Finest Hour 164, Special Edition, September 2014
By Paul H. Courtenay
A married woman cannot normally display her paternal arms except in conjunction with those of her husband. This is a marital coat, showing the husband’s arms on the dexter side (right side as seen by the bearer of the shield), and the wife’s paternal arms on the sinister side; this is known as an impalement. The heraldic description is as follows:
Gules, a chevron Or between in chief two mallets erect of the second and in base two wings conjoined in lure Argent [SOAMES] impaling.
Quarterly 1st and 4th Sable, a lion rampant Argent, on a canton of the last a cross Gules [CHURCHILL], 2nd and 3rd grand-quarterly Argent and Gules, in the 2nd and 3rd grand-quarters a fret Or, over all on a bend Sable three escallops of the first [SPENCER]; and, as an augmentation of honour, in chief an escutcheon Argent charged with the Cross of St George Gules and thereon an inescutcheon of the arms of France, namely Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or.
Around the shield is the Garter with its motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense [Shame on him who thinks evil of it], indicating the bearer’s honour as a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter [LG]. Suspended below the shield from the ribbon of the Order of the British Empire is the badge of a Dame Commander of the Order [DBE]. Above the shield is the coronet of a Baroness.
Supporters: Dexter, a lion guardant winged Argent gorged with a collar gemel Gules;
Sinister, a falcon wings elevated and addorsed and belled Or holding in the beak a lure Gules feathered Argent.
Motto: Fiel Pero Desdichado [Faithful but Unfortunate] is the Churchill family’s Spanish motto.
Progression of Honours
1922: Miss Mary Churchill.
1945: Miss Mary Churchill
MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for war service.
1947: Mrs. Christopher Soames MBE (upon marriage).
1965: The Hon Mrs. Soames MBE (her mother, Lady Churchill, is given a Life barony as Lady Spencer-Churchill).
1972: The Hon Lady Soames MBE (her husband receives a knighthood, becoming Sir Christopher Soames).
1978: The Baroness Soames MBE (“The Hon” is dropped when Sir Christopher becomes The Baron Soames).
1980: The Baroness Soames DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire on advancement from MBE).
2005: The Baroness Soames LG DBE (on appointment as a Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, which was founded in 1348).
1. A Baron and Baroness (usually “The Lord/Lady —”) use the more formal titles only in the most legalistic circumstances.
2. A Baron has the prefix “The Rt Hon.”
3. A Baroness by marriage sometimes uses the prefix “The Rt Hon,” but this is considered over the top and unnecessary.
4. As a DBE, Lady Soames would be styled “Dame Mary,” but not if she or her husband hold a higher honour. By 1980 she was already a Baroness (higher than DBE).
5. An LG would be styled “Lady Mary,” but not if she or her husband hold a higher honour. By 2005 she was already a Baroness, a higher honour than LG and DBE.
6. “LG” is very prestigious: there are only twenty-four KGs and LGs, excluding Royal persons, but several hundred Baronesses.
“Dame Mary” would ignore the higher LG, which would make her “Lady Mary”; but both these titles are subsumed by her higher status as Baroness. “Lady Mary, The Lady Soames” is more correct, but is, I think, ponderous. Her preferred and correct title is therefore The Lady Soames LG DBE.