Arms of El Acebrón, Spain

El Acebron

Granted 2010

Blazon: Per quarterly, I or a holly branch proper fructed gules; II gules issuant from three bars wavy in base argent a castle proper between two serpents’ heads or respectant issuant from the sides of the shield; III vert on a bridge over water barry wavy in base argent and azure, two towers of the second, the dexter flying a flag of the last a saltire gules and the sinister supporting a ladder of the same; IV argent a cross of Santiago gules; overall in the fess point an escutcheon argent seven crowns 2, 2, 2, and 1 proper

The first quarter is evidently canting, acebo meaning “holly” in Spanish. The second and third quarters are apparently connected to the first lord of the town, Gaspar Ramírez de Vargas. I’m not entirely clear on whether they’re his family arms, or connected to him in some other way. (It’s unclear whether the snakes are related to The Mystery of the Snake Cauldrons, but probably not.) The seven crowns in the escutcheon are a reference to a mythical medieval battle that ostensibly took place at the nearby castle of Sicuendes, where seven counts were killed.

Arms of Liguria, Italy

Liguria

Granted 1985

Blazon: Tierced per pale vert, gules, and azure, in the fess point a caravel silver*, on a sail argent a cross of the second between four molets of six points of the fourth

I know, I know, technically it’s a flag, but Liguria doesn’t technically have arms. They have an emblem, which is the stylized caravel in the center, without any field. (The octagon was pushing it; I don’t think I can justifiably call something without a field a coat of arms.) That being said, it’s not a bad choice; much of Liguria has a long maritime history, especially the Republic of Genoa (i.e. the birthplace of Christopher Columbus). The cross on the sail is drawn from the Genoese flag, and the four stars represent the four component provinces of the region. And yes, the colors are also symbolic – green for the mountains, blue for the sea, and red for the blood spilled in the Italian Resistance.

*While “argent” and “silver” are usually synonymous, this blazon specifically differentiates between them.

History of the US Flag

I know this blog has a very specific focus on European heraldry, but it’s good to branch out sometimes, right? I thought I’d take a quick dip into the semi-related field of vexillology in honor of US Independence Day, and look at the evolution of the United States flag.

During the Revolutionary War, various commanders and militia groups flew their own flags. The Gadsden flag was used by the Continental Navy starting in December 1775, possibly borrowing the symbolism and motto from the flag of the Culpeper Minutemen, established earlier that year. The rattlesnake was a fairly common symbol of the colonies, being both a native and extremely dangerous animal. The pine tree also appears pretty frequently, in both the Continental flag reportedly used at Bunker Hill and the eponymous Pine Tree Flag used by a small naval squadron under George Washington’s direct authority as well as the Massachusetts state navy.

Once the Second Continental Congress got properly up and running, they adopted the Grand Union Flag, possibly based on the flag of the British East India Company. If you take a look at that first link, you’ll notice the red saltire is missing from the Grand Union’s version of the British flag; it wasn’t added until Ireland joined the UK in 1801, and by then, the US flag had moved on. Putting the then-contemporary British Union Flag in the canton seems like an odd choice for a country trying to declare independence, but both Massachusetts and New York had been doing the same thing.

The Grand Union flag lasted for about two years before the Second Continental Congress adopted the first stars-and-stripes pattern in 1777, consisting of “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” It’s not entirely clear where the stars came from. There’s a legend that they were adapted from the Washington coat of arms (argent two bars, in chief three molets of five points gules), but this seems unlikely. While the cult of personality that grew up around George Washington, especially after his death, could get pretty intense, the widespread cultural disdain for monarchy in early US history makes me doubt that they would adapt an individual’s personal arms for a national flag.

In 1795, two additional stars and stripes were added to represent the new states of Vermont and Kentucky. The fifteen stripes persisted until 1818, when Congress decided to add a new star for every state, but also to revert to 13 stripes for the original colonies. While the pattern of one new star per state has been consistent throughout US history, I find it fascinating that the specific arrangement of the stars wasn’t set until 1912. Throughout the 1800s, we see a wide variation of star arrangements – I think my personal favorites are the Great Star flags, though the snowflake is also pretty neat.

(Quick tangent – this is why describing the positioning of charges is so important in blazon. “Thirteen molets of five points, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3” is not the same as “a circle of thirteen molets of five points,” and writing only “thirteen molets” doesn’t help other heralds, artists, and historians distinguish between the cases.)

The last change to the flag was made in 1960, when the 50th star was added for Hawaii, making the current design the longest-lasting in US history at 59 years. Both Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have held statehood votes in the past few years, and American Samoa also explored the possibility of becoming a state, so a 51-star design may be necessary someday.

Arms of Almedina, Spain

Almedina

Granted 1993

Blazon: Or on a mount in base vert a castle triple-towered gules between two flags addorsed, the dexter of the second a crescent increscent argent and of the last a cross of Santiago of the third

The arms of Almedina are an excellent visual metaphor for the Reconquista: a castle between two opposing flags, bearing the symbols of the Almohad Caliphate and the Order of Santiago.

Arms of Almansa, Spain

Almansa

In use since at least 1991

Blazon: Per pale azure a castle triple-towered or windowed gules on a base couped of stones proper, in chief two hands winged fingers to the interior argent, each bearing a sword point to the chief or and gules an obelisk argent between six flags addorsed 3 and 3, the chief and base or and the center of the second, in chief a lion rampant crowned and bearing a sword of the third

 

Arms of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, England

Southend on Sea

Granted 1915

Blazon: Azure on a pile argent between on the dexter an anchor on the sinister a grill and in base a trefoil slipped or a vase gules issuant therefrom a spray of lilies proper

Crest: Issuant from a mural crown gules the mast of a ship proper flying a flag argent a cross gules

Supporters: On the dexter a medieval fisherman holding in the exterior hand a net and on the sinister holding a book and a staff, all proper

Mantling: Azure lined argent

Motto: Per mare per ecclesiam (Through the sea, through the Church)