A significant event in the history of equality took place last week. Its not something which most people will care about much, but for heraldists like myself it is one of the most important changes in tradition to have occurred in recent years. In a way, though, it could also be seen as a return to previous practice.
The change of which I write is the manner in which a same-sex married couple can now display their coats of arms together. This follows another change which regular readers of my Queer Achievement articles will already know about. Several years ago the heralds began using pink triangles and the rainbow Pride colours in new coats of arms to indicate the lgbt community. Its a recent change which I have been using in my own artwork.
So, getting back to the point, what is the new change all about? For this we need to look at how a husband and wife have displayed their marital coats of arms since Medieval times. First of all both of them must have their own coat of arms, either by inheritance or grant. Their arms are placed side by side on the same shield - the husband`s on the left and the wife`s on the right (described heraldically, left and right are reversed, as if you are holding the actual shield from behind). The rules are different if the wife is an heiress, but we won`t go into that today.
From last week same-sex married couples have been allowed to display their arms in this manner. Civil Partnerships are not covered by heraldic rules yet.
Way back in the first months of this blog in 2011 I wrote about one same-sex couple, Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe. They are one of only 4 or 5 same-sex couples who displayed their arms in this manner in the Medieval period, indicating a close personal or romantic relationship that was accepted as a form of marriage.
In the above photo of the gravestone of Sir William and Sir John (taken from heraldica.org) you can see their joint coat of arms on the shields. I`ll return to these arms in a future Queer Achievement article.
Now people like Sir Elton John can display his arms with that of his husband David Furnish. That is, when David Furnish applies for his own arms he can. At the moment the way they will be allowed to display the full achievement (Sir Elton's full achievement shown below, granted in 1986) is by displaying Sir Elton`s coat of arms without all the badges and insignia of the honours he has received, because, as yet, English law does not permit a husband (like David Furnish) to assume the rank and precedence of a titled spouse. If David was a woman he would be called Lady, but since he isn't a woman he can`t yet share Sir Elton's honours, only his shield, the Pan crest and the motto.
Back to the new rule - when and if David gets a coat of arms he will be able to do what Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe did in 1391 and show his marital coat of arms in the way that women have had the right to use since heraldry began.
I`m sure there`s a same-sex married couple somewhere who have their own coats of arms and can take advantage of the new rule. I'll keep looking and let you know if I find any.