Friday, September 02, 2016

The Queen's Beasts (not especially arty farty this Friday!)

Today's topic might be of no great general interest, but is about something I've investigated and want to record, for future reference.

Around a year ago, husband and I were trawling through a couple of antique stores in a town just to the west of Oklahoma City; on our way out of town we spotted a newly opened small store, popped in to take a look around. It was a bit on the junky side. Just one item grabbed my attention: a big, shallow, display box framed and glassed in, containing 10 decorated glass dishes (each around 4.5 inches square), set in two rows on a background of red velvet. The frame had seen better days, scratched and needing repair to one corner. The little dishes had survived in good condition. They made up a full set, depicting what are known as The Queen's Beasts.
The Queen's Beasts portray the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II in heraldic form.

I found this photograph of a similar set on an old auction website online

How this item had arrived in Oklahoma is anyone's guess! Having always had an interest in heraldry, I was keen to know its price. The store owner stalled when we enquired, saying that, as he didn't know the significance of the item he had asked a friend to investigate, and was not in a position to quote a price. I suspected he already had a buyer in mind, perhaps another, posher, antique store.

Back home I Googled - like ya do - discovered that the glass dish set, produced by a London company called Georama, probably during the 1970s, was very possibly issued ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Intrigued, I found that it'd be possible to find at least some of the individual glass trays for sale in either the UK or USA on E-bay or Etsy, not a full set though. Individual prices varied from just a few pounds sterling in the UK to around $20 in the US. Mailing costs for such delicate items, either nationally or internationally makes the deals quite uneconomical. I shall content myself, instead, with this blog post. Maybe one day I'll invest in a single little dish and have it framed. The one shown, left, was for sale at Etsy recently.

So... illustrations of the 10 Queen's Beasts.

For these pics and brief descriptions I owe a hat-tip to this heraldic forum.

The Lion of England

“The crowned golden lion of England has been one of the supporters of the Royal Arms since the accession of James I in 1603. The shield shows the Royal Arms as they have been borne since Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. In the first and last quarters are the lions of England; the lion and tressure (a double frame) of Scotland appear in the second and the harp of Ireland in the third. Richard Lion-heart, son of Henry II, probably first chose 3 golden lions set one above each on a red field as the Royal Arms of England. Since then, these lions have appeared on the coat of arms of every sovereign of this country.”

The Unicorn of Scotland

“From the end of the 16th century, two unicorns were adopted as the supporters of the Scottish Royal Arms. In 1603, the crown of England passed to James VI of Scotland, who then became James I of England. He took as supporters of his Royal Arms a crowned lion of England and one of his Scottish unicorns. The unicorn holds a shield showing a lion ramping in a royal tressure (a double frame), adorned with fleur-de-lis.”

The Red Dragon of Wales

“The red dragon was used as his badge by Owen Tudor. His grandson, Henry VII, took it as a token of his supposed descent from Cadwalader, the last of the line of Maelgwn, King of Wales. The beast holds a shield bearing a leopard in each quarter; this was the coat of arms of Llewelyn ap Griffith, the last native Prince of Wales.”

The White Lion of Mortimer

“The White Lion of Mortimer descends to the Queen through Edward IV. The shield shows a white rose encircled by a golden sun, known heraldically as a ‘white rose en soleil’ which is really a combination of two distinct badges. Both of these appear on the Great Seals of Edward IV and Richard III, and were used by George VI when Duke of York. Unlike the Lion of England, this beast is uncrowned.”

The White Greyhound of Richmond

“This beast was a badge of John of Gaunt, Earl of Richmond, son of Edward III, but was also used by Henry IV and especially by Henry VII. The Tudor double rose can be seen on the shield, one rose within another, surmounted by a crown, symbolising the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster.”

The White Horse of Hanover

“The White Horse of Hanover” was introduced into the Royal Arms in 1714 when the crown of Great Britain passed to the Elector George of Hanover. This grandson of Elizabeth, sister of Charles I, became George I, King of Britain, France and Ireland. The shield shows the leopards of England and the lion of Scotland in the first quarter, the fleur-de-lis of France in the second and the Irish harp in the third quarter; the fourth quarter shows the arms of Hanover.”

The Black Bull of Clarence

“This beast descended to the Queen through Edward IV. The shield shows the Royal Arms as they were borne not only by Edward IV and his brother Richard III, but by all the Sovereigns of the Houses of Lancaster and Tudor.”

The Yale of Beaufort

“The Yale was a mythical beast, said to be white in colour and covered with gold spots. Its peculiar characteristic was that it could swivel each of its horns independently. It descends to the Queen through Henry VII, who inherited it from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. The shield shows a portcullis surmounted by the arched royal crown. The portcullis (uncrowned) was a Beaufort badge, but was used both crowned and uncrowned by Henry VII.”

The Griffin of Edward III

“The griffin is an ancient mythical beast. It was considered a beneficent creature, signifying courage and strength, combined with guardianship, vigilance, swiftness and keen vision. It was closely associated with Edward III who engraved it on his private seal. The shield shows the Round Tower of Windsor Castle with the Royal Standard flying from the turret (the badge of the present House of Windsor), enclosed by two branches of oak surmounted by the royal crown.”

The Falcon of the Plantagenets

“The falcon was first used by Edward III as his badge. It descended to Edward IV, who took it as his personal badge, the falcon being seated within an open fetterlock or padlock. The slightly open fetterlock (which can be seen on the shield) is supposed to refer to the struggle Edward IV had to ascend the throne - he forced the lock and won the throne.”


mike said...

Why are armorials different from the heralds that you show? Herald is family descent and armory military?

I came close to commenting about unicorns in your recent post about horns. Unicorn horns were thought to protect, had healing power, and an antidote to poisons. Europe held this belief from 13th to 18th centuries and the horn was coveted by royals. The horns were actually extended teeth of the narwhale (whale). The myth must have been propagated by fishermen finding a new scam to make big dollars...the "horn" was worth more than gold.

As a kiddo in the 1950s, I remember the notion of preserving the good, family name for the sake of social standing. My mother was overly aware of it and took measures to prevent tarnishing her (our) reputation. That went out the window with the mid 1960s, Uranus-Pluto conjunction and the radical, social reorganization.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Erm... by heralds you mean the "beasts"? Coats of Arms, and heraldry in general have various "parts", bits and pieces of the whole Coat of Arms were/are used for specific purposes, such as decoration on a shield, so that a knight in battle could be easily recognised. The shield forms part of the whole Coat of Arms depiction which includes a "beast" supporting the shield. Marriage could bring change to depictions - marriages both human and national. Eg..the United Kingdom Coat of Arms has Lion and Unicorn supporting the shield area.

Wiki tells it like this:

A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on an escutcheon (i.e. shield), surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. The design is a symbol unique to an individual person or family (except in the UK), corporation, or state.

Yes, re unicorns - I saw them mentioned when reading about the mythology of horns.
We'll never know for sure, the truth on this. I'd be quite happy to believe that such an animal existed - it's not that outlandish - however, the magical element attached to it is a different matter. ;-)

I shouldn't really be interested in heraldry, ancient custom which reeks of royalty, feudalism and suchlike...but I became interested when working for the County Archivist of East Yorkshire long, long ago and far away. He was something of an heraldic expert, and helped to spark my fascination with the subject.

mike (again) said...

My question came about, because I liked the name "Plantagenet", so I looked at Wiki's page for that name:
The Wiki page shows a depiction of the "Armorial of Plantagenet", which contains three vertical lions against a red background. Due to that, I looked at "Mortimer", which has an "Arms of Mortimer", a multi-striped, blue and yellow pattern:

I was curious as to the difference between the heralds and arms...seems they would be one and the same, but obviously are not.

While on Crete, I purchased a handwoven bag of multi-striped colors from a woman in a tiny village...we had a glass of wine, with a plate of figs and cheese while discussing the sale. She was charming and pleased that I liked her bag enough to purchase. I returned to Athens and was accused of stealing this bag, not once, but several times. It was a "family bag", the lineage distinguished by the colors used, width of each color line, and the overall pattern made by the lines of color. My accusers found it difficult to believe that someone would sell their (color and pattern) family bag to was insulting to them.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Oh! I see! It seems, then, that the "arms" as shown on these Queen's Beast images were specially put together for this single purpose: to show Queen Elizabeth's lineage through various royal bearers, their badges or seals in their own times. Extracts from current coats of arms might be included, but not necessarily, it seems.

I couldn't find any source to tell me who exactly put together the content for each of the 10 shields and choice of beasts. James Woodford, the original sculptor of large (6 to 7 foot) depictions of the beasts (for the Queen's coronation in 1953) of which these little trays bear replicas, must have had advice and assistance from experts in history/heraldry for them to have been accepted by the authorities (and presumably the Queen herself). The brief descriptions for each beast, in the post, give the bare bones of choice reasons.

Thanks for highlighting that point!

Oooh! Your adventure, in Crete, could have ended rather badly in a Greek prison! glad it turned out well. :-)

If I ever do buy one of the little glass dishes I'd like it to be the Mortimer one, as it has the White Rose of York on it. I have a little silver pendant (custom made) of that Tudor rose.

anyjazz said...

Fine research. We should go back there. It may still be there in that shop.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Thanks - yes it's worth popping in again, if the shop's still there...As we've often found, that type of shop can have a short life. I'd be very surprised to find the set still unsold though.