Anne Lister & Ann Walker: Their Coats of Arms and quest for Pedigree
Lynn ShoulsPublished on 18 December, 2020 · Last updated on 18 December, 2020
Anne Lister was acutely aware of her social status: many of her journal entries reveal both her standing in society and the relative rank or class of her contemporaries. Where did this sense of her standing come from? What did Anne know about her pedigree? And what did the family coat of arms mean to her?
When I visited Shibden Hall and Halifax in the autumn of 2019, I came across the Lister family coat of arms in several places. It seemed clear that the coat of arms was important to Anne, but I was left wondering why that was so, and what the design of the coat of arms signified. Research on this narrow point inevitably led to the consideration of Anne’s pedigree, and, from there, some reflection on her status and her sense of self.
Estimated reading time: 40 minutes.
This article describes active research and the facts and details included have and will continue to be updated as new information is uncovered. If you come across any other relevant information that can help clarify or expand the topics below, please get in touch.
Much has been written about Anne Lister’s character. She is known to have been highly intelligent and independent. She was a keen scholar, an astute and formidable businesswoman, an intrepid traveller, as well, of course, as being a prolific diarist and lesbian.
Anne was sent to school at the age of seven, where she was said by a school friend (as recorded in Anne’s journal) to be “a singular child, and singularly dressed, […] very quick and independent […] [she] whistled very well; a great favourite of Mrs Chettle”¹. From an early age, Anne was “different”.
Anne was acutely aware of, in her own words, her “oddity”. In the Regency and the subsequent era of George IV, upper-class women were expected to be genteel, quiet, passive, domesticated, graceful, feminine and decorous, and typically women did not benefit from a good education². Women rarely had any involvement in business, political, or legal affairs, and upon marriage, they typically transferred ownership of any property to their husband.
By contrast, Anne Lister was masculine in her appearance, her “gentlemanly” manners, her dress (always predominantly black³, unless strict propriety or occasion dictated otherwise), and her outlook. She was an extrovert, voluble, flamboyant, charismatic, energetic - all in all, somewhat striking. She was also highly educated and was well versed in classical and other languages, mathematics, medicine, anatomy, music, engineering, theology, law, and a wide range of other subjects. Anne was also actively involved in a web of business and other interests: coal mining, quarrying, estate management, road building, and investment (e.g., canals). Particularly in the 1830s, Anne was engaged in politics. She was conservative and religious, valuing social respectability, while at the same time rather unorthodox, for the period, in her conduct and her lesbian attachments. She was entirely confident in her sexuality and was determined never to marry⁴.
Anne was socially highly capable, entertaining, and - usually - a popular and welcome visitor. Social visits in and around Halifax formed an important part of Anne’s routine life whilst at home, and she called on the Rawsons of Stoney Royd, the Edwards of Pye Nest, the Walkers of Lightcliffe, and a tight circle of others. However, particularly once she inherited Shibden from her Uncle James in 1826, she felt keenly that her landed gentry status and her long family lineage afforded her a significant social advantage over these more newly monied companions who had acquired their wealth through industry and trade. She believed that she could “do better”.
Anne was highly attuned to her status in society, and, understanding the societal hierarchy of the day, sought to improve her connections and to move in aristocratic circles. Although her journals occasionally note some self-doubt about her manners and behaviour when mixing with such people⁵, self-elevation mattered a great deal to her, and her shrewdness, energy, and self-confidence equipped her to pursue such relationships with some considerable success, both in England and abroad.
So, where did this sense of self, and Anne’s self-esteem, originate from?
- “Miss Lister of Shibden Hall, Selected Letters 1800 - 1840”, Edited by Muriel M. Green
- Background reading: “Moving Between Worlds: Gender, Class, Politics, Sexuality and Women’s Networks in the Diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire, 1830 - 1840”, by Catherine A. Euler
- "As soon as I was dressed went to drink tea with the Miss Walkers of Cliff-hill – went in black silk – the 1st time (to an evening visit) I have entered upon my plan of always wearing black”, Anne Lister, 2 September 1817.
- "Anne [Belcombe] sat by my bedside till 2. I talked about the feeling to which she gave rise. … Said I should never marry. Could not like men. Ought not to like women … made out a pitiful story altogether & roused poor Anne’s sympathy to tears.” (15 August 1816)
- “I felt myself, in reality, gauche, and besides, in a false position. I have difficulty enough in the usage of high society and feeling unknown, but I have ten times more on account of money … I will eventually hide my head somewhere or other … The mortification of feeling my gaucherie is wholesome.” (29 April 1832) via Gentleman Jack - The Real Anne Lister, by Anne Choma
From an early age, Anne was fiercely proud of her family’s landed background, and her lineage. Even when young, Anne was interested in her pedigree⁶, and she felt considerable pride in the family’s long-standing ownership of Shibden. Her landed gentry status, particularly after inheriting the Shibden estate in 1826, afforded her appreciable local importance, influence, prestige, and power.
Wishing to prove the continuation of her family’s pedigree, and, later, to update it, Anne wrote to the College of Arms in 1816, and corresponded with the herald from then until 1825, and later, in 1834, 1835, and 1838.
The College of Arms is the heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and many Commonwealth countries. Founded in 1484 by King Richard III, to this day it grants coats of arms and maintains official registers of arms, family pedigrees, and genealogies.
The oldest of these registers dates back to the sixteenth century, and the registers are updated as new pedigrees are submitted for registration. In some cases, pedigrees are recorded to prove an inherited right, such as a peerage. But in many cases, pedigrees are placed on record simply to subject them to independent checking and to preserve them in a central register for the benefit of future generations.
Whilst staying at Lawton Hall, Anne wrote to the College of Arms on 13 June 1816, “being anxious to have my pedigree properly proved”. To have a pedigree placed on official record at the College of Arms one must engage the services of an officer of arms who will research and draft the pedigree in the required format and advise on the documentary evidence needed to support it. The officer, or herald, will then submit the documentary evidence to the Chapter of the College which will appoint two other officers of arms to examine it. The two examiners will each go through the pedigree in detail, calling for documentary proofs of each fact and relationship that is to be recorded. If the officer believes that aspects of the evidence are not satisfactorily proven, they may call for additional research to be undertaken. Once the examination is complete, the pedigree is scrivened into the pedigree registers and becomes part of the official records of the College.
Anne Lister went through precisely this process in 1816 and 1817. The College of Arms being extremely rigorous in requiring evidence of ancestral lines, Anne was obliged to produce a great many proofs of births, marriages, deaths, and familial lines, and extracts from parish records and local registers, to prove her lineage. In March 1817, the herald with whom Anne had been corresponding, Rouge Croix Pursuivant, William Radcliffe, confirmed that he had “the pleasure to report that the Pedigree of Your Family has passed the Ordeal of Probation, and received the Order of Chapter for its entry upon the Record. It is now in the Custody of Registrar waiting its Turn for that Purpose”, but that an important link was missing:
Anne was given guidance on how to complete the chain, which she did, and in April 1817 the College wrote to Anne’s Uncle James, “I have the pleasure to transmit you herewith the Copy of the Pedigree of your Family from the record lately made thereof in this College and the hope it will meet your expectation…”.
In 1824 Anne wrote to Radcliffe, noting her understanding that he was working on an edition of “Dugdale’s Heraldic Visitation of Yorkshire, 1665-1666; together with considerable additions”, and offering to subscribe to this work. More research is needed to ascertain whether Anne did subscribe to that particular edition, and what entries, if any, noted her pedigree; but it is apparent that Anne wanted her pedigree to be publicly recorded in this work. In the early 20th century, J.W. Clay⁷ edited and republished “Dugdale’s Visitation of Yorkshire”, and the Lister family is captured in this edition.
The College of Arms’ record confirms that the pedigree was completed in 1817, with additions made in 1838, and was signed as true in November 1838 by “A Lister”. The records also include a painting of the crest and arms, beneath which the motto scroll reads “PROPOSIT TENAX”.
Correspondence between Anne (and her Uncle James) and the College of Arms forms part of the West Yorkshire Archive Service’s collection and is listed and described, and transcriptions of the Listers’ letters are available, under the heading “Timeline of Correspondence” immediately below.
Timeline of correspondence to and from the College of Arms
The following timeline tracks Anne’s known correspondence with The College of Arms. William Radcliffe was one of the heralds of The College of Arms and bore the title Rouge Croix. Whilst transcriptions are available below for Anne and her uncle’s letters, unfortunately transcriptions of those written by Rouge Croix are potentially subject to copyright restrictions.
Anne touched on the topic of her pedigree, her correspondence with the College of Arms, and her efforts to establish her familial lineage, in her journals from time to time from 1817 to 1838 (see Appendix: Timeline of journal entries). It is interesting, although perhaps not surprising, given Anne’s known tendency to rigour and accuracy in her record-keeping, to see how some of the correspondence and the journal entries correspond.
Anne's Coat of Arms
A coat of arms was the perfect status symbol, traditionally used to communicate the bearer’s wealth, standing and prowess. When Anne started work on completing her family pedigree in 1816, she was already familiar with her family having proved their “right to arms” in 1666. With the imagery and arcane terminology of heraldry, Anne writes in her letter to the College of Arms:
It is clear that her family coat of arms was of considerable interest to Anne, and the Lister coat of arms appears in several places at Shibden Hall and Halifax Minster.
The precise date of the building of Shibden Hall is unknown, but the deeds to the property¹ date back to 1420. The estate came into the Lister family by marriage in 1619. Anne Lister made many changes to the Hall and the estate, including improvement of the housebody (main hall) with a grand staircase, oak panelling, and carved figures, and adding her carved initials and the Lister motto, chosen by Anne, “justus propositi tenax” (“just and true of purpose”).
The newel post at the foot of the staircase, which was designed for Anne by the architect John Harper and carved by John Wolstenholme of York⁹, is the Lister lion holding a shield; this figure is made from Norwegian oak. A similar lion, holding the same shield, and carved in stone in (also commissioned by Anne, in 1837¹⁰), stands outside, by the gateway into the terraced gardens surrounding the house.
This shield is also painted onto the stone mantelpiece of the fireplace in the Red Room (this was done during the Lister family ownership¹¹), and the shield’s design forms the centrepiece of the funerary hatchment displayed in the corridor leading to Anne’s bedroom.
The full coat of arms appears, alongside others, in the ceiling of Halifax Minster. It is thought that it was placed there in memory of James Lister, who died in 1729, and there is a monument bearing his name and arms at the south-west corner of the church.
Interestingly, Muriel M. Green’s¹² “Miss Lister of Shibden Hall, Selected Letters 1800 to 1840” shows a picture of a bookplate that Anne had made, the design again based on the shield part of the family coat of arms. One of Anne’s bookplates is preserved in the West Yorkshire Archive Service collection of Anne Lister papers:
On close inspection of the bookplate, we can see that the golden mullets and the red canton are depicted in black and white hatchings, respectively, as follows:
These formal heraldic monochrome hatchings were devised in the early 17th century to denote colours which were expensive to print. Anne might herself have known about this formal system of colour representation but, if she did not, the designer and/or printer commissioned to prepare the bookplate did. Anne would certainly have wanted the work done properly.
And for a silver trowel to be given to Ann Walker on the occasion of Ann laying the first stone of the casino to be built at the Northgate Hotel in September 1835, Anne devised an inscription which included “an impression of my arms”:
The fact that Anne commissioned several objects bearing part of her coat of arms reveals a level of interest and pride in this image.
Lister Coat of Arms composition
A coat of arms comprises the crest and the arms. According to the records of the College of Arms, the (Anne) Lister family coat of arms is formally blazoned thus:
The Crest: Upon a Wreath of the Colours a Stag’s Head erased proper charged with a Trefoil Gules
The Arms: Ermine on a Fess Sable three Mullets Or a Canton Gules
The heraldic terms used here in bold text are described below. Here is a reminder of the coat of arms, and a stylised version, clearer to decipher, created by Biljana Popovic.
The Wreath is the twisted band, typically of two colours, just underneath the stag’s head
The Colours are the principal colours of the arms
The Stag is thought to represent wisdom and long life
The Stag’s Head erased means that the stag’s neck is depicted with a ragged edge, as if torn from the body
The term proper refers to the natural, or lifelike, colour of the thing depicted. Here, the stag’s head is coloured brown, the typical colouration of a stag
Charges are emblems added (or charged) to a shield or background
A Trefoil is a three-leaved plant. This emblem is not visible on the photograph taken from the ceiling of Halifax Minster, but it might have looked like this symbol:
Ermine is the winter fur, white with black tips, of a stoat
Fess is the horizontal band across the centre of the shield
Sable is the colour black
Mullet is a five-pointed star
Or is the colour gold
Canton Gules: Canton means a square shape, and Gules means the colour red, so Canton Gules is the red square at the top left of the shield. This symbol is used to distinguish Anne’s branch of the Lister family from the arms of other Lister families.
According to a note of The Halifax Antiquarian Society¹³, the canton (and the trefoil) were added to indicate that the Listers of Shibden Hall were not direct descendants of the Lister to whom the crest and arms were first allowed.
Symbols and their meaning
My initial curiosity, on finding Anne’s family’s coat of arms around Shibden and in Halifax, was about the meaning or significance of its design and components. As it turned out, the College of Arms advised me that the meaning behind the designs of armorial bearings is rarely recorded, if there was ever any meaning at all. The earliest and simplest coats of arms were devised purely for visual recognition, for example on the battlefield or in sporting tournaments, and usually bore no more meaning than a jockey's colours or a football player’s shirt do today. This does not necessarily suggest that there was no rationale behind the choice of design and the component parts, but only that it has not been recorded, at least not by the College of Arms.
Ann Walker's Coat of Arms
Anne Lister’s courtship of Ann Walker, and the course of their life together, are well documented elsewhere¹⁴.
Over time, Ann became interested in heraldry and applied to the College of Arms for registration of her coat of arms. Although it is not known whether Anne Lister engendered this interest in Ann, we do know that Ann worked on her pedigree and contacted the College of Arms in 1838 (see Appendix: Timeline of journal entries), even meeting with the herald Blue Mantle in London in May of that year. Given Anne’s class consciousness, and her awareness that, in committing to Ann by a “marriage”, Anne was, in the context of the period, “marrying down”¹⁵, it is possible that she encouraged Ann to elevate her standing by establishing a pedigree and coat of arms of her own.
According to records of The Halifax Antiquarian Society¹⁶, the coat of arms pictured below (and rendered artistically by Biljana Popovic) was granted to “Miss Ann Walker, of Cliffe Hill and Crow Nest, Lightcliffe”, in about 1842.
The brass plaque, a monument to Ann Walker’s ancestors, can be found in the Halifax Minster.
Also, as visitors may notice, Halifax Minster’s ceiling is adorned with several panels displaying coats of arms. However, the Walker coat of arms is not one of these. Many of the panels were painted in the 17th and 18th centuries, and Ann Walker’s coat of arms was not even granted until 1842: the College of Arms holds a copy of Letters Patent dated 9 December 1842, declaring the grant of arms and crest to Ann Walker of Cliffe Hill in the parish of Halifax, a spinster, youngest daughter, of the late John Walker and sister and coheir of his son, also John, of Crow Nest.
The College of Arms’ records also note that Ann had petitioned for the authorised arms and crest to be granted, in order to properly use them on a monument to her late father, and for them to be borne by his descendants. The text which accompanied the grant of arms to Ann Walker stated that the arms and crest previously borne by the family had not been registered with the College as belonging to them. This may mean that the family had borne the rightful arms of another Walker family from whom they could not prove their descent.
According to the records of the College of Arms, this coat of arms is formally blazoned thus:
The Crest: On a wreath of the colours a greyhound passant argent semy of mullets and gorged with a collar gemel sable
The Arms: Argent on a chevron nebuly between three crescents sable as many mullets or
The Motto is Per ardua virtus, meaning “virtue through difficulties”
The Wreath is the twisted band, typically of two colours, just underneath the greyhound
The Colours are the principal colours of the arms, here argent and sable
The Greyhound is said to denote courage, swiftness and loyalty, and was representative of nobility. More generally, a dog is said to represent fidelity and reliability
Passant describes the stance of a beast walking past, usually with the right forepaw raised, and typically facing to dexter
Argent is the colour silver
Semy means strewn over with several images
Mullet is a five-pointed star
Gorged means “having a collar”
Collar Gemel means two narrow collars
Sable is the colour black
Argent is the colour silver
Chevron is an inverted V-shaped band
Nebuly refers to wavy or undulating edges
Crescent is a half-moon shape with the points uppermost
Sable is the colour black
Mullet is a five-pointed star
Or is the colour gold
The overall arms can therefore be described as a white background, with a black chevron with nebuly (cloudy/wavy) edges, between three black crescents. On the chevron are three gold mullets.
Following Ann Walker’s death in 1854, her nephew, Evan Charles Sutherland, inherited the Walker estate. As a condition to the inheritance, as stipulated by Ann Walker’s will, and in order to be authorised to use the Walker coat of arms, Evan added “Walker” to his name, obtaining this right by royal licence. This royal licence also granted the right to bear the arms of Walker “quarterly in the first quarter”, and such arms were required to be first exemplified and recorded in the Herald’s Office. In 1883, Evan Charles and his son, William Tudor, gave formal notice that they wished to discontinue use of the name Walker, and presumably, therefore, lost the right to use this coat of arms.
The Coat of Arms of Miss Lister & Miss Walker upon their union
Anne Lister noted in her journal on 12 February 1834 that she and Ann Walker were to exchange rings as a symbol of their union, and they did so on 27 February 1834. They took communion together at the Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York on Easter Sunday, 30 March 1834, to seal their union and to solemnise their commitment to one another.
In 1834, there was no recognition of same-sex marriage. However, we can consider first, how the coats of arms might have been treated, upon marriage, had one of the parties been male and, second, how the coats of arms of two same-sex people might appear, on marriage, today.
In 1834, the rules on “combining" the coats of arms of the parties (male and female) on marriage were (and still are) as follows: if an 'armigerous' man (i.e. a man who bears arms) married the daughter of another armigerous man, then the usual way to represent their arms together was to divide a shield in two with a vertical line, and place the husband's arms on the dexter (the viewer's left) and the wife's on the sinister (the viewer's right). The couple's issue would inherit only their father's arms since arms normally descend down the male line only.
An exception to this was if the wife of the couple had been granted arms herself, or, as was more likely in 1834, had no surviving brothers or any surviving nephews by deceased brothers. At this point, the woman became the representative of her father's blood, as did equally any sisters she had. She was known as a heraldic heiress. Instead of combining her arms with her husband's by splitting the shield in two, as described above, a heraldic heiress placed her arms on a smaller shield which sat in the middle of her husband's arms.
Today, a woman who contracts a same-sex marriage may bear arms on a shield divided vertically in two, with half of each party’s arms on either side (or, if either party is a heraldic heiress, by placing her arms in the centre of those her wife).
Anne Lister and Ann Walker’s marriage was not legally recognised, and their coats of arms were never combined. However, thanks to the talent of Biljana Popovic, we can picture how Anne and Ann might have chosen to reinterpret and combine their coats of arms upon their marriage:
Anne Lister’s life was – to us, today – extraordinary, and remarkable for its unconventionality. At the same time, despite her unorthodox manners and behaviours, she wanted, somehow, to fit in and to be socially accepted (both locally and amongst the aristocratic circles she sought to enter). One way in which she established a sense of herself, at least, involved going down the highly traditional and rarefied route of proving her pedigree through the College of Arms. And yet, even in doing this, she pushed the boundaries: it seems likely that the College of Arms did not, at the time, typically receive enquiries from women.
Furthermore, displaying a coat of arms was a rather traditional visual means of seeking to influence how others should perceive her. For all of Anne’s pride in her heritage and her apparent self-confidence, she still had something to prove, both to herself and to others.
Appendix: timeline of journal entries
Glossary of terms
Arms - the part of a coat of arms which is in the shape of a shield.
Blazon - A conventional formal description of heraldic arms.
Coat of arms - A hereditary device, typically borne upon a shield, these are colourful trappings of medieval chivalry, shrouded in obscure terminology and arcane meanings. This system of arms developed in Northern Europe in the mid-12th century for the purpose of identification on the battlefield and in sporting tournaments such as jousting. Heraldic devices are inheritable, passing from, typically, father to son, like lands and titles, and thus serve as an identifier of a specific lineage. Different branches of a family could be distinguished by adding small symbols onto the shield.
Dexter - The left-hand side of an object when viewing it.
Funerary hatchment - A diamond-shaped tablet, with black border and background, displaying the coat of arms of a dead person. Funerary hatchments were usually used only by the nobility or gentry who bore arms and were usually hung outside the deceased’s house for a year before being moved to the parish church. The last resident of Shibden, John Lister, had three Lister hatchments returned from the parish church to Shibden. According to an article by Rowland Bretton published in the Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian of 7 June 1952, it is not known with absolute certainty that the hatchment displayed at Shibden today was that of Anne Lister. It is possible that it is that of Anne’s aunt, also Anne Lister.
Herald - An official who oversees the use of coats of arms and other armorial bearings. It was the role of the herald to know, recognise, and record these coats of arms and, later, grant and regulate them. “Herald” is a colloquial term for the title of one of the thirteen Officers of the College of Arms. The official titles are somewhat arcane and colourful, and the herald with whom Anne shared protracted correspondence had the title “Rouge Croix Pursuivant”.
Heralds visited each county in England from 1530 to 1687, roughly every generation, in order to oversee the use of arms and to record pedigrees of the gentry. Heralds visited Yorkshire in 1666. At Shibden Hall, they recorded a pedigree going back four generations of Listers and confirmed the arms to the Listers around that time. Anne refers to this visit in her letter dated 13 June 1816 to “Rouge Croix”.
Heraldry The formal system that records and regulates the use and display of hereditary symbols used to distinguish individuals, armies, and institutions.
Pedigree - The recorded ancestry or lineage of a person or family.
Scriven - Written.
Sinister - the right-hand side of an object when viewing it.
Tincture - Colour. A very limited range of colours is used in heraldry.
Gentleman Jack - The Real Anne Lister, by Anne Choma
Anne Lister and The Split Self (1791 - 1840) - A Critical Study of Her Diaries, by Anne Choma
Female Fortune - Land, Gender and Authority, The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings, 1833 - 1836, by Jill Liddington
Miss Lister of Shibden Hall, Selected Letters 1800 to 1840, edited by Muriel M. Green
Moving Between Worlds: Gender, Class, Politics, Sexuality and Women’s Networks in the Diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire, 1830 - 1840, by Catherine A. Euler
The Halifax Antiquarian Society, “Local Heraldry”, by Rowland Bretton, 1929
The Heraldic Panels in the Halifax Parish Church, by Rowland Bretton, 1936
The London Gazette, No. 21833, 1 January 1856
The College of Arms website
Shibden Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire - Calderdale Council
The completion of this article involved significant contributions by others, and I am enormously grateful to the following:
Marlene Oliveira, who has most generously shared a range of articles, transcriptions, research materials, and her wide knowledge, and has patiently given of her time and technical expertise.
Dr Helen M. Parkins for her review of the composition of this article.
Jude Dobson, for her research on Ann Walker’s coat of arms, and for sharing it.
Biljana Popovic, for her creative, artistic, and technical skills, and for permitting me to use her stunning visual interpretations of the coats of arms.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, for giving their permission to include transcriptions of letters written by Anne and Jeremy Lister.
Jennifer Briasco, for transcribing so much correspondence between Anne Lister, and James Lister, and the College of Arms, and for sharing the transcripts and permitting me to use them.
Lynne Miller, for sharing interesting and amusing findings on heraldry.
Tiffany April and Leila Straub, for sharing transcriptions and directing me to journal entries.