Fiesta Nacional de España

There are actually two important Spanish holidays on this date; the Fiesta Nacional, chosen to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas, and the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar. The former might be more official, but the latter is apparently more popular culturally – understandable in a majority-Catholic country. She is the patron saint of the Civil Guard, and also of the region of Aragon, which provides a nice segue into discussing the Spanish national arms!

Spain

Blazon: Per quarterly, I gules a castle triple-towered or windowed argent (Castile), II argent a lion rampant purpre crowned or (León), III or four palets gules (Aragon), IV gules a chain in saltire, cross, and orle or, charged with a center point vert (Navarre); enté en point argent a pomegranate slipped, leaved, and seeded proper (Granada); overall in the fess point an escutcheon azure three fleurs-de-lis or within a bordure gules (Bourbon-Anjou)

Supporters: Two columns argent, capitals and bases or, standing on five waves azure and the first, the dexter surmounted by an imperial crown and the sinister the Spanish royal crown proper, and entwined with a ribbon gules charged with “Plus ultra” of the second

The current depiction of the arms was formally granted in 1981, but the individual elements are all very old. The first two quarters of Spain are the best counterargument I’ve ever seen against the idea that canting arms are somehow ‘lesser.’ (Canting arms are arms that are essentially puns on the name of the family, country, etc. – think mountains for Bergs, eels for Ellis, etc.) There’s a weird idea in some heraldic texts that canting arms are less “noble” than non-canting arms. But Spain features three coats of canting arms, beginning with the somewhat obvious Castile and León. 

Castile and León were two of the more powerful states in medieval Spain. They went back and forth between unified and not for a few centuries until they were formally unified under Ferdinand III in 1230. The lion and castle show up in a lot of Spanish arms, usually as quarters or smaller sections, although often the lion will be rendered gules instead of purpre. (Gules is a much more common and easily-rendered tincture in heraldry than purpre.)

 

The third quarter, the widely-used Bars of Aragon (not bars in the heraldic sense), joined the arms along with the Crown of Aragon when Isabel I of Castile – the several-times-great-granddaughter of Ferdinand III – married Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469. The pomegranate (the third canting element) was added shortly afterwards, perpetually enté en point, after the conquest of Granada was concluded in 1496 and it was added to the Spanish crown. 

 

It is with immense gratitude that I can skip over the two hundred years of Habsburg rule in Spain, because while their arms are mind-bendingly complicated, none of the several dozen coats with which the Spanish arms were combined stuck around. However, the kings of Spain used the title “King of Navarre” after the War of the League of Cambrai, and some of the variants of the Spanish arms (especially those used in Navarre) incorporated the chain figure, especially as an escutcheon. A smaller version of Navarre officially survived as an independent kingdom until they were incorporated into Spain in 1833, which is also when the Navarre arms start showing up as a full quarter in the Spanish royal arms.

 

The last of the current elements of the Spanish arms appear when Philip V inherited the Spanish throne in 1700. Philip was a Bourbon – specifically, of the cadet line of the dukes of Anjou. Because everyone in European royal circles was pretty inbred at this point, his arms as the King of Spain also included Austria, Burgundy, and Flanders, among others. However, he bore the arms of Anjou in an escutcheon, and that’s stuck around since then. My theory is that they’ve also stayed in the escutcheon due to the agreement laid out in the Peace of Utrecht that the French and Spanish crowns would never be unified. Because of that, the Spanish monarchs could only “pretend” to the French throne, and never have any territorial claim.

 

Finally, while the unique supporters aren’t quite canting, I think they’re worth a mention. They are, specifically, the Pillars of Hercules, which flank the Strait of Gibraltar, i.e. Spain’s gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. The motto “Plus ultra,” or “Farther beyond,” is a reference to the legend that the pillars were carved with “Non plus ultra” to warn seafarers to stay on the side of the strait without (as many) storms and sea monsters and other such dangers. The removal of the negative is a nice nod to Spain’s history as a seafaring and exploratory nation.

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 Prince Albert Edward

Edward VII

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

The text gives the blazon as follows: “the Royal Arms, differenced by a label of three points and an escutcheon of pretence, for Saxony, viz. barry of ten, sable and argent, a bend treflé vert.”

I was so distracted by the fuckup on the charge of Saxony last week (seriously, how is that a cross? It’s a bend! It’s obviously a bend!) that I missed the other glaring fuckup in the blazon: sable and argent? It’s or! Saxony has never involved argent at all! Argh. Also worth noting is the escutcheon of pretense; we typically see these in the arms of men married to heiresses, but here, it indicates that Edward is also an heir to Saxony, though as a kingdom, the UK takes precedence over a duchy.

The Burkes, bless their status-obsessed little hearts, very carefully place the at-the-time infant Prince Albert Edward (who will, eventually, become Edward VII) above his father due to his status as heir apparent. Victoria and Albert’s first child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, gets her label placed just below her younger brother and just above her father, as second in line to the throne. Despite the fact that this edition was republished in 1844, it doesn’t look like anyone added the arms (or even the label) of Princess Alice, born 1843. Next week, we’ll take a look at a whole bunch of fancy labels that differentiated all the many princes and princesses of the United Kingdom in 1842.

Arms of Prince Albert

Prince Albert

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

The Burkes give the blazon as follows:

“Quarterly, first and fourth, the Royal Arms, differenced by a label of three points, on the center point a cross gules; second and third, barry of ten, sable and argent, a cross treflé vert, for Saxony.

Supporters – Two lions rampant or, crowned proper each charged on the shoulder with a label as in the arms.”

Okay, first off, because I can’t not point it out: the charge of Saxony is not, and never has been a cross treflé (or botony, as I typically prefer.) It’s a ducal coronet (embowed or not might be a point of dispute), but it’s…. definitely not a cross. The arms of Saxony aren’t hard to find, and this is a second edition of the text, and this particular slip-up isn’t mentioned in the errata, AND they blazon it correctly (or anyway, less wrongly) on literally the same page, so I’m gonna have to blame shitty editing here. Like, come on, that is demonstrably not a cross. The artist got it right, at least.

Also, the label is worth a word. English royalty tend to use labels with differences to distinguish between the inevitably numerous heirs to the throne. We’ll see more of this a bit later on, since the Burkes have included depictions of the labels for many of the other members of the royal family. You will probably notice that Albert has a label with a difference (the cross gules) instead of the undifferentiated label of three points. This is due to the fact that, as Prince Consort, he wasn’t actually first in line to the throne. That honor goes to his and Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, whom we’ll look at next week.

Arms of Queen Victoria

Victoria

The Burkes give the royal blazon as follows: 

Arms – Quarterly, first and fourth, gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or, for England; second, or, a lion rampant within a double tressure, flory, counterflory gules for Scotland; azure a harp or, stringed argent for Ireland; all surrounded by the Garter.

Crest – England – Upon the royal helmet, the imperial crown proper thereon a lion statant, guardant or, imperially crowned, also proper.

Supporters – Dexter, a lion rampant guardant or, crowned as the crest. Sinister, an unicorn argent armed, crined, and ungled or, gorged with a coronet composed of crosses pattée and fleurs-de-lis, a chain affixed thereto, passing between the forelegs, and reflexed over the back, also or.

Crest – Scotland – On an imperial crown proper a lion sejant affrontée gules imperially crowned or, holding in the dexter paw a sword, and in the sinister a sceptre erect, also proper.

Crest – Ireland – On a wreath, or and azure a castle, triple-towered, gold, a hart argent springing from the gate.

I’ve written out the abbreviations used – gu. into gules, pass. into passant, etc. but everything else is copied directly. I can’t quibble with the actual content of the blazon, although I would use a lot fewer commas. I’m also not sure why they give the blazons for the crests of Scotland and Ireland, but good to know, I guess.

The depictions of the royal arms are excellent examples of nineteenth-century heraldic art; whatever else I can say about the Burkes, they got some pretty good and period-typical heraldic artists. I’m planning on posting the rest of the complete achievements given for the royal family, as well as some of the labels, and possibly a few of the simple arms given for former monarchs.

Arms of Birmingham, England

Birmingham

Granted 1977

Blazon: Per quarterly I and IV azure a bend of five lozenges conjoined or, II and III per pale indented or and gules, overall on a cross ermine a mitre proper

Crest: On a wreath or and azure issuant from a mural crown or charged with a Tudor rose a dexter arm embowed holding a hammer all proper

Supporters: On the dexter a figure representing Art proper vested argent wreathed with laurel vert tied by a riband gules, holding in the sinister hand resting on the shield a book bound of the last and in the dexter a palette with two brushes proper; on the sinister a figure representing Industry habited as a smith, holding in the dexter hand resting on the shield a cupel and in the sinister a hammer resting on an anvil all proper

Mantling: Azure lined or

Motto: Forward

Both coats quartered here were used by the de Bermingham family at various points in time. The family also quartered the coats, but in opposite quarters; the city changed the order for difference. The city was previously granted arms in 1889, which used a fess ermine instead of a cross, and a mural crown instead of a mitre. The supporters in the previous arms were also reversed, with Industry on the dexter and Art on the sinister.

Arms of the borough of Amber Valley

Amber Valley

Derbyshire, England

Granted 1989

Blazon: Vert a pale wavy or within a bordure argent charged with five horseshoes sable, on a chief of the second between two lozenges a cresset sable fired proper

Crest: On a wreath of the colors the battlements of a tower proper issuant therefrom between two croizers or an oak tree also proper fructed and ensigned by a crown of fleurs-de-lis of the first

Supporters: On the dexter a unicorn argent armed and crined or gorged with a collar pendant therefrom a cross flory gules; on the sinister a leopard proper gorged with a collar gules pendant therefrom a fleur-de-lis or

Mantling: Vert lined or

Motto: Per laborem progredimur (By hard work we progress)

The pale wavy evidently represents the river Amber, while the lozenges and cresset symbolize the coal and iron industries. The horseshoes on the bordure are taken from (one of the versions of) the arms of the Ferrers family.