Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones

Lord Norton

I was sad to read of the death of Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones who until a few months ago was Garter King of Arms.  As Garter, he had to approve titles and also represent the monarch in the introduction of new peers.  He was appointed to the post in 1995 and so, given the number of new introductions, was seen frequently in the House.  He was a colourful sight in his regalia, his tunic not only being bright but also very heavy. 

He was an expert in genealogy and also a first-rate designer of coats of arms.  He designed mine (pictured) and did a splendid job: his draft design required no changes.  He was also something of a character.  He had a reputation for occasionally causing difficulty with a new peer’s choice of title (allegedly at times finding rules of which no one was previously aware) and was also keen to persuade a peer to have a coat of arms.  When I saw him, he had no difficulty in accepting my choice of title (a relief) and instead moved quickly to give me a leaflet from the Passport Agency, explaining how smooth the process of changing my passport would be (in the event, it was anything but), to inquire if I would like a coat of arms, and then to chat about the USA.  ‘How many states have you visited?’  He then proceeded to explain he had visited all fifty.  The obituary in The Times records ‘He lectured widely on heraldry in the US and prided himself on having visited every state’, so I suspect I was not the only one to have that conversation.

His salesmanship in respect of coats of arms (designing them brought income to the College of Arms) did not necessarily persuade all new peers.  One peer told me that he asked Garter what use he could make of a coat of arms.  ‘Well’, said Garter, ‘You could have it woven into your carpet’.   He will be missed.

38 comments for “Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones

  1. 24/08/2010 at 2:04 pm

    Lord Norton,
    My condolences on the death of this knight you had referred to before in your other blog. It seemed clear to me that you had “taken a liking to him” as we say. I wonder if he lectured on genealogy, heraldry or arms in the USA. Regardless, in this country most of the very few people who have visited all fifty states are eager to say so and well tolerated in doing so because it is quite a huge achievement. I have only been to 46 or 47 and the difference is both real and substantial. However I am only a blushing and nearly adolescent 46 years whereas I hope our deceased was older. It is nice to know someone in your crowd there took such personal interest in the country with the largest and most spread-out English speaking populationin the world.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/08/2010 at 3:37 pm

      Frank Wynerth Summers III: Sir Peter was 70. I gather he did a lot of lecturing on heraldry and geneaology in the States.

    • 24/08/2010 at 4:23 pm

      Correction & Apology:
      My apologies to India and Indians. The most chauvinistic Americans will say our preschool English speakers outnumber theirs and still claim largest population of native speakers — but that is probably not true either. Certainly what I wrote was wrong. We are the most spread-out even if you just count the states. If you look at the whole country Guam and Samoa add even more distance and I have visited both. Regardless we appreciate Sir Peter’s remarkable achievement.

  2. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    24/08/2010 at 2:42 pm

    Ah, love those wise old owls…
    I guess every recent peer will have a Peter Gwyn Jones story. I’d thought my choice of .nomen territorialis would be quite straight forward. He asked me where I wanted to be ‘of’, I said ‘Aldgate’ . ‘Which Aldgate?, There’s two, Aldgate East outwith the City and Aldgate within the City’. “errr, well it’s Aldgate East really’. His expression was slightly pained. ‘ You don’t want to be named after an underground station do you? Why don’t I ring the Guildhall and see if they’ll object to your being in their bailiwick?’ Which he did on the spot. And that’s how I ended up in the City of London. I’m in good company now that Lord Sacks has joined me in Aldgate.

    He failed to sell me a coat of arms although I’m still tempted. When I asked him what I would do with it he suggested it could be made into a wonderful printed silk scarf so he must have had quite a few ideas up his sleeve.

    • Croft
      24/08/2010 at 3:13 pm

      My builder has his crest on a signet ring, I know a few local properties which have banners but you really need a sufficient properly to get away with the latter!

      Still there are some skilled artists working in the area

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/08/2010 at 3:39 pm

      I don’t recall him making any suggestions to me as to the use to which I could put a coat of arms. I was left to my own devices. I had it printed as a postcard – it’s proved very useful.

  3. Croft
    24/08/2010 at 2:58 pm

    I heard the news yesterday and thought of mentioning it here but waited for the official announcement. Such a short retirement…

    “He was appointed to the post in 1995 and so, given the number of new introductions, was seen frequently in the House. He was a colourful sight in his regalia, his tunic not only being bright but also very heavy”

    I believe he presided over more introductions than any Garter in the last 795 years! I have no experience of the ‘problems’ of choosing a tile but in reference to the above I can’t help but suspect that the tsunami of new peers made the old rules – which it should be noted had always changed over time – in need of some change. Would be peers not being able to pick any title they like is not I suggest necessarily a mark against Garter!

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/08/2010 at 3:44 pm

      Croft: Indeed, were it not for Garter there may have been some rather esoteric titles. He did remind me that for a Baron one should not choose a territorial designation that was too grand, such as a city (though some have got away with it – perhaps Garter didn’t think much of the cities in question), or one that was too narrow, such as a street or building! He was also keen to discourage peers choosing to hyphenate their forenames and surnames as their titles (following for example Lord George-Brown, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, and Lord Merlyn-Rees) and had some success in this regard.

  4. Baroness Deech
    Baroness Deech
    24/08/2010 at 8:23 pm

    When I went to see him when I was newly appointed, to discuss my title, I declined his offer to become ‘armigerous’. But he was more upset when I asked why my husband did not get a courtesy title, as would be the case when a man receives a peerage, his wife automatically taking the title of Lady. He indicated to me that in his opinion any such change would inevitably lead to the end of primogeniture and the downfall of the monarchy, though it was never quite clear why!

    • Croft
      25/08/2010 at 11:45 am

      I would have though it a given that the relationship between equality and monarchy is rather akin to that of fire and ice. The More of the former the less of the latter until none remains!

    • Senex
      25/08/2010 at 12:12 pm

      This business of calling the wife of a male peer ‘Lady’ is confusing to say the least.

      It would really depend on whether you where Scottish.

      As to primogeniture it would be the end of the Monarchy as we know it. As the ancient ‘Scottish Kings’ were elected, search the page for the word ‘elect’:

      It seems the Celts practised democracy in the ‘Golden Age’ of Saxon England. Saxon primogeniture was not taken for granted as the King could appoint his successor or failing that, the Witanagemot could elect the King as happened in 1066.

      As this Monarchy is in part Stuart with only a historic link to the Saxons one could make the case for electing the Regent by its Nobility if the principle of primogeniture was lost. There would be no guaranteed continuity with the Stuart line and Scotland might choose to leave the Union on that basis.

  5. 24/08/2010 at 10:12 pm

    Wake arrow-prayer:
    For the life of Peter Gwynn-Jones, thank you;

    and for the work of Sir Peter G-J within the Offices we required of him, thank you.


  6. Gaspare Battistuzzo
    26/08/2010 at 10:02 am

    The husband of a female peer cannot have a courtesy title because titles follow on the male line – in this sense Sir Peter was right, any such change would lead to the downfall of the monarchy and of Western civilization!
    If somebody asks what could be the purpose of having a coat-of-arms, then perhaps he/she shouldn’t have one at all.

  7. Sarah
    26/08/2010 at 10:29 am

    I met Sir Peter on my first day in the House of Lords as a totally terrified 18 year old. His presence was amazing and his many words of wisdom to be throughout my short year at the House have stayed with me.

    Very sad to hear this news.

  8. Gareth Howell
    26/08/2010 at 7:59 pm

    “This business of calling the wife of a male peer ‘Lady’ is confusing to say the least.”

    I was acquainted with one Lady of the Realm ie descended from Q Victoria, who insisted that there were only a few Ladies, ie in their own right, and the others were all fakes!

  9. Gareth Howell
    26/08/2010 at 8:02 pm

    “This business of calling the wife of a male peer ‘Lady’ is confusing to say the least.”

    I was acquainted with one Lady of the Realm ie descended from Q Victoria, who insisted that there were only a few Ladies, ie in their own right, and the others were all fakes!

    Lord Longford whom I greeted on the stairs one day as ‘My lord’,at his age of 97, advised me that he should really be addressed as
    “your grace.. but it doesn’t matter”
    but that is another story!

    • Croft
      27/08/2010 at 11:03 am

      “Lord Longford whom I greeted on the stairs one day as ‘My lord’,at his age of 97, advised me that he should really be addressed as “your grace.. but it doesn’t matter””

      Umm no – he was neither an Arch-Bishop nor a Duke!

      • Gareth Howell
        31/08/2010 at 6:48 am

        “Umm no – he was neither an Arch-Bishop nor a Duke!”

        No but an Earl of Ireland?

        I missed my point entirely, about Ladies of the realm above, in that Ladies of the BLOOD ROYAL are few and far between, and usually claim that they are the ONLY real ladies and that the rest are …pseuds, perhaps.

        • Croft
          31/08/2010 at 12:03 pm

          My point Gareth is that only ABs and Dukes are ‘Your Grace’ never earls. There was a time when earls enjoyed higher styles than now but that use had all but died out before the Longford creation first existed.

  10. Ginny Lindzey in Texas
    27/08/2010 at 1:20 am

    Peter was a dear friend for over 20 years. I always admired the quality of the work he did, his depth of knowledge, and his professionalism. Indeed he was quite a character, and those who would like to know more about his extraordinary life, might enjoy reading his book _The Coati Sable- The Story of a Herald_. It is truly an engaging read, and offers many humorous anecdotes both from his travels and from his work. (And thank you for this blog entry. It is difficult to suffer such a loss on this side of the Atlantic and feel there is no one around to appreciate the loss of such an extraordinary, charming individual.)

  11. 27/08/2010 at 11:26 pm

    Lord Norton,
    If you do not answer now maybe it can be a post or quiz topic, but if you know off hand and it is not quiz worthy I would like to know how the portcullis became the heraldic symbol for parliament. Do you have an answer for me before there is a new Garter King of Arms?

    • Len
      28/08/2010 at 12:16 pm

      I believe I recall that the crowned portcullis was a symbol of the Tudors originally which was simply one of many which was incorporated into Barry and Pugin’s new Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834.

      I believe it emerged over the ensuing decades as the symbol of parliament, though I would welcome any corrections anyone has to offer; my memory isn’t great!

      I would also add my name to the condolences to the family and friends of Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones

      • Croft
        28/08/2010 at 12:34 pm


        The only surprise to me was just how recently royal permission was granted!

        • 28/08/2010 at 4:14 pm

          The singular complete answer indeed, I thank you. Len is hown right buy as you say the act itself and universal acceptance is much recent than the Tudors. I saw the GKoA was a signatory as well…

      • 28/08/2010 at 1:03 pm

        Thanks, the added information you gave will increase the bases for my searches and likelihood of getting an answer I am fully satisfied with. I will believe but verify and adding “old Tudor heraldic symbols” to “parliamentary heraldry” is quite an addition I assure you.

    • Len
      28/08/2010 at 12:17 pm

      Agh, I should reread the post I’m replying to before posting – disregard my last comment if you want it to be a quiz question in the future Lord Norton; I will abstain.

      • Lord Norton
        Lord Norton
        28/08/2010 at 12:23 pm

        Len: No problem. I am sure I will find plenty of quiz questions. Thanks for your response.

        • Lord Norton
          Lord Norton
          28/08/2010 at 12:26 pm

          Frank Wynerth Summers III: I should also point out that there is already a new Garter King of Arms in post. We have already had a number of introductions in which he has participated.

          • 28/08/2010 at 1:06 pm

            Lord Norton,
            Thanks for the clarification and meaningful lack of protest at Len’s answer…

  12. Chris K
    31/08/2010 at 3:50 pm

    That’s very sad news, especially at such a young age. I had no idea he had been in the role for so long, a role he clearly loved. He did his job at a particularly tumultuous and destructive time in Parliament history, too.

    On Ginny Lindzey in Texas’ recommendation, I will buy a copy of the book.

    In Lady Deech’s previous blog about titles for husbands of peers, one commenter suggested that, in its strictest sense, it would mean the husband of a Queen (Regnant) would have to be a King. Perhaps that is what Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones alluded to?

    • Chris K
      01/09/2010 at 1:27 am

      “relatively young” may have been better. I certainly don’t consider 70 old.

      • Ginny Lindzey in Texas
        01/09/2010 at 11:33 am

        (He was certainly very young at heart. And you’ll definitely enjoy the book.)

      • 01/09/2010 at 12:35 pm

        Chris K,
        Real comic commentary on the obituary of a distinguished and honorable man written in permanent form is rather bad form. Nonetheless, prior to your comment I was tempted because so many humans have so little chance of living so long. However, in his station, craft, location and skill set it would be both reasonable and nice to hope for a few decades of memories and hints dropped about to garnish the main course of a working life — I agree.

        • Chris K
          01/09/2010 at 6:03 pm

          Frank Wynerth Summers III: I find it genuinely sad that Sir Peter died so soon after his retirement. It seems to happen to a lot of people.

  13. James
    15/09/2010 at 8:04 pm

    I was sorry to learn of his death he was a nice person and only recently stood down from his position.

    I know he did a lot for the Order of St John which is where I last saw him this year at the priors reception before St Johns day at St Paul’s 2010.

    So he did not get a chance to enjoy his retirement.

    Peter RIP


  14. Craig Fairweather
    08/10/2010 at 5:39 am

    Peter was a wonderfully warm and intelligent man. I met him by chance in a Soho restaurant in 1990 and he almost persuaded me, an Australian backpacker, to consider getting a coat of arms! Thank you Peter for being so kind and dedicated,
    Craig Fairweather

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