Thursday 14 February 2013

A Queer Flower Power Achievement

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

I’m combining two of my subject series to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day today – flowers and heraldry. As I said a few months back heraldry has always used puns and symbolism. In the Middle Ages not many people could read a knight’s name if it was written down, so if nothing else using puns on a coat of arms would help you remember who it was. It was kind of medieval branding or logo.

When we come to think about flowers only one symbolises St. Valentine’s Day – the red rose. In heraldry the rose has been used extensively, and anyone with the surname Rose has frequently put one in their coat of arms, as did today’s family, a family that has produced two Presidents and a First Lady to the USA. They are the Roosevelts, and they use a red rose as a pun on their name.

The achievement I have produced here is that of Eleanor Roosevelt, the niece and wife of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt respectively.
 Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, beginning by entering the women’s rights movement after World War One. When her husband became president in 1933 she helped to bring several human rights causes to the fore. During this time she was a prolific columnist, and through this she met Lorena Hickok. They had a strong emotional relationship and their surviving letters suggest it was lesbian in essence.

As a married woman Eleanor would by entitled to use both her father’s and husband’s coat of arms. These would be depicted side by side as shown in my painting. Under UK heraldry law she would not have been entitled to use a shield, helmet or crest, and until she got married would have displayed her father’s arms on a diamond-shaped lozenge. She would not have been allowed to show a helmet or family crest, which is why I’ve chosen to show her heraldic achievement as a married woman.

The Roosevelt arms are Dutch in origin as is the Roosevelt family itself. A more detailed account of the Roosevelt arms in found here.

Eleanor herself inherited the arms of her 4-times-great-grandfather Nicholas, a first-generation American of Dutch parentage who became an Alderman of New York in 1698. Theodore and Eleanor descend from his 2nd son, and Franklin D. Roosevelt descends from Nicholas’s 3rd son.

On the shield you can see the 2 branches of the family reunited in marriage. On the left half those of Eleanor’s husband, and on the right those of her father’s (and Theodore’s) branch. You’ll see a slight difference. On the right the roses grow from a grassy mount like a bush. Being descended from Nicholas’s 2nd son this is the oldest and most senior version of the Roosevelt arms. It seems that Franklin Roosevelt himself decided to change his junior branch’s version to just the 3 roses.

The feathers on the crest are a reminder of the original ones worn in medieval times. Originally crests were just feathers or fans and all knights had them. The most famous of these is still in use – the three feathers of the Prince of Wales. These early feather fans were called panaches and were an impressive display on top of a knight’s helmet. So if you hear of someone having great panache it goes back to these showy feather fans. Gradually knights decided to have distinctive crests that reflected their active service or family, such as the royal lion adopted by the kings of England.

Unfortunately, neither Eleanor nor Franklin Roosevelt received any honours that can be displayed on their coat of arms. The motto translates as “He who planted will preserve”.

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