Happy Portugal Day!


Blazon: Argent within a bordure gules charged with seven castles or, five escutcheons in cross azure, on each as many plates in saltire

I do really love the gradual evolution of the Portugese coat of arms; in some ways, that’s a more appealing way to trace a nation’s history than a more-or-less static coat of arms.

The story of the Portugese national arms begins around 1096 when Henry of Burgundy became Henry, Count of Portugal by agreement with his cousin Raymond. Traditionally, his arms are given as argent a cross azure. It’s not wholly clear to me whether these were Henry’s actual arms or a later attribution, since heraldic sources for that era were thin on the ground. Even if it is the latter, I’m willing to cut them a bit of slack on this, since it’s such a neat visual predecessor to the current arms. The cross turned into five escutcheons semé of plates either in 1139, when Afonso Henriques became Afonso I of Portugal, or shortly thereafter under his son Sancho I.

The bordure gules semé of castles or was added as a mark of cadency when Afonso III contested his brother Sancho II’s claim to the throne. The castles probably referred to the fact that his mother, Urraca, was a daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile. Apparently Afonso liked the bordure, since he preserved it in his arms when he finally did become king in 1247. 

For a brief period of time, the bordure also incorporated crosses flory vert (or one large cross flory vert, interposed between the bordure and the rest of the shield, so the four points of the cross appeared on the bordure) as a nod to John I’s former role as the master of the Order of Aviz. However, John’s great-grandson, John II, made a number of changes to the royal arms, including removing the cross flory, fixing the number of plates on each shield at five, positioned in saltire, and the number of castles on the bordure at seven. 

Somewhat unusually, the arms have remained unchanged since then (mercifully escaping the visual scourge that was the Napoleonic era in heraldry). While the crest, supporter(s), and motto shifted from time to time, the escutcheon itself had basically reached its modern form, and the arms were readopted with a virtually identical blazon by the Portugese Republic when it was established in 1911.

And, of course, would they really be national arms if there weren’t a number of just-so stories explaining the purported symbolism of the charges? Depending on who you ask, the escutcheons represent the five wounds of Christ on the cross (head, feet, arms, and heart), Afonso Henriques’ five wounds from the Battle of Ourique, which formed the basis of Portugal’s ascendancy to a kingdom, or the five Muslim kings that were defeated in that battle. (Another legend about the battle claims the crucified Jesus appeared to Afonso before the battle, promising him victory.) The plates are said to symbolize either the silver paid to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus – an odd decision for a very Catholic country – the ability of the Portugese kings to coin their own money, or the nails that held the torn scraps of blue leather to Afonso Henriques’ ruined shield after Ourique. Please do note that there is no evidence whatsoever for any of these claims, and I relate them purely for entertainment’s sake.

Arms of Eberstein, Austria


Granted 1968

Blazon: Per quarterly gules and argent, an escutcheon or a boar statant on a mount in base sable, armed of the second, langued of the first

These arms are something of a remix of those of the Counts of Eberstein. (argent a cinquefoil gules seeded azure). The larger shield uses the main tinctures of the family’s arms, and the boar (Eber) does double duty: it is both a canting element and an adaptation of a crest the Ebersteins started using in the early sixteenth century, probably in reference to their name. The mount is intended to be another canting element – a rock, or Stein.

Arms of Cilmin Croed-Du


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

Arms of Cilmin Croed-Du

“Quarterly, first and fourth, ar. an eagle displ. with two heads sa.; second and third, ar. three fiery ragged streaks* gu.; over all, upon an escutcheon of pretence, ar. a man’s leg, couped a-la-cuise, sa.”

Once again, I can’t find any solid evidence that this was a real actual human being, and not a legendary figure, and the stories that feature both Cilmin and elves/wizards/giants don’t really contradict that. In fact, the escutcheon probably derives from one of those legends, where Cilmin stole a book of secret magic from some wizards. They gave chase, but could not hurt him unless he touched running water – which he did, of course. He skimmed the surface of a brook with his right foot, which immediately turned black. Based on what I could find, “troed-du” means “black foot” in Welsh. I might give the Burkes half credit on this for at least referencing a consistent legend. The arms themselves appear to be those of John Glynne, whose family did claim descent from Cilmin – although that doesn’t make it true.

*Could be thunderbolts; could be billets raguly; there’s really not enough detail here to be sure, but I’m not especially fond of how the Burkes worded this. It doesn’t sound like blazon to my ears.

Arms of Ariège, France


Designed around 1950

Blazon: Or three palets gules, overall an escutcheon azure a bell argent

The larger arms are those of the county of Foix, which has a long history as an independent fief during the Middle Ages before it was incorporated into the French crown in 1607. The escutcheon with the bell is intended to represent Couserans, but this may have been a misattribution; these arms were sometimes connected to the territory of Couserans, but some sources connect them with the city of Saint-Lizier, which was also called Couserans. The viscounty of Couserans, though, definitively bore or a bordure gules.

Serbian Statehood Day

Today, Serbian Statehood Day, marks 185 years since the adoption of the First Serbian Constitution (one of the first democratic constitutions in Europe) after the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. So you all know the drill – let’s take a look at their arms!


Blazon: Gules a double-headed eagle displayed argent armed, in base two fleurs-de-lis or, overall an escutcheon of the field a cross between four firesteels addorsed of the second

While the eagle has its roots in Byzantine symbolism, it does not actually go back that far; it was probably adopted as a callback to the ancient might of Rome. It was probably first used in the late twelfth century by the Nemanjić dynasty, but it quickly became associated with the Serbian state, and several subsequent dynasties also used the double-headed eagle. It’s not clear that the specific tinctures were well-established or consistent until the 15th to 16th century. 

The cross and firesteels probably also have their roots in Byzantine iconography – specifically, the final Palaiologan dynasty. In that context, the firesteels were probably Betas, standing for the motto “King of kings, ruling over kings,” or Basileus Basileōn, Basileuōn Basileuontōn in Greek. The direct transmission of these symbols from Byzantium to Serbia is possible – the timelines just about line up – but I’m not very confident in that. It really came into established use in the mid-to-late fourteenth century, and has been pretty much ever since. (Even the Soviets didn’t break the streak!)

The arms were initially adopted in 1882, upon the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbia, and used with some minor modifications through 1945. From 1918 through 1941, as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), the inescutcheon incorporated the Croatian chequy argent and gules and azure three molets of six points in chevron or, in base a crescent argent to represent the Slovenes. The component pieces were discarded after the Axis powers split up the kingdom, and General Milan Nedić was installed as the head of a puppet government under Nazi Germany. 

After the end of World War II, the Socialist Republic of Serbia was established as part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This, too, continued the tradition of extremely ugly Soviet heraldry, although they get very partial credit for incorporating the firesteels. (Presumably the cross was removed due to the religious symbolism.) The Republic of Serbia was established in 1992, and finally went back to the former 1882 arms in 2004.

Arms of Ebenfurth, Austria


Arms of Ebenfurth, Austria

In use since at least 1932, possibly since 1417

Blazon: Argent on a triple mount in base vert a stone tower proper, roofed gules, masoned sable, portcullis or, ported of the second a fess of the third, and charged with an escutcheon of the second a lion rampant or

Even the official town website doesn’t include anything about why these arms are the way they are. The escutcheon on the tower feels like it should belong to a specific family or region, but I can’t find any evidence of who it could be, and “gules a lion rampant or” is general enough that it might not refer to anyone or anything in particular. The tower bears a superficial resemblance to Ebenfurth Castle; it seems plausible that it’s a representation of that building. I’m very interested, but also puzzled, by the Austrian fess on the tower doors; I have no idea where that comes from!

Arms of Mössingen, Germany


Granted 1952

Blazon: Sable a bend sinister wavy between in chief three escutcheons argent, the first charged with as many antlers fesswise in pale of the field, the second per quarterly of the second and the first, and the third charged with an eagle displayed of the field, and in base a fountain of the second

I really like this one! It’s maybe a little heavy on the representative elements (not everything has to stand for something), but the triple shields in the dexter chief are a nice touch. They symbolize a local mountain, the Dreifürstenstein, which touches the borders of Württemberg , Hohenzollern, and Fürstenberg – i.e. the three territories whose arms are shown here. I think it’s a clever and visually succinct way to convey that. Aside from that, the bend sinister represents the Steinlach river, which flows through the town, and the fountain stands for the local sulfur springs.

Arms of George III

George III

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

Blazon: Per quarterly I and IV gules three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure (England); II or a lion rampant within a tressure flory counter-flory gules (Scotland); III azure a harp or stringed argent (Ireland); overall an escutcheon crowned proper tierced per pale and per chevron I gules two lions passant guardant or (Brunswick), II or semé of hearts gules a lion rampant azure (Lüneburg), III gules a horse courant argent (Hanover/Westphalia), in the fess point an escutcheon gules the crown of Charlemagne or (Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire)

(George II doesn’t even get mentioned by the Burkes. Yeah, okay, he was Not Great in terms of being a king, and his arms were exactly the same as his father’s, but that still seems kinda rude.)

Finally, finally, finally, after what, 460 years, the monarchs of Britain formally relinquished their claim to France. George III dropped the title upon passage of the 1801 Act of Union, which incorporated Britain and Ireland into a single state. That was also the point when the arms of Hanover were moved from the fourth quarter into an escutcheon. This depiction seems somewhat outdated, since the escutcheon was only crowned with a chapeau until 1814. When the Electorate of Hanover was elevated to a kingdom, and George III received the title King of Hanover, the chapeau changed to a crown. (It’s also possible that this is supposed to be a crown, and is just really poorly drawn.)

Arms of George I

George I

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

Blazon: Per quarterly, I gules three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure (England) impaled with or a lion rampant within a tressure flory counter-flory gules (Scotland); II azure three fleurs-de-lis or (France); III azure a harp or stringed argent (Ireland); IV tierced per pale and per chevron I gules two lions passant guardant or (Brunswick), II or semé of hearts gules a lion rampant azure (Lüneburg), III gules a horse courant argent (Hanover/Westphalia), in the fess point an escutcheon gules the crown of Charlemagne or (Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire)

George preserved the first three quarters of Anne’s arms, but the fourth quarter represents a very condensed version of his previous arms as Elector of Hanover. Brunswick and Lüneburg were part of his personal holdings which he received from his father; the white horse is the ancient symbol of Hanover and Westphalia, of which he was the Elector. (Not that the arms of the Elector of Hanover are actually that simple, but including all of them seems to have been a bridge too far even here.) The crown of Charlemagne is not connected to any particular piece of land, but it is instead the heraldic representation of the purely ceremonial title of Arch-Treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire.

I swear to God, I don’t think the Burkes actually know what Saxony is. In their version of this blazon, they specify the white horse is for Saxony. It’s not. It’s Westphalia, or Hanover, or potentially Lower Saxony, but that is not the same thing as Saxony at this point in history. Given the Burkes’ previous fumbles on the Saxony arms, I’m really starting to question their grasp on this. Their British heraldry seems fairly solid, especially once they hit more recent history, but I’m really not confident in their grasp on Continental arms.

Arms of William III and Mary II

William and Mary

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

Blazon: Per quarterly, I and IV per quarterly i and iv azure three fleurs-de-lis or (France) and gules three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure (England); II or a lion rampant within a tressure flory counter-flory gules (Scotland); III azure a harp or stringed argent (Ireland), overall an escutcheon azure billette a lion rampant or (Nassau)

After the Glorious Revolution ousted James II in 1688, the English Parliament invited his eldest (legitimate) daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, to rule instead. Technically, the arms above are Mary’s, although they were joint rulers; she inherited the arms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from her father, and the arms of William’s House of Orange-Nassau are placed in an escutcheon of pretense, indicating she does not truly have a claim to those arms.