Wednesday 29 September 2010

Polish Order of Malta Volunteers Annual Ball -- 007 at the Saville Club

The Polish Order of
Malta Volunteers
request the pleasure of your company at
The 007 Ball
in aid of
The Poznan Appeal
Saturday 5th March 2011
The Savile Club
69 Brook Street

7.30pm Champagne Reception
8.00pm Dinner
10.00pm Auction
10.30pm Casino & Dancing
2.00am Carriages
RSVP Joanna Meeson
07947 048766
Tickets £150
(£125 before 1st Feb)

Bond Characters
White or Black Tie & Decorations

The Earl of St Andrews
General The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank
Joanna Meeson
Vice Chairman
Monika Bojarska

Clara Andersson
Rafal Heydel Mankoo
Silke Lohmann
Catherine Vereker

Social Committee
Eduardo & Alexandra de Aranda Godlewski   Lalage Barran
Candice Berrier Plater  James Bland
Philip Bujak Edward and Aurea Connolly
Joanna Dabrowska  Michel Dembinski
Alexandra Fudakowska Stefan Kosciuszko
James Lewis Kasia Madera
Anna Maria McKeever Oskar Milczarek Mele
Robert Morrisson Atwater  Afsaneh Moshiri
Nicolas Moussette  Cezary Pietraszik
Zigmunt Sikorski Mazur Przemyslaw Skwirczynski
Andrew Visnevski 

The Work of the Polish Order of Malta Volunteers (London)

Founded before 1099, the Order of Malta is the world’s oldest International Hospitaller Order working to help the poor and the sick. Today the Order is a major global organisation providing care for the chronically disabled and disadvantaged.

With assistance from the Volunteers, over 80,000 permanent volunteers and 11,000 doctors and nurses support the Order’s work. Projects of the Polish Association include a first aid and ambulance corps, social centres for street children as well as a variety of medical and aid centres for the physically and mentally challenged. Last year the Knights were able to open a Centre in Krakow for the rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy. This Centre, which is fully active and highly successful, is now the largest centre of its kind in Europe. 

The Order remains very dependant on funds from outside Poland and consequently in 2007 the Polish Order of Malta Volunteers (London) was set up to support the Order and continue its fundraising efforts. Our group has constantly grown over the years and our events have become more dynamic. It’s thanks to the efforts of the Volunteers that we are able to embark upon an ambitious fundraising project.

The POMV is now raising money to rebuild and modernise Poznan’s Oncological Out-Patient clinic. Each year, the clinic’s 60 volunteers diagnose and treat, at no charge, over 5000 patients. Medical departments include oncology, gynaecology, radiology, internal medicine, cardiology, pulmonary medicine, psychiatry, surgery and path morphology. In order to rebuild and provide equipment for the building we need to raise £1,300,000. It would be wonderful if the POMV could achieve this! To date we have raised tens of thousands of pounds. This was fantastic but we still have a long way to go. Your support would be extremely valuable and is greatly appreciated. Any cheques with donations to the Polish Knights of Malta can be made payable to “APKM (UK)”, (Reg. Charity No. 1102122).

Friday 24 September 2010

The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development by Christopher McCreery, Ph.D. - Book Review

The Canadian honours system can evoke remarkable passion in certain circles. There are those who decry its alleged flaws and there are those who celebrate its perceived merits. Common ground is often hard to find; however, until recently, advocates and detractors would have found consensus on at least one issue: the need for a serious historical study of the evolution of the honours system and, more particularly, of its centrepiece – the Order of Canada. Considering Canadian preoccupation with issues pertaining to national identity, it is remarkable that the Canadian honours system, which in its modern form dates from 1967, had escaped the proper attention of historians for almost forty years. Prior to 2005, the only readily available resource on the subject was FJ Blatherwick’s Canadian Orders, Decorations and Medals (now in its fifth edition). Although a useful work of reference and a handy tool for collectors, this book is not without error and is of little value to historians and those seeking to understand the evolution of the system currently in place.

In light of this, the publication in 2005 of two authoritative works on Canadian honours was remarkable, all the more so when one considers that both were authored by the same individual, Christopher McCreery (a young scholar who has since authored works on various other Canadian honours, establishing himself as a respected national authority).

The first of these books, The Canadian Honours System, is a comprehensive, full-colour reference work which also provides a general, but sufficiently detailed, survey of the history of honours in Canada. In this accessible book McCreery is not afraid to criticise the established system and offer considered suggestions for its future direction.

The second book, The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History, and Development, is not only the first proper history of the Order, but also the first major study of Canadian honours. Importantly it is also the first Canadian book, and one of the few books anywhere, to have been honoured by HM The Queen, who graciously consented to write a prefatory message. The combination of these factors is enough to guarantee its noteworthy status, however it is the quality of the book’s research and content that establishes it as a significant contribution to the field of honours.

Christopher McCreery started this book whilst completing his doctoral thesis, which unsurprisingly also focussed upon Canadian honours. Although tackling two weighty projects is a daunting prospect for any student, it enabled McCreery to immerse himself in the broad subject and familiarise himself with all of the major primary and secondary sources. The depth of research is evidenced in the book’s exhaustive bibliography; a cursory glance reveals that a great amount of time has been spent in various archives as well as interviewing and corresponding with a large number of persons who were directly involved in developing the Canadian honours system.

Appropriately for the first major study of Canadian honours, the book starts with a brief account of the concept of honours in pre-European Canada before charting the role of honours through the succeeding eras, up to and including today. Of these periods two in particular will be of greatest interest to the majority of readers: Canada’s awkward relationship with Imperial honours (from approximately 1917-1948) and the passionate discussions surrounding the establishment of a “Canadian” honours system in the years prior to 1967. McCreery provides a clear analysis of the underlying issues that fuelled the debates in both of these periods, explains the merits of the various arguments put forth and reflects on the political motivations of the key players. For McCreery, Prime Minister RB Bennett (later Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary, and Hopewell) is the father of the Canadian honours system whilst his successor, William Lyon Mackenzie King, is the man who failed to develop Bennett’s legacy and instead actively discouraged and impeded the establishment of national honours (whilst accepting various high-ranking honours for himself). Throughout much of this story Vincent Massey, whose passion for honours bordered upon obsession, emerges as the Churchillian “voice in the wilderness”, the man who was possessed of the solution but whose pleas fell upon deaf ears.

The Order of Canada that was finally established in 1967 was the product of compromise – how very Canadian! And, indeed, the evolution of the Order in the years since in many ways parallels in microcosm the development of Canada itself. McCreery deftly navigates through the debates surrounding the establishment of the Order and charts its haphazard development in the succeeding years. He concludes with useful explanations of the investiture ceremony, the officers of the order, the membership composition (which he has divided by gender, age and region) and even the heraldry of the Order.

The Canadian honours system is far from perfect and many people have called for change. I have personally advocated for the creation of a new single-class Order, limited to 24, to rank ahead of the Order of Canada as the nation’s highest honour, as well as for the expansion of the Order of Canada to five classes, with those of Grand Officer and Grand Cordon ranking ahead of the current highest class of Companion. McCreery also does not shy away from constructive criticism. Although an enthusiastic supporter of Canadian honours, he laments the ludicrous decision, taken in 1998, to group all three classes of the Order of Canada together, ahead of all other Canadian awards aside from the Victoria Cross and Cross of Valour. He is certainly not alone in struggling to understand the logic behind the decision to rank one who has received the lowest class of the Order of Canada, for rendering exemplary service of a primarily local nature, ahead of a former chief of the defence staff who was appointed to the highest class of the Order of Military Merit for thirty-five years of service at the national and international level. He also quite rightly criticises the inflation of annual awards, noting that the number of annual awards of the Order of Canada has doubled since its inception. To ease the burden on the Order of Canada he has called for greater use to be made of the Meritorious Service Decorations and has also suggested the creation of a new Order, for which he has proposed the name of “Legion of Service”.

The Order of Canada: It’s Origins, History and Development ends with an extensive collection of appendices comprising copies of letters patent, the constitution of the order, nomination forms, membership lists and similar items: in short every related document one could possibly need. Combined with fifty pages of full-colour photographs and illustrations, many published for the first time, the completeness of this work is undeniable.

Few books are without error and here too one finds the occasional slip. Prior to her ennoblement, the wife of Sir John A Macdonald (following her husband’s death to become Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe) is incorrectly styled as “Lady Susan Macdonald”, whereas the correct form is “Lady Macdonald”. Similarly, in the Table of Abbreviations the third class of each of the Order of the Bath, Order of the Star of India, Order of St Michael and St George, and Order of the Indian Empire is described as “Commander” rather than “Companion”. But in the wider context such errors are inconsequential and I would be doing this book and its author an injustice were I to describe these as anything other than unfortunate proofing errors.

The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development and The Canadian Honours System are the most important publications to have appeared in the world of Canadian honours and are essential reading for those interested in the subject of honours or national symbols, Canadian or otherwise.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Burke's Peerage: World Orders of Knighthood & Merit -- a few copies left

As the co-Editor and co-author of Burke's Peerage & Gentry: World Orders of Knighthood & Merit I would like to inform readers that a few copies are still available for sale. Any reader interested in acquiring this increasingly hard to find tome may do so via this linked image.

World Orders of Knighthood & Merit was awarded the ICOC Prize of the Confederation International de Genealogie et d’Heraldique.

These are the principal reviews:

As a comprehensive work of scholarship, this is excellent and long-overdue. (...) A reference resource for the next century, libraries with responsibilities in this area would be advised to purchase this remarkable work. REFERENCE REVIEWS

This lavishly illustrated and impressively-researched reference work is an important guide to orders of chivalry. (...) These impressive volumes will be the definitive reference work on the history of orders of chivalry for historians. ARCHIVES

A stunning achievement and a cause for celebration...which manages to combine high standards of scholarship with wonderful anecdotes and commentary. COAT OF ARMS, the JOURNAL OF THE HERALDRY SOCIETY

There is no other single place where one can readily find such authentic histories. It is a gold-mine for researchers and a most interesting and entertaining read for pleasure. The editors are to be congratulated on their Herculean labour in putting it all together. THE HERALDRY GAZETTE

A stunning, two-volume work (that) runs to over 2,000, large-format pages and manages to combine exacting scholarship, wonderful colour illustrations, and sharp commentary. (...) A classic, unlikely to be replaced for at least a century. THE SCOTSMAN

Well written, meticulously researched, and stunningly presented. Recommended.

These impressive volumes will be the definitive reference work on the history of orders of chivalry for historians.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Queen's Body Guard for Scotland - The Royal Company of Archers

One of the notable points of Pope Benedict XVI's recent state visit to the United Kingdom was His Holiness's reception by HM The Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Holy Father is only the second head of state to have commenced a UK state visit in Scotland (the first was HM The King of Norway). A meeting between the Pontifex Maximus and Vicar of Christ and the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England should always be accorded the greatest honour and dignity. Upon his arrival at the Palace the Supreme Pontiff was greeted by a smart row of elderly gentlemen, dandily attired in green tunics, wearing eagle-feathered bonnets and clutching longbows. Many observers, expecting the traditional red-tunic-and-bear-skinned guardsmen of London postcard fame, will have no doubt been perplexed by this sight. This elite band of merry men are part of one of Scotland's most exclusive bodies: The Queen's Body Guard for Scotland - The Royal Company of Archers.

The Sovereign’s “Body Guard for Scotland” came into existence in 1676 as a private archery club – a function it maintains to this day. Accorded the title of “The King’s Company of Archers” by the Scottish Privy Council, the Company received its Royal Charter from the last Stuart Sovereign (Queen Anne) in 1704. According to tradition, in exchange for “perpetual access to all public butts, plains and pasturages legally allotted for shootings arrows”, the Royal Company of Archers must, upon request, provide the Sovereign with three arrows.

There being no extant “King’s Body Guard for Scotland” in the early nineteenth century, the Royal Company seized the opportunity to provide this service during King George IV’s famous visit to Edinburgh in 1822. In preparation for the visit the Royal Company donned uniforms designed by Walter Scott and swore an oath in the presence of the Duke of Montrose. George IV’s successful visit marked the Royal Company’s debut as escort and bodyguard to the Sovereign.

Today the Royal Company’s membership numbers approximately five hundred and thirty. The Officers of the Order include the Captain General (who serves as Gold Stick for Scotland), four Captains, four Lieutenants, four Ensigns and twelve Brigadiers. Members must be Scottish or, in exceptional cases, have a demonstrated connection with Scotland. Knowledge of archery is also an asset. The Royal Company meets and practices archery in Archer’s Hall. The Royal Company’s ceremonial function includes attendance at St. Gile’s Cathedral in Edinburgh for the installation of new Knights of the Thistle, attendance at garden parties at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and attendance at the presentation of Colours for Scottish regiments.

The Royal Company’s field uniform consists of a dark green tunic with black facings, dark green trousers and a Balmoral bonnet with the Royal Company’s badge and an eagle feather. As with Clan Chiefs, the Captain General (who carries a stick with a gold top) wears three feathers in his cap.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Gongs and Gowns: Honouring Royal Women PART THREE (Conclusion)

The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem is unlike any other British Order. A confraternal Order, the Order’s membership runs into the thousands. Promotion is attained by virtue of work within the Order and the various classes, whilst according internal precedence, do not carry any rank or precedence in the larger world. Of the six classes, only the two highest are of relevance in the context of this essay: dames grand cross and dames of justice.

The Venerable Order can trace its inspiration over nine hundred years to the original Knights Hospitaller. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explain the tumultuous history of this famous Military-Religious Order. All that need be noted is that by the mid-nineteenth century the British version of the original Knights Hospitaller was a respected charitable institution, both at home and in the wider Empire. By 1888 the organisation had achieved sufficient prestige for it to receive a Royal Charter incorporating it as a Royal Order of Chivalry under the protection of the Sovereign.

King Edward VII was one of the Order’s greatest champions. Whilst Prince of Wales, he had presented Queen Victoria with the 1888 petition for a Royal Charter and, upon receipt of Her Majesty’s consent, he was made the Order’s Grand Prior. It cannot be surprising therefore that as early as 1876 the wife of the future King had been appointed a dame of justice. A somewhat premature precedent having been set, a steady stream of female royals would eventually follow.

The Order received a further Royal Charter in 1926, at which point the term “Venerable” was added to its name. It was at this time that many female members of the royal family were appointed or promoted to the level of dame grand cross: HM Queen Mary; HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Mary); HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught; HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; HRH The Princess Beatrice; and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (then Duchess of York).

Queen Elizabeth II was appointed a dame grand cross in the year of her marriage (1947) whilst HRH The Princess Margaret was appointed a dame of justice in 1948 and a dame grand cross in 1956. Current dames of justice include HRH The Princess Royal (1971) and HRH The Duchess of Gloucester (1975), the wife of the present Grand Prior.

For historical reasons female involvement in the remaining Orders (Thistle, Saint Patrick, Merit, Bath, Star of India, Saint Michael and Saint George, Indian Empire, Companions of Honour, British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, and Imperial Service Order) has not been great. With some notable exceptions, Orders were generally awarded to politicians or those engaged in the military, diplomatic or civil services. Until recently these fields were almost exclusively male domains. Royalty is of course above such distinctions yet, despite this, only a select few female royals have been involved in these other Orders.

Excluding the Queen, who as fons honorum (‘fount of honour’) is automatically Sovereign of all Royal Orders, there are three familiar female royals who are particularly noteworthy for their involvement in a wide variety of Orders: HM Queen Mary; HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; and HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.

The most decorated of all consorts, Queen Mary received the Order of the Garter upon her husband’s accession to the throne (1910). A year later, on the occasion of the Delhi Durbar, she was appointed a lady grand commander of the Order of the Star of India. This latter appointment doubled her Indian Orders as Queen Victoria had appointed her to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India over a decade earlier. In 1917 Queen Mary became a dame grand cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; she would serve as the Order’s Grand Master from 1936 until her death in 1953. Also in 1936 King Edward VIII appointed her a dame grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order; a few months later Queen Mary would receive the Royal Victorian Chain from his brother. Aside from her numerous Royal family Orders (listed supra), Queen Mary was also a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.

HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, then Duchess of York, was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of Saint John on the same day as Queen Mary (12 June 1926). Almost exactly one year later she was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil). However her very first Order, the Family Order of King George V, had been bestowed upon her a couple of years earlier, on the occasion of her marriage to the Duke of York (1923). In 1931 her father-in-law appointed her to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India. Five years later, with the ink on the Instrument of Abdication scarcely dry, the new Queen Consort was appointed to the Order of the Garter. In 1937, the year of her coronation, Queen Elizabeth was invested with the Royal Victorian Chain and appointed a lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle (both on the same day); that year she also received her husband’s Family Order and became Grand Master and “Principal Dame Grand Cross” of the Royal Victorian Order (a position she held until her death in 2002). Aside from receiving her daughter’s Family Order in 1952, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother would have to wait sixty-three years for her next Order; however eventually, on the occasion of her 90th birthday, she received the Order of New Zealand (1990). The final Royal Order would follow one decade later—in honour of her centenary and her special bond with Canada, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was appointed an ‘honorary’ companion of the Order of Canada (2000). The Queen Mother received the insignia from her daughter’s Canadian Governor General at a touching ceremony at Clarence House. At that ceremony, wearing the gold maple leaf brooch she had worn throughout the Second World War, Canada’s former Queen again expressed her affection for the vast dominion.

HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester received several honours from Edward VIII and George VI. In 1936 she was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of Saint. John. A year later she was appointed to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India and to the civil division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In 1948 Princess Alice was invested as a dame grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order and finally in 1975 HM The Queen appointed her the first female grand cross of the Order of the Bath (civil). Princess Alice also received the Family Orders of King George V (1935), King George VI (1937), and HM The Queen (1952).

Despite their relatively short history of involvement with Royal Orders, female royals have firmly established themselves at the heart of the honours system. The prominence of certain female royals has had a positive impact upon the system and it seems inevitable that steadily greater numbers of women will continue to be appointed in the years to come.


Note 1: Certain classes are restricted to armigers and the class of “Bailiff Grand Cross” accords the recipient the right to augment his/her arms with supporters.

Note 2: The two daughters of Edward VII, HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Louise) and HRH The Princess Victoria, were both appointed ladies of justice of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1888. Only Princess Victoria appears to have been promoted to dame grand cross (1928). It was also in 1928 that HH Princess Helena Victoria and HRH Princess Marie Louise were promoted to the rank of dame grand cross.

Note 3: Excluding Royal Family Orders but including the new Commonwealth Orders of New Zealand and Canada, the record for receipt of the most Royal Orders belongs to HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. If Royal Family Orders are included the record is tied between Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HM Queen Mary. If foreign Orders are included the record for most decorated non-Sovereign female royal belongs to Queen Mary alone.

Note 4: The only other female member of the royal family to be appointed to the Order of the Thistle is HRH The Princess Royal (2000).

Note 5: Some commentators took exception to the classification of the award as an “honorary” appointment on the grounds that a former Canadian Queen Consort who also happened to be the colonel-in-chief of three Canadian regiments and the mother of the Queen of Canada and the Sovereign of the Order of Canada should be regarded as Canadian rather than foreign. Some of these commentators argued that the passage of a special statute allowing the appointment of royals as “Extra Companions” would have been a more acceptable solution.

Friday 17 September 2010

Gongs and Gowns: Honouring Royal Women PART TWO

[Click HERE to read PART ONE of Gongs & Gowns: Honouring Royal Women]

Royal Family Orders and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India notwithstanding, Orders are primarily the preserve of males—royal, aristocratic and common. There are some exceptions to this rule. To varying degrees, the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the Royal Victorian Order, the Royal Victorian Chain and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem all have established traditions of royal female membership.

Founded by King Edward III in 1348, the Order of the Garter is undoubtedly the most famous and distinguished British Order. Popularly regarded for most of its existence as an exclusively male institution, the Order can nevertheless claim a degree of female involvement as far back as the Middle Ages: over sixty women were involved with the Order from the date of its foundation until 1488. Yet it is important not to over-state this involvement. Admitted by custom, there was no statutory basis for female membership. Early Ladies of the Garter, if they can be so called, may have been issued with Garter robes, however they were not companions and did not receive stalls in Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor. (Note 1) The true status of these early women remains unclear and debate continues as to whether it is correct to refer to them as members of the Order, some authorities choosing instead to refer to them as “Ladies of the Society of the Garter” or “Ladies of the Fraternity and Brotherhood of Saint George”. The first “Ladies” of the Garter were members of King Edward III’s immediate family: his consort, Queen Philippa, and his daughters. One of the last medieval “Ladies” was King Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who died in 1509. Excluding queens regnant, it would be almost four hundred years before the Order would welcome another female. (Note 2)

The next lady of the Garter was Queen Alexandra, consort of Edward VII. Alexandra was appointed to the Order of the Garter in 1901, the year of her husband’s accession. Although there was no statutory provision for the inclusion of women, King Edward VII insisted that his Queen receive a stall in Saint George’s Chapel. Despite an initial concern, voiced by Garter King of Arms (Sir Albert Woods), the King asserted his right to appoint his consort to the Order and grant her a stall.(Note 3) A special statute was issued and this significant appointment was recorded in the Register of the Order:

"The Secretary of State for the Home Department signified to the Chancellor of this Most Noble Order that His Majesty the King, as Sovereign of the Order, had been graciously pleased to command that a Special Statute be issued for conferring upon Her Majesty the Queen the title and dignity of a Lady of this Most Noble Order and fully authorising Her Majesty to wear the Insignia thereof. The Sovereign's Pleasure was duly announced in the London Gazette of Tuesday 12 February, 1901." (Note 4)

Upon acceding to the throne George V and George VI both chose to follow King Edward’s example, both appointing their consorts to the Order. (Note 5) King George VI appointed two other females to the Order: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1944 (again following the passage of a special statute) and Princess Elizabeth (now HM The Queen) in 1948. Princess Elizabeth’s appointment coincided with that of the Duke of Edinburgh—husband and wife were admitted at a special ceremony commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Order’s foundation.

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has appointed three other Queens to the Order: HRH Princess Juliana of the Netherlands (who was Queen at the time of her appointment) and HM The Queen of the Netherlands were appointed in 1958 and 1989 respectively whilst HM The Queen of Denmark was appointed in 1979. Foreign Queens appointed to the Order are styled “Extra Ladies of the Garter” whilst female members of the British Royal family are styled either “Ladies of the Garter” or, following a recent special statute, “Extra Ladies Companion”. (Note 6) The two most recent royal females to be honoured with the Garter are HRH the Princess Royal (1994) and HRH Princess Alexandra, The Hon. Lady Ogilvy (2003). (Note 7) Royal appointments are extra-numerary and as such have no bearing on the established number of twenty-four companions.

The Royal Victorian Order also boasts a significant female membership. Founded by Queen Victoria on 21 April 1896, the Royal Victorian Order was created to honour significant personal service to the Sovereign. Although the award of the Order was initially restricted to the Queen’s relations and senior members of the Royal Household, the Order was gradually expanded to reward those who had performed an important personal service to the monarchy in general.(Note 8) As currently constituted, the Order comprises five classes: knight/dame grand cross, knight/dame commander, commander, lieutenant and member.

Women were excluded from the Royal Victorian Order for the first forty years of its existence. The Sovereign responsible for the admission of women was King Edward VIII however in his short time on the throne he was only able to appoint one female: his mother, Queen Mary.(Note 9) Appointed a dame grand cross, Queen Mary would live to see many more female appointees.

King George VI rapidly expanded the role of women in the Order. The new king appointed his consort a dame grand cross and installed her as the Order’s first Grand Master. George VI also bestowed the Royal Victorian Order upon HM Queen Maud of Norway; HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; HRH The Princess Beatrice; HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester; HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone and also upon his sister, HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Mary). These royals were all invested as dames grand cross.

To date HM The Queen has bestowed the Royal Victorian Order upon HH Princess Marie Louise; HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; HRH Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy; HRH The Princess Royal; HRH The Duchess of Kent; HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, HRH The Countess of Wessex and HRH The Duchesss of Cornwall.(Note 10) These appointments were also to the rank of dame grand cross.

Despite the similarity in name, the Royal Victorian Chain is distinct from the Royal Victorian Order and should be regarded as a separate and unique honour. The Royal Victorian Chain is awarded very rarely and is entirely within the personal gift of the Sovereign. Awarded to members of the Royal family, foreign heads of state and exceptional senior servants of the Crown, the Chain carries no title, precedence or post-nominal. By virtue of its personal nature and exclusivity, it is amongst the most prestigious of Royal honours.

King Edward VII established the Royal Victorian Chain in August 1902 however women were not admitted until the year of the coronation of King George VI (1937). Men wear the chain around the neck whilst women wear the chain suspended from a bow — the colours of which are based upon the ribbon of the Royal Victorian Order. Following the deaths of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, the sole surviving member of the royal family to hold the Chain is HM The Queen.

To read PART THREE of Gongs & Gowns: Honouring Royal Women, CLICK HERE. 


Note 1: Although not companions, these women appear to have worn the Garter on their left arm. Evidence of this can also be found on certain tombstones.

Note 2: Noteworthy medieval ladies of the Garter include the consorts of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII. Although the last ‘appointment’ was made in 1488, it has been claimed by some that Edward VI granted the Garter to Laura Cacio Terricina, a Neapolitan poetess. One final unsuccessful attempt to involve women was made in 1638, with a proposal to grant robes to the wives of Garter knights. This was perhaps an attempt to revive a medieval tradition whereby widows of Garter Knights were permitted to wear the robes of the Order on Saint George’s feast days.

Note 3: The basis for this authority rested on the revised Statutes of Henry VIII: “To the Sovereign … that appertain … the interpretation, reformation and disposition of all causes concerning and touching anything of obscurity or doubt, contained in the Statutes of the Most Noble Order.” Grace Holmes, The Order of the Garter, (Windsor, 1984), p. 19.

Note 4: Ibid.

Note 5: Queen Mary was appointed to the Order of the Garter in June 1910 and the then Queen Elizabeth was appointed to the Order in December 1936.

Note 6: Until recently companions were exclusively male—and therefore styled “Knights Companion”. This changed on 1 October 1987 with the passage of a special statute whereby the Sovereign declared that being “desirous of evincing in a fitting manner Our abiding sense of the virtues and worth of Ladies of eminence known to Us by making such of them as We are pleased to choose and select to be Companions of Our said Most Noble Order do ordain and declare that henceforth the Companions of Our said Most Noble Order shall be those of Our Subjects both Knights and Ladies as We or Our Successors are pleased to declare to be Knights Companions or Ladies Companions of Our said Most Noble Order and that in case of a Lady she shall be admitted into the Companionship of Our said Order by the style and title of Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter being accorded in such respect the designation of ‘Lady’ before her Christian or first name.” The first person to be appointed a “Lady Companion” was the late Lavinia Mary, Duchess of Norfolk (widow of the 16th Duke of Norfolk, KG). A former Lord Lieutenant, she stood in for The Queen at every coronation rehearsal save for the last. She was appointed to the Order of the Garter in 1990. The only other non-royals to have been appointed are Baroness Thatcher in 1995 (the year in which Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk died) and, in 2005, Lady Soames, the daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, himself a Garter knight. Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Soames are the Order’s only non-royal father and daughter appointments.

Note 7: The 2003 appointment of HRH Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy seemingly saw the first, and so far only, instance of the use for a UK royal of the style (Extra) “Lady Companion”. HRH The Princess Royal, the only other female royal to be appointed to the Order after the passage of the 1987 special statute (1994), is styled a “Lady of the Garter” in the traditional manner. 

Note 8: A lesser honour, the Royal Victorian Medal, is also awarded to those who have performed services to the Crown. Generally awarded to servants of the Royal Household, the medal has three grades: silver-gilt, silver, and bronze.

Note 9: The statutes were revised on 28 May 1936.

Note 10: HRH The Princess Royal received the GCVO shortly after the unsuccessful kidnapping attempt made against her in the Mall.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Gongs and Gowns: Honouring Royal Women PART ONE

Female involvement in the honours system is a relatively modern occurrence and those Orders with which women have been associated remain few and select. In terms of female exclusivity the most significant honour to be borne by royal women is not any single Order but a group known as the Royal Family Orders. These enamelled, jewel-encrusted miniature portraits are within the personal gift of the Sovereign and, although the least known of the various honours, are ironically amongst the most familiar, as the insignia are frequently seen upon the shoulders of senior female royals.

Although portraits of the Sovereign had been worn by ladies and gentlemen of the court in earlier times, the tradition of presenting a Family Order exclusively to women was not established until the reign of King George IV. Given the King’s great love of fashion, regalia and kingship it is perhaps fitting that the Royal Family Orders date from his reign. Lacking a formal name or specific date of creation, the term “Order” is applied very loosely to this late-Georgian honour, especially as George IV bestowed his portraits quite casually, regarding them more as personal gifts than decorations. The most famous recipient of George IV’s “Order” was his niece, the future Queen Victoria. During her own reign, the far more sober and formal Victoria, desiring a more structured honour, established the four class Order of Victoria and Albert. The Order was instituted on 10 February 1862, the 23rd anniversary of her marriage to the recently deceased Prince Consort. Recipients of the Order were restricted to Princesses of the Blood Royal and certain other worthy females.(Note 1) Suspended from a white silk bow pinned to the left shoulder, the badge of the Order consisted of a cameo of the Queen’s head overlaying that of the Prince Consort; the Sovereign’s badge reversed this order.

Kings Edward VII, George V and George VI followed the example of the Queen-Empress by establishing their own Family Orders however Edward VIII failed to institute one, most likely due to the short span of his reign and his preoccupation with more pressing matters. The Sovereign’s portrait of Edward VII’s Family Order was suspended from a blue ribbon bordered white and red. The portrait of each subsequent Sovereign was suspended from a silk bow, the colour changing with each reign: the silk bow of George V’s Family Order was pale blue and that of George VI pink. (Note 2)

Queen Elizabeth II continued the tradition of her predecessors and instituted her own Family Order in 1952. The diamond-studded portrait of The Queen depicts the Sovereign wearing the riband and star of the Order of the Garter. A diamond-encrusted Tudor crown surmounts the portrait whilst the reverse displays the royal cipher and Saint Edward’s Crown. The Sovereign’s portrait is suspended from a silk bow of chartreuse yellow.

A Royal Family Order does not bestow any precedence, style or title; nevertheless, the honour is highly regarded and membership of the female ranks of the royal family does not guarantee receipt. This is especially true of Queen Elizabeth II’s Family Order. Amongst modern royals HRH Princess Michael of Kent has yet to be honoured with the Queen’s Family Order. Similarly, although the late Diana, Princess of Wales received the Order in the year of her marriage (1981), Sarah, Duchess of York was never honoured.

The record for the receipt of Royal Family Orders is held jointly by HM Queen Mary and HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. Queen Mary received the Family Orders of her grandmother-in-law (Victoria - 1893); father-in-law (Edward VII - 1902); husband (George V - 1911); son (George VI - 1937) and granddaughter (Elizabeth II - 1952). Queen Mary received this last Order shortly before her death and thus never wore it in public. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone received the same Royal Family Orders that Queen Mary received and, at the time of her death (1981), was the sole surviving member of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert.

Aside from Royal Family Orders, the only other British honour reserved exclusively for females is the Imperial Order of the Crown of India. Queen Victoria founded this Order on 1st January 1878, the anniversary of the creation of her Imperial title. The Order was restricted to female members of the royal family and Indian princely families as well as the families of British officials such as the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, the Governors of Bengal, Madras or Bombay, and the Principal Secretary of State for India. Suspended from a bow of pale blue silk bordered white, the badge bears the cipher of the Queen-Empress in diamonds, pearls and turquoises, all within a pearl border surmounted by the Imperial Crown. As with the Royal Family Orders, the Imperial Order of the Crown of India does not bestow a title on the recipient; however members are granted the post-nominals “CI”.

The Imperial Order of the Crown of India had an active life-span of only seventy years. In 1947, as Indian independence drew near, King George VI appointed his two daughters to the Order. With the formal cessation of India from the Imperial Family no further appointments were made; however existing members were permitted to continue using the insignia and post-nominals.(Note 3) Given the great period of time that has passed since the final appointments were made it is not surprising that there are very few surviving members. The death in 1985 of the Maharani of Travancore reduced the number of survivors to a mere four: HM The Queen; HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; HRH The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. Today HM The Queen is the sole surviving member.

To Be Continued in Part Two


Note 1: Foreign recipients of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert include: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Queen Elizabeth of the Hellenes, Empress Alexandra of Russia, Queen Maud of Norway, Queen Marie of Romania, and Queen Marie of Hanover.

Note 2: The creation of Family Orders does not appear to have been the sole preserve of the Sovereign. Evidence suggests that Queen Alexandra, consort of Edward VII, either established her own Family Order or had one established for her by King Edward VII. Given Edward VII’s great love of decorations this was perhaps appropriate. Although detailed information is scarce, the Queen's daughters seem to have received it around 1901/02. The insignia of the “Order” consisted of a small circular miniature of King Edward and Queen Alexandra suspended from a ribbon bow of red, bordered with white stripes towards the edge. Little is known about this decoration but its appearance bears similarities with the badges awarded to the Mistress of the Robes; although, unlike the ‘Order’, the latter seems to include a crown above the portrait.

Note 3: The last appointee was Lady Clydesmuir in 1948.

Friday 10 September 2010

Heraldic Privilege and the Venerable Order of St. John: A Canadian Perspective

Although only officially incorporated into the Canadian honours system in 1990, the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem has a long and distinguished history within Canada. The Order first appeared in Canada in 1883 and by 1895 a Canadian Saint John Ambulance Association had been established. The Commandery of Canada was instituted in 1934 and was elevated to a priory in 1946 with the Canadian Governor General serving as Prior. With approximately seven thousand members, the Canadian Priory is today one of the world’s largest and provides Canada’s principal ambulance service. It is worth noting that a recent Lord Prior, Mr Eric Barry, was a Canadian and the first non-British person to hold this high office.

Unlike many other confraternal Orders, membership in the higher grades of the Venerable Order is not restricted to those of noble birth. Promotion is attained by virtue of work within the Order. There is one exception to this notion of classless chivalry: although any member may rise to the rank of knight or dame, only armigerous members may automatically become knights or dames of justice. A non-armiger must remain content with the rank of knight or dame of grace until such time as the Grand Prior, at his personal discretion, deems it appropriate to classify the non-armiger as a knight or dame of justice “for good cause motu proprio”.

It is also possible for a non-armiger to become a knight or dame of justice “if he or she is able to satisfy the Genealogist of the Order, or if domiciled in Scotland, the Genealogist of the Priory of Scotland, or in the case of other Priories, the Genealogist of the Priory, provided the latter is an Officer of Arms in Ordinary to the Sovereign Head of the Order [my italics], that he or she is entitled to bear Arms”.

This requirement highlights an interesting issue pertaining to the powers of priories located outside England and Scotland. Only England, Scotland and Canada currently have Officers of Arms in Ordinary to the Sovereign. Of these only England and Scotland have Officers of Arms in Ordinary serving as priory genealogists; the genealogist of the Canadian Priory is not attached to the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Similarly, the genealogist of the South African Priory is (or was until recently) the former State Herald of the Republic of South Africa (and therefore not an Officer of Arms in Ordinary to the Sovereign). The priories of Wales, New Zealand and Australia do not appear to have official genealogists and even if New Zealand Herald Extraordinary were to be so appointed he would also fail to qualify as an Officer of Arms in Ordinary. Thus, to apply the statutes literally, the power to elevate a priory member to the rank of justice is currently held only by the Scottish and English priories. Members of the priories of Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Wales and the USA seeking a re-classification of their knightly grade would appear to be obliged to apply directly to the Genealogist of the Order (Garter King of Arms) in London.

In practice the statutes are not applied literally. In Canada for example, the prevailing view would seem to be that there is little sense requesting Garter to approve the reclassification of a Canadian knight who has received a grant of arms from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. It is interesting to note that in 1989 the Priory of Canada still sought approval from London for reclassification and appointments to the Order appeared in the London Gazette. This was likely due to the fact that grants to members of Saint John in that year were still issued by the College of Arms (England) and Lord Lyon Court (Scotland) as the Canadian Heraldic Authorty was in its infancy. As more grants were issued from Canada, it became easier for the Priory Genealogist to consult with the Canadian Heraldic Authority to confirm whether a knight was armigerous.

It is quite clear that the statutes of the Venerable Order need to reflect this evolution. The State Herald of South Africa and Heralds Extraordinary serving as Priory Genealogists should be accorded the same powers as Officers of Arms in Ordinary. Curiously this matter was not addressed during the Order’s constitutional reforms in 1999 (Note 1).

The ability to prove entitlement to arms has specific value. All armigerous members of the Venerable Order may demonstrate their membership through their armorial bearings. Heraldic privileges vary depending upon the grade held. Bailiffs and dames grand cross and knights and dames of justice are accorded the greater privileges. For example, the unicorns and lions that form part of the badge of the Venerable Order, whilst white or silver for other levels can be of gold for those attaining these highest ranks. Armigerous members of the lowest grades are limited to the privilege, shared by all members, of “suspend[ing] the riband and badge of their grade from their armorial bearings”. Chaplains and knights/dames of justice and of grace are accorded the privilege of placing their arms upon the badge of the Order. Bailiffs and dames grand cross in addition to the above may also “bear their arms with those of the Order in Chief” (Note 2).

Arguably the most interesting augmentation is another privilege accorded solely to bailiffs and dames grand cross. Those attaining this highest grade are permitted the distinct honour of adding supporters to their arms (Note 3). This honour is in keeping with the Anglo-Scottish tradition of honouring knights of the first class of the British Orders of Chivalry (Note 4).

Aside from the augmentation of armorial bearings, select members of the Venerable Order are also granted privileges pertaining to banners. Perhaps the most important honour in this field relates to the Great Banner of the Order. The Great Banner, which is flown from the Head Quarters of all priories and commanderies as well as from Saint John’s Gatehouse in Clerkenwell, London and Saint John’s Hospital in Jerusalem, is flown at Half Mast from the time of the announcement of the death of a bailiff or dame grand cross until the day of interment.

Following the Great Banner of the Order, the two senior banners belong to the Grand Prior and Lord Prior respectively. The personal banners of the Grand Prior and Lord Prior display their arms with the arms of the Order in chief. The statutes of the Order state that on days when the Grand Prior is to visit St. John’s Gate his banner is to be flown alongside the Order’s Great Banner. At other times, in the absence of the Grand Prior and when the Lord Prior is in London, the latter’s banner is to be flown alongside the Order’s Great Banner. It is interesting to note that the banner of the Lord Prior in London is flown at Half Mast on days of national mourning in the UK.

Aside from the banners of the Grand Prior and Lord Prior, personal banners may only be used by armigerous bailiffs and dames grand cross, armigerous priors and the armigerous chancellors of priories in which the prior is a governor general or head of state. Thus in Canada, where the Prior is traditionally the Governor General, the Prior and Chancellor may both use personal banners; however here too privilege depends upon rank. Whereas the personal banner of a bailiff or dame grand cross may again bear the arms of the Order in chief, the banner of a prior or chancellor who is not a bailiff or dame grand cross can only depict his or her arms “simpliciter”. Aside from those listed supra, no other members are entitled to use personal banners.

In addition to banners and armorial bearings, the statutes and regulations of the Order also regulate the wearing of insignia and robes.

Note 1: The Canadian Chancellery must also live up to its responsibilties. Canada has never had a tradition of Officers of Arms serving as Priory Genealogists. John Matheson, a key figure in the creation of the Maple Leaf flag, served as Priory Genealogist until 1992. His successor was Gordon Macpherson. Mr Macpherson was appointed Niagara Herald Extraordinary in 1999 but ceased functioning as the Genealogist of the Canadian Priory in June 2003. Although the Venerable Order is an integral part of the Canadian honours system, the Chancellery does not appear to appreciate the importance of supporting the installation of a Herald as Priory Genealogist. The Venerable Order would surely welcome a Herald most enthusiastically and it is hoped that this matter will soon be rectified.

Note 2: Statutes, Article 49 (a)–(d); the riband of a bailiff/dame grand cross and knight can surround the entire shield, the riband of a commander should be suspended around the lower third of the shield whilst that of an officer is suspended from the point of the shield.

Note 3: Eric Barry, the former Lord Prior of the Order, is one Canadian bailiff grand cross to have had his armorial bearings augmented with supporters. Mr Barry’s supporters are blazoned as follows: “On either side a griffin Gules armed and beaked Or charged on the breast with a Maltese cross Argent and standing upon a grassy mound growing thereon strawberry plants flowered and fructed proper.” (Canadian Heraldic Authority Grant, 12 January 2000)

Note 4: Statutes, Article 49 (a); In England supporters are traditionally only accorded to peers and knights of the first class of the British Orders of Chivalry; in Scotland some chiefs of clans of considerable size and antiquity may also bear supporters. In addition, certain baronets use supporters by right of long usage. Canada, lacking a peerage (save for the Barony de Longueuil) and a national Order with a knightly class, permits supporters only to certain Canadians of considerable standing (traditionally persons such as Governors-General, Lieutenant Governors and Prime Ministers).

1. The Armorial Bearings of the Canadian Priory of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem (C) Gordon Macpherson, Niagara Herald Extraordinary
2. The Grand Prior of the Order of St. John, HRH The Duke of Gloucester
3. The Armorial Bearings of Mark W Tinlin CD with the badge of an officer of the Order and the medal of the Canadian Forces Decoration
4. The Armorial Bearings of James Bartleman O.Ont, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, with the heraldic privileges of a knight of justice of the Venerable Order of Saint John: the shield superimposed upon the badge of the Order and with the badge of a knight of justice pendant from the shield. The second badge is that of the Order of Ontario.
5. The Armorial Bearings of Eric Barry, former Lord Prior of the Most Venerable Order of Saint John, with some of the heraldic privleges of a bailiff grand cross: heraldic supporters, the shield superimposed upon the badge of the Order, and the badge of a bailiff pendant from the shield (Canadian Heraldic Authority Grant, 12 January 20000). As a bailiff grand cross Mr Barry is entitled to bear the arms of the Order in chief however whilst this honour appears on his banner, it has not been included on his shield (Courtesy Col. Eric Barry).
6. The installation of Colonel Eric Barry as Lord Prior of the Order of Saint John, 22 November 2002.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries - A Book Review

BOOK REVIEW by Rafal Heydel-Mankoo

Title: Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries:
Subtitle: Uncovering Mysteries, Sights, Symbols and Societies.
Authors: Stephen Klimczuk and Gerald Warner of Craigenmaddie.

Hardcover: hb; pp. 272; Language: English; ISBN-10: 1402762070; ISBN-13: 978-1402762079

Publisher: Sterling; 1 edition (US Release: November 3, 2009; UK Release: Feb 7, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches


Curiosity, as the impetus fuelling scientific, intellectual and industrial endeavour, is a driving force of human civilisation. But why does our sense of curiosity compel us to delve into mysteries and to investigate secrets which carry no obvious evolutionary, or personal, benefit? Our fascination with secret societies and forbidden locations is one example. What motivates us to ponder upon ancient myths? What causes us to peer into the windows of exclusive clubs? Why are we fascinated by the rituals of Masonic and other secret societies?

Our curiosity is undoubtedly fuelled by the truth underlying the age-old epithet: “knowledge is power”. Secrets are powerful and their knowledge is empowering. The romantic myth all too frequently belies a prosaic reality, yet that is comparatively unimportant for, by gaining access to an exclusive world, even if only through the pages of a book, we not only satisfy our curiosity but, by so doing, we become part of the secret; this in turn feeds another universal human trait: the desire for inclusion (to the exclusion of others). The compelling force of curiosity and the allure of exclusivity perhaps best explain our fascination with the secret and the forbidden.

Fortunately for their readers, the authors of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries, though themselves possessed of a seemingly unquenchable curiosity (not to mention impressive skills of research), are unfettered by the constraints of exclusivity and through their lively, and at times opinionated, tome we are granted privileged armchair admission through some of the world’s most closely guarded doors.

Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries is an eclectic cornucopia of the elite, the elusive and the esoteric. In just over 250 pages the authors have been able to collate and succinctly detail some of the most fascinating secretive sites from around the world. Ranging from ancient shrines to top secret military bases, we are taken on a tour of a wide variety of locations; some so secret that many readers will be reading about them for the first time.

Here we learn about Ethiopia’s Chapel of the Ark, perhaps the most secret of all locations, entry denied to all save the priest-guardian of the Ark, the Chapel’s sacred treasure “too dangerous” for the spiritually unprepared. Not even the late Emperor Haile Selassie, we are told, was allowed inside. We are also guided around various other religious sites, including the possible location of the Holy Grail (Valencia Cathedral in Spain), the world’s smallest autonomous Orthodox Church (the Monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai, of which HRH The Prince of Wales is a patron), a self-governing monastic state within the sovereign borders of Greece which as a monastery—and to the great annoyance of European Union equal opportunists—is a female “no go” zone (the Autonomous Monastic Republic of Holy Mount Athos), and the headquarters of an ancient organisation which is not only a religious order and the world’s oldest order of knighthood but also a sovereign entity which boasts its own legal and postal system (the Magistral Palace of the Order of Malta in Rome). By comparison Vatican City State seems positively gargantuan!

Given recent trends in popular culture, any discussion of the Grail, the Ark, exotic monasteries and ancient crusading military-religious orders would be incomplete without some reference to the Knights Templar and their myths. The authors do not fail and we are treated to a short but splendid exposition on Templar history which shines the bright light of scholastic truth into the murky world of conspiracy theories, thoroughly debunking the outlandish and wholly laughable claims of Dan “Da Vinci” Brown and friends. Opus Dei, the much misunderstood Roman Catholic organisation so harshly maligned in recent works of fiction, also emerges from these pages as a decidedly ordinary society of devout Christians most of whom appear to hold unexciting day jobs. Facts are funny things.

The broad scope of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries carries us from the ancient and mediaeval to the present day. We are presented with fascinating accounts of secret military installations such as the infamous Area 51, with its alleged extra-terrestrial life-forms, England’s RAF Menwith Hill and Virginia’s Mount Weather, the über-verboten location to which the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives were rushed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and which houses a complete and permanent duplicate of the United States government, including a stand-in President, Vice-President, Cabinet Secretaries as well as replicate structures for various federal departments and institutions.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book details the chilling but little-known history of Wewelsburg Castle (“the Black Vatican”), the centre of Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s quasi-religious cult, founded to provide a spiritual dimension to the Third Reich. The demented ideology, the bizarre rituals and the cruel suffering associated with Wewelsburg beggar belief and provide a horrifying glimpse into the heart of the abyss which almost engulfed western civilisation.
Not everything is so serious. Entertaining chapters bursting with amusing anecdotes take us on a whirlwind tour of the world’s most famous and exclusive gentlemens’ clubs, private banks and university societies.

Monarchists will enjoy the broad selection of royal topics, ranging from the story of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen of Hungary, to the Holy Ampoule of the Kings of France to the amazing tales of the Canadian travels of the British and Polish Crown Jewels (the former unconfirmed). The authors’ remarkable erudition is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than through their examination of two virtually unknown royal peculiars: Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal of the Mohawks in Ontario.

The authors of this highly readable and informative book are clearly well-connected, well-travelled and well-read. Others have attempted to tackle this subject but no one commands the broad field with as much authority, knowledge or style. Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries is the much-needed popular introduction to a world which some readers may inhabit and to which some may aspire, which some will envy and others will despise but about which we will never cease to be fascinated.

The book has its own web page and blog which may be accessed here:

Tuesday 7 September 2010

September 7th: The First Night of the Blitz - Remember

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the Blitz "when a fleet of Nazi German air bombers ambushed London for 76 consecutive nights, awakening a new chapter to World War II."

Sky records it thus: "On that early September day, Britain was basking in the middle of an Indian summer with temperatures reaching a sweltering 90 degrees in London. Although the war had started the year before, Londoners hadn’t yet encountered disaster. But at 4.14pm on that fateful day, 348 bombers and 617 Messerschmitt fighters crossed the English Channel into English airspace forming a block 20 miles wide and filling 800 square miles of sky. It was the day the war finally hit home and a day that truly tested the British spirit and the nation’s war effort."

The Blitz, which lasted until May 10, saw the Capital's skyline explode in utter turmoil as hundreds of Nazi planes descended the Thames in their attempts to demoralize the nation.

One eye witness Colin Perry recollects: "Directly above me were literally hundreds of planes … the sky was full of them. Bombers hemmed in with fighters, like bees around their queen, like destroyers round the battleship, so came Jerry."

The unrelenting raid devastated numerous towns and cities throughout the Kingdom, including London, Liverpool, Coventry, Belfast and Birmingham.

London's Blitz is recorded in sobering detail by London Fire Brigade records. The September 7th advance on the Capital began slowly but between 5:30pm and 6.00pm some 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters pounded the city. Two hours later, guided by their path of destruction, a second wave of invaders opened fire once again targeting the islands infrastructure and its' industrial and military faculties."

To quote the Guardian: "The London Blitz started quietly. Less than 100 incidents reported by the London Fire Brigade up to 5pm on September 7, 1940. Only a few weeks after the British victory in the Battle of Britain, what came then must have been a terrible shock for Londoners.

"At 5.30pm, some 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters pounded London until 6.00pm. Guided by the flames, a second group attacked with more incendiary bombs two hours later, lasting into the next day."

Related events will be taking place today:

An exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz is to open at the London Transport Museum. The exhibition, called Under attack - London, Coventry and Dresden, explores public transport in the three cities during World War II.

London Mayor Boris Johnson will launch the exhibition on Monday evening. It will be open from 7 September (today). The exhibition features a wartime bus, a London Transport air raid shelter and 20 wartime transport posters.

Let us remember the words of Winston Churchill: "For my own part, looking out upon the future, I do not view the process with any misgivings. I could not stop it if I wished; no one can stop it. Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days."

I was fortunate enough to attend August's commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill's speech outside the Cabinet War Rooms, with Lady Soames, Dame Vera Lynne both present and Robert Hardy repeating Churchill's famous words at the exact moment WSC had done so 70 years earlier: "Never in the Field of Human Conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" at the Cabinet War Rooms.

Several of The Few were present and so too was their sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn. A deeply moving occasion. I was delighted to be able to take a photograph which included both Dame Vera and Lady Soames -- I only regret HM The Queen was not present as it would have been wonderful to see all three women together! Upon the conclusion of Churchill's speech a lone Spitfire and Hurricane flew ahead. I doubt we shall see this again.

Sunday 5 September 2010

H.H.The Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, KCIE (1923-2010): The Last Ruling Indian Prince and Knight of the Indian Empire

End of an era” is a hackneyed trope of speech employed far too frequently by commentators and journalists. Too many departures from the world of fashion, sport, politics, or any of the myriad fields of popular life, are unjustifiably lamented as an era’s end; at the hands of the eulogiser, perhaps only “genius” is subjected to greater misuse.

Yet, though clichéd, there are few phrases more apt to describe the death on 1st August 2010 of HH Meghrajji III, Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, the last Indian prince to rule his state prior to Independence and the last surviving member of either the Chamber of Princes or the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire.

Ruler, moderniser, legislator, intellectual, heraldist, socialite, traditionalist and anglophile: The Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad embodied the brief but glorious period I style the ‘Raj Renaissance’, the flowering of an intoxicating blend of the richest cultural, institutional and intellectual legacies of East and West. As comfortable in turban and jewels seated upon the gadi (throne) in his ornate palace as he was decked in white-tie speeding around Oxford in his blue jaguar, His Highness might have been casually dismissed as another playboy prince; but his erudition and deep intellectual curiosity, his committed public service and concern for his peoples’ welfare, and his kind-hearted nature and generosity of spirit gave short-shrift to such unfair comparison. His passion for heraldry, genealogy and chivalry provided further evidence that this was a peerless prince.

I was first introduced to the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad by Professor John McLeod of the University of Louisville, a noted authority on the Indian Princely States. Following Prof. McLeod’s kind introduction, His Highness and I enjoyed a long correspondence on various subjects of mutual interest, which included royalty, heraldry, chivalry, genealogy and the Raj.

Even in his eighties, His Highness was never short of exciting ideas: “Here’s a book project for you! A compilation of exchange of correspondence with heads of states granting and receiving insignia”, “Why not collect all the British insignia and display them in their own little gallery, in one of the galleries or museums?”, “Write a book about expulsions from the Order of the Garter! Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor Hirohito and the erasure of their names from the brass plates above their respective stalls in St George’s Chapel etc. Great fun! Describe the whole procedure and process. Your readers will be enthralled!

To be afforded the opportunity to correspond with such an erudite individual, a participant in so many notable events and an acquaintance of so many historic figures was an honour. I was fortunate that my eloquent interlocutor was a natural raconteur. Skimming through our correspondence, a number of anecdotes strike me as sufficiently noteworthy to record for posterity.

H.H. Shri Shaktimant Jhaladipati Mahamandleshwar Maharana Sriraj Maharaja Sir Mayurdwajsinhji Meghrajji III Ghanshyamsinjhi Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja Raj Sahib of Dhrangadhra-Halvad was born on 3rd March 1923. To mark the happy occasion Meghrajji’s father sounded the war drums and released all of the state’s prisoners. The young prince’s early years were spent at home, but in 1933 he left for public school in England: firstly Millfield, then Heath Mount in Hertfordshire, and finally Haileybury College. Returning to continue his studies in India in 1941, Meghrajji succeeded his father as Maharaja the following year.

Upon his accession, the young Maharaja embarked upon a policy of economic reform and political modernisation which reinforced his subjects’ inalienable rights, afforded women the right to remarry and own property, introduced compulsory state-funded primary schooling and ended segregation for the “untouchable” caste. From 1945-1947 he served on the Standing Committee of the Chamber of Princes, an institution established by royal proclamation in 1920 to provide a means for India’s princely rulers to communicate with the government in British India.

In 1947 the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad arrived in England for the final House of Commons’ reading of the Indian Independence Bill and for a private audience with King George VI (“while he was still Emperor”). Whilst in London the India Office arranged for Garter King of Arms, Sir Algar Howard, to take His Highness on a tour of the College of Arms. Unsurprisingly, the Maharaja asked to see the College’s collection on the Indian princes but he was disappointed that they only possessed, in his words, “a little exercise book...with rough sketches, painted in watercolours.” Upon checking his family’s Sanskrit motto he discovered that the version embroidered upon the banner presented by Queen Victoria had the last two words missing, “which made nonsense of it.”

The visit to the College was not entirely fruitless, however, as His Highness was provided with the name and address of the son of Robert Taylor, deviser of the Dharangadra arms and author of The Princely Armory, the classic armorial for all of India’s ruling princes, prepared for the Imperial Assembly held at Delhi in January 1877. His Highness contacted Taylor’s son, offering to purchase whatever he had concerning his father’s work. For sentimental reasons the son declined to sell.

At the dawn of Indian independence, the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad was amongst the signatories to the Instrument of Accession, which handed over to the new Government of India powers previously exercised by the British Paramount Power. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire later that year, one of the last to be so honoured. With the ink on the Instrument barely dry, His Highness chose to continue his life of service, successfully seeking office as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, the body tasked with writing the constitution and functioning as India’s first parliament. In 1948 His Highness ceased to rule as an absolute monarch, merging Dhrangadhra-Halvad into the United State of Kathiawad and, a month later, into the Union of Saurashtra. His Highness subsequently served as Saurashtra’s Deputy Governor and as president of its state bank.

In 1952 the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad went up to Christ Church, Oxford. Arriving in England His Highness again tried to purchase Robert Taylor’s material. Taylor’s son having recently died, the Indian items were now in the possession of the author’s daughter. His Highness was able to purchase everything, including a copy of The Princely Armory (the print run was only 25), the copper plates for the book, and Robert Taylor’s correspondence (which included his complaints about the poor compensation he had received from the Viceroy!).

His Highness enjoyed Oxford, immersing himself in philosophy, art and heraldry (designing ties was one of his hobbies). His BLitt thesis dealt with the Hindu sacraments but, revealing the broad scope of his interests, his course work included a paper on ‘Jewish Antecedents of Christian Ritual’ and another on the schisms in the Christian Communion (in Europe).

Of course, scholarship was only intended to form part of the Oxford experience and His Highness enjoyed a rich social life: “European aristocrats at Oxford tended to gravitate towards me. Curiosity? My Sherry?Maximillian von Habsburg, Princess Maria Gabriella von Urach von Würtemburg (Mrs. Desmond Guinness), and (the subsequently infamous) Baron Michael de Stempel, were amongst the many guests to his four-room set at Oxford, where they were ably attended to by His Highness’ personal ADC, his secretary and two liveried servants.

In 1953 the Maharaja was invited to attend the Coronation of HM The Queen at Westminster Abbey, an occasion he found deeply moving. When I reported recent news stories of possible alterations to the Coronation service in order to better represent a multi-faith society, the Hindu scholar was unequivocal in his condemnation: “If the Coronation ceremony in its traditional form and all its glory is abandoned I shall mourn its loss as an exquisite part of our world heritage. It would be like the wanton destruction of a national, indeed a world monument, – say Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal.”

During his time in England the Maharaja (a member of the Heraldry Society) met John Brooke-Little and struck up friendships with Hugh Trevor-Roper, LG Pine and Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk who, His Highness recounted, “knew the genealogies of all the great Rajput houses backwards (I don’t count amongst them).” Iain Moncreiffe and his wife Puffin soon became firm friends of His Highness and invited the Maharaja, his wife and his sister (the Rajmata Sahiba of Jodhpur) to stay at Easter Moncreiffe, a visit they thoroughly enjoyed—although His Highness “did not approve of the tortoises with escutcheons painted on their backs”! The Maharaja returned the hospitality and hosted Sir Iain in Bombay following the latter’s divorce.

In 1967 His Highness became a member of the Gujarat State Assembly and from 1967-1971 he served as an MP, during which time he attempted to protect the status of India’s princely rulers, including their titles and their right to the privy purse. Determined to maintain India’s royal traditions, the Maharaja held the office of Intendant-General for the Consultation of Rulers of Indian States in Concord for India for approximately forty years.

The Maharaja’s final trip to England was in 1995. As a distinguished Old Millfieldian he had been invited to participate in Millfield’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and to open their new Meyer Theatre. For the occasion His Highness wanted to wear the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire. Tragically, his own insignia had been stolen in Delhi the year before (along with a large number of other items, including Robert Taylor’s material). His Highness enlisted the assistance of his former Oxford secretary, who had subsequently been appointed Secretary to the Governor of Windsor Castle before moving on to Buckingham Palace. Although long retired, she was able to contact the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St. James’s Palace and arrange for the loan of the KCIE insignia. His Highness was delighted and extremely grateful to the then Secretary of the Chancery, Colonel Robert Cartwright, for so speedily and un-bureaucratically acquiescing to his request. Thus, Millfield School can now proudly claim to be the last place in the world that a member of the Order of the Indian Empire wore his insignia.

As was his right, and in keeping with the tradition of the orders and medals of the other Indian Princely States, the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad was the founder and sovereign of his own dynastic order: the six-class Sri Saktimat Makhapraphulla Order of Jhalavad. The insignia was produced by Cartier. His Highness’ love of tradition, ceremony and symbolism never wavered. In April 2006, to mark the 100th birthday of his cousin, HH The Maharaja of Wankaner, the 83 year old Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad presided at an elaborate ceremony at Wankaner’s Ranjitvas Palace where, assisted by the Registrar and Acting Secretary of the Order of Jhalavad, His Highness invested his cousin with the insignia and mantle of the Order.

In 1943 His Highness married Brijraj Kumari Sahiba (daughter of Lieutenant-General H.H. The Maharaja of Jodhpur, GCSI, GCIE, KCVO) who survives him and by whom he has three sons. His eldest son, Sodhsalji (b. 22 March 1944), succeeds him as Maharaja of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, Sovereign of the Order of Jhalavad and head of the Jhala clan.