Friday 25 January 2013

A Queer Star-Gayzing Achievement


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

I’m combining two of my series today – heraldry and astronomy.

A coat of arms can belong to an organisation as well as a person, among them countries, cities and towns all around the world. Some places still use coats of arms that have been around since the Middle Ages. The city where I live, Nottingham, has had a coat of arms from 1610 at the earliest.

Just like the royal arms of the UK or the Presidential seal of the USA, which are only used by the Head of state during their reign/term of office, Nottingham’s arms are used by it’s Lord Mayor in his official capacity.

As I mentioned in October the present Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Leon Unczur, is the first openly gay incumbent in that post (and the only openly gay Lord Mayor in the whole of the UK) and, as such, is the present “owner” of Nottingham’s coat of arms.

To incorporate the Ology of the Month into the mix the full achievement includes the city’s crest which represents Nottingham Castle with a star and moon sitting on top of the towers. This crest is taken from the city’s medieval seal which predates the shield design by some 200 years. When Nottingham was given city status in 1898 this seal became the crest.

The castle is an obvious reference to my old work place, Nottingham Castle. In previous posts I have mentioned that the castle had at least 2 known gay constables (here and here) – the site managers, as it were. The origin of the wavy star and crescent on the towers is obscure, but Wilfred Scott-Giles, a leading heraldist of the 20th century, believed that both originate with the Crusades of King Richard the Lionheart. Many people put Richard on their list of lgbt royals, but I don’t. The reason is given here.

A word about the crescent first. The connection to the Crusades immediately brings to mind the crescent of Islam. But just like the English cross of St. George there was no connection at the time, it came later and wasn’t used at the time of Richard the Lionheart. It seems to be an emblem used by crusader knights (like the cross).

The wavy star is a heraldic representation of the sun, a popular dynastic emblem in England most famously referenced by Shakespeare when he gives Richard III the words “this Sun of York”. So both the star and crescent are emblems suitable for Richard the Lionheart, and both appear on his Great Seal of England. But why do they appear over Nottingham Castle?

In fact Richard the Lionheart has a significant place as the only person in history to lead a successful attack on Nottingham Castle. The basics are known to any Robin Hood aficionado. King Richard left his brother Prince John in charge of the country while he went off on crusade. John made such a pig’s ear of it – raising taxes, and squandering the ransom money raised when Richard was captured – that the Lionheart was in no mood for brotherly love when he escaped and arrived back in England. He headed straight for Prince John who was at Nottingham Castle at the time.

Prince John got wind of Richard’s return and was scared. He knew he was in trouble. He told his baronial allies to gather at Nottingham and defend the castle. In the meantime, John said, he would go and warn some of his other garrisons in other castles. So off he went, if effect running away to leave Nottingham to defend themselves.

By the time Richard arrived the castle was prepared. As a contemporary account puts it, the army arrived with “such a clangour of trumpets and clarions, that those who were in the castle … were astonished and were confounded and alarmed, but still they could  not believe that the king had come and supposed that the whole of this was done … for the purpose of deceiving them.”

Many men were killed on both sides, and it was only after an embassy was sent to the attackers that the castle garrison realised that King Richard really was there. They surrendered on the spot.

It may be because of this event that the medieval town corporation chose to commemorate the event in their seal. This is, of course, just speculation on my part, as no other satisfactory theory has ever been suggested for the castle having a star and crescent on its towers.

For just a couple more months Lord Mayor Leon will be the out and proud “owner” of the city’s coat of arms bearing a crest which commemorates the Lionheart’s taking of Nottingham Castle. 

No comments:

Post a Comment