Arms of Henry II

Henry II

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

Okay, this should start looking familiar! By the time of Henry II, the three lions we know and love today were well established. There are a few potential sources for the lions; the most popular origin story I’ve seen has Henry adopting the two lions of Normany via his mother, Empress Matilda, and adding another lion (the arms of Aquitaine) when he married Eleanor. There is not a whole lot of proof for this theory, but it is a pretty common approach to arms, especially in the early days of heraldry, before systems of quartering, dimidiation, and cadency came into use. (Unsurprisingly, the Burkes go with this theory; it’s got more of a narrative shape to it.) 

The other possible source is that Henry’s three lions are a modified version of the arms borne by his father, Geoffrey Plantagenet. Geoffrey’s funeral effigy is one of the oldest examples of European heraldry in existence, dating to around 1160. It depicts him bearing azure (probably) six lioncels or. It’s certainly possible that Henry swapped out the tinctures and continued using his father’s well-known gold lion. This could be a bit circular; a late 12th-century writer whom the Burkes identify as “John, the Monk of Harmonstier, in Tourain” recounts that Henry I gifted Geoffrey with “an image of golden lioncels hung around his neck” (very rough translation). The Burkes do reproduce this quote in the original Latin, but don’t necessarily draw the connection between Geoffrey and Henry II. Not that I’m necessarily surprised; it’s not uncommon for English heraldic writers of this period to just kind of ignore the whole “Anarchy” business.

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 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.

Breaking Idols: English Religious Conflict over Images

Much of the True Use of Arms is made up of Wyrley’s complaints about various issues. Some of them are pretty expected: systems of cadency, the nouveau riche who think they’re entitled to bear arms just because they want to, and a few other concerns we’ll get into next week. However, there’s a very odd section where Wyrley switches to the defensive, insisting on the legitimacy of the practice of heraldry, as well as that of funerals, memorials, and genealogies, backing himself up with quotes from the Bible. It’s pretty common for heraldic writers to quote the Bible, especially when they’re recounting the supposed origins of heraldry, but it is weird to see it done in defense of what we think of as fairly common practices.

Wyrley is really not shy about objecting when he dislikes something, so I think it’s a safe assumption that his impassioned, citation-heavy defense of memorials, heraldic ensigns, and genealogy has its roots in actual practices of the time. He complains that he personally found “many moniments both of burials and in glasse were so broken and defaced” as to be unidentifiable, and useless for research. (25) (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t deeply sympathize with this problem.)

This passage, and the larger dispute it hints at, is a fascinating glimpse into Wyrley’s political and religious context. As a reminder, the original publication of this work was in 1592, right in the middle of a heated, centuries-long debate over idolatry and iconoclasm. This really got started with the English Reformation and Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church in 1534. The Reformers (which is also explicitly the name that Wyrley calls them, asking that they “might be reformed themselves”) undertook a number of efforts to distance themselves from the Catholic Church, including the removal of images from churches. The level of governmental support for these policies varied – Edward VI continued his father’s anti-Catholic legacy, after which Mary I restored Catholicism. Elizabeth I went back to Protestantism, but with a much more moderate/pragmatic bent. Wyrley addresses her and her Privy Council in this passage, asking them to protect the English traditions and punish the Puritans.

The tomb of Katharine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral was apparently a popular target for vandalism; it was thoroughly vandalized by the Roundheads in 1643, but Wyrley also praises William Fleetwood, Serjeant-at-law, for restoring her monument after it was defaced, and punishing those responsible. (I suspect the queen’s Spanish, i.e. Catholic, heritage had a lot to do with the repeated desecrations.)

I’m not nearly as clear on the substance of the critics of heraldic insignia and genealogy to whom Wyrley is responding, but I suspect the arguments are roughly the same: that anything that could be interpreted as veneration of earthly ideals (such as one’s ancestors) was tantamount to idolatry. Disappointingly, Wyrley doesn’t quote his interlocutors, but includes several long passages, mostly from the book of Numbers, that mention things like banners, funerals, and records of ancestry as proof that these practices had Biblical sanction. To be clear, I’m a little skeptical of Wyrley’s claims to religious legitimacy; though there are plenty of genealogies in the Bible, I don’t think the funeral customs of the Hebrew people referred to in Numbers are remotely comparable to those of sixteenth-century England, and heraldry qua heraldry wouldn’t come into being for more than a millennium after Biblical times. That being said, I can’t help but feel a spark of regret for all the historical artifacts and works of art destroyed by Reformist zeal. I have to believe there’s a middle ground between destroying memorial sculptures and worshiping them.

Arms of Anne of Bohemia

Anne of Bohemia
Queen of England 1382-1394 (1366-1394)

From p104 of Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586)

Blazon: Per quarterly I and IV per quarterly i and iv azure three fleurs-de-lis or (France), ii and iii gules three lions passant guardant or armed and langued azure (England); II and III per quarterly i and iv or a double-headed eagle displayed sable armed and langued gules (Holy Roman Empire), ii and iii gules a lion rampant argent*

*Ferne describes this last coat as “the coate belonging to her family and house,” which does seem to be accurate. However, these arms seem to have originated with Anne’s grandfather, John the Blind, who quartered them with the more customary arms of Luxembourg (barry argent and azure a lion rampant double-queued gules armed, langued, and crowned or). He may have chosen to invert the tinctures of the ancient arms of the Dukes of Limburg, his ancestral line.

Torquatus points out, correctly, that this arrangement of the arms implies that Anne was an heiress, which she was not. Paradius (Ferne’s mouthpiece character) concedes the point, admitting that this arrangement is rare, but goes on to argue that this is a legitimate configuration of arms, since it is essentially the customary impalement of the arms of a married couple counterchanged by fess.This claim is dubious at best.

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.

For the Duke of Normandy did bear in his targe of Mars 2 Lions passant guardant of the Sun… and then, by the marriage of Eleanor, daughter and heir to William Duke of Aquitaine (that bare in a Shield gules, a Lion passant, guardant Or) the third Lion was also added to the coat of Normandy.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p105-6

This is one of my favorite heraldic origin stories, not least because it’s very likely to be true. The blazons for Normandy and Aquitaine are easily verifiable, and the combination of those two arms into England’s iconic coat is elegant and satisfying.