Friday, October 10, 2008


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The name Transylvania literally means "the land beyond the forest." The Romanian name is Ardeal, and the Hungarian name is Erdély. In German, it is known and Siebenbürgen, which literally means "seven fortresses," referring to the seven fortified towns founded by German immingrants to the region in the Middle Ages.

Though it was made famous by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula, Transylvania is an area rich in history and has long been a crossroads for different cultures, a fact represented in the coat of arms.

The black bird in the upper portion of of the coat of arms is often mistaken for an eagle or even a raven, but it is actually a turul, a mythical falcon from Hungarian legend. It represents the Hungarian nobles who ruled Transylvania for several centuries. The sun and moon represent the Szeklers. The Szeklers speak Hungarian, but they are a distinct ethnic group. The seven red towers on the lower part of the coat of arms represents the seven cities of the German immigrants, who are commonly refered to as Transylvanian Saxons. Because Transylvania is now part of the modern state of Romania, these cities are normally referred to by their Romanian names, but sometimes the German names are used. The seven cities are (with German names in parentheses): Braşov (Kronstadt), Sighişoara (Schäßburg), Mediaş (Mediasch), Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Sebeş (Mühlbach), Bistriţa (Bistritz), and Cluj (Klausenburg).

Sighişoara is significant because it is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula, Bram Stoker's real-life inspiration for the vampire.

Interestingly enough, the Romanians, who have been the majority of Transylvania's population for much of its history, are not represented in the coat of arms.

Friday, October 3, 2008


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Catalonia is part of Spain, but it has its own unique culture, including its own language, Catalan. The name of the region in Catalan is Catalunya. The coat of arms comes from the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Aragon and is known as the "red bars" or the "four bars." It is one of the oldest coats of arms in Europe. The symbol actually predates the development of heraldry. It appears on the tombs of the Counts of Barcelona from the eleventh century and was later adopted by the Kings of Aragon. Today, in addition to representing the region of Catalonia, it has been integrated other coats of arms as well, including the coat of arms of Spain and the coat of arms of Andorra.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Heraldry 101: Elements of a Coat of Arms

Part One: Introduction

Traditionally, there are many elements to an illustrated coat of arms, as indicted in the diagram below, which uses the coat of arms of the United Kingdom:

The most important, and strictly speaking the only necessary, element of a coat of arms is the shield, or escutcheon. The escutcheon is the area where the blazon is illustrated. The background of the escutcheon is called the field. An object placed on the field is called a charge. A field may also be divided.

An escutcheon may be any shape, though usually some form of shield is used. The two major historical exceptions are the coat of arms of a woman, which employs an escutcheon shaped like a lozenge, or elongated diamond, and the coat of arms of a member of the clergy, which uses an escutcheon shaped like a cartouche, or oval. The rationale behind these exceptions is that women and clergy didn't fight, and therefore didn't use shields. Modernly, these exceptions are rarely followed.

An escutcheon also contains a number of points, which are basically areas of the shield used in a blazon to describe the placement of charges. The most important points are chief, which refers to the top of the escutcheon; base, which refers to the bottom of the escutcheon; dexter, which refers to the right of the escutcheon from the point of view of the bearer (meaning the viewer's left); and sinister, which refers to the left of the escutcheon from the point of view of the bearer (meaning the viewer's right.)

The use of a helm is also derived from the need to recognize friends and foes on the medieval battlefield. As such, women and clergy tended not to use helms as part of their coats of arms. In many countries, the shape of the helm, its orientation, and the type of metal depicted indicated the rank of the bearer of the coat of arms.

A crest is a small charge or charges appearing above the helm. It is usually separated by a torse, or cloth wreath. Originally, the crest was probably simply a repetition of the coat of arms itself, but over time, this practice declined, though it is usually related in some way to the original coat of arms. Sometimes, a crest is used to differentiate related coats of arms.

Mantling is the representation of drapery tied to the helm and is derived from the protective cloth tied to the helmets of knights. Despite its origin, it often takes on plant-like shapes. Sometimes, tassels are also incorporated.

Supporters are figures placed to the sides of the shield and positioned as if supporting it. Supporters may be animals or humans, though sometimes inanimate objects are used. In many countries, using supporters is a privilege reserved for the aristocracy.

If a motto is incorporated, it is usually placed on a scroll below the shield.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quebec Fleur-de-lis

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This design is based on the flag of the Canadian province of Qu
ebec, known as the Fleurdelisé. Quebec is home to the largest population of French-speakers in the New World. It's culture is different from the culture of English-speaking Canadians, but also different from the culture of France.

The Fleurdelisé in its modern from developed over a long period of time, though it has been the official flag of Quebec since only 1948. A similar flag, called the Carillon flag, was used unofficially prior to the adoption of the Fleurdelisé. The difference between the two flags was that the fleurs-de-lis were gold instead of white, and they pointed inward instead of being positioned upright, the latter configuration being proper according to the rules of heraldry. The design was adopted from a banner honoring the Virgin Mary. The white fleurs-de-lis represent purity, and blue is the color associated with the Virgin Mary.

The text across the design is from the poem "Le Canada" by Octave Crémazie, the "Father of French Canadian Poetry."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Heraldry 101: Introduction

Ever since the first armed conflict, men in battle have needed a manner of discerning friend from foe. Ancient warriors marked their shields with mythological symbols. Roman army units also used distinctive markings on their shields. At its very basic, modern heraldry developed as a continuation of these practices. However, over time, it evolved into an art in its own right, and as medieval warfare made personal armor obsolete, heraldry lived on as a means of personal identification for important individuals and families. Most countries and many sub-national entities and cities have coats of arms today, and the influence of heraldry can even be seen in the logos of corporations.

Modernly, heraldry is the profession, study, or art of devising, granting, and blazoning arms, tracing genealogies, and determining and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Blazoning is the term used for formally describing a coat of arms, and it employs a unique jargon. For example, the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland, shown here, is blazoned, Or a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules. From this description alone, an experienced practitioner of heraldry could draw the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland, even if he or she had never seen it before.

Heraldry began to emerge in Europe in the twelfth century. Several seals survive from the Continent and the British Isles depicting unmistakable heraldic devices. At this time also, the practice emerged of children of armigers, persons entitled to use a coat of arms, inheriting the coats of arms of their parents or combining the coats of arms of their parents into new personal coats of arms.

By the fourteenth century, the rules of heraldry were firmly established, and authorities began compiling a body of heraldic jurisprudence. In many countries, the use of coats of arms is still regulated by the government. In the United Kingdom and in Ireland, it is unlawful to use a coat of arms without an official grant from the government. There are even special courts to handle disputes over the use of a coat of arms. In England, for example, the Court of Chivalry hears such disputes.

Who can use a particular coat of arms can be a confusing topic, however. The laws are not the same in every country. The United States, in contrast with the United Kingdom, does not regulate the personal use of coats of arms. In addition, there is also the question of whether there is such a thing as a “family” coat of arms. Many people will say that there is not. A coat of arms belongs to an individual. While this statement is true technically in countries such as England, which grant the use of coats of arms to individuals, coats of arms can be inherited, and thus become like “family” coats of arms. Furthermore, in other places, such as Scotland and Eastern Europe, coats of arms have historically been shared by all members of a family or clan.

Heraldry is a rich and complex subject, and in upcoming posts, we’ll be exploring in more detail the rules and practices of heraldry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Red Rose of Lancaster

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The red rose was adopted as a symbol of the House of Lancaster by Edward Crouchback, the first Earl of Lancaster. The color red symbolizes martyrdom, but it can also represent romantic love.

The House of Lancaster was a cadet branch of the ruling House of Plantagenet, and in the Fifteenth Century warred with a rival cadet branch, the House of York. Because the House of York's symbol was a white rose, the conflict was called the War of the Roses.

The test is from "A Red, Red, Rose" by Robert Burns:

O my luve is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonny lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my love
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.

White Rose of York

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In the fourteenth century, Edmund of Langley, founder of the House of York, chose the white rose as his emblem. The white rose represents innocence, purity, and joy, and is associated with the Virgin Mary.

The House of York was a cadet branch of the ruling House of Plantagenet, and in the Fifteenth Century warred with a rival cadet branch, the House of Lancaster. Because the House of Lancaster's symbol was a red rose, the conflict was called the War of the Roses.

The text is Sonnet No. 54 by William Shakespeare:

O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.