Ukraine National Day

(This was supposed to post yesterday, but there were technical issues. My apologies.)

Happy 28th birthday to Ukraine! (The Declaration of Independence was accepted by the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukranian parliament, on August 24th, 1991. It took a little while to finalize things with a referendum, but this is the formal national holiday.) The Ukrainian national arms are beautiful, striking, and (at least to me) not remotely obvious. Once you know that the tryzub is a trident, you can see that in the charge, but the elaborate, intertwined style isn’t very common in other European styles of armory. This specific design goes back to 980, and a less stylized version to 945. It seems to have been the arms – or at least, the family symbol – of the Rurik dynasty, showing up on coins, seals, stones, and personal items.


The tryzub also might not have started out as a trident, although it definitely ended up that way. As a charge, it seems similar to the fleur-de-lis: it’s currently widely accepted as a specific shape with a specific name, but no one can quite agree on what it was originally intended to depict. Theories include a symbol of the Holy Trinity, a gyrfalcon (very likely), a bident, or the Cyrillic letter У (extremely unlikely).

While the tryzub is very old, and definitely has seniority as a state symbol, there have been a number of different coats of arms associated with different regimes. In the twelfth through the mid-fourteenth centuries, West Ukraine was the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia (or Ruthenia, starting in 1253) and bore azure a lion rampant or. After 1349, this particular region was incorporated into Poland, but the lion hung around as the arms of the Ruthenian Voivodeship, and it currently survives in the arms of Lviv. The short-lived Ukrainian State used azure a Cossack proper clothed and with a rifle or, which had formerly been used by the Zaporozhian Host. These arms also had the tryzub as a crest, but they didn’t survive the collapse of the Ukranian State less than a year after its creation. The tinctures have been pretty consistent no matter the charges – always yellow on blue.

The less said about the deeply boring symbology of the Soviet era from 1919 through 1991, the better. If you’ve ever seen anything related to the Soviet state, you already know what the emblem looks like – sickle, hammer, rising sun, etc. Thankfully, the current arms were granted in 1992, less than two months after vote on Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union was finalized, and they are a significant improvement. (That link, by the way, has very specific instructions on the measurements and proportions of the tryzub if you’d like to try your hand at it.)


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.

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.

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.

Closing Complaints from the Author

Wyrley closes out his essay with three complaints about heraldic pedantry, two of which I think are legitimate, and one which seems like the other side of a very petty coin.

The first complaint is an interesting one, especially in light of the typical “older is better” attitude that was (and is) pervasive in heraldry (which I fall victim to myself sometimes). Wyrley scoffs at people who consider pre-Conquest ancestry and arms to be more prestigious than those post-Conquest. He points out that evidence from before the Conquest is scarce and unreliable, which is both fair and true, and that it is “more glorious and honorable to be descended from a most famous nation conquering” than the people they subjugated, which… sure is a viewpoint, I guess? (26)

Next, Wyrley takes aim at heraldic pedants, especially those who treat the law of tincture as a law instead of a guideline for legibility. He does say that color-on-color and metal-on-metal are harder to see properly, but he also gives some examples of perfectly respectable arms that violate the law of tincture, including those of the Mac Murchada dynasty in Ireland. (He gives the blazon as sable a lion rampant gules, though gules a lion rampant or passant argent seems to be more accurate). He’s also contemptuous of the idea that certain charges, i.e. the eagle or falcon, are more or less noble than others. Wyrley proposes that instead of particular arms bringing honor to the bearers, the armigers “do honor their bearings by their renowne, vertue, and valure.” (27) If you’re a good person, your arms don’t deserve criticism, even if they violate heraldic rules and tradition, or if they’re kind of goofy. One example he gives here is the Hopewells – argent three hares playing bagpipes gules. On the one hand, that is inherently silly; on the other hand, Wyrley has a really good point, and I have to believe those arms have a much better story behind them than the generic ordinaries or lions.

Lastly, he throws in a very brief defense of his refusal to use the French terms of art for tinctures – the argent, azure, vert, etc. that are common practice in blazon – by saying it is “more proper to speake and use English termes and phrases in an English booke dedicated to Englishmen, than French or Latine.” (27) This is literally the only mention of this authorial choice in the entire essay, so perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it’s hard for me not to see this decision as stemming from English nationalism and anti-French sentiment. He doesn’t seem to have an issue with a lot of the French-derived terminology that makes up the rest of the language of blazon, so this feels like a highly specific and unnecessary nit to pick. Unless, of course, you’re just being a dick to the French. 

Personally, I have no issue with using the traditional terminology (as you’ve probably noticed). I like the #aesthetic, but more importantly, I think the traditional language helps deal with one of the traditional problems of tincture. “Or” and “argent” in particular have multiple translations in English – “or” could map to “yellow” or “gold,” and “argent” to “white” or “silver.” However, both of those translations are interchangeable in heraldry. The blazon “argent a cross gules” can be depicted with a white field or a silver field, depending on the preferences and technical and material capabilities of the artist, and the original blazon is accurate either way. However, translating “argent” to “white” automatically makes any depiction using a silver field incorrect, and vice versa. Essentially, the traditional language correctly reflects the ambivalence of tinctures, and I’d rather stick to that than make a translation choice that could be wrong.

That wraps up the heraldic part of Wyrley’s text. I did manage to find an edition with the two poems attached, but I’ll spare you those recaps. As a poet, Wyrley was an excellent herald. Instead, next week, we’ll introduce the next text, Encyclopaedia of Heraldry, or General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland by John Burke and John Bernard Burke.

Breaking Idols: English Religious Conflict over Images

Much of the True Use of Arms is made up of Wyrley’s complaints about various issues. Some of them are pretty expected: systems of cadency, the nouveau riche who think they’re entitled to bear arms just because they want to, and a few other concerns we’ll get into next week. However, there’s a very odd section where Wyrley switches to the defensive, insisting on the legitimacy of the practice of heraldry, as well as that of funerals, memorials, and genealogies, backing himself up with quotes from the Bible. It’s pretty common for heraldic writers to quote the Bible, especially when they’re recounting the supposed origins of heraldry, but it is weird to see it done in defense of what we think of as fairly common practices.

Wyrley is really not shy about objecting when he dislikes something, so I think it’s a safe assumption that his impassioned, citation-heavy defense of memorials, heraldic ensigns, and genealogy has its roots in actual practices of the time. He complains that he personally found “many moniments both of burials and in glasse were so broken and defaced” as to be unidentifiable, and useless for research. (25) (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t deeply sympathize with this problem.)

This passage, and the larger dispute it hints at, is a fascinating glimpse into Wyrley’s political and religious context. As a reminder, the original publication of this work was in 1592, right in the middle of a heated, centuries-long debate over idolatry and iconoclasm. This really got started with the English Reformation and Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church in 1534. The Reformers (which is also explicitly the name that Wyrley calls them, asking that they “might be reformed themselves”) undertook a number of efforts to distance themselves from the Catholic Church, including the removal of images from churches. The level of governmental support for these policies varied – Edward VI continued his father’s anti-Catholic legacy, after which Mary I restored Catholicism. Elizabeth I went back to Protestantism, but with a much more moderate/pragmatic bent. Wyrley addresses her and her Privy Council in this passage, asking them to protect the English traditions and punish the Puritans.

The tomb of Katharine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral was apparently a popular target for vandalism; it was thoroughly vandalized by the Roundheads in 1643, but Wyrley also praises William Fleetwood, Serjeant-at-law, for restoring her monument after it was defaced, and punishing those responsible. (I suspect the queen’s Spanish, i.e. Catholic, heritage had a lot to do with the repeated desecrations.)

I’m not nearly as clear on the substance of the critics of heraldic insignia and genealogy to whom Wyrley is responding, but I suspect the arguments are roughly the same: that anything that could be interpreted as veneration of earthly ideals (such as one’s ancestors) was tantamount to idolatry. Disappointingly, Wyrley doesn’t quote his interlocutors, but includes several long passages, mostly from the book of Numbers, that mention things like banners, funerals, and records of ancestry as proof that these practices had Biblical sanction. To be clear, I’m a little skeptical of Wyrley’s claims to religious legitimacy; though there are plenty of genealogies in the Bible, I don’t think the funeral customs of the Hebrew people referred to in Numbers are remotely comparable to those of sixteenth-century England, and heraldry qua heraldry wouldn’t come into being for more than a millennium after Biblical times. That being said, I can’t help but feel a spark of regret for all the historical artifacts and works of art destroyed by Reformist zeal. I have to believe there’s a middle ground between destroying memorial sculptures and worshiping them.

St. James’ Day

Today is the feast of St. James the Greater, also known as Santiago de Compostela, patron saint of Spain. The Bible describes him as one of the first apostles to follow Jesus, and later as a martyr at the hands of Herod. His connection to Spain is… disputed, but tradition stretching back to the 12th century alleges that James went to Spain to preach the Gospel, and after his death, his body was transported back to Spain, where it was interred at Compostela. (Sources differ on whether some of his fellow disciples or a contingent of angels did the transporting.) There is, provably, a cathedral in Compostela with a shrine to the saint. This serves as the termination of the Way of St. James or the Camino de Santiago, a famous and far-reaching pilgrimage network that stretches across a large part of Europe.

Two of the most famous symbols of St. James are extremely common in heraldry. The first is the escallop, or scallop shell. Why, precisely, this is a symbol of St. James is unclear. It may have to do with his origins as a fisherman, but there are other legends about the saint rescuing a knight covered in scallops. In any case, the connection between Santiago and scallops is so well-established that “scallop” in French is coquille St. Jacques, “St. James’ shell,” and in German, it’s Jakobsmuschein, “James’ mussels.” Eventually, the scallop shell became closely associated with the Camino de Santiago, although a lot of that seems to come from pilgrims bringing home shells as souvenirs. However, it’s a very common symbol in architecture and heraldry in northern Spain and southern France where the paths of the Camino de Santiago start to converge. Supposedly, when the escallop is used as a charge in familial or personal arms, it signifies that the bearer or an ancestor went on pilgrimage to Compostela, but I’m highly skeptical of that claim.

Secondly, of course, is the cross of Santiago, the badge of the Order of Santiago. The precise origin of the shape is not especially clear; it might be a sword combined with a scallop shell, or with multiple fleurs-de-lis for honor and purity, or a cross with a sharpened base that could be stuck into the ground, as the Crusaders allegedly carried. Depending on who you listen to, the sword could also symbolize the military valor of the Order’s knights, or the martyrdom of St. James, since he was beheaded with a sword. (I’d personally advise taking all claims of heraldic symbolism pertaining to some intangible virtue and/or more than a couple centuries old with an extremely large grain of salt.) Anyway, the Order was originally founded to protect pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, but it soon expanded into fighting the Moors, which is how the cross of Santiago ends up on so many Spanish municipal arms.