Arms of Rhys ap Tewdwr

Rhys ap Tewdr

(c. 1040 – 1093)

From Encyclopedia of Heraldry by John Burke and John Bernard Burke (1844)

Blazon: Gules a lion rampant within a bordure indented or

This week, we’re going from the almost-historically-grounded arms attributed to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd to the absolutely spurious arms attributed to Rhys ap Tewdwr and the House of Dinefwr. It is a pretty common attribution, but given that the power of Dinefwr and their realms of Deheubarth had faded considerably by the time heraldry started to gain traction in Wales, I’m somewhat skeptical that these arms have any basis in historical fact.

Anyway. Given that Rhys ap Tewdwr died in literally the eleventh century, we don’t have a whole lot of information about him. He was descended from Rhodri the Great via Cadell ap Rhodri and Hywel Dda. His last wife, Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon of Powys, had a daughter named Nest, whose descendants include the families of FitzGerald and de Barry. Unfortunately, Rhys’ death led to the breakup of his lands, with his heir Gruffydd ending up with some, and the Normans ending up with a whole lot more.

Arms of Alcalá de la Vega, Spain

Alcala de la Vega

In use since at least 2010

Blazon: Gules a tower or within a bordure azure charged with four trees proper; pointé in base argent a cross paté of the first

The tower is probably a representation of the ruins of an Arab castle, formerly called al-Qala. It’s old enough that we don’t know exactly when it was built, but it’s referenced in an 872 document. The same document also notes that the area is densely wooded with stone pine trees that were used for construction and shipbuilding; I’d guess that’s why the arms include trees. The cross gules on a point argent seems like it could be a reference to the 68 or so years that the town spent under direct control of the Templars.

Arms of Joseph Antonio Manso de Velasco

Joseph Antonio Manso de Velasco

Count of Superunda (1688 – 1767)

(Submitted on Tumblr with the message “Merry Christmas!”)

Oh, this is spectacular! I don’t know how well this will go, but I’ll give it a shot! The sinister half of the arms are definitely those of the house of Velasco – I’m going to ignore this weird, weird interpretation of a “bordure of Castile and Leon” – but I couldn’t find anything on the dexter ones. (Admittedly, I haven’t had the time to dig quite as deep.) Given that they’re on the dexter, I suspect they were granted due to something he achieved in his lifetime (possibly the title Count of Superunda, of which he was the first bearer).

Blazon: Per pale, I per fess i per quarterly 1 gules a lion rampant or, 2 azure three towers or, 3 azure a crescent decrescent argent, 4 argent a tree eradicated proper surmounted by a hound (?) courant proper; ii per quarterly 1 and 4 sable a Paschal lamb passant argent, 2 and 3 azure two towers or*; II chequy of fifteen or and vair within a bordure gules charged with four castles azure and as many lions rampant combatant or, alternating (Velasco)

*I cannot quite make out the charge between them; could be a sun in splendor?


Arms of Haute-Vienne, France


Designed before 1965

Blazon: Ermine a bordure gules, overall a fess wavy azure

As another Robert Louis creation, I doubt these arms have been officially adopted. I also don’t have a date for their design, although it obviously has to be before his death. These are essentially the arms of Limousin, Haut-Vienne’s former administrative region, plus a fess wavy azure that presumably represents the Vienne river which gives the region its name. Louis is usually pretty rigorous in his adherence to the laws of tincture; I’m not sure what to make of the azure-on-gules here.

Albanian Flag Day


Blazon: Gules within a bordure or a double-headed eagle displayed sable, in chief the helmet of Skanderberg of the second 

Happy Albanian Flag Day! The Albanian arms are, unsurprisingly, all about Skanderberg – that is, Gjergj Kastrioti, who led a massive regional rebellion against the Ottoman Empire that only ended with his death in 1468. “Skanderberg” is a corruption of “Iskender bey,” Arabic for “Lord Alexander,” a comparison with Alexander the Great, which Gjergj obviously adopted immediately, and I can’t really blame him for that. Albania didn’t achieve independence until today’s date in 1912, but by then, Skanderberg had achieved near-mythic status. (His sword had magic powers! He could kill a wild boar with a single blow! Etc.) This is very much the stuff of which national symbols are made.

The eagle is also closely associated with the Kastrioti coat of arms. They bore or (sometimes gules or argent) a double-headed eagle sable, pointe in chief azure an estoile (sometimes molet of six points) or. It’s not entirely clear to me whether their arms predated Skanderberg, or were extrapolated backwards after lifetime, but he definitely used the black double-headed eagle. It was very possibly a nod to the Byzantine Empire – given their long-standing animosity with the Ottoman Empire, and the historical cachet of the Roman legacy, I understand the appeal of positioning yourself as part of that legacy, especially if your goal is to defeat the Ottomans.

The other significant element of the arms is the helmet, which has a wealth of symbology all its own. (It’s a unique shape, which is why I specified “helmet of Skanderberg” in the blazon, rather than just “helmet.”) It’s crowned with the head of a horned goat – the double horns being another alleged connection between Skanderberg and Alexander the Great, besides the former’s name. The strip around the base is probably younger than the rest of the helmet, since it refers to Skanderberg as “King of Albania,” a title he never claimed.

The Albanian arms do technically violate the law of tincture by having sable on gules, but the legalistic nuances of heraldry tend to be much more important in Western than in Eastern Europe – and by the time the national arms were formally adopted in 2002, nobody really cared that much.

Arms of Abia de la Obispalía, Spain

Abia de la Obispalia

In use since at least 2013

Blazon: Per bend sinister azure a crown proper and or a croizer in bend sinister surmounted by a mitre purpre, all within a bordure gules charged with sixteen bezants

The name of the town evidently derives from avia, Latin for “grandmother.” This is apparently in reference to the antiquity of the town, which was well established even before Reconquista. I don’t have much in the way of information on the arms, but it seems reasonable that they’re at least partly canting – obispo is “bishop” in Spanish, and the mitre and croizer are essential parts of a bishop’s regalia. (Also, the name of the town might translate to something like “the bishop’s grandmother, which amuses me.) There’s a slight possibility that the bezants were intended to represent some of the archaeological finds in the area, which include gold rings and several coins, but it’s a very slight possibility.

Arms of Marche, Italy


Granted 1980

Blazon: Argent the letter M surmounted by a woodpecker close so that the latter forms the first part of the former sable within a bordure vert

Another coat of arms that bears more visual resemblance to a logo than a more traditional heraldic design. I don’t have a problem with these, but they are a little outside my wheelhouse. It’s not that these are bad choices for symbols – the green woodpecker was evidently a totem of the ancient Piceni people – or that the combination of native animal plus initial letter isn’t already common in municipal heraldry. Blazon, as a technical language, doesn’t really have the capacity to describe the type of heavily stylized iconography that’s used here. I’ve tried anyway, but I’m not sure I’m happy with the result.