Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Queer Achievement : A Controversial Bishop

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

Yesterday marked the centenary of the consecration of Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854-1934) as a bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church. Despite its name there is no link to the Roman Catholic Church, and Liberal refers to its independence from it.

Bishop Leadbeater is one of those characters from our lgbt heritage whose activities have been both praised and denounced. An occultist and ex-Church of England priest, a leading father of theosophy and a paedophile, he has a reputation which causes debate within the Liberal Catholic Church to this very day.

The Liberal Catholic Church was founded on 13th July 1916 when James Ingall Wedgwood of the pottery dynasty was consecrated its first bishop. Charles Leadbeater was the second.

The heraldic practices adopted by the Liberal Catholic Church resemble that of the Roman Catholic church so closely that they could easily be confused.

I’ve been unable to determine whether Charles Leadbeater has any ancestral coat of arms. His paternal ancestry doesn’t go back very far and doesn’t connect to any other family of the same or similar name. However, as an international independent church there is no ban on the Liberal Catholic Church granting arms to their own clergy as long as their use is regulated.

Like many people before and since Charles Leadbeater chose to adopt the coat of arms of another family with a similar name, the Leadbitters of Warden House in Northumberland. Charles’s own ancestry came from the same county and he may have been assuming a family relationship. There could indeed have been a connection but there is no proof. It’s like buying one of those mugs or coasters with a coat of arms of a family that just happens to have your surname. Only the proper heraldic authority can tell you if you have a coat of arms, not the ownership of a coffee mug.

Having said that, within the confines of the Liberal Catholic Church any of its clergy can assume the arms of a similar family because the church is its own heraldic authority. The duplication of a coat of arms is not unknown across international heraldry. There are instances of identical coats of arms in neighbouring countries, particularly in Europe.

That’s a very long way of me saying that I regard Charles Leadbeater’s arms as being legal under international conventions. So too are the various accoutrements which surround his episcopal shield. Let’s have a look at them.

Following the example of the Roman Catholic Church and its use of a galero or ecclesiastical hat the Liberal Catholic Church seems to have derived the particular configuration to denote a Presiding Bishop, a sort of archbishop – a red hat with 9 green tassels. Charles Webster Leadbeater became Presiding Bishop in 1923. Behind the shield is a pastoral staff indicating the bishop’s ecclesiastical place in the hierarchy of the church. To the right behind the shield is the familiar bishop’s crozier. Sitting on top corner of the shield is a bishop’s mitre.

One element that is generally missing from an ecclesiastical achievement like this is a motto. The one for Charles Leadbeater says “Semper Paratus” which means “Always ready”. Once again I’ve coloured the back of the motto scroll in the Rainbow Pride colours.

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