by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
These words are apocryphal. No Duke of Norfolk ever to my knowledge uttered them, but they certainly lived them, and I am therefore pleased to be able to share my pithy words with them and with the world. For it is indeed true that to be Norfolk is to be sufficient.
My interest in Arundel Castle and the Dukes of Norfolk began on a very cold wintry day when I took the London train to Arundel. It is a thing exactly as it should be: stern, multi-turreted, a bit of derring-do at every corner.
This particular day I was going to do some research in the Duke’s private papers. I had come under the most excellent auspices possible, Sir Anthony Wagner (1908-1995), Garter King of Arms.
Sir Anthony was a notable scholar of heraldry, and a bit of a wag. He picked up the phone and called his representative at Arundel, for the Duke of Norfolk after all is the Earl Marshal of England.
He explained to his aging, creaking colleague that a brilliant young American scholar (that would be me) requested the favor of a bit of time to be spent in the Duke’s private muniments.
His representative paused for a moment, and said sotto vocci, “Do you know what he is coming to see?”
“Yes,” Sir Anthony said. “I do.” Sir Anthony hung up the phone and turned to me and said, with what had to be a twinkle in his eye, “The old man’s an old woman, and he won’t like you because you’re an American. But go with my blessing”.
As a result, I found myself on that grey muddy trek from the train station at Arundel to the castle. No one was to be seen – neither man nor beast. But I was thrilled, for Arundel is one of the great castles of England.
I pulled the doorbell (yes there was a bell, huge in dimension, and loud), and an ancient retainer, Sir Anthony’s colleague, opened the door and growled at me. Yes, I cannot describe it in any other way, it was a growl. Then he pointed up the deep cold concrete steps to where I was to do my work.
Certain papers were waiting for me, and an admonition. The incident that I was researching for my book on royal victorian pageantry (the book which became in due course “Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony & Confusion at Queen Victoria's Court”), had a very human incident that had never been published before but fit perfectly into my book.
In 1887, for the Golden Jubilee, the College of Arms had been allocated a certain number of tickets in Westminster Abbey. The wife of Bluemantle, one of the Heralds, decided she didn’t want to go, and put the tickets up for sale in the Civil Services Stores in the Haymarket.
You say, who is Bluemantle? He was Charles Athill, one of the senior Heralds in the College of Arms, Bluemantle Pursuivant. In other words, a professional Herald and genealogist.
Of course, someone leaked the matter to the press, and a snide paragraph appeared in the morning papers about Bluemantle’s erring wife, now aghast at what she had done.
Of course, everyone and his brother got into the act. Mrs. Bluemantle, her husband Blumantle, and His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of the realm, and in due course it made its way to the desk of Sir Henry Ponsonby, Her Majesty’s Private Secretary. It was indeed a tempest in an Earl Grey teacup.
And now, the worst thing of all happened. An American arrived at the front door with intentions to put the story into a proper book. Honi soi qui mal y pense “Let him who will think ill of this”. The incident had taken place about a century or so before, and was only of minor significance at the time. But still, the admonition was stern and ominous, and rolled out from a moral code long gone.
“You have in your hands the reputation of a professional man. I must tell you I do not wish you to publish these things, but His Grace the Duke says if you’ve come all this way, you might as well proceed. Personally you seem a superior kind of American, that is to say, you did not immediately ask for the furnace to be turned on. Most Americans can’t stand the cold… you seem of sturdier stock”. In fact, I was freezing to death, but now I’d be damned if I asked for the furnace to be turned on.
It only took me a few minutes to copy the documents I wanted. There was no such thing as the internet or photocopy machines. You just do the best you can. Personally, I copied my documents wearing gloves. I couldn’t help my teeth chattering.
The incident in question ultimately was published, and a thank you note went to both Sir Anthony Wagner and the ancient gentleman in the tower. I am sorry I did not ask Sir Anthony to urge them to let me see this magnificent and unique silver service, which had been created in 1816-17 and dispersed in the 1960’s and 1970’s by the 16th Duke, who kept enough for himself to make a dazzling display. The whole must have been stupendous. A significant chunk still resides in Arundel Castle, and these two, which I felt sure were destined for my table.
But many, many connoisseurs thought as I thought. And the initial estimate by Bonhams in Los Angeles of $20,000 zoomed up to $65,000, plus 20% tax. But this is not surprising, for to be a Norfolk is to be the best there can be. They do not need to say so, they do not need to brag.
And so we are not surprised to see these magnificent serving pieces, designed by the preeminent silversmith of his day, Paul Storr (1771-1844). They are quite simply superb.
Thus must the world needs trek to Sussex, where this unequaled castle retains for the ages most of its treasures, including a copy of my book, “Insubstantial Pageant”, which you may find in the muniments room, one incident from the vast history of this family, this castle, and its enduring place in the history of “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”, where, so many years ago, when I was young and could not be stopped by frosty fingers, or gelid hands, I advanced the cause of Norfolk and me.
About the author, Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known to world audiences as an expert and lyric writer on many subjects. He has, in fact, already written over 60 books, and, at age 70, he is hurdling through space and time to write still more, for his readers are insistent that he must not stop.
To get your copy of “Insubstantial Pageant” and to see Dr. Lant’s complete ouevre, including his best-selling new book, “Guaranteed Millionaire”, go to www.drjeffreylant.com.