A reply to the Downton Historian’s post – The Earl of Grantham: War Hero and Gentleman Officer (Part 1 – Medals)

While trawling for something online, I came across this blog post from someone calling herself “Downton Historian”, it was a reply to two questions posted on her page asking for more information about the medals on the Earl of Grantham’s uniform and what form of military training would he have received in order to be commissioned as an officer.

I have to give credit to Downton Historian for her efforts in research, trying to find the answers and informing people. It’s also good that a TV programme has been spurring people to find out more about the past and I would like to add and expand on Downton Historian’s post, particularly to clarify a few points where she has made errors of fact and wrong assumptions.

In several episodes in series 2 and 5 and the 2013 Christmas special, Lord Grantham is seen wearing four medals all of which were earned during his stint in the army. From left to right, we have the following:

Robert_S5_uniform close up

The Queen’s and King’s South Africa Medals

The Queen’s South Africa Medal was a campaign medal issued to personnel who served in the Boer War between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902. They were awarded to units from the British Army, Royal Navy, troops from the Empire, civilians employed in official capacity and war correspondents as well as also awarded without clasps to troops who guarded Boer prisoners of war at the POW camp on the island of St. Helena. The King’s South Africa Medal was awarded to all troops who served in South Africa on or after 1 January 1902, and completed 18 months service before 1 June 1902. The KSA was always awarded with the QSA.

For the Queen’s South Africa Medals, there were twenty six clasps that could be added which indicated each action or campaign during the war. Regulations for awarding the medals and clasps state that “that anyone who was issued with a clasp for an engagement within a state was not thereafter eligible for the clasp for that state.” In addition, no recipient could be awarded both the Cape Colony and Natal clasps.

Lord Grantham’s QSA is shown with two clasps and whilst we cannot be certain which specific battles and reliefs he would have been involved in, the mess dress he is wearing in series 2 and the regimental tie he wears in the 2012 Christmas special indicates that he served with the Grenadier Guards. The second and third battalion of the Grenadiers saw action in the Boer War with the third battalion spending the entire war in South Africa. The regiment was involved in key battles and campaigns such as Belmont, Modder River, Transvaal, Cape Colony, Wittebergen and Dreifontein.

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Back in series 2 and the 2013 Christmas special, there was only one clasp on Lord Grantham’s KSA medal which is technically incorrect because as Captain Jocelyn noted all those “who have served in the later period of the war, viz., on or after 1 January 1902, having completed 18 months’ service on that date, or before 1 June 1902” were entitled to two clasps except for troops from New Zealand and nurses. During the final episode of series 5, the earl’s King’s South Africa medal correctly has two clasps.

The King Edward VII Coronation Medal

Contrary to what the blogger states, this medal isn’t a mystery at all or rare, they do turn up at specialist, antique and collectible shops both on the High Street and online as well as eBay. The medal was struck to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on 9 August 1902 and was given under conditions similar to those prescribed for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee medals; members of the royal family, foreign princes and high officials of their suites, government officials and  senior officers of the Navy and Army. It also went to officers, soldiers and members of the police who took part in the parade and lined the procession route.

There were three types of medals which were for navy and army, civil and police which were distinguished by their ribands:

Naval and Military – 1 ¼ inches. Royal blue, broad red centre stripe and white edges

Civil – dark blue centre stripe divided by a narrow white stripe and broad red border stripes

Police – scarlet, with bright blue centre stripe 1/8 inch wide

As seen in the photo, Lord Grantham’s coronation medal has the naval and military riband which indicates that he took part in the Coronation parade; and that he must have hurried back from South Africa the moment peace was declared, as he had to have been in the colony on 1 June 1902 to qualify for the King’s South Africa medal.

The King George V Coronation Medal

This medal was given under conditions similar to those prescribed for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee medals. Unlike Victoria’s Jubilee medals and Edward VII’s coronation medal, there were no distinctions for the armed forces, civilians and police. Given that both Victoria’s Jubilee Medals and Edward VII’s coronation medals were given to members of the armed forces and the police who took part in the parade and lined the procession route, it was to be the same with George V. The picture clearly shows that Lord Grantham has the George V coronation medal which would indicate that he did take part in the parade thus would have been in the army until at least 1911.

Crucially, this was the first coronation medal where a number were allocated to local authorities. Whereas coronation medals in the past were allocated to royals, politicians, senior members of the armed forces and the police, the notion of them being given to ordinary people was part of George V’s idea to make the monarchy more accessible to the ordinary man and woman. The medals given out by local authorities were for local worthies and officials and hence the idea of a peer of the realm receiving his medal from the local mayor is unthinkable.

Another crucial point is that while we commonly associate medals with bravery and valour, they are also given to individuals who have worked on behalf of the community, in public service and those who have passed landmark years of service; for instance with the Royal Household. There are also those struck and given to commemorate events such as coronations and jubilees hence Coronation Medals have nothing to do with bravery and valour, it is to celebrate an important event and it has nothing to do with courage or participating in a military campaign at all.

On a final note, campaign medals are different from those awarded for acts of bravery and valour. Campaign medals are given to those who participated in a military operation in one capacity or the other. The fact that Lord Grantham has both Boer War campaign medals indicates that he did serve in South Africa but given we don’t hear anything about his war services there is no evidence about how he fought and if he was a good, bad or mediocre leader of men. All we know is that he came back alive and if he did fight valiantly then Lord Grantham would have been awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross (now known as the Distinguished Service Cross) or the Distinguished Service Order or even the Victoria Cross. As he has none of the medals for valour, then all that we know is that he served in South Africa, fought in several major battles and returned home alive.

Further reading:

Henry Hanning. The British Grenadiers: 350 Years of the First Regiment of Foot Guards 1656-2006 (Barnsley, 2006)

Captain Arthur Jocelyn CVO. Awards of Honour: The Orders, Decorations, Medals and Awards of Great Britain and the Commonwealth from Edward III to Elizabeth II (London, 1956)

http://www.angloboerwar.com/medals-and-awards/british/1875-queens-south-africa-medal

http://www.angloboerwar.com/medals-and-awards/british/1723-ksa

http://www.army.mod.uk/structure/32322.aspx

http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Honours/MilitaryHonoursandAwards/MilitaryHonoursandAwards.aspx

Additional notes:

The photos of Lord Grantham have been taken from various Downton Abbey fan sites. As they have been stored in folders for a long time now, I cannot remember which specific sites they first appeared. I wish to acknowledge the sources and apologise that I cannot do so by name.

I would also like to thank the proprietor of the London Medal Company (whose name sadly escapes me) for patiently replying to my questions about the South Africa Medals and the clasps.

Several medals are on display at various regimental museums across Britain, the National Army Museum and the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth (Lord Ashcroft Gallery). Some of the medals belonging to Grenadier Guardsmen are on display at the Guards Museum in London.

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3 thoughts on “A reply to the Downton Historian’s post – The Earl of Grantham: War Hero and Gentleman Officer (Part 1 – Medals)

  1. Anyone who is interested in learning more about these medals, I would recommend the following books from Dr. Christopher McCreery, MVO: 1) http://dominionofcanada.com/commemorative_medals/index.html COMMEMORATIVE MEDALS OF THE QUEEN’S REIGN IN CANADA. This book describes every commemorative medal since Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. I was happy to see that Colonel the Right Honourable the Earl of Grantham is wearing the silver version of the coronation medal of Edward VII and not the bronze version. 2) http://dominionofcanada.com/Canadian_Honours_2/index.html The Canadian Honours System 2nd Edition. This book describes the South African War Medals.

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