Monday 27 July 2020

Queer Olympic Achievement

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

There are not that many lgbt Olympians who are entitled to a coat of arms, as far as my research has shown. There’s Francilia Agar (included in my first Heraldic Alphabet article) and Dan Veatch (in my 2016 article). Another is Mark Chatfield (1953-1998), and I thought I’d do his full achievement to celebrate what should have been the Olympics this week. Here is it –
Mark Webster Chatfield represented the USA in swimming at the 1972 Munich Olympics, coming 4th in the 100 metres breaststroke final. However, he broke the Olympic record by winning his heat, a record which lasted until the final. He was a Pan-American Games champion, and went on to train and compete with the West Hollywood Aquatics gay swimming team. He won 6 gold medals at the 1990 Vancouver Gay Games. He died in 1998 from lymphoma.

The coat of arms I’ve illustrated is based on those used by his direct ancestors, the three Chatfield brothers, George, Thomas and Francis, mentioned in my article about William Plaine, the first colonist to be executed for sodomy in America. These are the arms of the middle brother, Thomas Chatfield (1620-1686), as recorded in “Crozier’s General Armory”, edited by William A. Crozier and published in 1904.

The Chatfield brothers were the great-great-grandchildren of Richard Chatfield (1500-1586) of Chichester, England. He is the person to whom the coat of arms were originally granted in 1564. A complete line of descent is documented from him down to Olympian Mark. As well as the three brothers who settled in America there’s another Chatfield, their grandfather’s brother Thomas, who married in the Netherlands and had descendants there, the Chatvelt family, who used the same coat of arms (as recorded by Jean-Baptiste Rietstap in his “Armorial Général” published in 1861). Over the centuries the arms have been represented with slight alterations.

Sometimes you can guess how old a coat of arms is by its design, usually because a lot of Heralds had distinctive styles or the period had a specific artistic look. The earliest coats of arms had simple shapes and lines, or perhaps a lion or eagle. What the Chatfield arms said to me when I first saw it was “Tudor”. This is because of the band across the top, called a chief. Originally the chief was a plain band but in the Tudor period in England heralds began to place various objects on them more frequently. Of course, this is not an assumption that can be made every time you see a chief with objects on it, but in this case I just happened to be right.

The griffin is a traditional heraldic beast (the term used to describe mythical monsters and hybrid animals in heraldry). On a side note, the griffin in English heraldry is always female. The male griffin (always named as such) is unique to English heraldry and is the same eagle-lion hybrid but has no wings and is covered in tufts of sharp spines.

Another heraldic beast is featured in the crest, an antelope. It’s not a natural antelope, but a heraldic depiction of one, with straight serrated horns, a down-turned horn on its nose and sharp fangs. This resulted from medieval heralds drawing something they’d never seen but heard vague descriptions of.

Two different mottos have been recorded for the Chatfields. The one shown above translates as “Faithful to the end”. Crozier records another, “Que sera sera”. Like all the colours and objects in the full achievement we have no explanation for the choice of motto.

Although directly descended from Richard Chatfield, Mark is not from a senior line and, technically, would have to include all the cadency marks indicating which son of which son, etc., he descends from Richard. This could produce a very overcrowded coat of arms obscured with dozens of cadency emblems. People in this situation often ignore cadency and may change the colours or quarter their arms with any they inherit from heraldic heiresses (as in the case of Michele Duramesq’s ancestors). Also, a person could display an unaltered coat of arms with any medals or badges of chivalry they possess hanging below the shield. This last example is the one chosen by a famous actor, a junior member of his family, in the photo of his arms which he sent to me many years ago.

It is this last example which influenced my choice for Mark Chatfield. With no state heraldic authority in the USA I would not be breaking any heraldic convention by incorporating Mark’s Olympic medal into his full achievement.

In 2017 the World Olympians Association created an initiative which awarded the post-nominal letters of OLY after the name of living Olympians, past and present. The award is not automatic and athletes have to apply personally. Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are a couple of lgbt Olympians who have been granted the OLY.

At the moment there’s no provision for deceased Olympians to receive the letters. I think they should be given them automatically. In the absence being able to refer to him as Mark Chatfield OLY I’ve chosen to incorporate the Munich Olympic participation medal beneath his shield (all Olympians get a participation medal). The medal has no ribbon or chain so I’ve created a ribbon in the official Munich Olympic colours.

I hope you like my painting of Mark Chatfield’s achievement. It’s a design I find very appealing, distinctive and eye-catching, all the requirements of a perfect coat of arms, and a fitting tribute to Mark’s contribution to lgbt participation at the Olympic Games.

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