Former Garter King of Arms involved in Churchill's funeral and the investiture of the Prince of Wales

Born: 13 May, 1924;

Died: 10 January, 2019

SIR Conrad Swan, who has died aged 94, was as Garter King of Arms, the senior heraldic authority of England. In his long service to heraldry, he acted for the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965; he was also on duty for the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, and was Gentleman Usher-in-Waiting to Pope John Paul II during the papal visit of 1982.

Unusually for an English herald, Conrad Marshall John Fisher Swan was Canadian born of a father descended from the noble Polish family of Święcicki. On emigration to Canada in 1884, his doctor father changed the family surname to Swan. Sir Conrad was the first Canadian ever appointed to the English College of Arms.

His heraldic career was equally unusual. Appointed Rouge Dragon Pursuivant in 1962, six years after he had become York Herald, and in 1992 on the retirement of Sir Colin Cole, Swan was appointed Garter King of Arms, an equivalent office of that of our own Lord Lyon.

An innovator, Conrad Swan was the first herald to execute duties in full tabard across the Atlantic Ocean and in the southern hemisphere. This he did in Bermuda in 1969 and again in Brisbane in 1977. Instrumental in the creation of an honours system for Antigua and Barbuda, from 1964 he was invited by Lester Pearson, prime minister of Canada, to advise on the establishment of a Canadian national flag, and on the creation of an honours system based on what is now the Order of Canada.

Dr Swan was a born traveller, originally destined for a lifetime career in the Indian Army. A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, he was commissioned into the Madras Regiment, the oldest in the country. However he viewed Indian independence in 1947 as “the end of a chapter", and took early retirement, heading back to the University of Western Ontario to take undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Developing an interest in Commonwealth affairs, he came to the UK and gained a doctorate at Cambridge.

He returned to Canada yet again in 1955, spending six years lecturing at the University of Windsor in Ontario. Thus began a lifetime of lecturing on history and heraldry at universities and institutions across every continent except Antarctica. On never making it to south polar regions, Sir Conrad remarked “The penguins haven’t invited me yet”.

A lifetime heraldic scholar and promoter of the subject, Sir Conrad proved no mere armchair proselytiser. A founder of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, he helped make the society the driving force toward the establishment of Canada's own heraldic executive.

From his prolific pen flowed numerous articles and essays, plus several books. His main genealogical work was Blood of the Martyrs (1993), a roll of the martyr ancestors of British Knights of Malta, written in conjunction with the noted Edinburgh heraldist Peter Drummond-Murray of Mastrick. He titled his 2005 autobiography A King From Canada, a reference to his office as Garter King of Arms.

When he stepped down in 1995, a newspaper allegation emerged that in his capacity as genealogist to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, he had favoured a son-in-law for entry into the order. He rigorously denied these allegations, noting that he had neither been asked nor interviewed by any reporter on the subject.

That same year he was not only diagnosed with cancer but in December, suffered the appalling loss of his wife of 38 years, Lady Hilda, daughter of the Earl of Iddesleigh, when she was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Theirs had been a loving relationship, producing five children.

Formal, polite, with no trace of an accent from his native British Columbia, Sir Conrad away from public office proved spirited company, much given to laughter, and particularly to sharing private jokes with his wife.

Knighted in 1994, Sir Conrad gained honours and decorations from many nations he had assisted – from the West Indies to Rwanda, to Norway, Ethiopia and Tonga. Of particular pride to him were decorations from Poland and Lithuania, remembering his ancestral links.

His personal arms were confirmed through distant Polish ancestors, and matriculated by the then department of heraldry in St Petersburg in 1811, and then ultimately within the College of Arms.

Sir Conrad is survived by four daughters and a son, and grandchildren.