Tuesday 23 April 2013

A Queer Achievement - A Return to Shakespeare

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

Following on from last year’s St George’s Day discussion on William Shakespeare I return to the subject this year. Rather than concentrate on the famous playwright, today’s subject is another person with the same surname, but it also illustrates the practice in heraldry of “borrowing” the coat of arms of a famous namesake.

The arms I’ve shown here belong to Tom Shakespeare. Whether or not he’s related to William Shakespeare or not is uncertain. Tom’s earliest known ancestor was called Humphrey Shakespeare and live at Ipsley in Worcestershire and died in 1689. There’s no known connection between Humphrey and William.

Tom Shakespeare, known officially as Sir Thomas Shakespeare, 3rd Baronet, made it into the list of the UK’s most influential 200 lgbt people in 1995 in the 200th issue of “Gay Times”. Then aged 28 he was a lecturer in sociology at the University of Sunderland. His specialist research areas are bio-ethics, sexuality, disability, and genetics, authoring several books of these subjects. Tom is also an active campaigner for disability rights and currently works for UNESCO.

Tom has achondrophasia, causing dwarfism which, like his title, he inherited from his father. His coat of arms is inherited from his grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare, 1st Baronet. Sir Geoffrey was a Liberal MP for over 17 years and held several high political offices. When he was created a baronet (a hereditary knighthood) in 1942 he was granted a coat of arms which reflected his political career and family association with the famous playwright.

With no proof of a blood relationship to William Shakespeare, Sir Geoffrey was allowed to use the playwright’s arms on condition that it included other objects. The playwright’s coat of arms is shown to the left. These were granted to his father in 1596. It shows a common practice in heraldry of using the person’s name to inspire its design, just like the roses in the arms of Eleanor Roosevelt I showed you in February. The obvious choice of object for someone called Shakespeare is a spear. The playwright’s father was also granted a crest (not shown) which is the same eagle and spear adopted by Sir Geoffrey in 1942 and inherited by Tom.

Sir Geoffrey chose to place a portcullis behind the eagle and put another in the corner of his shield. The portcullis is a symbol of the British parliament and represents his career as an MP. During his political career Geoffrey held several positions which are represented by the anchor. He was Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, and held offices in the Departments of Overseas Trade and Dominion Affairs.

Even though Tom Shakespeare, the present baronet, done not use his title, nor has any political or Admiralty connections of his own, he is still entitled to the full heraldic achievement of his grandfather. Tom’s rank as a baronet is shown in two ways. First is the helmet, which is shown with the visor open (all other members of his family can only use a closed visor). Secondly, the badge of a baronet of the United Kingdom is suspended below the shield. In the centre of this badge is a small white shield showing a red hand which is the special emblem of all baronets. Quite often this little white badge with red hand is shown in miniature on the main shield, but since I have chosen to show the badge below the shield it wasn’t necessary to include it on the main shield as well.

Finally, the motto. Sir Geoffrey doesn’t appear to have been granted a motto in 1942, though he could use William Shakespeare’s own motto “Non sans droict”, which means “Not without right”.

I have not coloured the back of the motto scroll with a rainbow as I have done with my other Queer Achievements. Instead, I have used the bisexual colours to reflect Tom’s sexuality.

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