Official Birthday of the British Monarch

United Kingdom

Today (ed. yesterday, due to technical issues) is the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. It’s not the day she was actually born, but an official holiday. The tradition of two birthdays was started by Edward VII. His actual date of birth was in November, which is not the best time for a public celebration. So he opted to pick a day in June that would hopefully have less terrible weather. Most British monarchs whose birthdays fell during the less pleasant months followed the tradition.

The arms borne by Elizabeth II do not differ significantly from those borne by Victoria; the one major difference is the Irish harp is now a plainer form rather than the older winged woman. Elizabeth made the change in 1952 due to personal preference.

The three basic elements of England, Scotland, and Ireland have shared a shield (albeit often with other arms) since the personal union of James I and VI in 1603. This is also, not coincidentally, around the same time that the line of monarchs began using different arms in Scotland; James bore per quarterly I and IV Scotland, II per quarterly France and England, III Ireland. The current royal arms of the United Kingdom take the same form in Scotland, with the omission of the French arms. (For the record – the British monarchs did not yield their claim to the French throne, or their use of the French arms, until 1801, which is still remarkable to me.)

The Scottish version of the achievement also transposes the lion and the unicorn supporters, placing the Scottish unicorn on the dexter (more prominent) side and adding an imperial crown. The supporters also bear banners of their respective nations’ crosses; St. Andrew (azure a saltire argent) for Scotland, and St. George (argent a cross gules) for England. Finally – although there are numerous other small differences – the crest on the Scottish version is a lion sejant affronté gules armed and langued azure, royally crowned holding in the dexter paw a sword and in the sinister a sceptre, all proper.

I don’t want to go into too much depth on Hanover’s incorporation into the national arms, since I’ve already covered those monarchical variations in pretty significant depth while walking through the Burkes’ royal armory, but suffice to say that between 1714 and 1837, the British arms included either a quarter or an escutcheon of pretense with the arms of Hanover, to reflect the kings’ titles in the Holy Roman/Austrian Empire. It is specifically the kings who used the Hanoverian arms, since by definition, a woman could not inherit the land – and when Victoria became queen in 1837, she didn’t, which gives us nearly the same arms Elizabeth II uses today.

Bulgarian National Day


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.

Arms of Queen 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


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.

Arms of Staffordshire County, England


Granted 1931

Blazon: Or on a chevron gules a Stafford knot of the first, on a chief azure a lion passant guardant of the field

Crest: Issuant from a mural crown proper a Stafford knot or

Supporters: On the dexter a lion reguardant gules ducally crowned or and on the sinister a griffin reguardant of the second

Mantling: Gules lined or

Motto: The knot unites

While the knot is the most common symbol of the Stafford family (who bear or a chevron gules), the lion and griffin are also Stafford badges.

Arms of Derbyshire County, England


Granted 1937

Blazon: Or a rose gules surmounted by another argent, both barbed and seeded proper, on a chief sable three stags’ heads caboshed of the third

Crest: Issuant from a mural crown or a dragon wings elevated and addorsed sable holding in the dexter claw a pick of the first and collared argent

Supporters: On the dexter a stag and on the sinister a ram, both proper and gorged with a chain or pendant therefrom a rose gules surmounted by another argent, barbed and seeded also proper

Mantling: Gules lined or

Motto: Bene consulendo (By good counsel)

The double rose is referred to as the Tudor rose; Henry VII adopted it as a badge to symbolize the union of the houses of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose) and York (the white rose). The county previously used the Tudor rose as an unofficial device. The stag refers to the first local fort built by Danish invaders, which was named Derby after the number of deer in the region, and eventually gave its name to the county.

Arms of the borough of Wandsworth


London, England

Granted 1965

Blazon: Per pale indented argent and azure a fess chequy of the second and or, each of the last charged with a goutte of the second

Crest: On a wreath of the colors an ancient ship with a dragon’s head at the prow sable four oars in action and as many shields or on the bulwarks, flying a pennon gules and a sail of the arms

Supporters: On the dexter a dove wings elevated and addorsed azure and charged with four molets of five points or, in the beak a sprig of lavender proper; on the sinister a dragon sable wings elevated and addorsed argent and charged with four crosses couped gules

Mantling: Azure lined argent

Motto: We Serve

The field of the arms is derived from the London borough of Battersea. The fess chequy is from the arms of William de Warren, first Earl of Surrey, and the gouttes represent the tears shed by the prosecuted French Huguenots, as many of them settled in Wandsworth when fleeing persecution in the seventeenth century.

Arms of the borough of Tower Hamlets, London, England

Tower Hamlets

Granted 1965

Blazon: Argent on a base wavy azure charged with two bars wavy of the field a lymphad sail furled sable pennon and flags flying gules, on a chief of the second between a pair of fire tongs and a weaver’s shuttle a pale of the first charged with a sprig of mulberry fructed proper

Crest: On a wreath of the colors in front of a representation of the White Tower of the Tower of London proper two anchors in saltire or

Supporters: On the dexter side a sea-horse, on the sinister side a talbot, all proper

Mantling: Azure lined argent

Motto: From great things to greater

Most of the elements in this achievement are drawn from the arms of the borough of Stepney, which was incorporated into Tower Hamlets in 1965. The fire tongs are the symbol of St. Dunstan, who held the Manor of Stepney when he was Bishop of London.

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.