[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
Tomorrow is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. My commemoration
this year takes the form of the coat of arms of a transgender pioneer, Dr.
Michael Dillon (1915-1963). There are two historic facts about Dr. Dillon and
his coat of arms. First is Dillon being the first female to male transgender to
undergo surgical gender reassignment in history. Second, this also means that
his coat of arms is the first ever borne by any member of the transgender
Michael Dillon was the second child of Lt. Robert Arthur
Dillon of the Royal Navy. Michael was assigned female at birth and was baptised
with the name Laura. His only sibling was his older brother Robert Dillon
Here is my rendition of Michael Dillon’s armorial
The Dillon family were Irish and trace their line back to
Robert de Dillon (sometimes called de Leon), an Anglo-Norman knight who arrived
in Ireland with Prince (later King) John in 1185 and was granted lands in what
are now the counties of Longford and Westmeath. Robert de Dillon’s coat of
arms, the original Dillon arms (below) are slightly different to Michael’s.
What is common to both are the lion and crescents. The lion may
be a cant (a direct reference to the owner’s name) on the name de Leon. Michael
Dillon’s branch of the family descends from the Dillons of Poundstown, who were
created Earls of Roscommon in 1622. The 1st Earl of Roscommon used the same
shield and crest as Michael Dillon several centuries later. It’s not certain
when this particular design was chosen over the original Dillon arms but they
seem to have been first used by Sir Richard Dillon of Poundstown in the 15th
century. There is a family legend which describes how the change occurred.
The story goes that Richard Dillon fought at the Battle of
Verneuil in Normandy in 1424. He brought 600 Irish soldiers with him and with
the English won the battle against the French. Richard was rewarded with a
knighthood from the Duke of Bedford, the English Regent of France. In addition
the duke granted Sir Richard a new crest, the falcon, and a new configuration
of the arms on the shield into the form inherited by Michael Dillon and the
Earls of Roscommon. The falcon has been depicted with its wings in various
positions over the centuries. One of the leading heraldists of the 20th
century, A. C. Fox-Davies, wrote that there is a lot of confusion and no
consistency over the falcon’s wing positions in English heraldry, and the
Dillon falcon is no exception. The form I have chosen is described as “wings
addorsed and elevated”.
Analysing the arms we can determine how the charges (the
objects on the shield) looks this way. First of all, the lion. The original
Dillon lion was passant (looking as if it is walking past us). Sir Richard’s 1424
lion is rampant (standing up). This is obviously because a lion passant would
be virtually hidden behind the blue band (called a fess). The lion in the
original Dillon crest is also standing upright.
Second, the crescents. The three crescents from the original
arms now have 6-pointed stars between their points. These are representations
of the black star held by the lion in the original Dillon crest.
Another alteration to the arms made by the Poundstown
Dillons at some unknown stage was to include a chapeau (the medieval-looking
red cap) on which the falcon stands.
The blue band, the fess, is said to have been a special
augmentation granted by the Duke of Bedford. Upon it is another crescent which
in this case indicates that Michael Dillon is the second son of his father,
which he became after his reassignment surgery after 1949. Whether the heraldic
authorities at the College of Arms at the time considered this appropriate is
In 1801 Michael Dillon’s direct ancestor, John Dillon
(1739-1805), was created a baronet, a hereditary knighthood. In 1783 John
Dillon had been created a baron of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Josef II.
Sir John was given permission to use this title in England, which was not
usually possible for people with foreign titles. Michael Dillon’s older bother
Robert was the 8th baronet and 8th Baron Dillon. After his transition Debrett’s
Peerage, one of the leading works on the British nobility, acknowledged
Michael’s gender by declaring him to be the male heir to his brother’s titles.
Sadly, Michael predeceased Robert and there were no more heirs. The titles
disappeared into history.