Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday 17 March 2011

The Order of St Patrick

Today being St Patrick's Day it seems very appropriate to write something about the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick which was inaugurated on this day in 1783 by King George III, and founded as the Irish equivalent of the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle.

It was clearly an early result of the era following the repeal of Poyning' s law and the political process associated with Grattan's parliament , that ended with the 1798 rebellion and the Union of 1801.

There is a very good article about the Order, its history and its insignia here and there is another article which deals with the origin of the colour of the riband - St Patrick's blue - here. The design of the collar and star were clearly inspired by those of the Order of the Garter

File:Insignia of Knight of St Patrick.jpg

The Collar and Star of the Order of St Patrick

Image: Wikipedia


The star of the Order


The riband and badge

Mantle and Collar

The mantle and collar

Images: medal.org

After the 1921 treaty the only conferments were on members of the Royal Family - the Prince of Wales in 1922, the Duke of Gloucester in 1934 and the Duke of York in 1936. The last non-royal knight died in the 1950s and with the death of the Duke of Gloucester in 1974 no members apart from the Sovereign - who still lists the Order on the British Monarchy website. The star of the Order is still the badge of the Irish Guards.

As the Wikipedia article shows there has been periodically talk of reviving the Order, but it has not, so far, happened. I very much regret the dormancy of the Order and would very much want to see it revived.

I wonder if the Order might have continued to have appointments other than the three Princely ones had the Monarch been in sole exercise of the fount of honour at that time. Until the Attlee government appointments to the Orders of the Garter and Thistle (and by implication the Patrick) were on the nomination of the Prime Minister to the Sovereign. Attlee returned exclusive control to the King - the point is described in Sir John Wheeler-Bennett's biography of King George VI. Had it not been a political matter appointments might have continued both for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, and indeed for the southern part of Ireland which was still under the King's official authority until at least 1936-7, and in certain respects to 1949. Such was the curious position of the status of the southern part of Ireland after 1922 that the King's title within the United Kingdom was not changed until 1927 to reflect the change resulting from the 1921 treaty.

The forthcoming visit to Dublin by The Queen will highlight the numerous and unresolved constitutional ambiguities and ambivalences between the governments based in London and Dublin. I will write more about those points on another occasion.

The still unsolved theft of the Irish Crown jewels - actually the jewelled star and sash badge worn by the Sovereign or the Lord Lieutenant as Grand Master of the Order - in 1907 is discussed in the following articles which can be read here, here, here and here. That retains its fascination as a story because of its lack of a solution, or recovery of the jewels, the hints of political intrigue behind an official 'cover - up', and the period glamour of a detective story set in Edwardian high society.