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, 9 June 2011

Unicorn seen and heard in Oxford

On Tuesday evening I had the interesting expereince of seeing and hearing a Unicorn in Oxford - that is to say I went to hear the Hon. Adam Bruce, Unicorn Pursuivant, address the Oxford University Heraldry Society.

{{{alt text}}}

The heraldic badge of Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary

As a Pursuivant he is a member of the Court of the Lord Lyon, whose official website is here, and there is an article with details of the members and their badges here.

His talk, entitled "The Lyon Rampant: Scottish State Ceremonial in the 21st century" was in part built around the illustrations for a book he is writing with other members of the Lyon Court about its responsibility for state ceremonial in Scotland which will be published next year to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The ancient powers of the Lord Lyon are defined by an act of 1672, and the structiure of the court reorganised by another act of 1867.

With ceremonies associated with the Lord High Commissio0ner's residence at Holyrood the annual St Andrew's day service of the Order of the Thistle, the biennial Thistle service with the Sovereign, the triennial admission of a new governor of Edinburgh castle and the formal reading of the notification of the dissolution of the Westminster parliament (only reduced to one day afterwards from the historic three days interval by the Major government) the Scottish heralds are more likely to be seen in their tabards than their English equivalents. The tabards themselves - velvet for the Lord Lyon, silk for the heralds and damask ( but satin in practice) for the pursuivants - date from the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and are due for replacement to mark the Jubilee.

He demonstrated how the public actions of members of the Lyon court can be seen as in adirest line from those of their predecessors in the fifteenth century in the reign of King James III (1460-88). I would be inclined to agree with Unicorn's comment that the King is one whose contribution is misunderstood. In 1475 the tyhen Unicorn pursuivant wass ent to summon John Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles to answer charges of treason laid in the Edinburgh parliament by the King, and his notarised record shows him very publically performing, and being seen to perform the task of the King's messenger.


I would also agree with Unicorn in looking to the reign of King James for the origins of the Order of the Thistle. He spoke about the recent cleaning of the Thistle Chapel in St Giles Cathedral, and had the entertaining story of how in 1911 at its opening two of the Knights of the Thistle who prersented themselves were unknown to the then Lord Lyon.
With the creation in 1999 of the new Scottish Parliament there was discussion as to how it should be fornmally opened, and precedents were found in part in the Riding to Parliament and "down-sitting"of the ancient Parliament. The opening of the new ly elected one will be included in his book. At this ceremony the Crown of Scotland is carried immediately before the Queen by the Duke of Hamilton, as descendent of the ancient Earls of Fife. This was a further example of the way in which Scottish State ceremonial has developed by building on historic precedents.


The Honours of Scotland

In the questions afterwards some of us asked his views on the possibilities of reviving the Scottish Coronation. the last Scottish monarch to be crowned as such was King Charles II in 1651 at Scone. Our speaker talked in terms of how the Queen had initiated what became the June 24 1953 National Thanksgiving Serrvice on June 24 1953 in St Giles when the Honours of Scotland were ceremonially presented to her. This had not been without concerns from the Home Office,and the thought that the Minister of St Giles, a keen Scottish Nationalist, might take it upon himself to crown the Queen there and then. Today there is the problem that the sceptre and sword are deemed too fragile to be carried, and that on a future occasion the sword would have to be carried on a tray.

The Coronation of King Alexander III in 1249 on Moot Hill, Scone. He was eight years old at the time. He is being greeted by the ollamh rígh, the royal poet, who is addressing him with the proclamation "Benach De Re Albanne" (= Beannachd Dé Rígh Alban, "God Bless the King of Scotland"); the poet goes on to recite Alexander's genealogy. The successor to the poet is today the Lord Lyon. By King Alexander's side is Maol Choluim II, Earl of Fife holding the sword.
From a fifteenth century MS of the Scotichronicon

Historically one of the problems for the Scottish coronation was that most monarchs succeeded as children, even babies, and the last two such had rites amended by Laudian ideas at Holyrood in 1633 or much reduced by stern presbytrianism in 1651 - although on that occasion, as our speaker told us, it took the Lord Lyon an hour and a half to recite King Charles II's descent from King Fergus.
I have no Scottish ancestry so far as I am aware, but I would, readers will not be surpised to learn, be very keen on seeing a revival of the ancient ceremonial for a Scottish Coronation.

No comments: