Monday, 18 March 2013

Queer Achievement - Rock Solid Arms

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

In 2007 the industrial world was rocked (pun intended) by the revelation that Sir John Browne, Lord Browne of Madingley, the head of BP, failed in his attempt to get a court injunction preventing his former boyfriend from publishing personal details of their relationship. It was one of the most public coming out stories of recent times.

Lord Browne had been at BP since 1966 and had already announced he would retire in 2008, but his failed court injunction and the subsequent charges of perjury against him led to his resignation in 2007.

Lord Browne’s coat of arms give several clues to his family background and career, but first I must admit to an omission. As a baron Lord Browne has heraldic supporters – animals or people on either side of the shield who look as though they’re holding it up, just like the lion and the unicorn in the British royal coat of arms. For my artwork I choose not to include the supporters, mainly because they look too big and intrusive for my particular style, but also because my collection of heraldic paintings look more uniform without them because not everyone is entitled to them (Elton John isn’t for example). They are the only part of the heraldic achievement which is missing from my painting of Lord Browne’s arms.

Lord Browne’s supporters are 2 seated bears with chained collars. The absent bears are an example of a heraldic pun. In some poetic and literary circles the bear is referred to as “bruin”, which has often been used in heraldry for families with the surname Brown.

Back to the actual painting shown here. The principal colours are red, white and green (the 2 bears are also of these colours – the left one red, the right one green). Lord Browne’s mother was Hungarian, an Auschwitz survivor. The colours are taken from Hungary’s national flag (pictured left).

The shield also reflects Lord Browne’s career with BP. You will have heard of oil being referred to as a fossil fuel. It may not have struck you before, but oil is a geological product. With any form of fossil fuel you need to know which layers of rock it comes from. The diagonal stripes represent layers of rock. The green and yellow fossil ammonites on the shield are also geological references. Quite often it is fossils in the rock which tell you it you’re near oil. Lord Browne is also an Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society.

On top of the shield are 2 items which indicate Lord Browne’s rank as a peer of the realm. First is the coronet (not a crown, which has arches over the top) with 4 pearl balls signifying the specific rank of baron or Life Peer. The helmet is different to those I’ve shown before. This helmet with a gold grill is reserved for peers of the realm. Lord Browne became a Life Peer in 2001.

The crest, again in the Hungarian colours, is a bittern, a bird common to the East Anglian fens, between 2 bulrushes. Lord Browne studied at Cambridge University, located in East Anglia. The bittern is shown “booming”, the distinctive manner in which its equally distinctive call is made.

Finally, there’ the medal suspended from the shield. Like Sir Elton John’s this is the badge of the Knights Bachelor, the lowest and most numerous of Britain’s 11 ranks of knighthood. Lord Browne became a Knight Bachelor in 1998.

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