Posts tagged ‘grant of arms’

Do arms need to be granted to be “real” heraldry?

The short answer is a resounding No!

Let’s examine why.

Heraldry has existed since the mid 12th century and spread throughout Europe. Records of heraldic devices have been found from the 1100’s everywhere from Germany to England to Spain. In all these jurisdictions and more, though there were rules of heraldry there wasn’t a central authority controlling the granting or registration of arms. Whoever wanted arms was free to assume them.

Perhaps the oldest heraldic authority is that of Scotland, the Court of the Lord Lyon, founded in 1318 by King Robert the Bruce, a full 170 years before the College of Arms was founded in England. By this time, heraldry was alive and well in most of Europe, even in England. So much so was the tradition of free assumption in England that from 1530 to 1688 the Kings of Arms of the College of Arms undertook a series of tours of the country to record all assumed arms. These tours are collectively known as the Heraldic Visitations.

By this time, heraldry in the British Isles had become stratified and tightly controlled. But, what of the other countries with just as long a heraldic tradition?

In Germany, ever since the time of Charlemagne, anyone was free to assume arms and display them and use them as needed. Carl von Volborth has gone so far as to make the assertion that it was the burgher arms of Germans that help shape Swedish heraldry. Germany never had a heraldic authority and that didn’t change throughout the history to this day. However, regional registration did and continue to exist.

In France, a similar history as that of Germany. Once again, no “granting” of arms but registrations did exist.

In Switzerland, a country with an exceptionally long and broad heraldic history, there never was a heraldic authority and the concept of having arms granted is as foreign as a Viking in central Africa.

Notice a pattern?

One can examine almost any country in Europe and find the same pattern.

Even within the Catholic Church, the same pattern exists. The position in the Church is so strong on the free assumption of arms that the giant of Catholic heraldry, Archbishop Bruno Heim was adamantly against the creation of a “Vatican Heraldic Authority”.

Well, as it is plainly seen, if free assumption of arms is “fake”, then Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and the Catholic Church never had and still don’t have “real” heraldry.

It is my personal opinion that those who are against the free assumption of arms tend to discount the traditions of Europe and base their opinions solely on the heraldic history of the British Isles. I tend to think that the example of Britannia is the exception rather than the rule.


Obtaining a new coat of arms

We’ve discussed the uniqueness of arms and what to do about dealing with duplication or usurpation of arms. Now, it’s time to address the question of how to get arms in the first place.

The assumption is that if you’re interested in this topic, you haven’t inherited arms through some ancestor (typically father). If you have, then perhaps you’ll be interested in a previous post on cadency.

If you’re still reading then you don’t currently have arms and would like to become armigerous. Let me start by saying that you don’t have to be a member of nobility to have arms. However, depending on where you live, you may have to jump through a few hoops to get them and it may cost you.

In countries where heraldry is tightly controlled, such as England, Scotland, Canada, Ireland and South Africa, one may apply to the local heraldic authority for a grant of arms. The beauty of this approach is that the obtained coat of arms is granted by a government authority, registered, guaranteed to be unique (in the jurisdiction) and finally come with Letters Patent. On the other hand, the downside is that these cost a substantial amount of time and may take up to 2 or 3 years from application to receipt of the Letters Patent. It should be noted that in some cases one can petition for arms at the heraldic authority of choice provided the appropriate criteria are met (usually descent from the country in question).

In the other countries, such as the United States, free assumption of arms is the norm. It can be as simple as putting together a shield and using it all the way to consulting with heraldic artists (amateur or professional) to come up with it. After creating the arms, it is highly recommended that they get registered with one or more of the many registries that exist.

Another service these registries offer is the creation of arms and part of the package is to register them as well as design them.

Heraldic authorities where one can petition for arms:

Online locations where one can request assistance for a new coat of arms:


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