18 October 2016

History of Heraldry and Architecture - a guest post

Heraldry and Architecture are irretrievably linked throughout history. The earliest examples of fortifications the Romans built as the Legions travelled from one region of the world to another, at the end of the day had pennants, and symbols of each cohort and guidons for the cavalry units attached. The Romans were never afraid to display who they were and their daily building of a fortification at the end of their march was a proud display of their marital prowess. They were some of the first examples of using a type of heraldry to mark their building efforts.

As history evolved, and the European dark ages progressed the use of symbols fell back to a most rudimentary and basic level. Sometimes it was nothing more than vegetable dye stained patch of linen used as a flag. This basic fundamental form of identification both on and off the battlefield continued to exist long into the 12th and 13th centuries. However it was with the rise of formal feudalism, and the system of fealty, did the importance of having property, and people correctly identified as belonging to a lord or king became vitally important. As it would be a horrible thing for one lord not familiar with a geographic region to attack a town or village under his over-lord or king's protection. It did happen in history, but it was usually in the way of a revolt. Not as a result of lack of knowledge of who owned what.

A Castellan was a position of authority over a Castle and its Garrison. The term came from the Latin Castellanus meaning Castle. It was also where the title 'Constable' came from. Which means in essence the Constable of theTower of London
was in fact the Military Governor of the Tower. This position was usually annotated by the use of a knights pennant flying beneath the standard of the King.

Main Entrance: Tower of London
(c) Mark Ahsmann.

Why was this position important? Only after the social strictures of Vassalage and Fealty had been established could a Lord or King have multiple fortifications under his control, as it was impossible for a King to be in more than one place at a time. To an attacker, who would come across one of these 'Royal' fortifications unless they had prior intelligence, they would not know if the King was in residence or not. Most castles directly under the control of medieval king, and flew their flag and or standard from the battlements.

Eventually, the heraldic coat-of-arms became placed permanently upon the exterior walls of a place, so all passers-by would know this property belonged to the crown. It also became a way for commoners to show allegiance to a particular monarch. The pub sign The War of Roses was a good example, when the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster became combined into the Tudor rose. This name and subsequent use of the Tudor badge and crown became one of the more popular Pub signs in England.

The Rose and Crown Pub Sign.
(c) Pondhopper.

By the mid 15th century, this passion for personal heraldry and the desire to leave a mark for posterity regarding what a person had achieved, reached a zenith. From the most magnificent King, or Emperor to the lowliest hedge knight who occupied a position barely better than the peasants he governed, funeral effigies came into vogue. This desire to create funeral art was in essence the ultimate in branding of who a person was or more importantly who they wanted people to believe they were. Elaborate tombs where carved from Marble, Alabaster, Jasper and other exotic materials.

Noted American/British historian Tobias Capwell PhD, of the Wallace Museum in London has written one of the definitive works on this time period with his book  Armour of the English Knight 1400 to 1450.
See where the high art of the stone carver reproduced the arms and armour of the English men-at-arms in exacting detail; so much so, modern armour smiths have been able to recreate types and styles of armour not seen for hundreds of years, (many of which do not even have a representational version in museums.)

Tomb Effigy of Baron Bardolf, William Phelip KG d-1440.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons
(c) CB Newham.

There were many fantastic examples of how the desire to brand everything from dog collars to entire buildings with the Heraldic arms of their owners. See the tomb of the Duke of Bretagne, with his hound having its collar embellished with the arms of the Duchy (a field of ermine.)

One of the more fantastic examples of late 15th century funerary art was the tomb of Mary of Burgundy
. Arguably one of the most powerful women in the history of late European medieval history, she inherited the Duchy of Burgundy upon the death of her father at the battle of Nancy. In order to counter the schemes of France to bring the Duchy back under French control, she married Maximilian I who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor. Her tomb had in high relief the arms of the various Duchies and Counties she ruled directly eg Duchies of Brabant, Guelders, Limburg, Luxemburg, Countess Palatine of Burgundy, Countess of Artois, Flanders, Holland, Zeeland etc.

Tomb of Francis II of Bretagne (Brittany) d-1488
In Nantes Cathedral.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
(c) Adam Bishop

Grand Duchess Mary of Burgundy d-1482
Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium.

The lands formerly occupied by the various Holy Roman Emperors of the Hapsburg family are fantastic places to view Heraldic Arms placed upon the palaces, churches and public buildings. Germany was one of the regions of the world where almost every town and municipality has a coat of arms or some sort of heraldic device with which it might be associated.

As this proud tradition of 'branding' places became common practice, and as the age of exploration and colonisation began, European powers brought with them their traditions. The British Empire of the 18th and 19th centuries was a shinning example, especially true in the reign of Queen Victoria. The College of Arms granted numerous Arms to new territories all over the world.

Some of the best examples of British Imperial Heraldry can be found in Australia. The Australians are a fiercely independent country within their own right. And they have elements which are strictly their own, which speak to their national origin and character. All of whom they should be justly proud. Because of their history, they also inherited a distinctly British form of Heraldic Traditions.

The current coat of arms were authorised by Edward VII in 1908. The final design comprised the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. All states were placed on an escutcheon/shield surmounted by a border of Ermine. The coat of arms was supported on the dexter side by a Kangaroo and on the sinister side by an Emu both proper. The supporters in the coat of arms, the Red Kangaroo and the Emu, reflected two apocryphal stories: a] they were the only native fauna of the same size which could be used, and b] they were only found on the continent of Australia.

Australian Coat of Arms.
Located at Government House on Norfolk Island.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are countless examples of Heraldry and Architecture from such diverse places as Australia to Hungary. What is interesting to heraldic historian is why do all countries in Europe etc have these images or devices, and what do they tell us of history. For those who find this historical niche intriguing, I say good luck in your journey of discovery.

My many thanks for this guest post go to: John Lehman, owner of Coadb.com. You can reach him at


Parnassus said...

Hello John, This was an interesting discussion of the use of heraldry on buildings. In America and Taiwan (where I now live), heraldic devices as such are not used, but there is still a desire to identify buildings with their owners, so one often see heraldic devices that are either obsolete or even fake. Also, buildings can be given names, which serves much the same purpose. In Taiwan, the names are often built into the gables or crests of old buildings, which makes research and identification that much easier and more rewarding.

Student of History said...

Great idea to include architecture in a discussion about heraldry.

Joseph said...

I have a funeral tomorrow, so thank you for inviting me to read this post. The most important new idea for me was to see funereal art as the post mortem branding of a person's importance. Otherwise who would even remember him/her.

Andrew said...

That was quite interesting. Little did they know what a monster branding would become. I am biased, but I think Australia's coat of arms is very fine.

Annie ODyne said...

Yes Andrew - Skippy & The Roadrunner as it is known. Look above Royal Arcade, or Manchester Unity Building, on Princes Bridge - there is heraldry everywhere in Melbourne and I rounded it all up on my Pinterest board please do scroll to the bottom for the earliest posts are the best such a variety of interpretations of our Commonwealth CofA.
Great post thanks JL - up to the usual standard here.

Hels said...

Thank you all for the comments which I will hand over to John to respond to.

In the meantime, Andrew, at first I thought "branding" was a harsh word. Now I am warming to the concept.