Preserve Harmony

On researching the armorial bearings of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
When admitted to the Freedom of the Worshipful Company of Musicians in January 2015, I knew I was joining an historic body and indeed one rightly proud of its past. Perhaps the most visible feature of the Company’s status is our coat of arms, used not only on our documents and regalia but nowadays also on our website. The charges (symbols) of this heraldic achievement – including a silver swan and a lyre – form a clear and unique reference point for our identity, further alluding to the stability necessary for any effective corporate body.

With an interest in history and particularly in heraldry I decided to do some research about the origin of the Company’s armorial bearings. Information in our own archives is, perhaps surprisingly, rather scarce, and so I turned to the College of Arms for further details. Founded in 1484 and part of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, the College is the official heraldic authority of the realm, and it is responsible, among other things, for granting new coats of arms and maintaining heraldic and genealogical registers.

The College of Arms holds five manuscripts relating to the armorial bearings of the Company. The earliest is a certificate of the Arms and Crest of the Company, accompanied by a pen and ink drawing, issued during the heralds’ visitation of London in 1634. This document refers to an original grant of 15 October 1604 – now sadly lost. The Company’s armorial bearings go back, then, to the very founding (some would say, re-founding) of our guild. The original grant was clearly made very shortly – in point of fact, 100 days – after the Company’s Charter of King James VI and I, and suggests that we were very clear on our identity, perhaps already using the Arms as they still stand. This document is also notable for being a near-contemporary reference to Philip Pikeman as Master of the Company: he is included in the accepted list between Thomas Chamberlain (1633) and Robert Gill (1637).

A final word about our motto and the title of the Company's magazine. The manuscripts do not contain any reference to a motto, although this should not be surprising since mottoes do not – at least in English heraldry – form an intrinsic part of any coat of arms (even though they might often be used). Observant members of the Company might have noticed that the Master’s Jewel, made in 1879, gives HARMONY. Here, however, the Company archives prove useful: the Minute Books from 1899 tell us that PRESEVE HARMONY was taken up (again?) at the suggestion of Sir John Stainer, then Junior Warden; he clearly believed the two-word motto was an earlier form, apparently as shown on an old plate. Additionally, Bromley and Child’s book on heraldry and the London guilds also provides A DEO ET CÆLO SYMPHONIA; the source, again, is as yet a mystery!

So, the plot thickens. Meantime, however, I encourage all readers to visit the Company's archives website and see the recently found documents for themselves.

This article is adapted from an article first published in Preserve Harmony, magazine of The Worshipful Company of Musicians, issue 53 (Autumn 2016)