White Rod

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The White Rod, White Wand, Rod of Inauguration, or Wand of Sovereignty, in the Irish language variously called the slat na ríghe (rod of kingship) and slat tighearnais (rod of lordship), was the primary symbol of a Gaelic king or lord's legitimate authority and the principal prop used in his inauguration ceremony.[1] First documented in the 12th century Life of Máedóc of Ferns, but assumed to have been used long before then,[2] it is last documented in Ireland in the early 17th century. In Scotland the rod was used into the 13th century for the inauguration of its last Gaelic kings,[3] and for the Norse-Gaelic Lords of the Isles into the 15th.[4]

While the reception of the rod was in origin a Gaelic cultural feature, following the Norman invasion of Ireland some foreign families became significantly Gaelicised. A notable Anglo-Norman example were the great De Burgh magnates styled Mac William Íochtar, who had become completely Gaelicised and received the White Rod.[5]

Qualities and symbolism[edit]

The rod was required to be both white and straight, with the colour representing purity and the straightness of justice, according to the account given by Geoffrey Keating.[6]


Although the meaning and purpose were always the same, the particulars of the ceremony appear to have varied across the Gaelic world. Most notably who presented the new lord or king with the rod depended on the history and traditions of each kingdom.[7]

Scottish Parliament[edit]

Prior to the Union with England in 1707, there was a Gentleman Usher of the White Rod in the Parliament of Scotland, who had a similar role to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in the English, British and then UK Parliaments.

The Heritable Usher of the White Rod' is the only example of an office of the Crown becoming incorporated as a company. The Walker Trust Act, 1877, incorporated the office into the Walker Trustees, entitling the trustees to charge dues from anyone receiving an honour from the Crown. In 1908 the Society of Knights Bachelor was formed to contest this right, but a Court of Session case the following year confirmed the right of the Walker Trustees to charge recipients of honours. However, the Society of Knights Bachelor won an appeal to the House of Lords in 1911.[8]

The Bishop of Edinburgh as Ex Officio chair of the Walker Trustees is the Heritable Usher of the White Rod. The current holder is the Rt. Revd Dr John A Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, but the role carries no duties.[clarification needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Donovan, pp. 425 ff; FitzPatrick 2004, p. 58
  2. ^ FitzPatrick 2004, p. 58 and passim
  3. ^ Alexander III of Scotland was the last, for whom and which see Bannerman 1989.
  4. ^ Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles is recorded being so inaugurated in the Book of Clanranald, ed. & tr. Cameron, pp. 160–1.[1]
  5. ^ FitzPatrick 2004, p. 214 and passim
  6. ^ Keating, p. 23
  7. ^ O'Donovan, pp. 425 ff
  8. ^ "Origin of the Society of Knights Bachelor". London: Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor. Retrieved 28 July 2011.