Conrad Swan

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Sir Conrad Marshall John Fisher Swan KCVO FSA (born 13 May 1924)[1] was a long-serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. Having been first appointed to work at the College in 1962, he rose to the office of Garter Principal King of Arms in 1992, a position he held until 1995. He was the first Canadian ever to be appointed to the College of Arms.

Early life[edit]

Conrad Swan was born in 1924 in British Columbia, Canada. His father was descended from the Polish noble family of Święcicki (Coat of arms of Jastrzębiec). After emigrating to Canada in 1884 the family surname became Swan.

Swan devoted much of his life to travelling. Having decided to make a lifetime career in the Indian Army, Swan was sent by the India Office (the UK governmental office responsible for India at the time) to the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Having completed the course there, he proceeded to India and was commissioned and appointed to the Madras Regiment, the oldest in the country. Indian Independence (1947) caused him to make other decisions "it being the end of a chapter". Upon retirement from the Indian Army, he went directly back to Canada to take a BA and MA at the University of Western Ontario (Assumption College). During this time, he developed a keen interest in Commonwealth affairs, which brought him back to Britain, where he acquired his doctorate from Cambridge University in 1955.[citation needed]

Swan spent six years (1955–1961) lecturing in history at the Assumption University of Windsor, Ontario, of which he was also University Beadle. As guest lecturer he has visited many universities, not only in North America but in every continent except Antarctica, "the penguins haven't invited me yet".[citation needed]

Heraldic career[edit]

The coat of arms of Sir Conrad Swan

In addition to his educational achievements, Swan developed an exceptional heraldic career. He was first appointed Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary in 1962 and six years later became York Herald of Arms in Ordinary. In these capacities, he was among the Earl Marshal’s staff for the State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969, and was Gentleman Usher-in-Waiting to Pope John Paul II during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1982.

Swan was appointed Garter Principal King of Arms in 1992 on the retirement of Sir Alexander Colin Cole. His own retirement came in 1995, after having been diagnosed with cancer. At the time, some allegations were made in a newspaper article concerning his decision, in his capacity as Genealogist of the British Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, with regard to the grade in which one of his sons-in-law should enter the Order. He denied these allegations, noting that he had never been interviewed by any reporter on this subject.

Sir Conrad Swan was the first herald to execute official duties in-tabard across the Atlantic Ocean and in the southern hemisphere. He did so in Bermuda in 1969 and in Brisbane in 1977. He was instrumental in the creation of the Honours System of Antigua and Barbuda, and between 1964 and 1967, Swan was an adviser to the Prime Minister of Canada on the establishment of the National Flag of Canada and the Order of Canada. Swan also took a special interest in Saskatchewan, helping the province to obtain a full coat of arms from the Queen in 1986 and a new Great Seal in 1991. He advised the province on the establishment of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1985 and the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal in 1995 and the recent expansion of the provincial honours system (notably the Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan).

A keen scholar and publicist, Swan has written a number of books and articles on heraldic, sigillographic and related subjects. He is a member of several international societies and organisations and was a founder of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada and the Heraldic Garden in Britain.[citation needed]

Honours and appointments[edit]

Swan was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994 as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO). He is also a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Nation of Antigua and Barbuda (KGCN), Knight of Honour and Devotion of the Order of Malta, Cross of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, Knight's Cross of the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas (Lithuania), Knight Grand Cross of Justice of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Francis I (GCFO) and Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Lion of Rwanda.

He is also a Knight of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem and Knight Principal of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor (1995–2000); Commander (with Star) of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit; Grand Cross with Grand Collar of the Imperial Order of the Holy Trinity (Ethiopia); Coronation Medal of the King of Tonga. He received the Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan in 2005.


In 1957, Swan married Lady Hilda Susan Mary Northcote (born 23 July 1937 – died 4 December 1995), Serving Sister Most Venerable Order of St. John, Dame of Honour and Devotion Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Dame of Justice (SMO) of Constantine St. George; and President, St. John's Ambulance Society Suffolk.

Lady Hilda was the younger daughter of Henry Stafford Northcote, the 3rd Earl of Iddesleigh, and granddaughter of author Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes. She died in Boxford, Suffolk, when she was hit by a car, which did not stop. She was 58 years old.[2]

They had five children:

  • Mary Elizabeth Magdalen Swan (b. 1959)
  • Hilda Juliana Mary Swan (b. 1961)
  • Catherine Sylveria Mary Swan (b. 1962)
  • Andrew Conrad Henry Joseph Swan (b. 1964)
  • Anastasia Cecilia Mary Swan (b. 1966)

A King From Canada[edit]

Swan's autobiography was released in 2005. A King From Canada was published by The Memoir Club and featured a foreword by former Chief Canadian Herald Robert Watt.

Published works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Birthday's today". The Telegraph. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2014. Sir Conrad Swan, Garter Principal King of Arms, 1992–95, is 89 
  2. ^ "Lady Swan dies". The Times. London, England. 6 December 1995. p. 5. Hilda Swan, wife of Sir Conrad Swan, former Garter Principal King of Arms at the Royal College of Arms, was killed by a hit-and-run driver near her home at Boxford, Suffolk. Lady Swan, 58, was treated at the scene but died of her injuries. 

External links[edit]

Heraldic offices
Preceded by
Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees
Rouge Dragon Pursuivant
Succeeded by
Theobald Mathew
Preceded by
The Lord Sinclair
York Herald
Succeeded by
Peter Spurrier
Preceded by
Alexander Colin Cole
Garter Principal King of Arms
1992 – 1995
Succeeded by
Peter Gwynn-Jones
Preceded by
Registrar of the College of Arms
? – 1992
Succeeded by
Hubert Chesshyre
Court offices
Preceded by
Colin Cole
Knight Principal of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Gaskell