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Heraldry, the science of hereditary symbolism, is a discipline of modern origin, deriving from the practice of medieval heralds who put together collections of coats of armscolored emblems or devices that developed from the decorations on the coats of arms of warriors. They are hereditary when the shield is familial, and uniform or constant if they represent an ecclesiastical person. Soon

after their origin, armorial bearings were adopted by noncombatants such as ecclesiastics, women, and secular and religious corporations. This article is concerned only with the evolution of ecclesiastical heraldry, its juridical aspect, its characteristics, and its application.


Heraldry in the Church originated with the seal. Religious seals are nearly contemporary in origin with those of barons, civil officers, and institutions having the right to use seals. The oldest is that of Richard, archbishop of Bourges (1067). The secular lord was generally represented by his arms appearing on the shield and a little later on the caparison of his horse. The ecclesiastic, on the other hand, whether he was a cardinal, bishop, canon, abbot, or priest, appeared in person on his seal, usually without arms.

Obviously the representation of mitered prelates in the act of blessing, with crosier in hand, is of great interest to the historian of ecclesiastical vestments, such as the chasuble, amice, cincture, stole, pallium, maniple, and gloves. As early as the 13th century, however, ecclesiastics are seen bearing armorial devices. Bishops at first had only the heraldic bearings of their rank or see: Miles of Nanteuil (1229), Robert of Cressonsart (1240), and William of Gretz (1261) carried the armorial bearings of the See of Beauvaisa cross cantoned by four keys. But these insignia of ecclesiastical rank were replaced by family arms by, e.g., Guy of Vergy, Bishop of Autun (1223), Guy of Rochefort, Bishop of Langres (1263), and Nicholas of Fontaine, Archdeacon of Valenciennes (1236), who became bishop of Cambray in 1247.

From this time on, the seal and ecclesiastical arms followed a parallel development. Heraldic bearings indicate both the person of the owner of the seal, who is thoroughly identified by the arms, and the date of the document, even though prelates were often designated only by their Christian names. Armorial bearings appear also on currency to identify the authority who had the right to mint and to guarantee its value and weight. Pope martin v's currency (141731) exhibited for the first time his coat of arms topped by the tiara and the keys. Prior to this time, only the tiara and keys were displayed.

Abbeys, priories, and other communities employed seals at the same time that personal seals were being used by churchmen, but special arms for such institutes came into use only at the beginning of the 14th century. Ecclesiastical seals were ordinarily oblong in shape, but sometimes they were round. In the latter form, decoration became more complicated; the hagiographic seal was especially varied, with countless figures of Christ, crucifixes, simple crosses, figures of the Paschal Lamb with halo, of the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin with or without the Child. Of the saintsthose appearing most frequently were Peter, Paul, John, Martin, Nicholas, and James.


Heraldic bearings, which continued to be part of the decoration of the seal, became a mark of ownership placed on bindings, margins of manuscripts, small chests, sacred vessels, episcopal thrones, and portraits. Arms appearing on these objects are important means of identification. During the 17th century, blazons occupy the entire surface of seals and stamps, and ecclesiastical arms are distinguishable from nonecclesiastical only by such external ornamentation as miters, crosiers, hats, tassels, crosses, or the staff of a priorplaced in pale behind the shield.


Entitled by Canon Law to use armorial bearing, the prelate had the duty to create a coat of arms if he had no family coat. Following this legislation, ecclesiastical arms were seen everywhere, not only as a mark of authenticity on documents, but as a mark of ownership and ornamentation. They are etched on the façades of churches and episcopal palaces, on altars, tombs, and choir stalls; candlesticks, chalices, Missals, bookbindings, liturgical vestments, stained glass windows, and grillwork were all adorned with ecclesiastical bearings. In more recent times this multiplicity of armorial bearings has been checked by reserving its use only to patrons of churches, to donors, and to funereal monuments. Thus, in general, the right to heraldic devices in the Church was determined by dogmatic, liturgical, and canonical regulations.

It is necessary, however, to note that armorial bearings were the identifying mark not only of the ecclesiastic's person, but also of his rank. For since the rules of religious heraldry are the same as those of lay heraldry, and since the family coat of arms of a pope, bishop, or abbot nullius is indistinguishable from that of the other members of the family, his device must exhibit the insignia of his office and rank. To existing family blazons, therefore, and to those that were created for new prelates, were added the hierarchical insignia of the Church.


A variety of conventional heraldic idioms has been employed to distinguish the person and rank of their bearer.

The Tiara. The most exalted symbols were naturally reserved for the pope. Of these, the tiara has become the emblem of the papacy. The first circlet surrounding the lower band of this headdress did not appear, it would seem, until sometime between the 9th and the 11th century. The second crown was added by boniface viii (12941303), and the third by benedict xi (130304) or clement v (130514). Together they make up the triregnum.

The Keys. Between the tiara and the shield, the pope's arms bear two keys, one of gold in bend dexter across a silver key in sinister. The keys at first surmounted the shield, but are now placed behind the pope's blazon. They designate the supernatural power of binding and loosing bestowed by Christ on St. Peter and his successors. Moreover, the golden key indicates the power that extends to heaven, the silver key, the power over all the faithful on earth.

The Banner. The banner also is a pontifical emblem. It is the symbol of the Roman Church and its temporal power.

The Miter. The miter is the mark of episcopal dignity and represents a sacred rank. Certain abbots at times acquired the right to the miter in their heraldic bearings.

The Hat. The most frequently used ecclesiastical crest is the hat. It is a pilgrim's hat, flat and widebrimmed. The number of tassels (houppes ) has varied through the years. The use of the hat goes back to the 13th century when innocent iv (124354) conferred the red hat on the cardinals to distinguish them from other prelates. The hat is presented to the cardinal in a solemn ceremony, at times given to the new dignitary by the chief of state, when, e.g., an apostolic nuncio is promoted to the rank of cardinal.

Following the cardinals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops also adopted the hat, but one of different color as shall be seen below.

The Crosier and Miter. The crosier is the most widely used symbol in ecclesiastical heraldry, employed by bishops, abbots, abbesses, and by religious communities. Like the scepter, the crosier is a sign of higher power, the symbol of the Good Shepherd, indicating both temporal power and episcopal jurisdiction. The miter is placed on the shield at the highest line of the chief, as is also done with the upper part of the crosier.

Coronets. The coronet or crown was sometimes placed between the shield and the hat. In France there were six ecclesiastical peerages, three of which had the rank of duchy (the archdiocese of Reims and the Dioceses of Laon and Langres) and three the rank of county (Beauvais, Châlons, and Noyon, all bishoprics). The titulars of these sees wore the respective coronets of the county or duchy. The wearing of such coronets is today forbidden by the Holy See.

Decorations. From his shield the prelate may suspend the knightly orders conferred by the pope, such as the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem with its cross potent gules (red), cantoned by four small crosses of the same, or those conferred by the grand masters of independent orders, such as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the knights of malta or Rhodes, with its eight-pointed white cross (in honor of the beatitudes). Formerly, the king of France conferred the orders of St. Michael and of the Holy Spirit, called the orders of the king, and many prelates were arrayed with their emblems.

The Pallium. The archiepiscopal pallium is placed either above or below the shield. The pallium is of great importance since its appearance distinguishes a residential from a titular archbishop.

The Cross. Patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops are entitled to use the cross, which is placed in pale behind the shield. For patriarchs and archbishops, the cross has a double traverse; for bishops a single.

The Baton or Staff. The staff is the emblem of priors and precentors. Like the crosier, it is derived from the pilgrim's staff.


Cardinals customarily crest their arms with a red hat from which hang two red cords, each with 15 tassels. Patriarchs and primates crest their arms with a green hat, the color of chastity and of doctrine, from which hang cords of the same color, again with 15 tassels on either side. For an archbishop, the regulations are the same, except that the number of tassels is 10 on each side. Bishops, abbots, and other prelates nullius also are entitled to use the green hat, but with six tassels. For mitered and crosiered abbots and provosts the hat is black with six tassels. Both mitered and nonmitered abbots, however, may top their arms with a black hat having three tassels. The hat of the canon, the vicar, and simple priest also is black, but with a single tassel. The four prelates di fiocchetto are entitled to the black hat with six tassels as a part of their armorial bearings. Prothonotaries apostolic may crest their escutcheon with a violet hat from which hang red cords with six red tassels on either side. The arms of domestic prelates include a violet hat with six violet tassels. In short, prelates may bear four rows of red tassels if they are in the service of the papal chamber, and three rows of violet tassels if they are prothonotaries apostolic or domestic prelates of His Holiness. Other ecclesiastics, chamberlains, chaplains, canons, rural deans, minor superiors, and priests, are all entitled to heraldry. The arms of an abbess follow the same rules, although abbesses are without jurisdiction. However, they exercise authority that entitles them to a seal and consequently to armorial bearings. Their arms bear the crosier and the rosary.


The armorial bearings of religious communities are numerous: orders, congregations, fraternities, monasteries, and bishoprics have all had ancient arms which, unfortunately, have often been replaced by pious images with no heraldic significance.

All the major religious orders have their particular arms. The Jesuits use the monogram of Christ, IHS, with the nails of the Passion; the Benedictines of the congregation of Saint-Maur have the word Pax in a crown of thorns with one fleur-de-lis in chief and three nails tapering; the Minims bear the word Charitas; the Augustinians a flaming heart; the Carmelites have a sable shield powdered with silver, alluding to the colors of their habit and to Mount Carmel; the Premonstratensians have an escutcheon powdered with fleurs-de-lis with two crosiers in saltire; the Dominicans at the chapter of Bogotá (1965) returned to the coat of arms with "gyronny of eight, sable and argent, over all a cross flory counter-charged"; and the Franciscans bear the arms of Christ and Francis in saltire, surmounted by a cross.

Some armorial bearings can be explained by a historical fact: the Abbey of Saint-Denis, e.g., included in its arms a nail from the Passion, and the Chapter of Chartres has the tunic of Our Lady, both of which are preserved in their treasury. The shield of the chapter of Sens was emblazoned with a cross cantoned with eight crosiers, one for Sens and the seven others for the suffragan sees of Châlons, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris (made an archdiocese in the 17th century), Orléans, Nevers, and Troyes. From the initials of these originated the name Campont, which has led some to believe that there was once an "Abbey of Campont." Several abbeys exhibited fleurs-de-lis in their capacity of royal abbeys, and some Burgundian abbeys, such as Cîteaux, Vézelay, Maizières, and the Sainte Chapelle of Dijon, added the charge of Burgundy impaled with fleurs-de-lis.

As in familial and municipal heraldry, canting arms (armorial devices with a pictorial pun) are employed in ecclesiastical coats of arms. Hence the Abbey of Ourscamp has a bear (ours ) in its charge; the Abbey of Chelles exhibits a ladder (échelle ); of Pontigny, a bridge (pont ); Fontfroide, a fountain (fontaine ); Thenailles, pliers or tongs (tenailles ); etc. Abbeys used the characteristic attributes of their patron saint, a key for those dedicated to St. Peter, a sword for St. Paul, shells for St. Michael (Abbey of mont-saint-michel), a perfume box for St. Mary Magdalen of Vézelay; often the instruments of martyrdom, such as a wheel for St. Catherine, a gridiron for St. Lawrence, stones for St. Stephen, and swords for beheadings, appear in the arms. Occasionally, abbots carry an escutcheon impaled with the arms of their abbey or order in the dexter half, and with their family arms in the sinister.

An interesting fact to note for France is that by virtue of an edict of 1696 it was no longer permissible to wear armorial bearings without registering them and paying a fee of 20 pounds. Neither ecclesiastics nor religious communities were exonorated or exempt from this decree. The number of ecclesiastical crests was great. When the arms were not presented for registration the recalcitrant was taxed automatically. In Brittany, for example, 100 curates of poor rural parishes used armorial bearings. The bishop of Avranches was forced to intervene.


After nine centuries of existence, ecclesiastical heraldry is still alive and will undoubtedly continue as long as heraldry itself exists. It is as flourishing as familial or municipal heraldry, and at times possesses a binding force that the others lack. The special richness of its symbols and tincture endows the heraldry of the Church with decorative attractiveness, although the function it fulfills is primarily juridical.

Bibliography: d. l. galbreath, Papal Heraldry, v.1 of A Treatise on Ecclesiastical Heraldry (Cambridge, Eng. 1930). j. meurgey de tupigny, Armorial de l'église de France (Mâcon 1938); "Héraldique" in L'Histoire et ses methodes (Paris 1961) 740767, with good bibliog. b. b. heim, Wappen-Brauch und Wappenrecht in der Kirche (Olten 1948); Coutumes et droit héraldiques de l'église (Paris 1949).

[j. meurgey de tupigny]


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HERALDRY. "Heraldry" is a term that was coined in the late sixteenth century to designate the profession of the heralds of arms, a profession that originated in the twelfth century, reached the height of its prestige and influence in the fifteenth and sixteenth, declined slowly in the seventeenth, and reached its historical nadir in the eighteenth century. The heralds have been aptly described as the priesthood of the secular religion of chivalry. Their duties included a knowledge of the emblems, identity, ancestry, dignities, precedence, and deeds of all of the members of the nobility of their district or "march of arms" (usually corresponding to a large province or a small kingdom), and of the rituals to be observed not only in knightly sports, but in the investiture of new knights, barons, princes, and kings, and in all other forms of secular ritual involving members of the noble order, especially funerals. By the early fourteenth century, the heralds had come to be permanently attached to the households of kings and princes, and divided into the ascending grades of pursuivant, herald, and king of arms. Those of the last gradethe senior heralds of kings and sovereign princeshad also been given jurisdiction over particular marches. Between 1415 and about 1520, these marches were increasingly grouped into regnal or comparable jurisdictions under a "principal king of arms," usually attached to the corresponding order of knighthood (the Garter in England, St. Michael in France, the Golden Fleece in the Burgundian lands), and the heralds placed under the authority of a principal king might also be incorporated in a college under his presidency.

Of course, the field with which the heralds were most closely identified throughout their history was that concerned with the family of iconic emblems (two-dimensional identity signs) employed exclusively (in countries including those of Britain and Iberia) or primarily (in all other countries) by nobles and noble corporations. This field came to be known in English by 1489 as "armory," since the original and always essential species of emblem used in this waya formal design of fixed elements in fixed numbers, colors, attitudes, and arrangements most commonly displayed covering the surface of a shield (though also displayed on flags and surcoats)had been given the name "arms," and the other species that came gradually to be formally associated with it came to be referred to by 1567 as "armorial bearings." Persons and corporations endowed with arms were now called "armigers" and described as "armigerous."

Down to about 1350 the science of armory seems to have been passed on orally, but from about that date forward, armory came to be the subject of brief treatises, composed both by heralds and by "heraldists" learned in the lore of heraldry. Such works were very rare before 1390, but from about that date they were produced in growing numbers in a growing number of countries, and they increased significantly in length and sophistication after 1520. These treatises were at first aimed primarily at heralds, but from about 1450 they were aimed at an audience that also included noblemen of all ranks, lawyers, court officials, and artisans who might need to paint arms on shields and flags. From about 1410 the treatises on armory were joined in many manuscripts by similar treatises on other aspects of heraldry, which soon included the imagined historical origins of the heralds and their profession (placed on the field before Troy), the qualities and knowledge ideally required of the three ranks of herald, the rights and duties of the heralds in particular ceremonies, the ranks of the nobility and how they could be acquired, the current holders of each of the higher ranks of lordly status and their arms, and the like. The heralds who composed these works were at pains to promote the dignity of their office and mystery, and in order to assimilate the latter to the growing Renaissance interest in esoteric symbolism and allegory, either borrowed or invented a vast array of symbolic implications and associations for the figures and colors of existing arms, which previously had borne little or no symbolic meaning. These fantastic ideas were only finally put to rest in the later seventeenth century, when learned antiquarians demonstrated their falsity.

Although the arms remained central to the mystery of armory, from the later fifteenth century the heralds took a steadily growing interest in the other types of armorial bearingwhich included both secondary emblems and insignia (signs of nature, status, and rank)that had come to be formally associated with the arms in the compound emblem known in English by 1548 as the "armorial achievement." Distinct emblematic and insignial forms of achievement evolved in a largely separate fashion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The former gradually attracted to it the more important emblems of the paraheraldic system that had emerged in the 1360s (livery colors, livery badges of several types, ciphers, mottoes, and combinations of the motto and badge now called "devices"), while the insignial form incorporated the more distinctive forms of headgear, staves, and collars introduced to indicate status and rank in both the ecclesiastical and nobiliary hierarchies. The period from 1500 to 1700 saw the full fusion of the insignial and emblematic types of achievement, the completion and generalization of national systems of coronets and a universal system of clerical hats, and the assignment of insignial significance to the form, metal, and orientation of the helmet. After about 1520, achievements increasingly displaced arms from their traditional places of display, including flags and the surcoats (or "tabards") of heralds.

Not surprisingly, both the conceptual design of armorial bearings and the artistic styles in which they were represented underwent considerable change during the course of the three centuries after 1480. The simple, generally dichromatic designs of classic armory gradually gave way to more complex, polychromatic designs involving numerous different forms of charge often set on partitions and geometrical subfields, the number of which multiplied steadily. The new forms of charge included many new monsters and figures drawn from both Christian and classical mythology. In keeping with the artistic trend of the period, all such figures were increasingly represented in natural forms and natural colors, and this contributed to the sharp decline in the standards of both design and representation characteristic of the period after 1660.

The armorial functions of the heralds in a number of countries (including those of the British Isles) were both increased and institutionalized in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in order to maintain some royal control over admission to the nobility. Royal or princely edicts forbidding non-armigers to assume new arms (the principal mark of nobiliary status in many countries) were followed by letters conferring on the kings of arms the right to register existing arms and to confer new arms and other bearings on those they deemed worthy, making them the gatekeepers of the noble order. The earliest letters patent making grants of this sort date from the middle years of the fifteenth century, and they become steadily more numerous over the next century or so, marking very clearly the upward social mobility characteristic of that period. At some point, the heralds of some of these countries were also ordered to make visitations of the houses of all those living nobly, and of all armigerous corporations, to determine their right to arms; in England the recorded visitations began in 1530 and continued to 1687. Both heraldry and armory followed very different paths in other countries, however. In France, for example, the heralds were never given the right to grant or record arms or establish rules for usage, and no comparable authority was established until 1615, when the office of Juge d'armes (Judge of Arms) was created outside the College of Heraldswhich as a result lost all connection to armory.

The value of armorial bearings in the eyes of all ranks of society throughout the Renaissance period is clear from the extent to which those who lacked them sought them and those who had them flaunted them. The period between about 1400 and 1650 was the heyday of heraldic display throughout Latin Europe, and both armorial and paraheraldic emblems were displayed by those who had them in every possible environment. Thereafter, the display of such emblems tended to become more restrained, but it remained important throughout the eighteenth century.

See also Aristocracy and Gentry.


Dennis, Rodney. The Heraldic Imagination. London, 1975. An excellent introduction to the cultural world of the heralds.

Neubecker, Ottfried. Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning. New York, 1976. The best general work on heraldry available in English.

Pastoureau, Michel. Traité d'heraldique. 3rd ed. Paris, 1997. The best scholarly introduction to heraldry from a Continental perspective.

Wagner, Sir Anthony. Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms. London, 1967. The only detailed history of the Office of Arms in England.

Woodcock, Thomas, and John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford and New York, 2001. The best survey of English heraldic practice available.

D'A. J. D. Boulton


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Seventeenth-century writers on heraldry claimed that the origins of coats of arms could be found in Numbers 2:2: "The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying 'The Israelites shall camp each with his standard under the banners of their ancestral house.'" Although this theory has been abandoned, it would seem that the standards borne by the 12 tribes served the same purpose as heraldic devices. The colors (Num. R. 2:7; Ex. 36:17–21) and emblems were as follows: Reuben – red; emblem: mandrakes (Gen. 30:14). Simeon – green; emblem: the town of Shechem (Gen. 34:25f.). Levi – white, black, and red; emblem: the Urim and Thummim (Deut. 33:9). Judah – azure; emblem: a lion (Gen. 49:9). Issachar – black; emblem: a strong-boned ass (Gen. 49:14) or sun and moon (I Chron. 12:33). Zebulun – white; emblem: a ship (Gen. 49:13). Dan – sapphire; emblem: a serpent (Gen. 49:17) or a lion's whelp (Deut. 33:22). Gad – grey; emblem: a tent (Gen. 49:19) or a lion (Deut. 33:20). Naphtali – rose; emblem: a hind (Gen. 49:21). Asher – aquamarine; emblem: an olive tree (Gen. 49:20; Deut. 33:24). Ephraim and Manasseh – black, embroidered with a picture of Egypt; emblem: Ephraim, a bullock (Deut. 33:17) and Manasseh, a wild ox. Benjamin – 12 colors; emblem: a wolf (Gen. 49:27).

Modern heraldry is founded on a system of heraldry which developed in feudal Western Europe at the time of the Crusades and was based on the principle that only the landowning class, which formed the nobility, was entitled to bear arms. The extensive use of emblems by Jews for seals sometimes led to a design similar to a coat of arms, such as the 14th-century seal used by Kalonymus b. Todros of Narbonne which consisted of a shield charged with a lion rampant; and the king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques (1094–1185), was said to have granted a coat of arms to a Jew. Nevertheless, the system which prevented Jews from bearing arms was not relaxed until the 16th century. By then, in most countries of Western Europe grants of arms had become the prerogative of the sovereign, who could confer them as a reward for services rendered; they did not necessarily carry with them the status of nobility. The first Jew to receive a grant of arms, Jacob Batsheba Schmieles, was ennobled at the same time, having in 1622 been made a knight of the Holy Roman Empire with the title of *Bassevi of Treuenberg.

The largest group claiming armorial bearings were those Jews of *Marrano descent whose ancestors had adopted the name of the persons sponsoring them for baptism. This would not have given them the right to bear the same arms, although Isaac da Costa argues that the Christian and Jewish branches of these families were indistinguishable. Others inherited arms which had actually been granted to their Marrano ancestors. Among these were Isaac Lousada (d. 1857), who was confirmed by the Spanish government in 1848 in the title of duke and grandee of Spain of the first class; Isaac da Silva *Solis, whose father was made marquis of Montfort in 1673; Antonio Lopez *Suasso (Isaac Israel Suasso), made baron of Avernas de Gras in 1676; and the de *Pinto family descended from Manuel Alvarez Pinto, who was made a knight of St. Jago in 1640. Manuel (Isaac Henriques) Pimentel obtained a declaration in 1674 signed on behalf of the Spanish king that he was entitled to use the ancient arms of Pimentel. The original arms of Pereira and Teixeira contained crosses and were accordingly modified by Jewish families of that name.

The English College of Arms raised no difficulty about granting or registering arms for Jews who had been born in England or had been naturalized or endenizened. The earliest record in this connection, that of 1568 concerning the New Christian family of Anes (jhset 11, 18), is of only slight Jewish significance, and the first patents of arms for Jews relate to the ancient canting arms of Da *Costa: "gules six broken bones, two two and two barwise and the joynts almost meeting each other in pale argent." These were registered in 1723 and 1725 with variations for Leonor da Costa, her cousin Catharine da Costa Villareal, and her nephew Anthony *Mendes; the first two declared that the arms had been borne by their late husbands before they settled in England, while Anthony Mendes claimed them through his father Dr. Fernando Mendes. The arms registered for de *Aguilar, *Castello, and *Salvador were also of Spanish or Portuguese origin. The grant of arms to Sir Morris *Ximenes, dated May 5, 1807, recites that the arms which his family had always used were similar to those borne by Cardinal Ximenes from a branch of whose family he was traditionally descended, a claim which today would be received with considerable doubt.

Some of these coats of arms contain Jewish features. Both the Belilios and the *Mocatta arms include a seven-branch candlestick. The Franco (*Lopes) arms were confirmed in 1760 by the College of Arms to Jacob Franco, "his ancestors having used for their armorial ensigns on a field a fountain proper thereout issuant a palm tree vert… represented on a marble monument in the synagogue of the Jewish nation in the City of Leghorn." The arms granted in 1819 to Moses *Montefiore were based on the family badge embroidered on an Ark curtain presented to the Levantine synagogue at Ancona in 1635 by Judah Leone Montefiore. In 1831 Moses Montefiore obtained as an augmentation to the banner on his crest the wordJerusalem in Hebrew characters of gold to commemorate his visit to the Holy Land in 1827. In 1841 after his intervention with the sultan at Constantinople about the *Damascus Affair, he recorded details of the affair as well as a copy of the sultan's firman at the College of Arms. At the same time he received an additional crest, and Queen Victoria granted him the right to bear supporters, "being desirous of giving an especial mark of our royal favor… in commemoration of these his unceasing exertions on behalf of his injured and persecuted brethren although the privilege of bearing supporters be limited to the peers of our realm, the knights of our orders and the proxies of princes of our blood" (Sir Moses was then only a knight bachelor). Each of the supporters carried a flagstaff with the word Jerusalem in Hebrew characters of gold. The *Sassoon arms were usually emblazoned with the motto in Latin and Hebrew, but the Hebrew motto is not mentioned in the grant of arms made in 1862 to David Sassoon. The priestly blessing is referred to in the motto, "the Lord bless them," adopted by Sir Samuel Sydney Cohen of Sydney, Australia, in 1947. The emblem of the tribe of Benjamin forms the basis of the coat of arms granted, also in 1947, to the descendants of Sir Benjamin Benjamin of Melbourne, Australia: "Azure, a wolf passant between three stars of six points argent."

Naphtali Basevi, maternal grandfather of Benjamin *Disraeli, earl of Beaconsfield, used an unregistered coat of arms, the charges on which were a lion, supposed to be for St. Mark of Venice, an eagle for Austria, and a crescent for Turkey; according to family tradition, they were the arms granted to an ancestor, Solomon ben Nathan *Ashkenazi (1520?–1602), in reward for his services in negotiating a peace treaty when serving as Turkish ambassador to Venice. A similar device is used as a printer's mark in the Midrash Tanhuma printed by Abraham Basevi at Verona in 1595 and on Basevi tombstones in that city. Disraeli himself adopted the lion and the eagle and added a castle for Castille. According to him the lion represented Leon and was the device of his Lara ancestors, but in fact his Spanish lineage was fanciful.

In contrast with conditions in England, there were few instances of Jews receiving grants of arms on the Continent prior to the 19th century. When the four *Rothschild brothers, Amschel, Solomon, Carl, and James, were ennobled by the emperor Francis ii of Austria in 1816, the first somewhat ambitious design for their coat of arms was rejected by the Austrian Heralds' College with the comment that it was "necessary to proceed with the greatest caution particularly in the case of members of the Jewish nation for various reasons and more especially because they are not familiar with the prerogatives of nobility." The coat of arms granted in 1817 had as charges: a half eagle and an arm bearing four arrows, not five, because Nathan, the English brother, was not included (E.C. Corti, The Rise of the House of Rothschild, 1 (1928), 193). He himself was granted a different coat of arms by the English College of Arms in February 1818, consisting of a "lion passant guardant grasping with the dexter forepaw five arrows." The de *Worms family, who were kinsmen of the Rothschilds, had a hand grasping three arrows in their coat of arms to represent the three de Worms brothers. In Italy the Jews followed the practice common among families of all classes of adopting family badges. Some of these, as in the cases of Franco and Montefiore, were later incorporated in coats of arms, but in their original form they were extensively used on seals, marriage contracts, tombstones, and personal effects.


L. Wolf, in: JHSET, 2 (1894/95), 153–69; I. da Costa, Noble Families among the Sephardic Jews… (1936); A. Rubens, in: Anglo-Jewish Notabilities (1949), 75–128; C. Roth, Stemmi di Famiglie Ebraiche Italiane (1967).

[Alfred Rubens]


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Heraldry is the practice of designing and describing emblems called coats of arms. During the Middle Ages, knights painted these emblems on their shields to make their identities known on the battlefield. After the mid-1100s families began passing down their coats of arms from generation to generation. Eventually these emblems lost their military function and became status symbols.

Heraldic Rules and Terms. In medieval* combat, being able to recognize the shields of friends and foes was a matter of life and death. To make their emblems distinctive, knights adopted strict rules, such as declaring that a shield must contain one dark and one light color. Acceptable dark colors included black, blue, green, purple, and red. Light colors resembled precious metals—yellow for gold or white for silver.

The arrangement of colors on a coat of arms was called a blazon, from the German word blasen—referring to the trumpet blast that announced the arrival of a competitor in a jousting tournament. The rules of heraldry required the use of specific terms to describe a blazon. The description began with the background color, or field, of the coat of arms. Each color had a special name. Several came from French words: argent for silver; or for gold; vert for green; and purpure for purple. Blue was azure (from the Arabic word azraq) and red was gules (from the Persian word gûl, or rose). The name for black was sable, after the black-furred animal. In addition to these basic colors, knights could paint their shields in ermine or vair—two patterns designed to resemble animal fur.

There were several ways to divide a shield to display two colors. One color could be shown on the left and one on the right, an arrangement known as per pale. A shield could also be divided per fess (horizontally), per bend (diagonally), or in a more complicated pattern. The description of a divided blazon began with the color on the top or on the right side (from the shield-bearer's point of view). The right and left sides of the shield were called dexter and sinister, from the Latin words for right and left. For example, a description of "per fess, gules and argent" would indicate a shield divided in half by a horizontal line, with the top red and the bottom silver.

On top of the background color, a shield could display one or more shapes, or charges. The simplest types of charges were basic geometric shapes called ordinaries. For example, a shield could have a vertical line down the center, called a pale, or a horizontal line, called a fess. More complex charges covered a wide ranges of shapes, including animals, human figures, heavenly bodies, and inanimate objects. Often, the charge on a shield involved some sort of puns or wordplay. For example, the arms of humanist* Johann Reuchlin featured an altar with curling wisps of smoke. The word Räuchlein in German means "a little smoke." Playwright William Shakespeare had a coat of arms with a falcon holding a lance, hinting at the phrase "shake spear."

In heraldry, individual colors and the order in which they appeared were very important. "A lion or in gules" indicated a completely different blazon from "a lion gules in or." This posed a problem because woodcuts*, engravings, and personal seals did not show color. However, in the late 1500s an engraver invented a system of hatching (drawing lines) to represent color: horizontal hatches for azure, vertical for gules, diagonal for vert, cross-hatched for sable, dotted for or, and blank for argent.

Uses of Heraldry. By the mid-1400s, advances in armor made the use of shields in combat unnecessary. But noble families continued to use their coats of arms as status symbols, and countries began establishing rules for their use. The English king Richard III established the College of Arms in 1484 for that purpose, and the Holy Roman Emperors* had officials who granted new arms and confirmed existing ones. Custom within the Holy Roman Empire allowed any free man to adopt a coat of arms. Middle-class workers often used basic designs that indicated their trade, while scholars and minor nobles tended to design their own blazons. Rules were established to distinguish the arms of noblemen from those of commoners.

Because shields now existed mainly to display the coat of arms, new shapes replaced the old-fashioned triangular battle shields. A U-shaped shield, which allowed for a more pleasing arrangement of charges, became common in many areas. Italians adopted an almond-shaped shield called a chanfron, which existed only for display purposes. The only shields that still served a military function were targes, the square shields used in tournaments. These included a cutout in the upper right corner to support the bearer's lance. Some targes had cutouts in both corners to make them look more balanced.

Some noble families used their coats of arms to show their heritage or the territories they owned. A shield could be divided into several parts to display the arms of several different territories. For example, when the kingdoms of Castile and Leon united in 1230, Spain developed a "quartered" coat of arms that combined the arms of the two kingdoms. Spanish arms also tended to include sayings, or mottoes, as part of the design. These elements eventually became popular throughout Europe. In the late 1400s and early 1500s, it became fashionable for coats of arms to include figures that supported the shield, such as lions or unicorns. Originally just decorations, these figures eventually became signs of rank with rules to govern their use.

(See alsoArms and Armor; Chivalry; Tournaments. )

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* woodcut

print made from a block of wood with an image carved into it

* Holy Roman Emperor

ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806


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heraldry. The use of personal distinguishing marks on shields and banners seems to have developed in England and Scotland in the second half of the 12th cent. and in Wales in the 13th cent., initially as a way of telling men apart in battle and tournament. Such devices rapidly became consistent and hereditary, and were used in a wide range of contexts, such as seals, surcoats, architectural features, and stained glass. The original purpose of identification was never lost, but the bearing of arms developed a further, social significance in denoting those of noble or gentle birth and status; by the later Middle Ages merchants and men who had never seen military service had coats of arms. By the mid-13th cent. armorial bearings had developed complex systems of description—preserving the (by then) rather archaic forms of Anglo-Norman French—and of differencing (i.e. modification in design to denote a family or feudal relationship), cadency (i.e. to distinguish younger sons), and marshalling (i.e. combining arms, often as a result of marriage). Such a complicated and socially sensitive subject required increasing scrutiny; this was provided by heralds, who make their first official appearance in English royal records under Edward I. Their duties expanded and became more fully defined over the course of the next two centuries. The office of Lord Lyon in Scotland appears in 1318, and that of Garter king-of-arms in 1417, with the full incorporation of the College of Arms by Richard III in 1484. Tudor and Stuart heralds embarked upon visitations of counties ‘to remove all false arms’, and ‘to take note of descents’. Arms are still granted today by the College of Arms (for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland), and by Lord Lyon Court (for Scotland). See also genealogy.

Anne Curry


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her·ald·ry / ˈherəldrē/ • n. the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated. ∎  armorial bearings or other heraldic symbols. ∎  colorful ceremony: all the pomp and heraldry provided a splendid pageant.DERIVATIVES: her·ald·ist / ˈherəldist/ n.