Saturday 14 March 2020

An Elementary Achievement, My Dear Watson

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

Among the first coats of arms I painted several decades ago for a booklet on celebrity heraldry was the full achievement of Jeremy Brett (1933-1995), the actor who arguably gave the most definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. In the end I didn’t have room for it in the booklet, so I’m pleased to be able to present it today.
I had the great pleasure of receiving a letter of thanks in 1989 from Jeremy Brett himself after I sent him a copy. Sadly, Jeremy died in 1995, so I thought the 25th anniversary would be a good time to pay tribute to him.

Jeremy Brett’s real name was Peter Jeremy William Huggins. He was the fourth son of Col. Henry Huggins of Berkswell Grange near Coventry, Warwickshire. The family had moved there in 1929 and Jeremy was the first of the family to be born there. When he became an actor his father said he’d rather not have the family name associated with the theatre, so Jeremy adopted the stage name Brett from the brand name of the first suit he owned. Jeremy first played Sherlock Holmes in the television series in 1984 and continued to play him for ten years.

Jeremy’s great-grandfather William Huggins founded a copper tube manufacturing business which made his fortune. Unlike several other successful industrialists in the 19th century William didn’t seem to have applied for a coat of arms. Looking at the coat of arms itself there’s little to indicate industry (except, perhaps, the brazier in the crest) and there is a more military look to the design. That might be a clue to which member of the family it was granted. I suspect it was Jeremy Brett’s own father, Col. Henry Huggins.

There are always clues to the identity of the person who was first granted a modern coat of arms. The crossed swords are a common device used in heraldry by military men. The green background, hunting horns and the stag’s horns could possibly indicate the ancient sport of hunting. Both Jeremy Brett and his father were members of the Woodmen of Arden, an archery society. The Woodmen have a tower in their badge to match the one in Jeremy’s crest, and the club jacket is green.

On Jeremy’s shield and crest is a bird called a martlet (a heraldic bird without feet) to indicate he was a fourth son. This is called a cadency mark, and the College of Arms (in England and Wales) has a set of symbols and devices assigned to specific sons of an armiger (the proper name for someone with a coat of arms). Generally, the colour of the cadency mark is at the discretion of the artist, as long it contrasts with the background.

Jeremy Brett married twice. His first wife was Anna Massey, daughter of actor Raymond Massey and niece of Vincent Massey, the Governor General of Canada. Vincent was granted arms in 1928 which, as is customary, was also used by his brother and his family. As a married couple Jeremy and Anne would be able to impale their arms on one shield. That means dividing the shield down the middle and putting the husband’s arms on the left half and the wife’s on the right. I haven’t been able to find a coat of arms for Jeremy’s second wife, Joan Wilson, but I’m still doing research into what arms his male partner, Gary Bond, may have been entitled to.

Whenever a new Sherlock Holmes film or television series is produced there seems to be an obsession with claiming he and Dr. Watson were gay (except, perhaps, with “Elementary”). Long forgotten Victorian attitudes to male companionship are distorted into modern sexual practices. However, for those of you who wish to believe that Holmes and Watson were gay, bisexual or otherwise non-binary I’ve shown Sherlock Holmes’ achievement below.
This is also one of the illustrations I produced a couple of decades ago. This is called an attributed achievement and coat of arms because it is not referenced in any Conan Doyle book, was designed after the character’s lifetime, and is fictional.

This coat of arms and achievement originates in the writings of Sherlock Holmes societies in the 1940s. There were several attempts to devise Sherlock’s coat of arms but the one illustrated here is the most commonly accepted among Sherlockians. It was devised by W. S. Hall of New York in an essay contained in “Profile by Gaslight: An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” published in 1944.

Hall based his design on arms already existing for a family of the Holmes name. There are many instances of people adopting the coat of arms of someone with the same surname even if they are not related. This has happened in places like the USA where there is no state authority to regulate heraldry. However, over the generations these adopted arms have generally become accepted though are unofficial.

One addition I’ve have made to Hall’s design is the addition of Sherlock’s cadency mark. We know he had an older brother, Mycroft. Since Mycroft is only ever referred to as “older” and not “oldest” I assume Sherlock has no other older brothers and is the second son. A crescent is his appropriate cadency mark.

Another addition I made is the badge of the Legion d’Honneur. In “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”, one of the stories from “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”, mention is made of “… an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and the Order of the Legion of Honour.” Unfortunately, Conan Doyle didn’t elaborate on the circumstances, nor indicate which of the classes of the Legion d’Honneur Sherlock was awarded. As a result I’m unable to place the correct badge under the shield. Instead I’ve used a version of the modern badge, taking my inspiration from the remarkable event a few years ago when Jeremy Brett, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, received a real Legion d’Honneur (for Sherlock, not himself). Sadly, I cannot find the newspaper clipping I saved of the event.

One final observation. Have you noticed that the arms of Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes both have hunting horns in them? This is a very appropriate object for someone who hunts down clues and criminals. These horns are quite a common object in English heraldry so I can’t claim coincidence when the laws of probability mean it could easily happen, as I’m sure Sherlock Holmes himself would agree.

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