Bulgarian National Day

Bulgaria

Blazon: Gules a lion rampant crowned or

Crest: The crown of the Second Bulgarian Empire proper

Supporters: Two lions rampant crowned or

Compartment: Two oak branches in saltire vert fructed or

Motto: Съединението прави силата (Strength through Unity)

Before we get into things, there is absolutely no way I cannot include the earliest known depiction of royal arms for Bulgaria, circa 1294, which probably belonged to Smilets, tsar from 1292 to 1298. The depiction included in the Lord Marshal’s Roll is absolutely hysterical, and also bears a broad similarity to the eventual national arms:

Bulgaria_1

(This has to be one of my favorite terrible heraldic lions ever. It’s awful. I love it so much.)

Anyway. It seems like Bulgaria didn’t have any formal national arms for several centuries. They may just have used the personal arms of whoever was tsar at the time, or various heraldic writers recorded (or made up) different configurations and colors of lions. The gold-on-red seems to have come into common use by the eighteenth century, and became a useful rallying symbol for the new Bulgarian nationalist movement. The center escutcheon seems to have remained fairly consistent, although the shield ornaments (mantle? supporters? crown? compartment?) fluctuated quite a bit until they settled into supporters, compartment, and motto in 1927. The tsars were also permitted to use these as personal arms… at least, until the coup d’état in 1944.

Fortunately (from a heraldic perspective), even the Soviets didn’t screw this one up too badly, although I have no idea why a lion rampant that was specifically used by the tsars was an acceptable motif. Apparently removing the crown and adding a gear wheel in base was communist enough? I don’t know.

Apparently, whoever was in charge of reinstating the coat of arms in 1991 didn’t learn from history. Again, the central escutcheon stayed the same, while debate continued around the ornaments and general appearance of the achievement. (The Bulgarian government apparently has very strong opinions on heraldic design. Part of me wonders if there’s really not anything better on which to expend time and effort; part of me deeply approves.) Eventually, in 1997, they settled on the (first) design above.

Armenian Independence Day

In honor of the twenty-eighth anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union, I figured we’d take a look at their highly symbolic coat of arms:

Armenia

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s go bit by bit, in roughly chronological order.

First of all, in the escutcheon, there’s a depiction of Mount Ararat with Noah’s Ark. Though this was possibly a mistranslation, tradition holds that the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, which is also Armenia’s national symbol. In one shape or another, Mount Ararat has featured on Armenian arms and seals consistently since 1918. Even the Soviets kept the iconography, which ought to say something about its deep national importance.

We venture from myth into (distant) history with the Artaxiad dynasty, symbolized by the dexter base quarter. The Artaxids ruled from 189 BCE through 20 BCE, when Armenia became a Roman protectorate. The last Artaxid client king was overthrown in 12 CE. The two eagles and the eight-pointed star is a fairly well-established emblem of this dynasty – somewhat surprisingly, given its antiquity. From the examples here, it’s pretty clearly a star; I’m not sure how it ended up as an octofoil on the arms, which is typically a more floral shape. (I will say that the artists who designed the arms seem to have played around with the tinctures of the fields; the author in the linked article makes a pretty good argument that the ground for the Artaxiads should have been gules instead of azure, and a prior version of the arms had the same charges, but with the opposite tincture for the field.)

Moving on to the sinister chief quarter, we see the very common symbol of the double-headed eagle. This is apparently intended to represent the Arsacid dynasty, who ruled from 52 to 428 CE, and included the first Christian ruler of Armenia. I’m a little skeptical of the attribution of the double-headed eagle to the Arsacids for a couple of reasons: first, proof of what kind of symbols they used (if any) is thin on the ground, and second, the double-headed eagle is so, so commonly affiliated with the Roman (and later Byzantine) Empire that it’s hard for me to believe that association didn’t have any influence on this choice of charge. I am willing to believe that the Arsacids got it from the Romans, and passed it on here, but they were originally Parthian, so I’m not sure how well that holds up.

The dexter chief quarter, the lion and cross, was the symbol of the Bagratuni dynasty. They came to power in 861, when Ashot I was recognized as Prince of Princes by the Baghdad caliphate, and hung on until 1045, when the Byzantine Empire seized control of Armenia. The Bagratid princes evidently used the same device, though it was (possibly) argent on gules. Presumably, the tincture of the charge was sensibly updated to match the other three charges.

Lastly, the sinister base quarter holds the crowned lion and cross-tipped staff of the Rubenid dynasty, who did not actually rule Armenia. Instead, they established an Armenian state in Cilicia (called the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia), which they ruled from 1080 to 1375, when the Mamluks conquered the state. The Rubenid arms were or a lion rampant gules armed, langued, and crowned argent; if I had to speculate, the staff may have come from the kingdom’s allyship with the other Crusader states. The Rubenids also claimed descent from the Bagratunis, though this would be very difficult to prove.

I know this is long, but I can’t not talk, albeit briefly, about the elements surrounding the shield. The supporters, the eagle of the Artaxiads and the lion of the Bagratunis, mirror the charges on the shield. The elements of the compartment were all chosen for specific symbolic reasons, which I think are worth going through. The sword in pale is for power and strength; the broken chain, the struggle for national freedom; the wheat, hard work and industry; the feather, culture and intellectual heritage; and the ribbon, the Armenian flag, whose colors are represented in the arms. (Hence, I suspect, the unusual use of orange in the arms.)

Arms of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames

Kingston upon Thames

London, England

Granted 1966

Blazon: Azure three salmon naiant in pale argent finned and tailed gules

Crest: On a wreath of the colors issuant from a wreath of bay leaves vert banded or a demi-stag proper gorged with a crown of or pendant therefrom an escutcheon ermine on a chevron vert between two chevronels the chief per pale azure and gules, the base per pale gules and azure, a cross paté or, holding between the forelegs a fountain

Supporters: Two stags proper gorged with a ribbon argent pendant therefrom an escutcheon azure issuant from the base an elm tree proper in front of a sun rising or and resting the interior hind hoof on a charred woodstock proper

Compartment*: A grassy mount proper supported by a fillet wavy pre fess wavy argent and azure

Mantling: Azure lined argent

The arms are derived from the historical arms of the borough, recorded as far back as 1572; the three salmon refer to three fisheries mentioned in the Domesday Book. The escutcheon on the crest bears the arms of the Borough of Malden and Coombe, and the supporters’ escutcheons show the arms of the Borough of Surbiton.

*Compartments are usually left to the discretion of the artist, not specified in the blazon.

Arms of the borough of Brent

Brent

Granted 1965

Blazon: Per chevron wavy argent gules and vert, in dexter chief an orb ensigned with a cross crosslet or, in sinister chief two swords in saltire proper, points in chief, in base as many seaxes in saltire, points in chief of the last enfiled with a Saxon crown of the fourth

Crest: Within a Saxon crown or on a mount vert a lion statant of the first charged on the shoulder with a cinquefoil gules

Supporters: On the dexter a lion or supporting a staff gules with a banner vert charged with a balance of the first; on the sinister a dragon azure supporting a staff of the third with a banner of the second charged with three lilies argent

Mantling: Gules lined argent

Motto: Forward Together

Compartment*: A grassy mound divided by water argent charged with a pale wavy azure

This achievement is largely a combination of the arms of the former boroughs of Wembley and Willesden. The former contributed the seaxes, the Saxon crown, and the lions, while the latter contributed the orb, the swords (both symbols of King Athelstan), the cinquefoil, and the dragon.

*Compartments are usually left to the discretion of the artist, not specified in the blazon.

Arms of Boston Borough Council, England

Arms of Boston Borough Council, England

Granted 1974

Blazon: Or on a chevron azure three coronets each composed of crosses paté and fleurs-de-lis of the field; on a chief sable a garb between two pairs of windmill sails also of the field

Crest: On a wreath of the colors a demi-lion rampant or holding in the forepaws a wool-pack proper charged with a ram couchant or*

Supporters: Two mermaids proper crined and finned or upon a compartment of waves barry wavy azure and argent**

Mantling: Azure lined or

Motto: Serve with amnity

*The blazon specifies that the ram should be or, though the depiction here seems to be argent.

**Compartments are generally not described in the blazon, but this seems to be an exception.

 

Arms of Maldon District Council, England

Granted 1978

Blazon: Per saltire wavy argent azure and vert, in chief a lion passant guardant, in the dexter and sinister two garbs, and in base a ship’s wheel, all or

Crest: On a wreath or and vert upon water barry wavy argent and azure charged with a fleur-de-lis of the first an Essex sailing barge proper

Supporters: On the dexter an Anglo-Saxon warrior armored, in his dexter hand a sword point downwards, on the sinister a yachtsman habited in a sailing smock and wearing a peaked cap, all proper upon a compartment* of a grassy mound also proper divided by water barry wavy argent and azure

Mantling: Per fess vert and azure lined argent

Motto: Vision, courage, integrity

*Compartments are generally left to the discretion of the artist, but this blazon specifies its design.

Arms of Ribble Valley Borough Council, England

Granted 1975

Blazon: Or a lion rampant purpre armed and langued vert, on a chief wavy of the last two croizers in saltire of the field

Crest: On a wreath argent and vert upon a limestone crag in front of a representation of Clitheroe Castle proper an eagle displayed wings inverted gorged with a Roman Corona Radiata or

Mantling: Vert lined argent

Supporters: Two stags proper, the dexter gorged with a collar argent charged with six molets pierced, three visible, sable and holding in the mouth a rose gules barbed, seeded, leaved, and slipped proper; the sinister charged with a collar sable charged with three like molets argent and holding in the mouth a rose argent barbed, seeded, leaved, and slipped proper

Compartment*: Grass with limestone outcrops proper divided by water barry wavy of four argent and vert

*Compartments are usually left to the discretion of the artist, not specified in the blazon.