March is Women’s History Month in much of Europe and the USA, including International Women’s Day on the 8th. Here at Grant Macdonald, we are very proud to have worked with a number of women who, will no doubt, become important historical figures. Perhaps the most notable of recent times is Dame Fiona Woolf, who was the 686th Lord Mayor of London - and only the second woman to hold that prestigious title in over 800 years!
In many ways, our work here has been defined by our relationship with the institutions of the City of London, our founder’s first commission was to design and make a new mace for the Worshipful Company of Barbers - an influential guild of surgeons and doctors dating back to the middle ages - and since then we have produced a great many badges of office, loving cups, ceremonial scroll holders, candelabra, lecterns and Chains of Office for the many other Livery Companies, Sheriffs, Aldermen and Lord Mayors of the City. Perhaps though, on account of her rare achievement, the Sheriff’s badge and chain we created for Dame Fiona Woolf will count as one of the more historically important.
Every badge is personal to the Sheriff. In Dame Fiona Woolf’s design, the badge has a striking motif symbolising an atom - a reference to her career as an influential lawyer and reformer in the energy industry, advisor to the World Bank and President of the Law Society. These golden orbits of electrons are 18 carat gold set with diamonds, circling elements in yellow, white and rose gold. Hanging from the shield - itself marked with lightning flashes on a saltire cross and a central Wolf’s face - is her CBE medal, a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. At the top of the badge there is the familiar shield of the City of London set with rubies and diamonds.
Most notable, though, as one of the only two women to be elected Lord Mayor of London is the subtle use of the pointed tail and 3-dot motif - which actually symbolises ermine. Traditionally a symbol of purity used by nobles and royalty all over Europe, in this case it has a deeper significance. The ermine symbol became the heraldic symbol associated with women, possibly because of the work of Leonardo Da Vinci who painted only four women in his lifetime (that are known about, at least) and one of them is famously presented holding an ermine in large masculine hands, and looking intently off to the side of the portrait, showing movement and dynamism. It is generally considered to be the first modern portrait of a woman that focused on her strength and intelligence over physical beauty. A modern woman… by renaissance standards.
As a modern woman, Dame Fiona Woolf’s motto from her coat of arms reads Plus Qu’hier Moins Que Demain or More than Yesterday, Less than Tomorrow which comes from an inscription inside her mother’s engagement ring, perhaps more than that it’s a very good way to celebrate Women’s History Month.