Doncaster in “The Geste”, on the villains list. Sir John was also Steward of Wakefield in 1324, where manorial rolls include the name of a Robert Hode (Robert and Robin were interchangeable names).

Moving on to the Prioress of Kirklees, a noted historian called Joseph Hunter (1783-1861) formulated a theory about her in the 1830s. He said that Robin Hood was based on Robert Hode of Wakefield. "The Geste" says that the Prioress was “nye was of his kin", i.e. near kin to Robert Hode. Hunter suggested that the Prioress of Kirklees was called Elizabeth de Stainton, and that she was step-sister to Robert Hode's wife, Matilda.

The Staintons were landowners in Tickhill, a town 7 miles from Doncaster. It is interesting to note that one Sir John de Doncastre was Constable of Tickhill Castle from 1304, very likely the same man who was Steward of Wakefield, so he would have known the Staintons as well as Robert Hode of Wakefield.

There’s no contemporary record naming Elizabeth de Stainton as a Prioress of Kirklees. It has been assumed that she was appointed during a gap in the records between 1328 and 1350. But there’s a problem. The only records which mention an Elizabeth de Stainton say she was under 12 years old in 1347, making it impossible for her to be the Prioress of Kirklees between the above dates. Perhaps Joseph Hunter was wrong, or that the prioress is a general composite character.


Sir Richard at the Lee is a major character in later parts of "The Geste". He gives refuge to Robin Hood and his Merry Men after a battle with the High Sheriff. From this point until the end of the ballad Sir Richard is a companion of Robin Hood. A similar scenario had already appeared in the poem "Fulk le Fitz Waryn" dating from 1260. As mentioned in Part 5, Sir John Clanvowe was familiar with the legend of Fulk le Fitz Waryn and clearly used it as the basis for the story of Sir Richard at the Lee.


This character only appears briefly twice in "The Geste" as one of the Merry Men taking part in two archery contests; the famous contest at Nottingham Castle and one later in the forest against the king. "The Geste" implies Gilbert is the second best marksman in England after Robin Hood. It is surprising, therefore, that Gilbert doesn’t appear have his own set of folk tales and ballads. So, who was he?

I think the answer lies in "the White Hands". Among the many different feudal services in England was the presentation of white leather gloves (white hands?) at the coronation of the monarch by the Furnival family as lords of Farnham Royal in Buckinghamshire. After 1379 this hereditary service was vested in Joan Furnival who married Sir Thomas Neville, Sir William's nephew. During the visits of King Richard II to Nottingham Castle during the 1380s, when Sir William was its Constable, the Furnivals would have been expected to be present, as they were also the lords of Worksop in north Nottinghamshire.

Alternatively, could "white hands" actually be "white hounds"? In the 14th century "hand" and "hound" were often spelt and pronounced the same. Could the first printers of "The Geste" (c.1492-1534) have misinterpreted the word from the original manuscript and the actual name should read “Gilbert of the White Hounds”? This also fits the Furnivals. They had to give two white hunting hounds to the king as part of their feudal service as lords of Worksop. What better time and place to present them than during a royal visit to Nottingham Castle. But the Furnivals don't provide us with a Gilbert. However...

A white hound was the livery badge of the Talbot family, and this type of hound became so associated with them that it was named after them – talbot. The word talbot is still used in heraldry for a hunting dog and still appears as the Talbot’s crest. The feudal presentation to the king of white hounds, and also that of white gloves, passed from Joan Neville to her son-in-law, Sir John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (whose father was Sir John Clanvowe’s cousin). There were three Gilberts in the Talbot family tree - the 1st, 3rd and 5th Barons.

Perhaps one of these Gilberts, even both the 3rd Baron Talbot and the young, future 5th Baron, was present with their famous white hounds when Sir John Clanvowe, as I believe, presented his ballad for the first time in front of the king and court at Nottingham Castle in the mid 1380s.

Perhaps we’ll never know if my theory is correct, but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest to me that I’m right.

That’s enough speculation. We return to established fact in the next and final part of the lives of Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, in which we encounter pirates of the Mediterranean.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Extraordinary Life: The Japanese da Vinci - Part 2

After a really horrible first quarter of the year in which I have been battling illness, I really must apologise and catch up on my planned schedule. Last summer I wrote about the samurai who has been called the Japanese Leonardo da Vinci, Hiraga Gennai (1728-1870). The parallels between them aren’t exact but the sheer scope of Hiraga’s activity is more than enough to justify the comparison.

In that first article we left Hiraga relinquishing his feudal duties and abandoning any responsibilities to any feudal lord. He had the independence to pursue his own interests. A chronological survey of his life would see us jumping from one discipline to another. Individual surveys of each will reveal a better picture of Hiraga’s genius.

Let’s begin with the main focus of Part 1, which was Hiraga’s use of marketing. Product promotion isn’t something that was created in recent decades. The spread of the printing press across the globe from the 14th century helped to spread advertising and promotion more widely than any previous method. In Japan the development of printing during the first part of the Edo Period (1603-1868) saw a big increase in marketing, especially after paper prices began to drop.

The three main methods of advertising were product sponsorship of events, distribution of printed leaflets, and promotion of products during seasonal festivals. In fact, this is very much what we still see today. Hiraga used all of these methods. The third method was highlighted in Part 1 with his suggestion of promoting eels during the Midsummer Day of the Ox. This influenced others to sell their products and services in similar ways.

Among the other products Hiraga had a major hand in promoting was tooth powder, but he was also instrumental in the development of regional expositions of local products. He arranged several expositions from 1757, sending out invitations to potential exhibitors, writing and printing catalogues and promotional material and publicising them across a wide area. These expos increased national awareness in natural sciences such as pharmacology, agriculture and mining.

Hiraga’s interest in mining led to the setting up of several mining projects. Even though these eventually failed they did lead to the creation of the Arakawa River which greatly helped in the shipping of coal. One alarming mining project was finding a way to turn asbestos deposits into fire-resistant cloth.

Most of Hiraga’s accomplishments were influenced by his contact with Dutch merchants. The Dutch and Chinese were the only foreign merchants allowed into Japan and from them Hiraga learnt of the arts and sciences not known in Japan. Hiraga’s insatiable quest for knowledge drew him to the Dutch like a magnet. This made him a pioneer in Dutch studies in Japan, which is known as Rangaku.

Everything Hiraga learnt about European advances in science and technology came through observation and experimentation rather than formal tutoring. One of the devices he came across during his contact with Dutch merchants was a broken static electric generator. By disassembling it and working out how each part worked Hiraga managed to get the generator working again. It took him several years and the result caused a sensation. He gave public demonstrations of it working and gave electrotherapy to patients. Copies were made and other people began to use them in market places.

Another result of Hiraga’s contact with the Dutch was influenced by his knowledge of mineralogy and chemistry. As I mentioned above he developed mining techniques and he located a particularly good source of clay for producing high quality pottery. He persuaded the government to help him set up kilns and workshops, aimed at reducing the reliance on obtaining pottery from China or Holland. With influences from Dutch pottery Hiraga developed a new style that combined both Dutch and Japanese elements. This style became very popular and is now named after him – Gennai ware.

Hiraga’s knowledge of geology also led him to investigate the use of minerals in the production of paints and dyes. You’ll not be surprised to learn that Hiraga was an accomplished painter. Unfortunately, very little of his work survives, and there’s only one of his oil paintings known to exist today.

If you’ve read Part 1 of this Extraordinary Life you’ll probably be intrigued by a particular comment I made and are eager to know more. It was about Hiraga writing a book about farting whose title translates into English as “The Theory of Farting”. The title makes it sound like the book is a serious study of the subject, but is actually a satirical novel (Hiraga loved writing satire, which was a popular genre in his lifetime). The “Theory” is more of a discussion than a novel, not unlike ancient Greek philosophical works. The author describes his encounter with a street performer who could fart tunes and animal noises. A fellow spectator is appalled at the performance but the author goes into a speech on how farting is superior to any other art form. The performer is self taught, not a product of a school where he was taught to copy previous artists using established instruments and techniques. Hiraga is taking a dig at the artistic establishment, even though he was part of it himself. It reminds me of a performer called Methane Man who had a similar farting act and appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent”.

Hiraga was not just a satirist. He could turn his hand to other literary forms. His pioneering use of marketing was utilised in the catalogues he wrote for his many trade expositions; he write scientific books; and he write poetry. Hiraga’s homosexuality played a role in other works, such as a guide book on male prostitutes and passages on gay sex in his novels. One of his novels I am really interested to read is “Furyu shidoken”, Hiraga’s version of “Gulliver’s Travel”. The stories are not exact in content because it’s unlikely that Hiraga had actually seen a copy of “Gulliver’s Travels”. He may have heard snippets about the novel from his Dutch contacts and used these as inspiration for his own novel.

With the extraordinary variety of disciplines Hiraga Gennai took up it is highly appropriate to compare him with Leonado da Vinci. However, unlike da Vinci, Hiraga’s life ended on a down note. Several accounts of his final year vary in the detail but agree on the final outcome. In 1779 Hiraga was arrested for murder (of a carpenter or one of his disciples). Hiraga was imprisoned and died in jail at the end of the year.

Many scholarly works on Hiraga Gennai repeat the word “extraordinary” when describing his works, deeds and legacy. Like so much of east Asian history, comparatively very little is known in the west. While Hiraga may be unknown to the majority outside Japan in his native country, even in modern anime, his name is well known and familiar.