Fiesta Nacional de España

There are actually two important Spanish holidays on this date; the Fiesta Nacional, chosen to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas, and the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar. The former might be more official, but the latter is apparently more popular culturally – understandable in a majority-Catholic country. She is the patron saint of the Civil Guard, and also of the region of Aragon, which provides a nice segue into discussing the Spanish national arms!

Spain

Blazon: Per quarterly, I gules a castle triple-towered or windowed argent (Castile), II argent a lion rampant purpre crowned or (León), III or four palets gules (Aragon), IV gules a chain in saltire, cross, and orle or, charged with a center point vert (Navarre); enté en point argent a pomegranate slipped, leaved, and seeded proper (Granada); overall in the fess point an escutcheon azure three fleurs-de-lis or within a bordure gules (Bourbon-Anjou)

Supporters: Two columns argent, capitals and bases or, standing on five waves azure and the first, the dexter surmounted by an imperial crown and the sinister the Spanish royal crown proper, and entwined with a ribbon gules charged with “Plus ultra” of the second

The current depiction of the arms was formally granted in 1981, but the individual elements are all very old. The first two quarters of Spain are the best counterargument I’ve ever seen against the idea that canting arms are somehow ‘lesser.’ (Canting arms are arms that are essentially puns on the name of the family, country, etc. – think mountains for Bergs, eels for Ellis, etc.) There’s a weird idea in some heraldic texts that canting arms are less “noble” than non-canting arms. But Spain features three coats of canting arms, beginning with the somewhat obvious Castile and León. 

Castile and León were two of the more powerful states in medieval Spain. They went back and forth between unified and not for a few centuries until they were formally unified under Ferdinand III in 1230. The lion and castle show up in a lot of Spanish arms, usually as quarters or smaller sections, although often the lion will be rendered gules instead of purpre. (Gules is a much more common and easily-rendered tincture in heraldry than purpre.)

 

The third quarter, the widely-used Bars of Aragon (not bars in the heraldic sense), joined the arms along with the Crown of Aragon when Isabel I of Castile – the several-times-great-granddaughter of Ferdinand III – married Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469. The pomegranate (the third canting element) was added shortly afterwards, perpetually enté en point, after the conquest of Granada was concluded in 1496 and it was added to the Spanish crown. 

 

It is with immense gratitude that I can skip over the two hundred years of Habsburg rule in Spain, because while their arms are mind-bendingly complicated, none of the several dozen coats with which the Spanish arms were combined stuck around. However, the kings of Spain used the title “King of Navarre” after the War of the League of Cambrai, and some of the variants of the Spanish arms (especially those used in Navarre) incorporated the chain figure, especially as an escutcheon. A smaller version of Navarre officially survived as an independent kingdom until they were incorporated into Spain in 1833, which is also when the Navarre arms start showing up as a full quarter in the Spanish royal arms.

 

The last of the current elements of the Spanish arms appear when Philip V inherited the Spanish throne in 1700. Philip was a Bourbon – specifically, of the cadet line of the dukes of Anjou. Because everyone in European royal circles was pretty inbred at this point, his arms as the King of Spain also included Austria, Burgundy, and Flanders, among others. However, he bore the arms of Anjou in an escutcheon, and that’s stuck around since then. My theory is that they’ve also stayed in the escutcheon due to the agreement laid out in the Peace of Utrecht that the French and Spanish crowns would never be unified. Because of that, the Spanish monarchs could only “pretend” to the French throne, and never have any territorial claim.

 

Finally, while the unique supporters aren’t quite canting, I think they’re worth a mention. They are, specifically, the Pillars of Hercules, which flank the Strait of Gibraltar, i.e. Spain’s gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. The motto “Plus ultra,” or “Farther beyond,” is a reference to the legend that the pillars were carved with “Non plus ultra” to warn seafarers to stay on the side of the strait without (as many) storms and sea monsters and other such dangers. The removal of the negative is a nice nod to Spain’s history as a seafaring and exploratory nation.

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Arms of Villanueva de San Carlos, Spain

Villanueva de San Carlos

Granted 1773

Blazon: Per fess azure three fleurs-de-lis or within a bordure gules and argent a cross of Calatrava gules

The arms in the chief half of the shield are those of Anjou in honor of Charles III of Spain – presumably the titular “Carlos.” His father, Philip V, was previously Duke of Anjou before he ascended to the Spanish throne in 1700. These arms are sometimes cited as “Bourbon,” but they are specific to the Spanish Bourbons. Azure, three fleurs-de-lis or (without the bordure or any other additional charges) are the arms of the senior (French) branch of the House of Bourbon, which fell from power when Charles X abdicated in 1830.

Arms of Villanueva de los Infantes, Spain

Villanueva de los Infantes

Granted 1421

Blazon: Argent a cross of Santiago gules between in bend two escutcheons or four palets of the second, and in bend sinister a lion rampant of the last and a castle triple-towered of the third windowed azure

There might be a better way to describe the positioning of the charges, but I’m not entirely sure what that would be. I’m hesitant to say they’re laid out in saltire, since most of them are different, and describing the individual position of each charge (eg. in dexter chief, in sinister chief, etc.) seems excessive. I ended up going with the bends because the charges seem to naturally fall into two groups – the lion and castle of Léon and Castile, and the shields of Aragon for Enrique and Alfonso, Infantes of Aragon.

Arms of Villanueva de la Fuente, Spain

Villanueva de la Fuente

Granted 1985

Blazon: Per fess, I per pale argent a cross of Santiago gules and azure a croizer in bend surmounted by a mitre or, II of the last a walled town of the third, pointé in base of the first two bars wavy of the third

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about these arms, but it’s pretty obvious to me that the base half is canting arms – the name translates to “new town on the river,” and bars wavy are a very traditional method of representing water or rivers. The Order of Santiago did control the town from around 1213 through 1243, which would explain the cross. I’m not entirely sure about the episcopal regalia; it does seem like a bishopric was established in the area under the Visigoths, but I’m not entirely certain about that.

Arms of Villamayor de Calatrava, Spain

Villamayor de Calatrava

Granted 1984; possibly in use since 1576

Blazon: Or a stone column* proper on a base vert, in chief a cross of Calatrava gules

Obviously, these are partly canting arms, but I’m more intrigued by the stone column. One of the sources I found implies that these arms are significantly older and, moreover, that there was actually a column in the town square in the 16th and 17th centuries. It seems the column was demolished sometime before 1639, but I have no idea why. It also seems that the original use of these arms dates back to around the same time, and putting a local landmark on municipal arms is an extremely common practice.

*I know, but I’m trying very hard to be mature about it, and the… distinctive shape seems to be unique to this particular depiction

Arms of Villamanrique, Spain

Villamanrique

Granted ?

Blazon: Gules a cross of Santiago voided argent between two cauldrons chequy or and sable, each containing six serpents facing the exterior, in base a point dancetté vert, all within a bordure chequy of the first a castle triple-towered of the third windowed azure and of the second a lion rampant of the field crowned of the third

Whew, okay. Sadly, that blazon is probably going to be longer than anything I can write about it (if I cut out my frustration about the mystery of the snake cauldrons, which I will.) The city was actually named after a Manrique – specifically, Rodrigo Manrique, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, which probably explains the cross of Santiago. He evidently split the town off from Torre de Juan Abad, and the citizens renamed it in gratitude.

Arms of Villahermosa, Spain

Villahermosa

Granted 1993; in use since 1444

Blazon: Gules three escallops or

The town was apparently part of Montiel until 1444, when Infante Henry of Aragon incorporated the town and granted it arms. Given that Henry was also the Grand Master of the Order of Santiago (St. James), it’s not too much of a stretch to figure out where the escallops come from. This is pretty straightforward, and I don’t have too much to say, so I’ll also take this opportunity to point out that the above arrangement of charges is the default for three charges. Arrangements of charges usually take the shape of ordinaries; three charges in a horizontal line across the center of the shield would be in chief, three in a vertical line would be in pale, etc. (“In saltire” and “in cross” require at least four charges; you can’t really make those shapes with just three.) For larger numbers of charges, the blazon might specify how many should be placed on each horizontal line (e.g. “2, 2, 1, 2” is distinct from “2, 2, 2, 1”). This arrangement could be blazoned as “three escallops in pile” or “three escallops 2 and 1,” but in this case, it’s not necessary to be more specific.