[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
This weekend sees the climax of Manchester Pride. Wherever
you go in the city you’ll see the city council’s coat of arms and derivatives
of it – on buildings, on street signs, on litter bins. Here is the Manchester
coat of arms with a few others that have incorporated parts of it.
The single design element that is common to them all is what
we heraldists call “three bendlets enhanced” – three diagonal stripes slightly
to one side of the shield.
Now, here’s the heraldic achievement of the poet Lord Byron,
one of several that can be seen in Nottingham. Does the shield look familiar?
There is a family link between the pansexual Byron and the
city of Manchester where the whole spectrum of the lgbt community is being
celebrated this weekend.
Lord Byron’s earliest male-line ancestor is mentioned in the
Domesday Book of 1086 as holder of several manors in Nottinghamshire and
Derbyshire. These were the days before heraldry developed. Kings, barons and
knights adopted any emblem they wanted, whether or not it had been used in
their family or not. As generations passed these personal emblems were adopted
by other members of the family. Some families adopted animals as emblems, like
the lions of England inherited by “Queens” Edward II and James I.
In some cases the emblems originated in the construction
elements of a shield. Central bosses and studs were painted and they became
family emblems as discs. The three red discs of the Courtenay family (of which
the 3rd Earl of Devon, young lover of William Beckford, was the
family head) may have begun this way. Metal bars fixed across the shield to
strengthen it because the bars and stripes in heraldry, and this is probably
the ultimate origin of Lord Byron’s shield. Interestingly, the position of the
bars, centred to one side of the shield, is the area most often hit during
battle and jousts.
Another common practice in the early days of heraldry was to
adapt the coat of arms of a related or connected family. That is how Lord
Byron’s arms came into being.
In the 12th century Lord Byron’s ancestors
married heiresses from Lancashire in the Manchester area and they established a
second manorial base there. One family of local importance they married into
were the Grelleys, lords of the manor of Manchester. The Grelleys had a coat of
arms of three gold stripes on a red shield, the same one still used as part of
the city arms of Manchester today.
The Byrons inherited the manor of Manchester from the
Grelleys. To commemorate this descent they adopted the three stripes from the
Grelley shield and turned them red. And when Sir John Byron, MP for Nottingham,
was created a peer in 1643 he chose his full title to be Baron Byron of
Rochdale in the County Palatine of Lancaster (having bought the manor of
Rochdale in 1638 from “Queen” James I to add to his Manchester estates).
A coat of arms used by the old Failsworth Urban District
Council, situated in Manchester, shows this inheritance in visual form
perfectly. I’ve shown the Failsworth arms below. It shows the stripes of the
Grelleys and Byrons joined together as is passing the manor of Manchester from
one family to the other.
As people wander around Manchester this weekend during the
city’s Pride celebrations, the spirit of Lord Byron will no doubt be there with