For 35 years the Society has supported the College of Arms, during which time its sole aim has been to assist the College in (i) its research of heraldry, genealogy and military insignia , (ii) preparation and granting of arms and (iii) the preservation of its history, buildings and traditions. Part of this support is derived from money raised by the subscriptions, activities and donations of its thriving membership but as important is the cooperation and good will of its members to the College of Arms that continues to make an important contribution to the history and traditions of the UK and the Commonwealth.
The College of Arms
The College of Arms is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realms. Since its re-incorporation on the 18th July 1555 the College’s home has been on the same site in Queen Victoria Street in the City of London. Here the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, oversees the corporation, which includes up to thirteen officers appointed by the Sovereign, comprising of three Kings of Arms and up to six Heralds and four Pursuivants. It is one of the last Heraldic Authorities in Europe and although a part of the Royal Household the College is self-financed and unsupported by any public funds.
(For further details see The College of Arms Website at http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk)
The home of the College, since 1555, has been at 130 Queen Victoria Street, which gained Grade 1 listed building status in 1950 and is an impressive building of great charm and antiquity. In its early days the building was recorded as Derby House in Derby Place. Although its listing records that the building was much changed in the period 1670-77 and later ‘cut open’ by Queen Victoria Street, many of its earliest features are still present and the Earl Marshal’s Court is a particular favourite of staff and visitors today.
The Church of St Benet Paul’s Wharf
Now situated on the opposite side of Victoria Street from the College is the Church of St Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, which has been the Church of the College of Arms since 1555 when Philip and Mary gave Derby House, then standing at the north-east corner of the churchyard, to the Heralds. Since that time they have had their own seats in the church and their heraldic badges are fixed to the lower part of the gallery, from which their banners are usually hung. Although the church is now surrounded by modern buildings and roadways it remains largely unchanged and an important part of the history of the College.
The Society’s Foundation and History
On the 8th May 1986 the inaugural meeting of the White Lion Society was held at the College of Arms. Those who were involved in the foundation attribute the original idea of the White Lion Society to Charles Wilfrid (or Wilfred) Scott Giles (1893 – 1982), Fitzalan Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinary. In 1984 we discover that John Brooke-Little, (1927 – 2006), then Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, took the original idea forward when at a meeting of the Heraldry Society he suggested that it would be appropriate to found a "Society of Friends" of the College of Arms, an idea which he then put before the Chapter of the College for its approval. The Society’s formation then began when at his meeting with Ronald Gadd the process of gathering prospective members from recent grantees of arms was begun, with their contributions providing the resources that allowed a small viable membership to be established. Ron’s energy and enthusiasm for the project ensured that the foundation of the Society was then realised and we remain grateful to him for his pioneering work, which included his role as the first Chairman. Sadly Ron died at the beginning of 2021 at the age of 88.
It does appear very appropriate that the Society derives its name after the heraldic supporters of the College of Arms, which are two White Lions (alluding to the supporters of the Mowbray arms, which the Earl Marshal inherited from his ancestors) and that the Society was then and continues to exist as a group of dedicated supporters of the College of Arms. The White Lion Society uses for its logo a badge that was granted to the College of Arms on the 25th September 1988. This original grant can be viewed at the bottom of the West stairs in the College. The badge first appeared on the 1986 version of our newsletter and as well as having pride of place on the cover of the newsletter today, is ever present on our publications and the merchandise we sell in the Society shop.
At the inaugural meeting the Society’s first Council was elected and an annual subscription of £9.00 was adopted. The Officers and Council of the Society were then the President: The Duke of Norfolk, KG, GCVO, CB, CBE, MC, Earl Marshal of England. Vice-Presidents: Sir Colin Cole, KCVO, Garter Principal King of Arms. Sir Anthony Wagner, KCB, KCVO, Clarenceux Kings of Arms. John Philip Brooke-Little, CVO, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. Chairman: Ronald P Gadd, MBE RD LLM. Hon.Secretary: Mrs Gillian M.Legge. Hon.Treasurer: A D McKenzie Aird. Council Members: Ian H L Legg; John F Messenger, JP.
A corner-stone of the Society’s existence and in 1986 its most important channel of communication, was the then annual Journal, which later became the Newsletter. Soon after the inaugural meeting on 1st September 1986 The White Lion Society Journal No.1 was produced under the editorship of H E P Bedingfield, then Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms. The first edition contained three main articles. The first of these was: The Finances of the College of Arms (J P Brooke-Little, Treasurer of College of Arms). Here Brook-Little addressed the White Lion Society and its members in his usually fluent style and asked the question: Why is the Society necessary? His own response is interesting: The brief answer is that it is not; it is an indulgence, for it was established to provide little luxuries, touches of class if you like, that the College would not feel justified in acquiring themselves. He then points out that the College of Arms exists as an independent, self-supporting organisation, receiving no funds from the Sovereign or from Government.
The White Lion Society’s first gift to the College was the Memorial Boards for St Benet’s Church, to show the names of deceased Officer’s and staff who had died since the College’s quincentenary on 2nd March 1984. This was presented to Sir Colin Cole, the then Garter King of Arms, 18th July 1986 and on 24th September 1986 a service of dedication was held at St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf. The presentation was followed by a reception at the College. Possibly the first ever reception hosted by the White Lion Society. The second gift was the original Letters Patent Grant of Arms made 8th July 1564 to Richard Garth of Morden co. Surrey by William Hervy, the then Clarenceux King of Arms. This was presented to Chapter 1st October 1986.
Other items included in the first edition of the Newsletter were (i) a Welcome from the Society’s Chairman Ronald Gadd, (ii) the Constitution of the White Lion Society and (iii) a list of founder members, individuals and organisations, of the Society and those who had joined since the inaugural meeting. With a current membership of around 500 this practice of listing all members’ names has not survived.
The Society in 2021
We welcome new members, both armigerous and those who have an interest in the study of history and the role that heraldry has played in the heritage of the UK and the rest of the world. The cost of an individual membership subscription is £20 (UK pounds).
The benefits of being a member are derived in the first place from the satisfaction we gain in supporting the College of Arms and further include:
- A quarterly Newsletter, which is delivered electronically (Paper copies are also available on the payment of a postal supplement)
- An Annual Reception held at the College of Arms.
- A number of visits each year to sites of heraldic interest.
- Periodic events and celebrations.
- The purchase of member’s items from our shop.
- The opportunity to include your arms on the Society website.
The Society's gifts to the College of Arms have included: The 1510 grant of a banner to John Carr, which is the earliest known grant of this type; Continued support in creating copies of old grants of arms; Bursaries for members of the Conservation Department to attend an international conference; A camera for the use of the Conservation Department, carved overmantels for the doorways of the Officers of Arms and a number of other interesting items that have proved of historic value.
We hope that you will decide to join us and will visit our shop and membership section. Further donations are welcomed, please give generously.
(c) The White Lion Society 2021