Thursday 15 September 2022

Heralding a New Reign

I didn’t think the death of Queen Elizabeth II would be an occasion to write something for this blog. Watching the proclamations of King Charles III, which are purely historical and ceremonial and not a legal requirement, reminded me of something I had planned to write next year.

At all of the great ceremonial state occasions, such as the proclamation or the State Opening of Parliament, you’ll see a group of people dressed in brightly coloured tabards and feathered hats. These are the heralds. They are members of the Royal Household.

You may know how much I love heraldry by the many articles I’ve written on the subject. Today I’d like to concentrate on two heralds, or more correctly, two officers of arms. The first is very openly gay, and the second is reported to be gay.

Maj.-Gen. Alastair Bruce (b.1960) holds the office of Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary. A pursuivant (pronounced “percy-vant”) is the lowest rank of officer of arms at the College of Arms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The word pursuivant come from the same root at “pursue”. Originally, a pursuivant was a person who follows or offers support. So, a heraldic pursuivant is someone who supports a herald in the performance of the latter’s duties. Fitzalan is the name of one of the junior titles of the Duke of Norfolk, the person at the very top of the English heraldic hierarchy. “Extraordinary” means Alastair is a part-time officer of arms and called upon for special occasions and ceremonies. However, last weeks’ proclamation was reserved for the senior heralds and Kings of Arms.

Being a part-time pursuivant Alastair Bruce doesn’t earn a living from it. Thankfully, he has a military pension and still holds several military appointments. He is also a familiar sight on UK television as a regular royal commentator and adviser. He was almost constantly on screen on various channels, UK and world-wide, during this summer’s Platinum Jubilee. Alastair is also the historical adviser to several well-known films and television series – e.g. “Downton Abbey” and “The King’s Speech”.

Although he is an English officer of arms Alastair Bruce is, as his name suggests, Scottish. In fact he holds a Scottish feudal title, the Bruce of Crionaich. He is also the current Governor of Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t notice him at the castle when the proclamation of King Charles was televised from there. No doubt he was in a television studio commentating on the event. His royal connection is evident in several ways. He was equerry to Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and interviewed the Queen in a BBC documentary about her coronation.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t said anything about his sexuality yet it’s because I thought the video below in which he speaks on UK television about it himself and his wedding would be better.

Given time, I’d like to do a full “Queer Achievement” article on Alastair Bruce, because he possesses several variations of his own coat of arms – personal, marital and official.

The second officer of arms I wish to mention is a man whose sexuality I haven’t been able to verify. His names is Rev. Canon Joseph Morrow (b.1955). He is the most senior officer of arms in Scotland with the title of Lord Lyon King of Arms. If you saw the proclamations of King Charles made around Edinburgh you’ll have seen him. He’s the person making the proclamation.

I am reluctant to claim that Rev. Morrow is gay because there’s only one source which states that he is, which is the “Mail of Sunday”. This is a publication that is not known for its accuracy or impartiality. It is a very right-wing newspaper.

In an article which the Main on Sunday on 4th September 2005 they reported on Rev. Morrow’s appointment the previous year as Grand master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The article mentions him as being openly gay twice, giving no source or supporting statement from Rev. Morrow himself.

Ten days later there was a report in The Scotsman, a very reliable publication, about Rev. Morrow’s resignation as Grant Master Mason due to “a change in personal circumstances and for health reasons”. The article refers to the Mail on Sunday article and Rev. Morrow’s reported sexuality, again giving no source. When The Scotsman contacted the Grand Lodge of Scotland they declined to comment on the story.

So, who is Rev. Canon Joseph Morrow? Unlike Alastair Bruce, he wasn’t born into and old landed Scottish gentry. One of his first jobs was as a bus conductor. He studied law, became a barrister, was ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church, and was elected a Labour councillor in Dundee. Among his many honours is a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth in 2018 for services to mental health (he is president of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland). Rev. Morrow was appointed Lord Lyon King of Arms by the Queen in 2014 and has many other royal connections through various appointments.

Whatever his sexuality may be, he has one of the most pleasing and distinctive coat of arms I’ve seen (as shown on the official Lord Lyon website). Like Alastair Bruce, there are several variations and ideal for one of my “Queer Achievements”.

Throughout European history since the Middle Ages heralds have played an important and visible part of ceremonial and pageantry. Their official duties are to regulate the adoption and use of coats of arms, a task that has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 20th century. More people, many without titles or rank, have a coat of arms, either by grant of inheritance. In the UK these heralds and offices of arms are more visible than anywhere else, and continue to play important roles in royal and state ceremonial. The presence of one, perhaps two, openly gay officers of arms during this changeover of reigns only goes to show that the lgbt community are at the very heart of such occasions.