Regaining of a proud tradition

Written By: Paul Shannon

Most people think of heraldry in the way that Hollywood presents it. Most people do not consider how the noble families of central and eastern Europe handled the blazoning of arms. Part of the reason that most have been forgotten or overlooked is because of the communist regimes that took over after World War II. Most of the colleges and societies of the nobilities had to move to other nations. The proud traditions went underground, which caused people to have less
access to their history.

The Central and Eastern European way of heraldry

The coat of arms for families in central and eastern European countries were done differently than most Americans would understand. The heraldry was set up for a territorial clan system. Blood did not mean that people would have the same markings. What mattered was whether people lived in the same village or were part of the same military groups.

The coats were not as involved as they were in western Europe. In many instances, people believed that the entire family was entitled to the crest. The coats, crests and other marks of nobility were given to an individual. Only the heirs of that person were granted the right of wearing
what was given. The villages and military groups that were given the marks of nobility were unusual.

What happened because of communism

One country that is still trying to recover their past is Hungary. The Hungarian College of the Hereditary Nobility, or Matricula Armorum, spent the Cold War with the Riddarhustorget 10, or Swedish House of Nobility. Though the Matricula Armorum went back to Hungary in 1990, it took another twenty years before they were able to have the full facility that was required. At least 15
percent of all coats of arms for the nation features a severed Turkish head. This is because of the wars that occurred, as Hungary blocked the Ottoman Empire’s access to Europe.

The majority of Russian heraldry was between 1797 and 1840. The book Obschii Gerbobnik Dvorianskikh Rodov Vserossiiskoi held all the symbols of nobility. Also, because of the
constant flux of politics, the lists were watched regularly. The entire nation has gone through thousands of purges since the days of Ivan the Terrible, so many families were just wiped out. Nobility was not as safe as it was in other European countries.

Polish heraldry was another exception to any known rules. They used different markings to blazon arms. The King was not allowed to give nobility to another family, which was something else that was unusual. All knights were noble and equal. The knights were the families in power. The king was elected from among them and was “first among equals.” All of this was brought about before the rules of the other nations were introduced into Poland.

Many other places have their own rules on how to tell who is a noble. Communism took away much of this tradition for central and eastern Europe. Now, these nations are trying to regain this history. There will continue to be a push to help families know their past. The main reason that the  history was lost is now gone. People are remembering prouder times and don’t want to be held back from that.

Meanings of buildings on coats of arms

Written By: David Ives

Within the walls of Westminster Abbey, Eleanor of Castile lies in repose, the various coats of arms displayed on her tomb proudly detailing her royal lineage. Emblazoned on three of the shields which adorn her resting place are single images of the lions of England, befitting her title as the first queen consort of Edward I, and the blue stripes of the feudal county of Ponthieu, of which she was the countess.

The final coat of arms located on the tomb is a bit different, however. Created by Eleanor’s father, Ferdinand III, when he united the kingdoms of Leon and Castille, the shield is quartered and contains two images. One is a lion, incorporated into Eleanor’s coat of arms from the flag of Leon, and the other is a castle, which has long been the symbol of Castille.

It is no surprise to find the image of the lion on the coats of arms represented on Eleanor’s tomb as it is one of the most commonly used charges worldwide, representing such traits as bravery, strength and royalty. In contrast, architectural structures such as the castle are less frequently seen. But while the depiction of buildings are not as common a sight on coats of arms as other images, they still carry with them specific meanings.

The castle typically symbolizes vigilance, home and safety. For this reason, they are most often seen on the coats of arms of kingdoms, cities or other governing authorities. In the case of Castille, though, there is a double meaning. As Castille is known as “the land of castles,” the inclusion of the castle in their particular coat of arms is a direct reference to the kingdom itself.

Similar in appearance to the castle, though occurring with more frequency, is the tower. This charge is interpreted to represent grandeur or defence. As with the castle, however, the tower can also have local significance. The coat of arms of San Marino, for example, depicts three towers on its field, a direct reference to the three citadels of La Guaita, La Cesta and La Montale.

Ecclesial structures such as churches, abbeys and monasteries are rare, but do appear from time to time. Unsurprisingly, such charges communicate the notions of faith, community, and often some form of religious authority on the part of the bearer. Two of the three charges on the coat of arms of the Serbian Orthodox Church depict such structures.

Like their real world counterparts, the image of a bridge or triumphal arch on a coat of arms most often commemorates the power of a local magistrate. One of the five charges on the elaborate coat of arms of Romania depicts a traditional lion brandishing a broadsword while standing atop an arched bridge.

While not a full building, the column makes numerous appearances in heraldry. It symbolizes fortitude, constancy and the desire to support others, particularly the weak. This makes the column a favored symbol of government bodies such as the State of Georgia, whose coat arms depicts three columns, one for each of its three branches of government.

If there is a link between all of these images and why they are so often used by ruling bodies, it is the sense of stability and permanence communicated by a massive building. That is the meaning of a buildings on coats of arms. Those within the structures may pass, as Eleanor did, but the institutions live on.


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