Obituary: Romilly Squire of Rubislaw, heraldic artist
Romilly Squire of Rubislaw, heraldic artist. Born: 3 April, 1953, in Glasgow. Died: 7 December, 2016, in Edinburgh, aged 63.
Romilly Squire was a leading heraldic painter of his day, and in his prime among the world’s best.
His talent lay in producing armorial design that was bold and simple, layering his work with energy and elegance. He brought life to colour, cross and creature, imbuing vivacity in the simplest of charges. There was never a lion that lacked a glint in its eye, nor a castle where the battlements didn’t frown, nor a sabre that well-nigh rattled.
Romilly’s interest in heraldry developed at an early age. Arthurian legends played an important part in his formative years, sparking a passion for arms and armour, chivalry and heraldry. Above his childhood bed hung Don Pottinger’s chart Scotland of Old, firing his imagination with images of romance of a bygone age.
From what he himself described as “an unremarkable education at the High School of Glasgow”, Romilly studied graphic design at Glasgow School of Art, being benevolently influenced in choice of higher education by his father, the distinguished portrait painter Geoffrey Squire, long a lecturer there and later a governor. On graduation and with teacher training behind him, Romilly returned to Glasgow High School to teach art for six years.
Around this time, he turned to heraldry, producing armorial artwork for family, friends and for his own enjoyment, being greatly influenced by the work of Don Pottinger, then the most innovative heraldic artist in a generation. The upshot was that Romilly’s work came to the notice of Mr Pottinger (then Lyon Clerk in the office of the Lord Lyon); Romilly moved to Edinburgh and become a herald painter, a post he held for some two decades.
Substantial recognition came to him when in 1996 he was invited to participate in the world’s first artists’ workshop at the International Heraldic and Genealogical Congress in Ottawa – with the outcome being that his work was exhibited in the Ottawa Museum of Civilisation, and he was awarded the Corel Prize. Now considered one of the finest heraldic artists of his generation, he was invited as advisor to the Chief Herald of Ireland on the renaissance of that office in 1998.
Romilly invested passion in his work. He scorned some colours as “too mild”, and instigated long-distance searches for special paints of the hues he wanted. Friends visiting mainland Europe would be given tasks of tracking down particular brands and tones of locally-produced colours.
While his CV reads easily enough – elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Society of Arts; serving on the committee of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, editing the HSS journal Double Tressure and the newsletter Tak Tent, and ultimately becoming chairman for two terms 2002-2008; being appointed Officer of the Order of St John, and taking up post as Limner to the Order in Scotland; and serving as secretary of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs – it masks the man.
He had second and third careers as model and actor, in the latter including a part in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while the many publications to which he contributed in whole or part include Gem Pocket Tartans (Collins), Kings and Queens of Europe and Kings and Queens of Great Britain (Elm Tree Books), Clans and Tartans (HarperCollins) and the magisterial Collins Encyclopedia of the Clans and Families of Scotland. He also illustrated Clans and Tartans (Regency House Publishing), Scottish Tartan Weddings (Hippocrene Books, Inc), and the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Britain (Readers Digest).
He took up sport as a young man, having a fascination for kendo, the Japanese art of fencing, gaining 4th Dan from the All-Japan Kendo Federation in 1992, and going on to teach the martial art. He was also an active freemason, becoming Past Master of the Lodge of Holyroodhouse (St Lukes) No 44.
He went abroad regularly – studying foreign heraldry, attending Highland Games to proselytise the cause, and lecturing. One of his more memorable presentations was to the Heraldry Society of Scotland when he produced a learned and insightful account of the Japanese system of mon.
If Romilly had a passion beyond heraldry, it was for orders and decorations – and these he amassed as others might collect stamps. He was an Officer of the Order of St Lazarus (1998), Grand Officer of the Imperial Order of the Star of Ethiopia (2000), Member of the Noble Compania de Ballesteros Hijosdalgo de San Felipe y Santiago, Spain (2010), Knight of the Order of the Eagle of Georgia (2010), Knight of the Imperial Order of St Anne, Russia (2011), Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael of the Wing, Portugal (2011), and many more. Appearing one year at the annual St Andrew’s Dinner of the Heraldry Society of Scotland and being asked about his impressive line-up of miniature medals, he replied with a wink: “Ah, but these are merely the ‘edited highlights’.”
Wit, raconteur, bon viveur, Romilly could sometimes enjoy life too much. He became ill within the past year, and died after 10 days in hospital. His long-term partner Andrea Seath survives him, as does his sister Susan. His legacy is the indelible mark he made on the design and practice of Scots heraldry.
Romilly’s love of ceremonial was acknowledged by a hatchment displayed at his funeral, a piece painted for him by his friend Mark Dennis, fellow artist, advocate and herald. GORDON CASELY