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.



I highly recommend the book, "The Maple Leaf and the White Cross" by Christopher McCreery, which provides a history of the Order in Canada. The book contains a lot of information about the Order of St John in Britain from its disbandment during the Reformation until modern times.

Red Sean said...

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