The Royal Standard

I was watching the Queen’s Christmas message, which included a shot of the Royal Standard flying above Windsor Castle. The Royal Standard is a banner of the Royal Arms and signifies the Queen’s presence.

I was surprised to notice that the Irish quarter (bottom left) features a “lady harp” – that is, a harp whose pillar and arch take the form of a topless, winged female. I had heard that H.M. the Queen does not like this rendition, preferring instead the non-anthropomorphized Gaelic harp. Most current depictions of the Royal Arms feature such a harp.


Full Royal Arms (English version) from a document issued by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.

The Irish quarter is simply Azure, a harp Or stringed Argent, so both the Gaelic harp and the lady harp follow the blazon – it’s merely an artistic preference which one is shown. Obviously, when it comes to her own heraldry, the Queen’s desires reign supreme – so it’s surprising that Royal Standard does not follow the Royal Arms. A little image-Googling indicates that the standard shown in the Christmas message is far from a one-off. 


Apparently the tabards of the heralds at the College of Arms also feature a lady harp – at least they did in 2006, when the photo above (of York Herald Henry Paston-Bedingfeld and Windsor Herald William Hunt) was taken at the annual Garter procession. 

Why do these lady-harp holdouts exist? It’s a mystery!