Saturday, 29 August 2015

Queer Achievement : Byron's Pride

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

This weekend sees the climax of Manchester Pride. Wherever you go in the city you’ll see the city council’s coat of arms and derivatives of it – on buildings, on street signs, on litter bins. Here is the Manchester coat of arms with a few others that have incorporated parts of it.
The single design element that is common to them all is what we heraldists call “three bendlets enhanced” – three diagonal stripes slightly to one side of the shield.

Now, here’s the heraldic achievement of the poet Lord Byron, one of several that can be seen in Nottingham. Does the shield look familiar?

There is a family link between the pansexual Byron and the city of Manchester where the whole spectrum of the lgbt community is being celebrated this weekend.

Lord Byron’s earliest male-line ancestor is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as holder of several manors in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. These were the days before heraldry developed. Kings, barons and knights adopted any emblem they wanted, whether or not it had been used in their family or not. As generations passed these personal emblems were adopted by other members of the family. Some families adopted animals as emblems, like the lions of England inherited by “Queens” Edward II and James I.

In some cases the emblems originated in the construction elements of a shield. Central bosses and studs were painted and they became family emblems as discs. The three red discs of the Courtenay family (of which the 3rd Earl of Devon, young lover of William Beckford, was the family head) may have begun this way. Metal bars fixed across the shield to strengthen it because the bars and stripes in heraldry, and this is probably the ultimate origin of Lord Byron’s shield. Interestingly, the position of the bars, centred to one side of the shield, is the area most often hit during battle and jousts.

Another common practice in the early days of heraldry was to adapt the coat of arms of a related or connected family. That is how Lord Byron’s arms came into being.

In the 12th century Lord Byron’s ancestors married heiresses from Lancashire in the Manchester area and they established a second manorial base there. One family of local importance they married into were the Grelleys, lords of the manor of Manchester. The Grelleys had a coat of arms of three gold stripes on a red shield, the same one still used as part of the city arms of Manchester today.

The Byrons inherited the manor of Manchester from the Grelleys. To commemorate this descent they adopted the three stripes from the Grelley shield and turned them red. And when Sir John Byron, MP for Nottingham, was created a peer in 1643 he chose his full title to be Baron Byron of Rochdale in the County Palatine of Lancaster (having bought the manor of Rochdale in 1638 from “Queen” James I to add to his Manchester estates).

A coat of arms used by the old Failsworth Urban District Council, situated in Manchester, shows this inheritance in visual form perfectly. I’ve shown the Failsworth arms below. It shows the stripes of the Grelleys and Byrons joined together as is passing the manor of Manchester from one family to the other.
As people wander around Manchester this weekend during the city’s Pride celebrations, the spirit of Lord Byron will no doubt be there with them.

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