[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
The reason I’ve chosen to
write about Sir Roger Casement (1964-1916) this Easter weekend is because he
was such a prominent figure of the 1916 Easter Rising. His trial for treason
has gone down as one of the most sensational of the 20th century. What is also
particularly appropriate for the present Easter weekend is that his family coat
of arms was originally granted on 17th April in 1826 (for the record, Easter
Sunday in 1826 was March 26th).
Coats of arms are full of
symbolism. They indicate the significant events or ideals that are important to
the original grantee. These may be forgotten over the succeeding generations.
Take, for instance, the arms of Sir Elton John. We know the symbolism behind
his arms, but his adopted children (who add a small symbol to denote adoption)
will pass them on to their own descendants who may never know what the
symbolism means had it not been for people like myself who wrote it down.
The same can be said of
Sir Roger Casement’s arms (above). Very little of the symbolism in his coat of arms
applies to his life and career. Yet it gives perfect hints to the life and
career of his ancestral cousin who was granted the arms on 17th April 1826. His
name was Maj-.Gen. Sir William Casement (1778-1844). So, to explain Sir Roger
Casement’s coat of arms we need to look at the life of Sir William.
On look at various elements
on the shield we can see a military theme – the lion, the sword, the tower and
the battlements. All are common elements for a military man like Sir William.
We can also deduce where he saw his military service. The elephants give it
away. Sir William served with the 23rd Bengal Native Infantry. He later became
Military Secretary to the Governor General of India, and a member of the
Supreme Council of India. To represent the latter his crest contains what is
called a mural crown, a crown made of masonry, which is a common heraldic
symbol of a political or municipal connection.
The motto “Dum spiro
spero” translates as “While I breath, I hope”.
As is customary Sir
William’s new coat of arms was granted to himself and extended for use by the
appropriate male descendants of his paternal grandfather. The star you see on
the lion’s chest probably indicates Sir William was not the eldest son, as it
is a common mark to indicate a younger son, which he was.
The tiger in the crest is
a “red herring”. It wasn’t part of Sir William’s 1826 coat of arms. He had a
lion just like the one on the shield. In 1860 Sir William’s cousin, Thomas
Casement of County Antrim (the senior heir to the afore-mentioned paternal
grandfather), was given a confirmation from the Ulster Office of Arms of Sir
William’s arms with several alterations. Perhaps in recognition of William’s
military service Thomas chose a Bengal tiger for his crest. One other
alteration was the background to the elephants. Sir William divided his
background into red on the left half and blue on the right. Thomas adopted a
complete red background.
This confirmation of arms
was given to Thomas Casement and his branch of the family is the one inherited
by Sir Roger Casement. To distinguish his full coat of arms from the other male
members of his family who also inherited these arms Sir Roger was entitled to
display the badges of his honours below the shield. In 1905 he received the CMG
(Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George). Behind the shield he would have shown the circlet of the order bearing the order's motto, "Auspicium Melioris Aevi", which translates as "Token of a Better Age". Honours given in the Order of St. Michael and St. George are specifically awarded for services to British foreign interests or diplomatic relations. Sir Roger received his CMG for services in respect of the report which revealed human rights issues in Belgian Congo. The badge of the order is shown below the shield on the
To its left is the badge of a Knight Bachelor, which Roger
received in 1911 for part in revealing the atrocities inflicted on native Peruvian tribes. Also, as a knight, he could show his helmet with the visor
We know what happened
subsequently. For his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916 Sir Roger
Casement was arrested and put on trial for treason. He was found guilty and
executed. All of his honours, his knighthood and CMG were annulled as if they
had never been given. They would have been removed from his coat of arms.
Even though Sir Roger has
never been pardoned and his honours have not been restored posthumously I feel
it is right to show the full achievement he would have been entitled to use
before his conviction. When his remains were repatriated to Ireland in 1965 he
was referred to in the UK government records as “Sir Roger Casement”. To some
extent this gives us the authority to restore his honours.