Saturday, 16 July 2022

Birmingham Beckons

When I mentioned several years ago that I was abandoning research into lgbt Paralympians to concentrate on Olympians I didn’t abandon parasports completely. One of my other sporting interests is the Commonwealth Games which, for several decades, have included various parasports.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Commonwealth Games here’s a brief explanation and history. What we now call the Commonwealth Games began in 1930 as the British Empire Games. It was actually first suggested in 1891 but nothing came of it, though it was one inspirations behind Pierre de Coubertin’s creation of the modern Olympics. The Commonwealth Games have been held every four years (except during the war) ever since 1930. The next games will be held in Birmingham, England, later this month, so I thought I’d write about the various lgbt contributions in its history to add to my previous articles on previous games – Gold Coast 2018 and Glasgow 2014. I’ll give the full list of lgbt Commonwealth athletes next month after the games have finished.

First of all, let’s get some facts straight. The Commonwealth not the British Empire under a different name. It originated during imperial times, that’s all. Many former British colonial possessions are not members of the Commonwealth (Ireland and the Arab states), and several nations that were never part of the British Empire are (Rwanda, Mozambique, Cameroon, and many others who are waiting to join). On a side note, Portugal and France have similar international games based on their own former colonial ties.

Just as the Olympics are preceded by a torch relay, the Commonwealth Games are preceded by the Queen’s Baton relay. The first baton relay was held in 1958 for the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. The baton relay was relatively small compared to the Olympic torch relay, but since 1998 it has gone to all Commonwealth nations and territories before reaching the host city. It is now bigger than the Olympic torch relay.

I’ve seen the baton relay twice. The first was in 1990 when it visited Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire, where I worked at the time. The second time was last Sunday, when it was carried on a canoe being paddled along Nottingham Canal and on to Nottingham Castle.

More often than not the relay has begun at Buckingham Palace. So far, only two lgbt athletes have been the baton bearers at the Palace. The first was Dame Kelly Holmes who was the first baton bearer in 2009 (for the 2010 games in Delhi). At the time, Dame Kelly was President of Commonwealth Games England. For the current baton relay the third baton bearer at the Palace was Lauren Price, an Olympic boxing champion from Tokyo 2020/1.

Sadly, the person who attended the start of the 2018 baton relay, proudly displaying the Pink Jack flag outside Buckingham Palace (pictured below) wasn’t there this year.

One of the Commonwealth Games I mentioned in one of my previous articles, the ones held in Melbourne in 1996, were one of my favourite. In particular, I thought the opening ceremony was the best I’d seen. This may have been because of the staging, but probably more because the athletes’ parade was split up into continental sections which made it feel shorter, even though it wasn’t. I shouldn’t have been surprised about liking the ceremony because so many of those involved in its creation also went on to be responsible for my favourite Olympic opening ceremony – Sydney 2000.

Starting off the 1996 Melbourne ceremony was a sequence directed by Nigel Triffitt (1949-2012), the openly gay co-founder of Tap Dogs, a tap dancing troupe who became very popular in the 1990 and 2000s. Triffitt’s segment for Melbourne didn’t involve a lot of dancing, but it did introduce people to Melbourne quite effectively, including starting with the entrance of an actual tram car with wings flying in from the top of the stadium.

Australia has done very well at the Commonwealth Games. It tops the medal table with a grand total of 2,415, which includes the top lgbt athlete, swimmer Ian Thorpe, who has 10 gold and 1 silver Commonwealth medal. Australia has also hosted the games more than anyone else (bearing in mind that England, Scotland and Wales are separate sporting nations). Australia has hosted the games five times, and will host it again in 2026.

Hosting an event like the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics has become increasingly expensive. Many host cities have withdrawn their bids for both games because of the cost, or because of opposition from local populations. Support from the local city council is, of course, crucial.

In 2007 Glasgow was chosen as the host of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The leader of Glasgow City Council helped to launch the bid in 2005. His name was Steven Purcell, and he was one of the first openly lgbt council leaders in Scotland. He was instrumental in raising awareness, funds, and support for the games. Sadly, however, the pressure of the job forced him to resign in 2010. Other issues cause further stress and he resigned as council leader.

The Glasgow games followed the example of the London 2012 London Olympics by promoting and encouraging lgbt inclusion in all of its sports and events. It was also the first Commonwealth Games to have a Pride House.

Finally for today, the Commonwealth Games Federation set up the Commonwealth Sports Pride Network last December. This is a voluntary network of organisations and individuals who are bringing lgbt athletes and supporters together to enable sport to be more inclusive. This will be vital work in the campaign to influence change within the Commonwealth where many nations are still homophobic.

I hope you can watch some of the media coverage of the Commonwealth Games if you can’t get there in person. There’ll be plenty of top class elite sports on view. The games with end on 8th August, and I hope to complete the full list of athletes, medals and statistics about a week later.

Until then, Birmingham beckons.

Friday, 10 June 2022

Heraldic Alphabet 2022

Welcome to my 9th Heraldic Alphabet celebrating International Heraldry Day with coats of arms in the lgbt community. Some nations don’t yet allow women to use shields, only ovals or diamond shaped lozenges. For the sake of uniformity I will only use shields. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Arms of Office – arms of an institution of which a person was the nominal head, used only during their term of office.

Assumed – arms adopted by a person or family where no heraldic authority exists in their lifetime or location, or are not officially registered if one does exist.

Attributed - arms designed retrospectively to historical or legendary people who lived before heraldry existed.

Family – arms usually borne by the senior bloodline family member. Other family members are often required to add certain differences. Some nations allow all family members to use the arms unaltered.

Marital – Both spouses with a coat of arms can place them side by side on one shield. Heraldic heirs place theirs on a smaller shield or lozenge over their spouse’s. Wives can also display the arms of their husband only.

Personal – a) inherited family arms used by the individual, with or without specific differences; or b) new arms granted by an official heraldic authority.

Quarters – a minimum of 4 divisions of a shield with a different inherited coat of arms in each. Some individuals are entitled to bear many more quarters. The quarters are numbered left to right, row by row.

Without further ado, here is the 2022 Heraldic Alphabet (peers are listed by their title):

A) Alexander the Great (356 BC- 323 BC), King of Macedonia. Attributed arms. Alexander had many coats of arms designed by medieval heralds. This is the earliest I can find. For more information see this article.

B) Countess Erszsébet (Elizabeth) Báthori (1560-1614), serial killer. Family arms granted to her paternal ancestor in 1325. It represents dragons’ teeth, reflecting the legend of the family’s founder killing a dragon. Sometimes the teeth are shown coming from the other side. Over the years the teeth have also became stylised as white triangles. All versions have been used by the family.

C) Sir Henry Channon (1897-1958), Anglo-American member of the UK parliament. Personal arms, probably granted to him in the 1930s after being naturalised as a British citizen. I haven’t found any information about these arms or its symbolism.

D) Olga de Meyer (1871-1931), artists’ model and arts patron. Family arms, being the arms of the Caracciolo family of Naples (Olga’s paternal grandfather was Giuseppe Antonio Caraccciolo Pinelli, 4th Duke of Castelluccio). Olga married twice and could have borne marital arms in each case.

E) Erté (1892-1990), real name Roman Petrovich Tyrtov, Russo-French costume and set designer. Family arms of the Tyrtov family. Erté was a direct descendant of 16th century Tatar warlords who were granted a coat of arms by the Tsar of Russia.

F) Clyde Fitch (1865-1909), US dramatist. Family arms of the Fitch family of Norfolk, UK, from whom Clyde descends. This is an example of a family with “ancient” and “modern” arms. In quarters 1 and 4 are the modern arms adopted around 1633. In quarters 2 and 3 are the ancient arms used before 1633. The crosses are allusive (they allude to the family in some way). When ending in a point crosses are known as “fitchy” or “fitchée”.

G) Capt. Richard Gorges (1876-1944), implicated in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. Personal arms as the 3rd son (indicated by the star) of his father. Another “ancient” and “modern” arms. The ancient arms is the blue spiral in the 3rd quarter representing a whirlpool. They are canting arms (i.e. exactly representing the family name – “gorges” is Latin for “whirlpool”). The family were involved in a court case in 1347 over who was entitled to use the blue and yellow checked arms in the 1st quarter. The Gorges lost and had to add the red chevron. In the 2nd quarter are the arms of the Russell family who adopted the Gorges name after becoming their heirs. The 4th quarter shows the arms of Richard;s mother, the heir of the O'Kelly family.

H) Tim Hely Hutchinson (b.1953), publisher. Personal arms as the 2nd son (indicated by the crescent) of the Earl of Donoughmore. In quarters 1 and 4 are the Hutchinson arms; in quarter 2 are the Hely arms, his paternal ancestors who married the Hutchinson heiress; and in quarter 3rd are the Nickson arms, whose heiress married into the Hely family.

I) Francesco Italia (b.1972), Mayor of Syracuse, Sicily, since 2018. Arms of office, being those of the town of Syracuse granted on 8 December 1942 by the Consulta Araldica del Regno d’Italia. The eagle holding a heraldic thunderbolt has been a popular Italian emblem since the Roman Empire, and is said to represent Jupiter. Other sources say it represents Jupiter as Zeus in eagle form when he kidnapped Ganymede. See here for the queer angle on that story.

J) John Sam Jones (b.1956), Mayor of Barmouth, Wales, 2014-15. Arms of office, being those of the town of Barmouth (probably assumed). I can find no record of them being officially granted, though they have been used for over a century and appear on the mayoral chain of office and the council website, amongst other places. The dragon’s head refers to a legendary sea monster said to haunt the shores of Barmouth.

K) Robert King, 4th Earl of Kingston (1796-1867), Anglo-Irish politician. Personal arms as the Earl of Kingston, first known to have been used by his ancestor Sir John King (d.1637) which appear in Sir John’s funeral entry recorded at the College of Arms, London. There is probably no connection between these and the O’Kelly arms (see Richard Gorges above).

L) Frances Norma Loring (1887-1968), US-Canadian sculptor. Assumed family arms, used by her ancestors, the Lorings of Hingham, Massachusetts, descended from the Lorings of Axminster, Devon, UK. However, these arms are recorded as those of the Lorings of Suffolk on the opposite side of the country. I can find no link between the two families. The Suffolk family arms appear on a tombstone of Frances’s ancestral relatives in the Old Granary Burial Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, indicating the family had assumed them before the 18th century.

M) The Mann family. Family arms. Thomas Mann (1815-1955), German writer, his daughter Erika Mann (1905-1969), and two of his sons, Klaus Mann (1906-1959) and Golo Mann (1909-1994), were all members of the lgbt community. The arms was adopted in 1840 by their ancestor Johann Siegmund Mann (1761-1848) upon his election as President of the St. Anna almshouses, Lübeck. Whether they were officially registered or granted is uncertain. The Manns were wealthy merchants and the arms feature Mercury, the god of commerce.

N) Maria Nirod (1879-1965), Maid of Honour at the Imperial Russian court. Family arms of her paternal family, the Mukhanovs of St. Petersburg. In 1903 she married Count Feydor Nirod and could have used his coat of arms. After his death in 1913 Maria became a surgical nurse and partner of Vera Gedroitz (see her arms here).

O) Jayne Ozanne (b.1968), member of the General Synod of the Church of England. Family arms of her paternal ancestors on Guernsey, Channel Islands. Although some sources state that the Ozanne family had a coat of arms in the 14th century this design is more reminiscent of arms often granted in the 16th. My research is incomplete, and Jayne may descend from members of the family who were granted an altered version of these arms in the 18th century.

P) Katherine Phillips (1631-1664), poet, sometimes called “the Welsh Sappho”. Marital arms, being those of her husband, James Phillips, MP (d.1674). James descended from the third son (indicated by the star) of Sir Thomas Philipps (yes, the name is spelt differently) of Picton Castle.

R) Frederick “Russ” Russell-Rivoallan, UNESCO diplomat. Personal arms granted to him on 15 December 2010 by the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Red and white represent Canada, while ermine represents Brittany (whose arms are ermine), the home of his partner, Pierre Rivoallan. The dovetail division symbolises the dove of peace, and the tree represents Brampton, Ontario, where Russ was raised – the city’s flag contains a pine tree.

S) Edith Jemima Simcox (1844-1901), trade unionist and social reformer. Family arms, being those of her father George Price Simcox, the 2nd son (indicated by the crescent) of Thomas Greene Simcox of Harborne, Staffordshire. The arms were granted by the College of Arms on 16 May 1821 to Thomas’s father.

T) Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), Italian poet. Family arms used since the 15th century. Like Gorges above these are canting arms – “tasso” is Italian for “badger”. The horn appears in the arms of the town of Cornello where the family originate. It may also represent a post horn, the Tasso family founded the European postal service. The senior branch of the family were postmasters for the German Emperor who granted a double-headed eagle to replace the horn. The family germanised their name to Taxis and are the ancestors of the Princes von Thurnund Taxis, who still have a badger in the centre of their arms today.

U) Nicolas Chalon du Blé, 2nd Marquis of Uxelles (1852-1730), Marshal of France. Personal arms as the marquis. These are the family arms of the du Blé family, used since the 1200s. The Uxelles title comes through the marriage of an ancestor to the heiress of the Baron d’Uxelles in 1537.

V) Carl van Vechten (1880-1964), American writer and photographer. Family arms, being those of his direct ancestor Teunis Dircksen van Vechten of Utrecht. Teunis migrated to the US in the 1630s. A variation which shows the bar on a red background with battlements only on the top edge of the stripe is recorded in some sources.

W) Mary Spencer Watson (1913-2006), British sculptor. Possible family arms. These are carved into the memorial stone of her father George Spencer Watson in St. James’s church, Piccadilly, London. Although the family can be traced back to 17th century Yorkshire, there’s no clear link between this family and another of the same name living in the same place at the same time, who had a different coat of arms.

Y) Anna Yevreinova (1844-1919), feminist writer and the first Russian woman to earn a Doctor of Law degree. Family arms, granted to her Jewish ancestral uncle, Yakov Evrienov (1700-1772), State Councillor, and inherited by his descendants only. So, technically, Anna would not have been entitled to use them, but I’ve included them out of interest.

Monday, 16 May 2022

William and John: Part 6) Outlaws and Villains

We return to the story of Sir William Neville and his partner Sir John Clanvowe. Last time we concentrated on Sir John’s writings, specifically my theory that he wrote the original version of the Robin Hood ballad later printed as “The Geste of Robyn Hode”, the basis of every film and television version that are familiar today.

Today we look at characters in “The Geste” and discover how some of them can be connected to Sir John and Sir William.

First of all, forget about the characters who don’t appear in “The Geste” – Prince John, King Richard, Maid Marian, and Friar Tuck. They were added to the legends later. So, which of the remaining characters are connected to Sir John and Sir William? Below is a family tree to help explain those connections.


The man who appears in "The Geste" is the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, not the Sheriff of Nottingham. (See here for my own connection to the real Sheriff of Nottingham.) He is never mentioned by name, though historians suggest he may have been modelled on Sir Henry Fauconberg. When King Edward II visited Nottingham in 1324 to pardon outlaws, an event which features in “The Geste”, Sir Henry Fauconberg was the High Sheriff.

The Fauconberg family were related to the Nevilles. Sir William Neville’s aunt was married to Sir Walter Fauconberg, whose father leased a manor in Holderness, East Yorkshire, to his second-cousin (i.e. they shared one set of great-grandparents), who the father of High Sheriff Sir Henry Fauconberg.

As a supporter of King Edward in a rebellion of 1322 Sir Henry was rewarded by being appointed Commissioner of Array for Yorkshire, responsible for raising troops for battle. However, he got this appointment at the expense of his predecessor, Lord Waleys, the grandfather of Sir William Neville’s wife, Elizabeth. Lord Waleys’ manors were seized by the Crown and he had to pay a large fine. Even though he was pardoned by King Edward at Nottingham (as Robin Hood was in “The Geste”) in 1324 and had his manors returned, his appointments weren’t and he would have had no good feelings towards Sir Henry Fauconberg.

Other High Sheriffs have also been suggested as the model for Robin Hood’s archenemy.


In "The Geste" Little John says he is the disinherited heir of a manor in Holderness. Sir Henry Fauconberg had an older brother called Sir John who, for reasons that are not clear, was deprived of manors in both Holderness and Sherwood. However, there is an absence of any recognition between Little John and the High Sheriff when they meet in “The Geste”, though Little John was in disguise at the time and probably didn’t want to be recognised.


This character who doesn’t appear in “The Geste” yet is now an integral part of the legend and can be linked to the Fauconbergs. He first appears in a separate manuscript ballad dated to around 1475.

Historians suggest that Gisborne refers to a town in Lancashire just over the Yorkshire border. However, others have pointed out that in Sir John Clanvowe’s lifetime, Gisborne was also a name applied to the town of Guisborough in Northumberland. Guisborough was a familiar to Sir John Clanvowe and the Neville family as they would have passed through it on their way to the Neville estates in the north, and the lords of Guisborough at the time were the Fauconbergs. So, I believe Guy of Gisborne should today be called Guy of Guisborough.

Bearing in mind that Guy of Gisborne was a bounty hunter it would be the High Sheriff to whom he would have handed Robin Hood. With his Fauconberg connection Guy would be another suitably villainous addition to the ballads. Which makes me wonder, is the earliest surviving manuscript of “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne” copied from one that Sir John Clanvowe wrote a century earlier?


Sir Roger of Doncaster and his mistress the Prioress of Kirklees murder Robin Hood in “The Geste”.

Doncaster is a Yorkshire town (and my birthplace) between Barnsdale and Sherwood. A family called de Doncastre lived in the area during the 1300s and some of them held judicial and manorial offices. For instance, Sir John de Doncastre was steward to the Abbot of St. Mary’s in York, an abbott from whom Robin Hood stole in “The Geste”.  Being in the abbot’s service, this would place Sir John, named as Sir Roger of Doncaster in “The Geste”, on the villains list. Sir John was also Steward of Wakefield in 1324, where manorial rolls include the name of a Robert Hode (Robert and Robin were interchangeable names).

Moving on to the Prioress of Kirklees, a noted historian called Joseph Hunter (1783-1861) formulated a theory about her in the 1830s. He said that Robin Hood was based on Robert Hode of Wakefield. "The Geste" says that the Prioress was “nye was of his kin", i.e. near kin to Robert Hode. Hunter suggested that the Prioress of Kirklees was called Elizabeth de Stainton, and that she was step-sister to Robert Hode's wife, Matilda.

The Staintons were landowners in Tickhill, a town 7 miles from Doncaster. It is interesting to note that one Sir John de Doncastre was Constable of Tickhill Castle from 1304, very likely the same man who was Steward of Wakefield, so he would have known the Staintons as well as Robert Hode of Wakefield.

There’s no contemporary record naming Elizabeth de Stainton as a Prioress of Kirklees. It has been assumed that she was appointed during a gap in the records between 1328 and 1350. But there’s a problem. The only records which mention an Elizabeth de Stainton say she was under 12 years old in 1347, making it impossible for her to be the Prioress of Kirklees between the above dates. Perhaps Joseph Hunter was wrong, or that the prioress is a general composite character.


Sir Richard at the Lee is a major character in later parts of "The Geste". He gives refuge to Robin Hood and his Merry Men after a battle with the High Sheriff. From this point until the end of the ballad Sir Richard is a companion of Robin Hood. A similar scenario had already appeared in the poem "Fulk le Fitz Waryn" dating from 1260. As mentioned in Part 5, Sir John Clanvowe was familiar with the legend of Fulk le Fitz Waryn and clearly used it as the basis for the story of Sir Richard at the Lee.


This character only appears briefly twice in "The Geste" as one of the Merry Men taking part in two archery contests; the famous contest at Nottingham Castle and one later in the forest against the king. "The Geste" implies Gilbert is the second best marksman in England after Robin Hood. It is surprising, therefore, that Gilbert doesn’t appear have his own set of folk tales and ballads. So, who was he?

I think the answer lies in "the White Hands". Among the many different feudal services in England was the presentation of white leather gloves (white hands?) at the coronation of the monarch by the Furnival family as lords of Farnham Royal in Buckinghamshire. After 1379 this hereditary service was vested in Joan Furnival who married Sir Thomas Neville, Sir William's nephew. During the visits of King Richard II to Nottingham Castle during the 1380s, when Sir William was its Constable, the Furnivals would have been expected to be present, as they were also the lords of Worksop in north Nottinghamshire.

Alternatively, could "white hands" actually be "white hounds"? In the 14th century "hand" and "hound" were often spelt and pronounced the same. Could the first printers of "The Geste" (c.1492-1534) have misinterpreted the word from the original manuscript and the actual name should read “Gilbert of the White Hounds”? This also fits the Furnivals. They had to give two white hunting hounds to the king as part of their feudal service as lords of Worksop. What better time and place to present them than during a royal visit to Nottingham Castle. But the Furnivals don't provide us with a Gilbert. However...

A white hound was the livery badge of the Talbot family, and this type of hound became so associated with them that it was named after them – talbot. The word talbot is still used in heraldry for a hunting dog and still appears as the Talbot’s crest. The feudal presentation to the king of white hounds, and also that of white gloves, passed from Joan Neville to her son-in-law, Sir John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (whose father was Sir John Clanvowe’s cousin). There were three Gilberts in the Talbot family tree - the 1st, 3rd and 5th Barons.

Perhaps one of these Gilberts, even both the 3rd Baron Talbot and the young, future 5th Baron, was present with their famous white hounds when Sir John Clanvowe, as I believe, presented his ballad for the first time in front of the king and court at Nottingham Castle in the mid 1380s.

Perhaps we’ll never know if my theory is correct, but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest to me that I’m right.

That’s enough speculation. We return to established fact in the next and final part of the lives of Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, in which we encounter pirates of the Mediterranean.