Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Star-Gayzing: Cervantes is a Real Star

In the past I’ve written a lot about minor planets (or asteroids, as they are also known) that are named after members of the lgbt+ community. I’ll be publishing another list in June. Some of the major and dwarf planets have names with lgbt+ associations (Jupiter/Zeus and Ganymede, for example). Further afield there are billions of stars waiting for us to give a name to.

For about 30 years astronomers have been discovering that a lot of stars have planets orbiting them. These are called exoplanets. Like every other object in the night sky that is discovered, whether they are stars, planets, asteroids or comets, they are given reference designations made up of letters and numbers. Not many of them have been given names, so today I’d like to concentrate on one of those stars and its exoplanets that have lgbt+ connections. This is the star system with the astronomical designation of Mu Arae.

First of all, where is Mu Arae? Its one of the stars in the little known constellation of Ara the Altar. This is a constellation immediately below the “tail” of Scorpius and can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It appears in the traditional sky lore of communities as far afield as the Mediterranean, China and Australia. None of Ara’s stars are particularly bright, and it doesn’t help that the Milky Way cuts straight behind it. In the star map below I have circled Mu Arae in red.

Now that we know where Mu Arae is, what is its new name? After a highly successful campaign the star was given the proper name Cervantes in 2015, after the great Spanish poet and author Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

In the late 20th century there was a lot of questioning into Cervantes’ sexuality, largely based on his writings inspired by his experience in 16th century Algiers and its atmosphere of sexual freedom. Decades later there is still no definitive consensus among historians. I have an open mind on the subject.

Even if the sexuality of Cervantes is open to debate, that of the astrophysicist who led the campaign to have Mu Area named after him is not. His name is Javier Armentia (b.1962), and he is the Director of the Pamplona Planetarium in northern Spain. He is also a leading populariser of science, a broadcaster, and a member of 500 Queer Scientists.

The campaign to name Mu Arae (which will also retain this scientific designation) after Cervantes was a joint venture between the Pamplona Planetarium, the Cervantes Institute, and the Spanish Astronomy Society. The campaign was called Estrella Cervantes.

Two events prompted the Estrella Cervantes campaign. First was the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) NameExoWorld project in 2015. This was aimed at encouraging public organisations to submit names for a selection of the many discovered exoplanets and their stars. The second was a double anniversary. The year 2015 was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second part of Cervantes’ famous work “Don Quixote” (to give it its most common name), and it was also the approaching 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes in 1616.

The Estrella Cervantes project appealed for support and votes. On 15th December 2015 the campaign was successful and the IAU officially announced that the star Mu Arae was to be given the name Cervantes. But that’s not all. We’re also talking about exoplanets. So what did the project proposed for the names of the four known planets orbiting Cervantes? They proposed names of characters from Cervantes’ work. Consequently, the IAU also officially announced that the names Dulcinea, Roxinante, Quijote and Sancho were to be given to the four planets.

There are many more stars and exoplanets that have been named over the past eight years. Many more are being discovered. A few years ago I wrote about three lgbt+ astronomers who are searching for them. Who knows what other famous lgbt+ names will end up out there in the future.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Queer Achievement: Arms For A Price

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

It’s been a while since I did an in-depth look at the heraldic achievement of a specific individual, so I’ll rectify that today with a look at the full coat of arms of the British actor Dennis Price (1915-1973). His arms are these –

It’s more than 30 years since I began researching and drawing the coats of arms of famous people. Dennis Price was one of the first ones I did (at about the same time that I did Jeremy Brett’s). I didn’t know at the time that they were both bisexual.

The arms shown above are scanned from my original artwork, which was made before I had access to a computer, which I’ve “tweaked” and tidied up.

Dennis’s full name was Dennistoun Franklin John Rose Price. All except the name John were names of families that feature in his ancestry. I won’t go into the full genealogical profile today but skim through it to tell you where the names came from. Through his paternal grandmother Dennis is descended from the Dennistoun’s of Colgrain near Argyll in Scotland. Franklin is the family name of his paternal great-grandmother (sister of the explorer Sir John Franklin). Rose was the name of the family from whom Dennis’s ancestors inherited Rose Hall on Jamaica (yes, we have to acknowledge that both the Price and Rose families were slave owners). Even though the Dennistoun, Franklin and Rose families all have a coat of arms, none of them were passed down to the Prices through heraldic heirs. This leaves us with just the Price coat of arms.

The Price family is of Welsh origin. Dennis can trace his male line ancestry back with certainty to Capt. Francis Price who was the first member of the family to settle in Jamaica in 1655 after Oliver Cromwell (the Putin of Britain during the, thankfully, brief period when we were a republic) decided to invade Jamaica. Capt. Price probably descended from the Prices of Brecknock in Wales, or at least claimed some family association because the coat of arms granted to Captain Price’s grandson are very similar to theirs. Here are some of the arms known to belong to Price families in the Brecknock area. The earliest, on the left, dates to 1546.

The similarities (spearheads, chevron and black background) do not necessarily indicate a family blood relationship but are frequently adopted and granted with changes, even today, where there is a geographical connection or the same family name.

The specific coat of arms that Dennis Price inherited were granted to an ancestral uncle, the grandson of Capt. Price mentioned above. He was Sir Charles Price (1708-1772), Speaker of the Jamaica House of Assembly, who was created a baronet (hereditary knighthood) in 1768.

The arms were granted to Sir Charles on 13th August 1766 by the College of Arms and included a special limitation, a clause which indicates if other members of the family are allowed to inherit it. This is now common practice. If I were granted a coat of arms it could be extended to include all descendants and heirs of my paternal grandfather. Sir Charles had only one child, a son, who died childless. So, Sir Charles’s youngest brother, John, inherited this coat of arms and passed them down to his descendants, which included his 3-times great-grandson Dennis Price.

Usually, there are other symbolic explanations for every object in a coat of arms. The shield, as I’ve said, is probably to indicate some sort of connection to the Brecknock family. The dragon’s head in the crest was granted specifically to Sir Charles Price and his heirs. It may have been symbolic of the family’s Welsh ancestry. The bloody hand may indicate that Charles was a baronet, as a red hand is the badge of this particular order of knighthood and often appears on a little shield placed somewhere on the main shield.

Next we come to the star and the bird. These are both cadency marks, something placed on a shield to indicate which son in the family you are. I am the third son of my father, so I would have a star. Dennis descends from the third son of the above-mentioned John Price. Added to this, Dennis is descended from that third son’s fourth son (confused?), so he places a special bird called a martlet on top of the star. Technically, new cadency marks would be added generation after generation, but in practice they are often reduced to just one or omitted altogether to stop the arms from becoming cluttered with cadency marks.

Usually, if a husband and wife (now also same-sex married couples) both have a coat of arms they place them side by side on one shield, the husband’s on the viewer’s left (each person in a same-sex marriage can put their own arms on the left and their partner’s on the right). During his brief marriage to Joan Schofield (1920-2017) Dennis Price could have displayed his marital coat of arms as below. Joan’s family name was Temperley, and arms she could have used are those shown on the memorial plaque to her paternal uncle Rev. Canon Arthur Temperley. If there are cadency marks both the husband and wife can omit them, as I’ve shown.

Lastly there is the motto. This is in Welsh and translates as “All Depends on God”.

For heraldry fans, there's my annual Heraldic Alphabet to look forward to in June.