The College of Arms is a royal corporation of professional officers-of-arms with jurisdiction in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realms. Established in 1484, since its reincorporation in 1555 the College’s home has been on the same site, now 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 European heraldic authorities, and although its members are part of the Royal Household the College is self-financed and unsupported by 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 on the present site in an impressive building awarded Grade 1 listed status in 1950. Formerly Derby House, it embodies charm and antiquity. Although much changed in the 1670s and later truncated by the construction of Queen Victoria Street, many of its earlier features remain evident, notably the Earl Marshal’s Court, still today a particular favourite with staff and visitors.
Now situated on the other side of Queen Victoria Street from the College is St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, the Church of the College of Arms since 1555 when Queen Mary and her husband gave to the College Derby House then standing at the north-east corner of the churchyard. For four and a half centuries the heralds 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.
Rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, it is one of the few City churches undamaged by World War II bombing. The church, now surrounded by modern buildings and roads, remains an important part of the history of the College.
The Society’s Formation
On the 8th May 1986 the inaugural meeting of the White Lion Society was held at the College of Arms. Those 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 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.
Ronald’s energy and enthusiasm for the project ensured that the foundation of the Society was 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 is 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 has always been a group of dedicated supporters of the College of Arms. The White Lion Society uses for its emblem a badge that was granted to the College of Arms on the 25th September 1988. This 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 where it continues to have pride of place, and is evident on our publications and merchandise.
At the inaugural meeting the Society’s first Council was elected and an annual subscription of £9.00 was adopted, a sum whose value was then reinstated in 2023.
The First Officers and Council
President: The Duke of Norfolk, KG, GCVO, CB, CBE, MC, Earl Marshal
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.
Ian H L Legg; John F Messenger, JP.
A cornerstone 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 for itself” – The College existing as an independent, self-supporting body, receiving no funds from the Sovereign or from Government.