the breastplate of righteousness

John Mueller offers a practical guide to the heraldry of Anglican clergy

ith baited breath heraldic enthusiasts across the world were waiting not to hear who the new pontiff would be, but what arms he would adopt.

When Francis I choose to continue using the arms he had assumed as cardinal the

disappointment was
great. They were not considered a particularly good design. In the Church of England we are now waiting to see what arms the new Archbishop of Canterbury will use.

His father had laid claim to being a descendant of the Lincolnshire baronets of the same name when he changed his family name from Weiler to Welby. His stint as Bishop of Durham was too short for the College of Arms, the diligent if slow guardians of heraldry in England, to fix him up with the necessary heraldic accoutrements of his position.

Corporate identity

Heraldry in the Church of England, like so much else in our church, remains on the fence in many questions. Three influences can be discerned: Pre-Reformation heraldry, the traditions of the English gentry and conventions of the post-Vatican II era. The most basic coat of arms consists of a shield, a helmet and a crest (the item on top of the helmet and not as often believed the arms itself); the entire design is known as an achievement of arms. Originally heraldry was exclusively for the identification of individuals on a battlefield. In armour it was very hard to make out who was your opponent unless he had a clear marking, or target, painted on his shield or breastplate. Heraldry is hence the most basic form of corporate identity, a coat of arms nothing more than a sophisticated logo.

Secular and religious

Secular heraldry today, to the informed, can be read like a book. Coronets, helmets, orders and decorations pendant from them can tell us of the rank and the roles of the individual. Heraldry is no longer needed on the battlefield, but it is displayed anywhere where rank needs to be quickly identified. The royal arms upon the writing paper of the Prime Minister inform us whose authority that set down on the sheet is written.

The same goes for any diocesan publication, where the mitre on top of the shield speaks of the pontifical power of the author. Clergymen, when they began adopting heraldic devices in the thirteenth/fourteenth century, were naturally not supposed to fight on the battle field so they would not display a helmet or a crest upon their shield. The Church developed its own system of heraldic hierarchy.

The mitre

The most common use of heraldry, up until relatively recently, was the seal. A full secular coat of arms can be well adapted by as skilled artist or craftsman to fill the oval or round space with crowns and beasts to make a pleasing design. The earliest clergyman’s heraldry, using as it did just a shield, was unsuited to such embellishment. More importantly it was near impossible to identify the rank of the person. The readability of the seals was thus impaired. Given that kings and knights adopted their own headgear to distinguish between secular ranks, the use of temporal counterparts must have been an obvious choice. Originally the mitre was reserved exclusively for the use of the Bishop of Rome; however, soon those invested with his authority were granted permission to use it. Bishops, abbots, abbesses and even some canons were authorized to use the mitre as a badge of rank.

Other symbols of authority

Bishops in addition soon used other items symbolizing their authority alongside their achievements: Thus a crosier and a processional cross was and still can be displayed behind the shield alongside the mitre and even a pallium can be hung beneath or above. Bishops with secular authority used a sword and crosier behind their shields. By tradition the Bishop of Durham uses a mitre issuing from a crown to show that once, as the Prince of the County Palatine, he wielded secular authority. The German temporal electors entirely dispensed with their ecclesiastical headgear at times opting for the elector’s hatalone. The abbot’s or abbess’s crosier, also still permitted for use, is different to that of a Bishop in two ways: firstly, it usually points inward to show that his authority does not extend beyond the walls of his abbey (or at least not far beyond); secondly, the crosier has a so-called veil attached.

The purpose of this piece of cloth is to protect the precious metal of the crosier from the sweat of the abbot’s hand. A bishop had the authority to wear gloves so no such veil was shown in his arms.

Use of the galero

This way of displaying prelates’ heraldry survived the severance from Rome. Since the middle of the twentieth century the Roman Catholic Church has discouraged its bishops from using a mitre in their heraldry at all, so one can say the use of it in this context is an almost exclusive feature of the Anglican Communion today. The heraldry of the most senior clergy in the Church of England and many of those associated with it has hence not changed since before the Reformation.

Today the Roman Catholic Church prefers its entire clergy to use a galero above its shields. Within the Church of England there was and still is some ambiguity about its use. For many it looks too radically transmontane to be trusted.

However, as prelates continue using the pre-Reformation accoutrements of their titles without extra royal authority, the use of the galero by lower English clergy is completely legitimate. Its use in practice as a piece of head gear continued within the Church of England until well into the nineteenth century.

One need only think of the depictions of priests in the Barchester Chronicles. Originating, as so much of the clergy in England did, from the landed gentry, most country rectors however preferred to use their fathers’ arms complete with helmet and crest for many centuries.

There are numerous monuments to clergy up and down the country with their arms displayed in full battle dress – as one might say. Alongside this the use of the galero never ceased wholly and received a great boost during the Catholic revival movement.

Indicator of rank

The galero has certain advantages that any other form of extra-heraldic attribute does not. In order for the hat not to blow away it can be secured with two cords around the neck. This cord is ideally suited to indicating the rank of the wearer when translated to heraldry. In the Roman Catholic tradition ordinary priests use a black hat above their arms, with a cord and a tassel pendant from either side, minor superiors use two tassels each side (four in all) and so on up the hierarchy. Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church in addition use green hats, while cardinals use red. This practice is preferred by Rome today and while Anglican bishops stick to their mitre, heraldically at least there is no reason for not going with a green.

Warrant issued

Clergy below the rank of bishop but above that of an ordinary priest in the Anglican Communion did however have a problem: Some posts had no Roman equivalents. Which hat and which tassels was a canon to adopt?

Fortunately by 1976 this problem had been solved; in agreement with the Archbishop of Canterbury the Earl Marshall of England (who has authority over all heraldic matters) issued a warrant on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen granting the following ecclesiastical hats for heraldic use by ‘certain Clergy of the Anglican Communion’:

‘Deans may use a black hat having three red tassels pendent from purple cords on either side’, archdeacons the same arrangements with ‘three purple tassels from purple cords’ and canons and prebendaries the same with ‘three red tassels pendent from black cords’.

Priests are to use the same arrangement as Roman Catholic priests; black hat with a tassel each side. However, to difference the Anglican priests are to use black and white cord. Deacons use a simple black hat, without cords or tassels. This arrangement is unique to the Anglican Communion; Roman Catholic deacons have to go without crest and without a hat!

Potentially garish

However, the Archbishop and Earl Marshal did not stop there. Doctors of Divinity were granted cords ‘interlaced with a skein of red’ in their arms. Thus, if an ordinary priest were a DD he would use black, white and red cords – which would not exactly be the prettiest arrangement.

Combined with the Tudor rose which members of Her Majesty’s Household are permitted to affix to their hats, this would result in a particularly garish display: A Dean that was a Doctor of Divinity and a member of the Royal Household would, according to this grant, have a hat suitable more for Ascot than the sanctuary.

In practice most Anglican priests that choose to top their arms with a galero stick to simple depictions. Heraldry should be easily identifiable and well designed and some suggestions of the warrant do not allow either. Oddly the warrant did not make use of the two tassels each side of the shield, nor provide any guidance on clergy of higher rank.

Alfred Hope Patten – ever the innovator – used four tassels (two either side) as if he were a minor superior of the Roman Catholic Church. In practice vicars and chaplains have in the past used two tassels in total, while rectors and deans of chapel have used four.

The shield

The shield – the most important part of a coat of arms – is not that significant under the heading of ‘ecclesiastical heraldry’. It is subject to the same rules and customs as those of lay- and noblemen. If the priest’s father had arms, he may bear them also; if he did not, he may adopt a coat of arms.

If the clergyman is the head of an institution with its own coat of arms (a bishop, a dean or a principal of a college) he may display his arms alongside those of his institution in the same shield (‘impaled’ as it is officially known). If he is the chaplain of a certain order he may hang
a suitable representation of that order around or pendant from the shield. The designs can be most pleasing resulting in their depiction representing their bearer most excellently on writing paper, stoles, chalices, stall plates (in the case of AHP) and even monuments.

Since the first announcement of the pontiff’s arms a clarification has had to be published: The star, representing Our Lady, has been given eight points instead of five (presumably to prevent any possible confusion that may cause with the five-pointed star of various national flags) and the oddly shaped bunch of grapes has been better rendered as the nard flower attributed to St Joseph. Ideally the new Archbishop of Canterbury will consider his own coat of arms more carefully before hastily having to issue clarifications.

On a battlefield it could be most dangerous!

For a larger research project the author would be interested to hear of any priests who use their own arms (in whatever fashion) or who would be interested in acquiring their own:

John Mueller
Fitzwilliam College University of Cambridge
All illustrations are by the author