A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 34

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CHAPTER XXXIV

THE ARMORIAL INSIGNIA OF KNIGHTHOOD

It hardly falls within the scope of the present work to detail or discuss the various points concerning the history or statutes of the different British Orders of Knighthood, and still less so of the Foreign Orders. The history of the English Orders alone would make a bulky volume. But it is necessary to treat of the matter to some limited extent, inasmuch as in modern heraldry in every country in Europe additions are made to the armorial achievement whenever it is desired to signify rank in any of the Orders of Knighthood.

Though a large number of the early Plantagenet Garter Stall plates date as far back as the year 1420, it is evident that nothing in the armorial bearings with which they are emblazoned bears any relation to the order of knighthood to which they belonged until the year 1469 or thereabouts, when Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was elected a Knight of the Garter. His Stall plate, which is of a very exceptional style and character, is the first to bear the garter encircling the shield. It is curious to notice, by the way, that upon the privy seal of the Duke of Burgundy, which shows the same arms depicted upon his Garter plate, the shield is surrounded by the collar, from which depends the badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece, so that it is highly probable that the custom of adding marks of knighthood to a shield came to us from the Continent. The next Garter plate, which shows the garter around the shield, is that of Viscount Lovel, who was elected in 1483; and the shield of the Earl of Derby, who was elected in the same year, also is encircled by the Garter. The Garter itself encircling the shields of knights of that order remained the only mark of knighthood used armorially in this country for a considerable period, though we find that the example was copied in Scotland soon afterwards with regard to the Order of the Thistle. At the commencement of the present Lyon Register, which dates from the year 1672, the arms of the King of Scotland, which are given as such and not as the King of England and Scotland, are described as encircled by the collar of the Order of the Thistle. This probably was used as the equivalent of the garter in England, for we do not find the collar of the Garter, together with the garter itself, or the ribbon circle of the Thistle, together with the collar of that order, until a much later period. The use of collars of knighthood upon the Continent to encircle coats of arms has been from the fifteenth century very general and extensive; examples are to be found at an earlier date; but the encircling of arms with the garter carrying the motto of the order, or with the ribbon (which is termed the circle) and motto of any other order is an entirely English practice, which does not appear to have been copied in any other country. It, of course, arose from the fact that the actual garter as worn by the knight of the order carried the motto of the order, and that by representing the garter round the shield, the motto of the order was of necessity also added. The Lyon Register, however, in the entry of record (dated 1672), states that the shield is "encircled with the Order of Scotland, the same being composed of rue and thistles having the image of St. Andrew with his crosse on his brest yrunto pendent," and it is by no means improbable that occasional instances of the heraldic use of the collar of the garter might be discovered at the same period. But it is not until the later part of the eighteenth century that it obtained anything like a regular use.

During the Hanoverian period it became customary to encircle the shield first with the garter, and that in its turn with the collar of the order whenever it was desired to display the achievement in its most complete style; and though even then, as at the present day, for less elaborate representations the garter only was used without the collar, it still remains correct to display both in a full emblazonment of the arms. An impetus to the practice was doubtless given by the subdivision of the Order of the Bath, which will be presently referred to. In speaking of the garter, the opportunity should be taken to protest strongly against the objectionable practice which has arisen of using a garter to encircle a crest or shield and to carry the family motto. No matter what motto is placed upon the garter, it is both bad form and absolutely incorrect for any one who is not a Knight of the Garter to use a garter in any heraldic display.

But to tabulate the existing practice the present rules as to the display of the arms of knights of the different orders are as follow:—

A Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter encircles his escutcheon by a representation of the garter he wears. This is a belt of dark blue velvet edged with gold and ornamented with a heavy gold buckle and ornament at the end. It carries the motto of the Order, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," in gold letters of plain Roman character. Anciently the motto was spelled "Hony soit qy mal y pense," as may be noticed from some of the early Garter plates, and the style of the letter was what is now known as "Old English." The garter is worn buckled, with the end tucked under and looped in a specified manner, which is the method also adopted in heraldic representations. It is quite permissible to use the garter alone, but a Knight of the Order is allowed to add outside the garter the representation of the collar of the order. This is of gold, consisting of twenty-six buckled garters enamelled in the correct colour, each surrounding a rose, the garter alternated with gold knots all joined up by chain links of gold. From the collar depends the "George," or figure of St. George on horseback encountering the dragon, enamelled in colours. In heraldic representations it is usual to ignore the specified number of links in the collar. A Knight of the Garter as such is entitled to claim the privilege of a grant of supporters, but as nowadays the order is reserved for those of the rank of earl and upwards, supporters will always have a prior existence in connection with the peerage.

Knights of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle are entitled to surround their arms with a plain circle of green edged with gold and bearing the motto in gold letters, "Nemo me impune lacessit." They are also entitled to surround their arms with the collar of the order, which is of gold, and composed of sprigs of thistle and rue (Andrew) enamelled in their proper colours. From the collar the badge (the figure of St. Andrew) depends.

Knights of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick are entitled to surround their arms by a plain circle of sky-blue edged with gold, bearing the motto, "Quis Separabit. MDCCLXXXIII," as enamelled on the star of the order. This is encircled by the collar of the order, which is of "gold, composed of roses and harps alternately, tied together with knots of gold, the said roses enamelled alternately, white leaves within red and red leaves within white; and in the centre of the said collar shall be an Imperial crown surmounting a harp of gold, from which shall hang the badge."

Knights of the Thistle and St. Patrick are entitled as such to claim a grant of supporters on payment of the fees, but these orders are nowadays confined to peers.

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.—Knights of the Bath, who have existed from a remote period, do not appear as such to have made any additions to their arms prior to the revival of the order in 1725. At that time, similarly to the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, the order was of one class only and composed of a limited number of knights. Knights of that order were then distinguished by the letters K.B., which, it should be noted, mean Knight of the Bath, and not Knight Bachelor, as so many people now imagine. There is nobody at the present time who is entitled to use these letters. Upon those of the Bath plates which now remain in the chapel of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey, no instance will be found in which the collar is represented outside the circle, which is pretty good evidence that although isolated examples may possibly be found at an earlier date, it was not the usual custom up to the end of the eighteenth century to encircle a shield with a collar of knighthood. These Knights of the Bath (K.B.), as they were termed, surrounded their escutcheons with circlets of crimson edged with gold, and bearing thereupon the motto of the order, "Tria juncta in uno," in gold letters.

Although at that time it does not appear that the collar of the order was ever employed for armorial purposes, instances are to be found in which the laurel wreath surrounded the circlet with the motto of the order.

In the year 1815, owing to the large number of officers who had merited reward in the Peninsular Campaign, it was considered necessary to largely increase the extent and scope of the order. For this purpose it was divided into two divisions—the Military Division and the Civil Division—and each of these were divided into three classes, namely, Knights Grand Cross (G.C.B.), Knights Commanders (K.C.B.), and Companions (C.B.). The then existing Knights of the Bath became Knights Grand Cross. The existing collar served for all Knights Grand Cross, but the old badge and star were assigned for the civil division of the order, a new pattern being designed for the military division. The number of stalls in Henry VII.'s Chapel being limited, the erection of Stall plates and the display of banners ceased; those then in position were allowed to remain, and still remain at the present moment. Consequently there are no Stall plates to refer to in the matter as precedents since that period, and the rules need to be obtained from other sources. They are now as follows: A Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath surrounds his arms with the circlet as was theretofore the case, and in addition he surrounds the circlet by his collar, from which depends the badge (either military or civil) of the division to which he belongs. The collar is really for practical purposes the distinguishing mark of a Knight Grand Cross, because although as such he is entitled upon payment of the fees to claim a grant of supporters, he is under no compulsion to do so, and comparatively but few avail themselves of the privilege. All Knights of the Bath, before the enlargement of the order, had supporters. A Knight Grand Cross of the military division encircles his arms with the laurel wreath in addition, this being placed outside the circlet and within the collar of the order. The collar is composed of gold having nine Imperial crowns and eight devices of the rose, the thistle, and shamrock issuing from a sceptre placed alternately and enamelled in their proper colours, the links being connected with seventeen knots enamelled white. The badges of the military and civil divisions differ considerably.

Knights Commanders of the Bath have no collar and cannot claim a grant of supporters, but they encircle their shields with the circlet of the order, suspending their badge below the shield by the ribbon from which it is worn. Knights Commanders of the military division use the laurel wreath as do Knights Grand Cross, but no members of any class of the civil division are entitled to display it.

Companions of the order (C.B.) do not use the helmet of a knight as does a G.C.B. or a K.C.B.; in fact, the only difference which is permissible in their arms from those of an undistinguished commoner is that they are allowed to suspend the badge of a C.B. from a ribbon below their shields. They do not use the circlet of the order. Certain cases have come under my notice in which a military C.B. has added a laurel wreath to his armorial bearings, but whether such a practice is correct I am unaware, but I think it is not officially recognised.

The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India (like the Order of the Bath as at present constituted) is divided into three classes, Knights Grand Commanders, Knights Commanders, and Companions. Knights Grand Commanders place the circlet of the order around their shields. This is of light blue inscribed with the motto, "Heaven's light our guide." This in its turn is surrounded by the collar of the order, which is composed of alternate links of the Indian lotus flower, crossed palm-branches, and the united red and white rose of England. In the centre of the collar is an Imperial crown from which depends the badge of the order, this being an onyx cameo of the effigy of her late Majesty Queen Victoria within the motto of the order, and surmounted by a star, the whole being richly jewelled. The surrounding of the shield by the circlet of the order doubtless is a consequence and follows upon the original custom of the armorial use of the garter, but this being admitted, it is yet permissible to state that that practice came from the Continent, and there is little reason to doubt that the real meaning and origin of the custom of using the circlet is derived from the Continental practice which has for long been usual of displaying the shield of arms upon the star of an order of knighthood. The star of every British order—the Garter included—contains the circlet and motto of the order, and it is easy to see how, after depicting the shield of arms upon the star of the order, the result will be that the circlet of the order surrounds the shield. No armorial warrant upon the point is ever issued at the creation of an order; the thing follows as a matter of course, the circlet being taken from the star to surround the shield without further authorisation. Upon this point there can be no doubt, inasmuch as the garter which surrounds the shield of a K.G. is in all authoritative heraldic paintings buckled in the peculiar manner in which it is worn and in which it is depicted upon the star. The Star of the Thistle shows the plain circlet, the Star of St. Patrick the same, and the arms of a Knight of St. Patrick afford a curious confirmation of my contention, because whilst the motto of the order is specified to be, "Quis separabit," the circlet used for armorial purposes includes the date (MDCCLXXXIII.) as shown upon the star. The Order of the Bath, again, has a plain circlet upon the star, and the badges and stars of the military knights have the laurel wreath represented in heraldic drawings, the laurel wreath being absent from the stars and the shields of those who are members of the civil division. Now with regard to the Order of the Star of India the motto on the star is carried upon a representation of a ribbon which is tied in a curious manner, and my own opinion is that the circlet used to surround the shield of a G.C.S.I. or K.C.S.I. should (as in the case of the garter) be represented not as a simple circlet like the Bath or Thistle, but as a ribbon tied in the curious manner represented upon the star. This tying is not, however, duplicated upon the badge, and possibly I may be told that the circlet and its use are taken from the badge and not from the star. The reply to such a statement is, first, that there is no garter upon the badge of that order, there is no circlet on the badge of the Thistle, and the circlet on the badge of St. Patrick is surrounded by a wreath of trefoils which in that case ought to appear round the shield of a K.P. This wreath of trefoils is absent from the K.P. star. Further, no Companion of an Order is permitted to use the Circlet of the Order, whilst every Companion has his badge. No Companion has a star. Though I hold strongly that the circlet of the Star of India should be a ribbon tied as represented on the star of the order, I must admit I have never yet come across an official instance of it being so represented. This, however, is a point upon which there is no definite warrant of instruction, and is not the conclusion justifiable that on this matter the officers of arms have been led into a mistake in their general practice by an oversight and possible unfamiliarity with the actual star? A Knight Grand Commander is entitled to claim a grant of supporters on payment of the fees. A Knight Commander encircles his shield with the circlet of the order and hangs his badge from a ribbon below, a Companion of the Order simply hangs the badge he wears below his shield.

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George.—This order again is divided into three classes—Knights Grand Cross, Knights Commanders, and Companions. Knights Grand Cross place the circlet of the order and the collar with the badge around their shields, and, like other Knights Grand Cross, they are entitled to claim a grant of supporters. The circlet of the order is of blue edged with gold, and bearing in gold letters the motto of the order, "Auspicium melioris ævi." The collar is composed alternately of lions of England, of Maltese crosses, and of the ciphers S.M. and S.G., and having in the centre an Imperial crown over two lions passant guardant, each holding a bunch of seven arrows. At the opposite point of the collar are two similar lions. The whole is of gold except the crosses, which are of white enamel, and the various devices are linked together by small gold chains. Knights Commanders of the Order encircle their shields with a similar circlet of the order, and hang their badges below. A Companion simply suspends his badge from a ribbon below his shield.

The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.—This order is divided into three classes—Knights Grand Commanders, Knights Commanders, and Companions. Knights Grand Commanders and Knights Commanders encircle their shields with the circlet of the order, which is of purple inscribed in letters of gold, with the motto of the order, "Imperatricis auspiciis." The collar of the order, which is used by the Knights Grand Commanders, in addition to the circle, is composed of elephants, lotus flowers, peacocks in their pride, and Indian roses, and in the centre is an Imperial crown, the whole being linked together by chains of gold. Knights Commanders suspend their badges from their shields. Companions are only permitted to suspend their badges from a ribbon, and, as in the cases of the other orders, are not allowed to make use of the circlet of the order.

The Royal Victorian Order is divided into five classes, and is the only British order of which this can be said. There is no collar belonging to the order, so a G.C.V.O. cannot put one round his shield. Knights Grand Cross surround their shields with the circlet of the order, which is of dark blue carrying in letters of gold the motto, "Victoria." Knights Commanders and Commanders also use the circlet, with the badge suspended from the ribbon. Members of the fourth and fifth classes of the Order suspend the badge which they are entitled to wear below their shields. The "Victorian Chain" is quite apart from the Victorian Order, and up to the present time has only been conferred upon a very limited number. It apparently exists by the pleasure of His Majesty, no statutes having been ordained.

The Distinguished Service Order, the Imperial Service Order, and the Order of Merit are each of but one class only, none of them conferring the dignity of knighthood. They rank heraldically with the Companions of the other Orders, and for heraldic purposes merely confer upon those people entitled to the decorations the right to suspend the badges they wear below their shields or lozenges as the case may be, following the rules observed by other Companions. The Victoria Cross, the Albert Medal, the Edward Medal, the Conspicuous Service Cross, the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal, the Royal Red Cross, the Volunteer Officers' Decoration, the Territorial Decoration, and the Decoration of the League of Mercy all rank as decorations. Though none confer any style or precedence of knighthood, those entitled to them are permitted to suspend representations of such decorations as are enjoyed below their shields.

The members of the Orders of Victoria and Albert and of the Crown of India are permitted to display the badges they wear below their lozenges.

Some people, notably in the early part of the nineteenth century, adopted the practice of placing war medals below the escutcheons amongst other decorations. It is doubtful, however, how far this practice is correct, inasmuch as a medal does not technically rank as a decoration or as a matter of honour. That medals are "decorations" is not officially recognised, with the exception, perhaps, of the Jubilee medal, the Diamond Jubilee medal, and the Coronation medal, which have been given a status more of the character of a decoration than of simple medals.

The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England does not rank with other orders or decorations, inasmuch as it was initiated without Royal intervention, and carries no precedence or titular rank. In 1888, however, a Royal charter of incorporation was obtained, and the distribution of the highest offices of the order in the persons of the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and other members of the Royal Family has of late years very much increased its social status. The Order is, however, now recognised to a certain extent, and its insignia is worn at Court by duly appointed authority. The Crown is gradually acquiring a right of veto, which will probably eventually result in the order becoming a recognised honour, of which the gift lies with the Crown. In the charter of incorporation, Knights of Justice and Ladies of Justice were permitted to place as a chief over their arms the augmentation anciently used by knights of the English language of the original Roman Catholic Celibate Order. The chief used is: "Gules, charged with a cross throughout argent, the cross embellished in its angles with lions passant guardant and unicorns passant alternately both or," as in the cross of the order. The omission, which is all the more inexplicable owing to the fact that Garter King of Arms is the officer for the order, that the heraldic provisions of this charter have never been conveyed, as should have been the case, in a Royal Warrant to the Earl Marshal, has caused some confusion, for the officers of the College of Arms, when speaking officially, decline to admit the insignia of the order in any official emblazonment of arms. Lyon King of Arms has been less punctilious.

Knights of Justice, Knights of Grace, and Esquires of the Orders all suspend the badges they wear from a black watered-silk ribbon below their shields (Fig. 334), and Ladies of Justice and Ladies of Grace do the same below their lozenges. The arms of members of the Order are frequently depicted superimposed upon the Cross. By the Statutes of the Order Knights of Justice were required to show that all their four grandparents were legally entitled to bear arms, but so many provisions for the exercise of discretion in dispensing with this requirement were at the same time created that to all intents and purposes such a regulation might never have been included. Some of the Knights of Justice even yet have no arms at all, others are themselves grantees, and still others would be unable to show what is required of them if the claims of their grandparents were properly investigated.

It should perhaps be stated that supporters, when granted to Knights Grand Cross as such, are personal to themselves, and in the patents by which they are granted the grant is made for life only, no hereditary limitation being added.

Any person in this country holding a Royal Licence to wear the insignia of any foreign order is permitted to adopt any heraldic form, decoration, or display which that order confers in the country of origin. Official recognition exists for this, and many precedents can be quoted.

Fig. 772.—"Bailli-profès" of the Catholic Order of the Knights Hospitallers or the Order of Malta.

Fig. 772.—"Bailli-profès" of the Catholic Order of the Knights Hospitallers or the Order of Malta.

The rules which exist in foreign countries concerning heraldic privileges of the knights of different orders are very varied, and it is impossible to briefly summarise them. It may, however, be stated that the most usual practice is to display the shield alone in the centre of the star (Fig. 772). As with us, the collars of the orders are placed around the shields, and the badges depend below, but the use of the circlet carrying the motto of the order is exclusively a British practice. In the case of some of the Orders, however, the official coat of arms of the order is quartered, impaled, or borne in pretence with the personal arms, and the cross patée of the Order of the Dannebrog is to be met with placed in front of a shield of quarterings, the charges thereupon appearing in the angles of the cross. I am not sure, however, that the cases which have come under my notice should not be rather considered definite and hereditary grants of augmentation, this being perhaps a more probable explanation than that such a method of display followed as a matter of course on promotion to the order. The Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order quarter the arms of that order with those of their families. The Knights of the Order of St. Stephen of Tuscany bear the arms of that order in chief over their personal arms. Fig. 772 represents the manner in which a "Bailli-profès" (Grand Cross) of the real Catholic and Celibate Order of St. John of Malta places the chief of the order on his shield, the latter being imposed upon a Maltese star (this being white) and the badge of the order depending below. The "Knight-profès" does not use the chief of the order. In the German Protestant Order of Malta (formerly Bailiwick of Brandenburg) the Commendatores place the shield of their arms upon the Cross of Malta. The Knights of Justice ("Richtsritter") on the contrary assume the cross upon the shield itself, whilst the Knights of Grace suspend it from the bottom of the shield. The members of the ancient Order of La Cordelière formerly encircled their lozenges with a representation of the Cordelière, which formed a part of their habit; and the officers of the Ecclesiastical Orders frequently surround their escutcheons with rosaries from which depend crucifixes. Whether this latter practice, however, should be considered merely a piece of artistic decoration, or whether it should be regarded as an ecclesiastical matter or should be included within the purview of armory, I leave others to decide.

By a curious fiction, for the origin of which it is not easy to definitely account, unless it is a survival of the celibacy required in certain orders, a knight is not supposed to share the insignia of any order of knighthood with his wife. There is not the slightest doubt that his own knighthood does confer upon her both precedence and titular rank, and why there should be any necessity for the statement to be made as to the theoretical position has long been a puzzle to me. Such a theory, however, is considered to be correct, and as a consequence in modern times it has become a rigid rule that the arms of the wife of a knight must not be impaled upon a shield when it is displayed within the circlet of an order. No such rule existed in ancient times, and many instances can be found in which impaled shields, or the shield of the wife only, are met with inside a representation of the Garter. In the warrant recently issued for Queen Alexandra the arms of England and Denmark are impaled within a Garter. This may be quite exceptional and consequent upon the fact that Her Majesty is herself a member of the Order. Nevertheless, the modern idea is that when a Knight of any Order impales the arms of his wife, he must use two shields placed accollé, the dexter surmounting the sinister (Fig. 745). Upon the dexter shield is represented the arms of the knight within the circlet, or the circlet and collar, as the case may be, of his order; on the sinister shield the arms of the knight are impaled with those of his wife, and this shield, for the purpose of artistic balance, is usually surrounded with a meaningless and inartistic floral or laurel wreath to make its size similar to the dimensions of the dexter shield.

The widow of a knight of any Order is required at present to immediately discontinue the use of the ensigns of that Order, and to revert to the plain impaled lozenge which she would be entitled to as the widow of an undecorated gentleman. As she retains her titular rank, such a regulation seems absurd, but it undoubtedly exists, and until it is altered must be conformed to.

Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders, as also Knights Bachelors, use the open affronté helmet of a knight. Companions of any order, and members of those orders which do not confer any precedence or title of knighthood, use only the close profile helmet of a gentleman. A Knight Bachelor, of course, is at liberty to impale the arms of his wife upon his escutcheon without employing the double form. It only makes the use of the double escutcheon for Knights of Orders the more incomprehensible.

Reference should also be made to the subject of impalement, which will be found in the chapter upon Marshalling.