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:
(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.