Arms of Normandy, France

Normandy

In use since 1189 at the latest

Blazon: Gules two lions passant guardant or armed and langued azure

Oh, Normandy. Never change. You haven’t since like, 1189 at the latest, but we already saw what happened to Aquitaine, so. And I do say 1189 instead of 1066, because we don’t have any contemporary records of William the Conqueror using the two lions. The number of lions was a little flexible for a while, but it was pretty solidly established as two by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

I will also take this opportunity to point out the issue with the leopards. The position of “passant guardant” in English heraldry is blazoned as “leopardé” in French. Often, from translation errors, confusion, or laziness, this results in lions passant guardant being recorded in English as leopards. This problem is especially acute in regards to the Norman coat of arms, which a. actually has lions passant guardant, and b. belongs to a region that kept switching back and forth between France and England for a while. If you ever see an English reference to the leopards of Normandy, it’s technically incorrect, but a very common and understandable error.

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Arms of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Granted 2016

Blazon: Argent in dexter three palets wavy azure, in sinister a lion rampant gules

Another new coat of arms for the administrative regions! Personally, I prefer the former arms of Aquitaine (gules a lion passant guardant or, armed and langued azure), and Limousin was pretty sharp, too (ermine a bordure gules), but design-wise, this is pretty good. In terms of the charges selected… well, I suppose I understand the reasoning. The palets are probably intended to represent the rivers that run to the Atlantic, much like the lion’s mane in the new logo. They also could be a canting charge, if you subscribe to the etymology that has “Aquitaine” derived from the Latin for “water.” I feel that it’s worth mentioning the competing theory – that it’s actually named after the pre-Roman tribe of the Ausci.

The lion has been used for Aquitaine since at least the twelfth century, and possibly earlier, so it isn’t like they could leave it out. And I guess if we’re going to get picky about the law of tincture, and we really want those palets wavy, then fine, gules works. There are several cities in the region that use a lion gules, so it’s not like it’s coming from nowhere. (I really did like the former arms, though.)

Arms of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France

Bourgogne-Franche-Comte

Granted July 12th, 2017

Blazon: Per quarterly I azure semé de lis or a bordure gobony argent and gules, II and III azure biletté and a lion rampant crowned or, armed and langued gules, IV bendy of six or and azure a bordure gules

This is why I’m glad I’m revisiting these! As it turns out, there was an administrative reorganization of France in 2016 – and I did most of the regional French arms in 2014, so some of these arms are going to be brand new! (To me, at least.) Some regions did stay the same, but Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is only about three and a half years old. That being said, the design operates on pretty much the same principle as the name – the first and fourth quarters come from the former arms of Burgundy, and the second and third are the former arms of Franche-Comte.

The Burgundian quarters are, respectively, the arms of the county (later duchy) of Touraine and the House of Burgundy. The arms of Franche-Comté were allegedly adopted by Count Palatine Otto IV in 1280 when he switched his allegiance to France from the Holy Roman Empire. He previously bore gules, an eagle displayed argent, but opted for the azure and or to mimic the French arms.

Arms of the French Republic

French Republic

In use since 1905; officially adopted 1953

Blazon: Azure a fasces between two branches of laurel and oak, all intertwined with a ribbon or bearing the motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” sable

Finally, the current symbol of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth French Republics. Technically, France didn’t officially have national arms after the end of the Second Empire in 1870. This design was formally adopted in 1953 as a response to a request from the United Nations, who wanted to display all the coats of arms of their member states. I’ve found different opinions as to whether or not this counts as a national coat of arms, but I figure if it’s good enough for the UN, it’s good enough for this blog. I’d also like to mention that the design itself dates back to at least 1905, and was intermittently used for formal state occasions, embassies, and consulates. My point here is that the use of the fasces as a national symbol happened well before Mussolini went and ruined it by making it a symbol of authoritarianism, repression, and violence.

Arms of the First French Empire

First French Empire

In use 1804 – 1814

Blazon: Azure an eagle displayed, wings inverted, reguardant and holding in its claws a lightning bolt or

This is the second-last variation on French national arms before we start on geographical arms, because how do you not talk about Napoleon? As a scion of a Tuscan noble family, he did actually have family arms (gules two bendlets between as many molets of five points or) which he was entitled to bear as a private citizen, but, well, Napoleon. To be fair, though, instituting a new national coat of arms after such a drastic regime change is pretty standard in European history. The selection of the eagle, especially holding the thunderbolt, was intended to invoke the ancient Roman empire and the god Jupiter. It’s probably also worth mentioning the bees on the mantle supporting the arms; they were intended as a reference to the ancient monarchs of France, as golden bees were found in the tomb of Childeric I, who founded the Merovingian dynasty in 457.

Arms of Louis X of France

Louis X

In use 1314 – 1316

Blazon: Azure semé de lis or (France ancien) dimidiated with gules a chain in saltire, cross, and orle or, charged in the center with a pomme (Navarre)

I do want to briefly talk about some variations of the French national arms before we revisit the various regions and major cities. I wanted to touch on this particular coat not just because Louis X has a really excellent epithet (Louis the Stubborn!), but also because it’s a not-very-common example of dimidiation. Dimidiation is often used in the same circumstances as impalement or quartering – in this case, Louis inherited the kingdom of Navarre from his mother in 1305, and that of France from his father in 1314. The distinction there is that while both impalement and quartering keep both sets of original arms intact, dimidiation literally cuts them in half and reforms them into a single coat. Sometimes, like in this example, it works pretty well, and both arms are still easily identifiable. More often, though, dimidiation yields confusing or just plain weird results, so it’s understandable why it’s not used very often. (I’ve seen theories that badly planned dimidiation is where we get griffins, but they’re blatantly wrong; griffins predate heraldry by a good couple of millennia.)

Jour de Bastille

Today is Quatorze Juillet, or Bastille Day, the national holiday of France. This year marks the 230th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. The Bastille was an armory and prison in the center of Paris, and a symbol of monarchical authority, it was a natural target for the burgeoning French Revolution. Roughly one thousand civilians attacked the fortress, which contained a significant amount of ammunition (and seven prisoners). Obviously, the attackers succeeded in taking the Bastille, and the first major outbreak of violence in the French Revolution eventually convinced Louis XVI to (temporarily) capitulate.

It’s a bit tricky to talk about the “heraldry of the French Revolution,” since it resulted in a mass repudiation of pretty much everything associated with the nobility. However, at the risk of talking about flags again, I do think it’s worth pointing out that the Revolution holds the roots of the current French tricolore – and yes, it does ultimately go back to heraldry.

The arms of Paris are gules a single masted-ship, sails unfurled on a sea in base argent, a chief azure semé de lis or. The chief is derived from the arms of France ancien, and the ship is from the marchands de l’eau¸ a powerful merchant guild operating on the Seine since 1170. The Parisian coat of arms has been pretty much the same since 1358, with some changes (the addition of the sea waves, a brief change to France moderne in the 15th century). The arms are the source for the city colors of Paris – red and blue. I think you probably see where this is going.

Cockades were a popular way of displaying political allegiance in the eighteenth century – sort of like campaign buttons today. It was, therefore, perfectly natural for the Paris militia to wear a cockade of blue and red when they formed on July 13th, 1789. The blue and red design had a run of about two weeks before Lafayette proposed the addition of a white stripe to make it clear that this was a national movement, and not something confined to Paris. His suggestion was implemented on July 27th as part of the uniform of the National Guard.

The rest is, as they say, history. October 24th, 1790 saw the National Assembly adopt a red, white, and blue standard as the national flag, which was changed to blue, white, and red on February 15th, 1794. I’m not sure why this change was made, but it clearly stuck; with the exception of about 15 years during the Bourbon Restoration, when they went with a plain white flag, the tricolore has been the iconic symbol of the French nation ever since.