12 SEPTEMBER 1952, Page 9

A Noble International


Ci HE age of old elephants is terribly old," as a poet of Punch observed some years ago, and much the same thing might be said about heraldry, if not about exist- ing heralds, although it is true that a rich and brimming ripeness in years is no hindrance to a man in this remote profession. At any rate, the Associated Press should have known better than to put out its correspondent's report from Merano, in the Italian Tyrol, that " leading experts on crests and coats of arms from seven European countries are meeting in the first Inter- national Heraldry Congress." First, indeed. For everybody knows, or else should know, that there was just such a congress, twenty-eight heralds being present, at Arras in 1434. No matter : the second sentence of AP's brief report announced that " delegates from Britain, Belgium, France, Austria, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland propose to found an International Order of Nobility ." Splendour of splendours : labyrinths of delicate pedantry opening before the inward eye: prodigious extents of conspicuous waste. Why had we not heard of it before ?

The report, however, turned out to be rather misleading. A little research in London disclosed the official prospectus, put out jointly by the Union of the Italian Peerage and the Merano Health Resort Council, of the " First Inter- national Congress of the History of Feudal and Noble Institu- tions and the First International Convention of Aristocracy." This is magnificent, but it is not the same thing as an " Inter- national Heraldry Congress "—not by a long chalk. One had envisaged a tabarded assemblage of kings of arms, heralds, and pursuivants, all seated in solemnity as though prepared for instant translation to a stained glass window, all debating, in terms as stiffly creaking and clanking as the sound of a mediaeval ghost passing one's country bedroom, such mysteries as a party of six pieces with three millrinds and a cockatrice passant. It was nothing so pure and heraldic that the Union of the Italian Peerage and the Merano Health Resort Council between them offered.

" An invitation to participate is extended to scholars, uni- versities, academies, institutes, which are officially recognised and of scientific repute, as well as to the aristocracy in all countries and, where they exist, the respective Associations of the Peerage either officially or practically representing the nobleness.

" The scope of the Congress is to restore this subject, which has centuries of political and juridical history to its credit, to a scientific plane beyond all suggestion of amateur effort. The Convention is intended to further closer contact between the nobility of the various countries, with the aim of engendering civil understanding by means of a common scientific effort in restoring the antique aristocratic traditions." So far, so good. The image of scholars of scientific repute, aristocrats, and representatives of the nobleness meeting in order to engender civil understanding is not unpleasing. Civil under- standing is always to be encouraged. Nor can it be suggested that the Congress's approach to it is a lightly flippant one; for consider some of the subjects for discussion: (ii) The Founding and publication of the Monumenta Nobilium Institutionum Historica. (iii) Public and Private Feudal Right; Roman (and romance) and Gdrmanic sources, ecclesiastical sources. Feudal Rights of Knighthood. Canonical Right in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (iv) Origin of the European Peerage. (vi) Paleography, diplomatics, archivism, and biblio- graphy as related to the various subjects and in general, as a means of systematic study of mediaeval history.

The subscription fee for participation in this formidable con- gress (which ended on Wednesday) was 2,500 lire, payment of which also entitled the scholars of scientific repute, aristocrats, and representatives of the nobleness to the " Acts of the Congress " in book form, to attend the tea offered by the Merano Health Resort Council, to free entrance to the Maia Hippodrome, to the Ball held on the 9th of September, and to the Castello Principesco and the galleries of wooden sculpture in the Academy of S. Luca, and to reductions in the price of journeys by cableway from Merano to Avelengo, S. Vigilio, and Monte Benedetto.

Under the presidency of H.H. Ser : ma don Carlos L. Gon- zaga, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Peer of Venezia and President of the Union of the Italian Peerage, the delegates must have had a busy time of it—now delving into paleo- graphy, diplomatics, archivism, and bibliography as related to the various subjects, now taking the tea offered by the Merano Health Resort Council, now attending to the founding and publication of the Monwnenta Nobilium Institutionum Historica, now swirling at the ball. Furthermore, it was left for Italian scholars of scientific repute, aristocrats, and repre- sentatives of the nobleness to get through the considerable pro- gramme on their own, for the blue blood of the other countries mentioned by the Associated Press in its message refrained from flowing towards Merano, alas.

My knowledge of the Italian aristocracy is not, unfortunately, extensive, but I have been honoured by the brief acquaintance of a Count and of a Princess. The Count, who lives in Rome and earns his living smartly, if in curious ways, would certainly,. unless I badly misjudged him, be at Merano. The free entrance to the Maia Hippodrome would be enough in itself to send him there. On the other hand, the Princess, who inhabits three rooms of a rotting baroque mansion in the south, would not be present. For one thing, she could not afford the fare to the north; for another, she would be sufficiently old-fashioned to suspect the merest trace of vulgarity in the First International Congress—and she despises the general run of Italian aristo- crats even more than she deplores the ruin of her own estate. According to the News Chronicle's correspondent in Rome, Professor M. Nardelli, Peer of Trento and Chairman of the Scientific Committee of the Congress, announced that the task of the gathering was "to lay down a basis for the foundation of an Internationale of Nobles." The Princess among her ruins would, I fear, look on this with some repugnance, and I do not think that she would be alone.

Our own College of Arms, an exceedingly learned institu- tion, had an invitation, which was declined—politely, of course. After all, this is a country where kings of arms, heralds, and pursuivants still have their proper work to do, and with the Coronation drawing nearer they, and our own representatives of the nobleness, have more to think about than Canonical Right in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. No, I feel that the College of Arms has little to learn from the pro- ceedings of the First International Congress of the History of Feudal and Noble Institutions and the First International Convention of Aristocracy. But, on the other hand, some holiday resort where business has been slack—anything is worth trying once in desperation.