St. Stephen’s Day

Today is the feast day of St. Stephen of Hungary, the very first King of Hungary, canonized in 1083. (In addition to Hungary, he is also the patron saint of kings, masons, bricklayers, and severely ill children.) In honor of him and the nation he founded, I figured we’d take a look at their arms.


The nation of Hungary bears per pale barry of gules and argent and of the first, a cross patriarchal paté of the second issuant from a crown upon three mounts in base all proper. I appreciate that it’s a union of old and new(er) arms, and the repeated gules and argent help give the arms a visual unity. 

The dexter arms, barry of eight gules and argent, were used by the Árpáds dating back to 1202. Supposedly, the four white stripes represent the four major rivers – the Danube, Tisza, Dráva, and Száva, which is just boring enough to be plausible. The explanation could just as easily be a post hoc rationalization, though. Depending on the particular ruler and who was drawing the arms, sometimes the red stripes were charged with lions of various positions (passant, respectant, etc.). There are also a few depictions that add linden leaves, such as the Golden Bull of 1222 displaying the seal of Andrew II.

The use of the patriarchal cross is only slightly younger than the bars; Béla IV used it on a royal seal around 1235. However, the mount doesn’t show up for another 35 years or so until the reign of Stephen V. The patriarchal cross was in fairly consistent use until the Catholic House of Anjou came to power in 1308. They impaled the arms of Hungary ancien with the azure semé de lis or of France. With the exception of Louis the Great, the patriarchal cross didn’t reappear in the royal arms until Władysław III in the 1440s. After that, Hungary ancien and Hungary moderne were both in fairly common use in various royal arms (please don’t make me talk about the Habsburgs, please don’t make me talk about the Habsburgs, you thought Liechtenstein was bad, have you seen some of the Habsburg arms?). The combination was popular enough that it was also used by republican governments, and it was reestablished as official in 1990. (From 1957 to 1990, the arms were tierced per fess gules, argent, and vert, which just seems like a cheap knockoff of Italy to me.)

Interestingly, what’s going on around the base of the cross in any particular version can tell you a lot about what was going on with the political situation of Hungary at the time. Louis the Great seems to have been the first to add the crown to the patriarchal cross, and it stuck around until the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. At that point, the crown was removed from the arms as a symbolic rejection of the monarchy, and replaced with a laurel wreath instead. Similarly, the First Hungarian Republic used the ancient-and-moderne combo, but without any crown at all. The crown didn’t really come back until the current version of the arms, and it sounds like it was a minor point of contention, but they obviously ended up going with the crown.


Arms of Normandy, France


In use since 1189 at the latest

Blazon: Gules two lions passant guardant or armed and langued azure

Oh, Normandy. Never change. You haven’t since like, 1189 at the latest, but we already saw what happened to Aquitaine, so. And I do say 1189 instead of 1066, because we don’t have any contemporary records of William the Conqueror using the two lions. The number of lions was a little flexible for a while, but it was pretty solidly established as two by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

I will also take this opportunity to point out the issue with the leopards. The position of “passant guardant” in English heraldry is blazoned as “leopardé” in French. Often, from translation errors, confusion, or laziness, this results in lions passant guardant being recorded in English as leopards. This problem is especially acute in regards to the Norman coat of arms, which a. actually has lions passant guardant, and b. belongs to a region that kept switching back and forth between France and England for a while. If you ever see an English reference to the leopards of Normandy, it’s technically incorrect, but a very common and understandable error.

Meet the Burkes

Why yes, dear reader. Those Burkes. The Burkes of Burke’s Peerage, the British publisher of books on genealogy, royalty, nobility, and multiple other flavors of the upper crust. The Burkes that earned themselves a dig from Oscar Wilde himself in A Woman of No Importance, which is its own kind of distinction, and maybe rarer than a title. Those are the Burkes with whom we are dealing.

John Burke, who gets top billing on the title page, started the ball rolling in 1826 with the Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom. (Burke was very much a man of his times when it comes to title lengths.) His innovation with this text was to arrange the thing in alphabetical order, which seems obvious when we think about it now, but apparently wasn’t. The next eight editions of the Peerage were published irregularly, and in 1847, they started coming out annually. He also started publishing the series that would become Burke’s Landed Gentry in 1833 with the first volume of A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland. The Encyclopaedia falls right in the prime of his publishing career; it originally came out as A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1842, and was republished in 1844 as the edition I’m using.

Burke had two sons: Peter, who became a lawyer and published a few legal works and discussions of famous trials, and John Bernard, our second co-author. John Bernard took after his father, helping the senior Burke with his genealogical research and writing. He took over editing Burke’s Peerage in 1847, the year before his father died. (Interestingly, Bernard never published anything independently while his father was alive.) It’s not clear whether this Burke was a better herald and genealogist than his father, or simply more prestigious, but he was appointed Ulster King of Arms in 1853, and was knighted the next year. Judging by his solo publications, Burke Jr. had much more of a fascination with the narratives of the aristocracy and nobility; in addition to the fairly dry works of genealogy, he published The Romance of the Aristocracy, The Rise of Great Families, and multiple editions of Vicissitudes of Families.

The Encyclopaedia seems to favor the senior Burke’s preferences, unfortunately. It is divided into four general sections: a short essay on the history and practice of heraldry, a dictionary of heraldic terms, a section on the royal arms of Britain and its monarchs, and a general armory listing out the arms of the nobility and gentry. I’ll definitely be going through the first and third sections, and if there’s anything interesting or ridiculous in the dictionary of terms, I’ll be sure to pull that out as well. I don’t anticipate finding anything much to write about in the general armory, but who knows?

Burke’s Peerage as an institution has taken a lot of heat for its… hm, shall we say loose relationship to actual historical fact. Part of this sounds like they were pretty careless about editing and proofreading, part of it sounds like they were somewhat starstruck by their subjects, and part of it sounds like they (like Burke Jr.) were suckers for a good story. It does sound like they’ve cleaned up their act starting around the 1950s. However, our text is quite a bit earlier than that. I’ll be sure to take any historical claims with a block of salt, but I can’t deny that I’m really hoping to encounter some of these fanciful tales.

Arms of Villamayor de Calatrava, Spain

Villamayor de Calatrava

Granted 1984; possibly in use since 1576

Blazon: Or a stone column* proper on a base vert, in chief a cross of Calatrava gules

Obviously, these are partly canting arms, but I’m more intrigued by the stone column. One of the sources I found implies that these arms are significantly older and, moreover, that there was actually a column in the town square in the 16th and 17th centuries. It seems the column was demolished sometime before 1639, but I have no idea why. It also seems that the original use of these arms dates back to around the same time, and putting a local landmark on municipal arms is an extremely common practice.

*I know, but I’m trying very hard to be mature about it, and the… distinctive shape seems to be unique to this particular depiction

Arms of Dorfgastein, Austria


Granted 1952

Blazon: Gules pointé in base or, three roundels counterchanged

The partition of the field is from the arms of the Lords of Goldegg, who held (disputed) control over the valley from 1272 presumably through the house’s extinction in 1449. The roundels are derived from the arms of Nonnberg Abbey, which formerly held possession of the village of Unterberg, one of the six villages included in the municipality. (You can see the abbey’s arms on the dexter here, though the tinctures are hard to make out; the sinister arms are those of the Schneeweiß family.)

Liechtenstein National Day

Today marks the 79th Liechtenstein National Day since the holiday was established in 1940. The date reflects both the feast of the Assumption of Mary and (almost) the birthday of Franz Josef II, who was the prince in 1940. (After he died in 1989, they just decided to keep the same day going forward.) The national arms of Liechtenstein are, unsurprisingly, the same as the arms of the House of Liechtenstein, and they have been unchanged since the union of the regions of Vaduz and Schellenberg in 1719. The arms consist of six separate coats (four quarters, a point in point, and an escutcheon). So, let’s go section by section on this. Buckle in, folks; this is gonna be a long one.

(Also, fair warning – this is going to deal very heavily with the family history, and not so much with the national history. That’s where the arms come from, and that’s kind of why I’m here.)


The first quarter is fairly easy: the duchy of Lower Silesia, or an eagle displayed sable armed and langued gules, crowned of the field, charged with a cross couped issuant from a crescent argent. Occasionally, the cross will be paté and/or the crescent will terminate in trefoils (treflée); these ornamentations are more common on Czech versions of the arms. (If you’re familiar with the Czech Republic, you may notice that the Lower Silesian eagle appears on its arms as well.) It seems likely that the Silesian coat of arms ended up with the Liechtensteins by way of Elizabeth Lucretia, Duchess of Cieszyn, who inherited the duchy from her brother Friedrich Wilhelm (of course it’s a Friedrich Wilhelm) while she was married to Gundakar of Liechtenstein. Technically, he probably would only have been entitled to use this quarter until 1653, when the duchy reverted back to the Habsburgs, but no one seems to have cared too much. I guess you could also make an argument that the acquisition of additional Silesian territory made the bearing of the quarter more or less accurate.

The second quarter is… tricky. It’s supposed to be the arms of the Kuenringer family (barry or and sable), as Johann VI Kuenringer died without issue in 1594, and Ferdinand II granted their arms to the Liechtensteins in 1620. However, adding the ducal coronet (sometimes blazoned as a chaplet of rue) makes these look a hell of a lot like the arms of Saxony instead. As far as I can tell, the Liechtensteins never had much to do with Saxony. I did find a source that said there are minor differences in the blazon that distinguish Saxony from Kuenringer – Saxony is barry of ten or and sable, a ducal coronet embowed vert, while Kuenringer is barry of eight or and sable, a ducal coronet vert. I’m a bit skeptical of this, since I can find lots and lots of depictions of Kuenringer without the coronet, and none with it (that aren’t affiliated with Liechtenstein.) It’s not an impossible explanation, but it has the slight ring of trying to cover a mistake. However, if it is a mistake, it’s a mistake enshrined in law, so there’s not much to be done about it.

The third quarter is somewhat easier – per pale argent and gules, the arms of the Duchy of Troppau. We know exactly when the Liechtensteins took control of this territory – Emperor Matthias of Habsburg granted it to Karl I in 1614. Evidently, the Protestant inhabitants of the duchy were not thrilled with their new Catholic leader, but after the Battle of White Mountain, it became clear the Liechtensteins weren’t going anywhere. They continued to hold the land until it was incorporated into Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the royal family still holds the formal title “Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf.” (We’ll get to Jägerndorf in a minute.)

The fourth quarter (or a harpy sable, head and breast argent, armed and crowned of the field) looks like a tincture-swapped version of the Cirksena arms. The Cirksenas ruled the counties of Rietberg and East Frisia. The Liechtensteins got the title to Rietberg (and presumably the arms) as a result of Gundakar’s other marriage to Agnes, daughter of Enno III of East Frisia. (They didn’t get it until 1848, though, when the last of the Kaunitz family died out; the Kautnizes succeeded the Cirksenas in 1699.) Quick blazoning note – I do find it interesting that the same figure is a “harpy” in English blazon, and a Jungfrauenadler or “maiden eagle” in German blazon. Slightly different connotations there!

Next up: the point in point, holding the arms of Jägerndorf, which are azure a bugle stringed or. Jägerndorf was also granted to Karl I, this one by Ferdinand II in 1623. Karl consolidated the two territories into the Duchy of Troppau-Jägerndorf, and his family held the duchy until 1918.

Finally, the escutcheon per pale or and gules are the actual arms of the Liechtenstein family themselves, minus all their possessions and the rest of their titles. As far as I can tell, these go back at least to Karl I, the first Prince of Liechtenstein, and probably back further into the family’s baronial history. I can’t prove their antiquity beyond 1614, but honestly, four centuries is still really old.

If you have noticed that the arms do not actually feature Vaduz and Schellenberg, you would be correct! The County of Vaduz bore gules a gonfanon argent, and the Lordship of Schellenberg bore barry of four sable and or. Both of these coats became obsolete upon the creation of the state of Liechtenstein. This is not especially surprising, given that the creation was highly politically motivated – no one was going to waste time on creating brand new arms when the newly elevated princes already had a perfectly good and prestigious-looking coat.

Former arms of Breitenholz, Germany


Blazon: Gules an S-shaped crampoon argent

I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of information on these arms; since Breitenholz was incorporated into Ammerbuch in 1971, it doesn’t have a website, and secondary sources are thin on the ground. I suspect these arms are relatively new; there is an 1892 municipal stamp that just uses a “B” instead of any arms.

The charge is identified as a Wolfseisen, which seems to be a highly stylized version of a crampoon. This specific version has the terminal ends curling around into almost an S-shape. This is specified in the German blazon as an “S-förmiges Wolfseisen,” which I’ve roughly translated to “S-shaped crampoon” in my English version.