Heraldry of Chile

COA Chile

Today we will review the coat of arms of the Republic of Chile. The current arms of Chile are those displayed above and the blazon of the shield is: Per fess Azure and Gules overall a mullet of 5 points Argent.

The supporters of the shield are to the dexter (heraldic left) a huemul and to the sinister (heraldic right) an Andean condor. Both being the national animals of Chile. Additionally, both are crowned with naval crowns.

The condor is the most significant bird of prey in the Andean region and the largest flying bird of the western hemisphere. The condor plays a significant role in many of the local myths and traditions and is inextricably linked to the history of the Andean countries.

The huemul is another native species of the region however it is extremely rare. It belongs to the deer family and the specific huemul is the “Patagonian Huemul”, also known as the “South Andean Deer”.


The huemul is so rare that very few know of it and has caused artists to make mistakes as the one shown above. In this emblazonment, we see the dexter supporter being a horse because the artist had never before seen or heard of the South Andean Deer and mistook it for a horse!

This coat of arms was designed by Charles Wood Taylor and adopted on June 26, 1834 during the administration of President José Joaquín Prieto. However, it was first officially defined as the National Coat of Arms in the Decreto Supremo Nº 1.534 of the Ministry of Interior in 1967. Interestingly, it had been previously defined in the Decreto N° 2.271 of the Ministry of War on September 4, 1920.

The motto Por la razón o la fuerza (“By reason or force”) is modern Spanish version of the ancient Latin phrase Aut consiliis aut ense (“by counsel or by the sword”), attributed to Rome. This concept is foundational in a state of law (or Rechsstaat). Reasoning representing judicial process and rights of the citizenry. Force representing the power of the state.

Chile was first sighted by Ferdinand Magellan when he crossed the Magellan Straight in 1520 however, Diego de Almagro is credited with the discovery in 1537. De Almagro organized an expedition and reached central Chile but, when compared to the riches found in Peru, determined that the lands and peoples were poor and not worth the effort.

It was Pedro de Valdivia who explored further south wanting to expand the lands of the crown. With only a few hundred men he managed to subdue the native populace and in 1541 he founded Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, present day Santiago de Chile and was first Royal Governor of Chile.

Lautaro flag

In 1553, De Valdivia dies at the Battle of Tucapel by a Mapuche toqui (war chief) named Lautaro. His banner, as displayed in the art of Fray Pedro Subercaseaux, is presented above.

The series of battles between the Spanish and the natives, mainly the Mapuche, known as the Arauco War went on for many years. However, the Spanish conquest was a foretold event.

COA Spanish Empire

The Spanish crown had divided the colonies in the Americas into two Viceroyalties, that of New Spain (containing the lands in Central and North America) and that of Peru (containing South America). Hence, Chile was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The arms displayed above are those used during the Spanish Empire (specifically of Charles I).

The Viceroyalty of Peru was founded in 1542 and lasted, even after losing territory to new viceroyalties and independence movements, until 1824. The capital was Lima (present day capital of the Republic of Peru) and was the most powerful of the Spanish American Viceroyalties for the largest part of its history.

COA Castille & Leon

Chile was from the very beginning given autonomy as the Captaincy General of Chile and sometimes called Kingdom of Chile. This “kingdom” was a personal possession of the King of Castille & Leon and, as you may already know, the King of Spain is also the King of Castille & Leon (among other kingdoms). The arms above are of Castille & Leon blazoned: Quarterly 1st & 4th Gules a three towered castle Or masoned Sable ajoure Azure (for Castille), 2nd & 3rd Argent a lion rampant Purpure armed and langued Gules crowned Or (for Leon).

In 1808, the King of Spain Ferdinand VII lost his throne to the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. Ferdinand would not be reinstated until 1813 and the period of dispute of the Spanish throne put the American colonies in limbo. Ferdinand and his father Charles were being held prisoners by the French who had appointed Napoleon’s brother Joseph as the new King. Ferdinand’s sister Charlotte Joaquina, at the time living in Brazil, stepped forward claiming to be the heir to the throne and styled herself as Queen of La Plata.

In Chile at about the same time, the current Governor General died and was replaced, following the rules of succession, by an authoritarian Brigadier General named García Carrasco. During his administration and because of the current events, the populace of Chile was divided into three groups: those supporting Ferdinand, those supporting Charlotte Joaquina’s claim and a very small minority supporting independence.

In 1809, after Carrasco was embroiled in a scandal and his removal from office in 1810 along with more dire news from Spain regarding the war with France things began to change in Chile. Especially after the successful revolution in Argentina, the move for independence started gathering steam.

On September 18, 1810 the Government Junta of the Kingdom of Chile was called and it is the first time that Chileans got to make all the decisions on how to govern themselves. This is considered as the beginning of what is called the Patria Vieja which lasted until the formation of the new Republic of Chile in 1814.


On October 26, 1812 a constitution is written in Chile for the first time containing 27 articles. Only a month prior, on September 30, the previous Governor, José Miguel Carrera, introduced a new national coat of arms depicted above. The new arms were put on display in the main entrance to the governor’s palace. Note the motto beneach the achievement with the Latin phrase Aut consiliis aut ense discussed earlier in this post.

In 1814, the year of the Battle of Rancagua (or Disaster of Rancagua) was when the Imperial forces of Spain began their reconquer (reconquista) of Chile. In the aforementioned battle, the Spanish forces routed the rebel Chilean forces and re-established the colonial rule. This same year the Patria Vieja was pronounced dead and the decrees of the period declared null and void.

As Chile was a Spanish colony once again, it fell under the old Spanish arms displayed earlier.


The period of the Reconquista lasted until February 12, 1817 when the rebel Chilean forces under General Bernardo O’Higgins won the decisive Battle of Chacabuco. This is the date generally used to demark the end of the failed Reconquista and the beginning of what has been called the Patria Nueva. This period used the arms displayed above which were based on the previous arms of the Patria Vieja.

The following decades were tumultuous as the people of Chile tried to define their new country. It went through various phases of republicanism and achieved the formal recognition of independence from the Spanish crown in 1844. Though it was in 1818 that Chile had declared its independence.

General O’Higgins introduced many changes with the new government, such as the abolition of all titles of nobility. Unfortunately, another one of the victims of the new policies was heraldry in Chile. The new regime also abolished all familial and personal coats of arms as O’Higgins had the incorrect belief that heraldry denoted nobility.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the present coat of arms was adopted in 1834 and remained in used throughout the country’s multiple historical phases and is still in use today. Even during the military dictatorship under General Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, the current arms remained in use.

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  1. […] To tie this in to heraldry, here is a previous article on the heraldry of Chile. […]

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