Archive for February 2009

Helms in Heraldry

To most, a helm (or helmet) is a helm and the various types we see in heraldry atop shields (if the differences are even noticed) are just artists being creative. However, that is not so. The details of the helms have meaning unto themselves and denote ranks or titles of nobility. Accidentally using the wrong one may put the armiger in an uncomfortable position when questioned by someone who understands and knows the difference. It must be noted that systematic use of helms to denote rank didn’t happen until the beginning of the 17th century.

In this post, we’ll examine the various types of helms that are used to denote rank or nobiliary status. The general rule of thumb is that helms with their visors open or with bars is for the higher nobility while the rest use helms with their visor closed.

Helm royal

The helm of the sovereign (king, queen, etc.) is golden, stands facing the viewer (affronté) and has six or seven bars, also of gold. The children of the sovereign (Princes of the Blood Royal) use the same helm on their arms.

Helm high noble

The rest of the high nobles (dukes, marquess, earl/count, viscount) use a helm of silver that is in profile (facing dexter or the viewer’s left) and decorated in gold. This helm uses five or six bars (of gold).

Helm lesser noble

Baronets and knights use a helm of steel, decorated in silver and standing affronté. This helm is not barred and has the visor raised.

Helm burgher

Finally, non-nobles or burghers (esquires & gentlemen) use helms of steel, are placed in profile (facing dexter or the viewer’s left) and have their visor closed.

There are times when more than one helm is used on top of a shield and these cases, the helms are placed in the following fashion:

  • If there are 2 helms, they are placed facing each other
  • If there are 3 helms, 2 are placed facing each other with the third in the middle placed affronté
  • If there are 4 helms, they are placed 2 facing the other 2
  • If there are 5 helms, do as with 4 helms and the fifth affronté in the middle
  • etc.

A note should be made that a single helm, placed in profile facing *sinister* (or the viewer’s right) is a sign of bastardy.

Of course, if a non-“standard” helm is used, then the rules above are meaningless as it does not fit into the mold. For example, the helm used with my arms is one of those non-standard ones where the artist created a variation of an ancient Greek helm. The same model can be used by anyone (I’d love to see an emblazonment with a samurai style helm 🙂 )

A note here, in some places  the above rules are not at all followed and armigers are free to assume anything they like. For example, as Mr. Ton de Witte mentioned in an email,in the Netherlands the most common helm used is the barred one which would make someone think they’re all Peers of the Realm! 🙂

Note: All images are courtesy of Wikipedia

Orthodox Orders

There are many orders of chivalry, knighthood or merit in the world. Some of them are completely secular, such as the Légion d’honneur of France while others are completely religious and tied to a specific church such as the Papal Order of Christ.


Officier Légion d'honneur Order of Christ


The insignia above are those of a knight of the Légion d’honneur (on the left) and the star and badge of the Order of Christ.

The majority of orders are somewhere in between though one can argue that almost all of them have a religious aspect to them. Some, of course, more than others.

One thing that differentiates the Orthodox Orders from all the others is, as the name implies, their foundation on Eastern Orthodox Christianity and under the spiritual protection of one of the Orthodox Patriarchates or Autocephalous Churches. There is a debate in the West on whether the heads of any of these Churches or even the Ecumenical Patriarch have the fons honorum to establish an Order of Chivalry however in the East they always enjoyed a sovereign status and continue to do so to this day. Regardless though, the notion of a religious Order of Chivalry is a foreign concept to the Eastern Churches; however, in the past century or so they have started giving out awards that even though they may resemble a knightly Order, they are clearly Orders of Merit. One of these meritorious Orders is the Order of St. Andrew or Archons under the auspice of the His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constaninople.


Archon crossArchon cross

Naturally, the Orthodox lands have had royal sovereigns to rule them and in their capacity as sovereigns, with a font honorum that cannot be disputed, had or have instituted Orders of Chivalry under their Grand Mastership and the spiritual protection of their Archbishop or Patriarch. Perhaps the most widely known Orthodox sovereigns were the Czars of the Russian Empire who where under the spiritual guidance of His Holiness the Patriarch of All Russia. Though, it must be noted that there were many other Orthodox sovereigns that were either completely independent or autonomous and under a greater and more powerful king/emperor.

Since there is so much written about all the non-Orthodox Orders while very little, if anything, about the Orthodox ones, we’ll be examining them one at a time as my research completes for each. I hope you enjoy this journey and if you can contribute or correct anything, please comment or contact me!

Ronny Andersen

COA Ronny Andersen

Arms of Ronny Andersen

Most artists don’t reach any level of fame until their later years in life and career. Even more become famous after death. This trend holds true in the world of heraldry and heraldic art as well.

Therefore, it is a rare event when an artist develops the artistic maturity and the recognition of the heraldic art world well before his 30th birthday. Such an artist is Ronny Andersen.

COA Trolle

Arms of Trolle

A native born Dane, Andersen has a very interesting background having received a BA in History in 2003 and will be receiving his MA in the same field later this year (2009). He did not receive any formal training and never was an apprentice to another artist.

To Andersen, it was all “learn by doing”. He studied on his own the established Masters of heraldic art and tried to learn from their example. His immersion into the field allowed him to learn about art and heraldry, whether it was good or bad. Learning what the essence of heraldic art is a life-long pursuit, as Andersen says.

Along the way, he started to find his influences and inspirations. As one can tell by looking at his art, he has a more Nordic feel and has looked to northern European sources such as Aage Wulff, Franz Sedivy, Johannes & Friedrich Britze, Gustaf von Numers, Sven Sköld, Bengt Olof Kälde and Jan Raneke among others. Though Andersen is quick to point out that English and Scottish heraldry is also a very important piece of his artistic mosaic.

COA VindArms of Vind

On the other hand, Andersen has not been attracted by the heraldic influences of his eastern and southern European counterparts. The traditions in those regions, however fascinating they may be, have not called to him artistically. He does make an exception for the outstanding work of the Italian Marco Foppoli.

Though Andersen started doing heraldic art as a hobby before the turn of the 21st century, he didn’t start professionally until about 2003. In 2005, he starts his business Ars Heraldica and that same year becomes the Royal Arms painter for the Royal family of Denmark, dedicated to the Royal Orders of the country. Specifically, he is responsible for the emblazonment of the arms of the Knights of the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Dannebrog.

He prefers to work primarily with gouache on high quality paper but, never misses an opportunity to work on premium vellum either. An artist with discerning tastes and expectations, always seeks the best in his art. Even when it comes to working with wood or metal, he enjoys the challenge and the chance to work with his favorite gold and aluminum leaf.

COA Faroe IslandsIn 2003, Andersen was commissioned to create the arms (seen above) for the Faroe Islands when they opened a representation office in Copenhagen. These same arms where later adopted by the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands as the official arms of the nation on April 1, 2004.

In 2005, Andersen was tapped to design the arms of all the noble families of Denmark for the nobility yearbook. Those designs are displayed throughout this post showcasing Andersen’s amazing work covering more than 200 families.

COA Crown Princess Mary of DenmarkIn 2006, Andersen created the arms above for HRH Mary, the Crown Princess of Denmark. An especially interesting commission as Mary is the wife of HRH Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark and heir to the throne.

COA Nelson Mandela

The most recent and arguably the most exciting commission of his was when he painted the arms of Nelson Mandela as a Knight of the Order of the Elephant. Although Mandela was created a Knight of the Order in 1996, Andersen created the arms seen above very recently.

But, in what does Andersen take the most pride in? It is those corporate arms he has created for local communes that are being used constantly in all official (and not so official) capacities and becomes part of that community’s culture and heritage. Naturally, the work he has done and continues to do for the Royal Orders of Denmark are especially prestigious and a source of pride. Though, however much he enjoys those creations and the joy of completing a major work, his biggest source of satisfaction is the reaction of a client when they first see the completed emblazonment of their arms.

COA Knuth-WinterfeldtArms of Knuth-Winterfeldt

Ronny Andersen’s website in Danish and English with an extensive gallery of images is located at:

“Tracing the Middle Ages”

Vlazakis art 01

This is the title of the exhibition (in Greek: Ιχνηλατώντας το Μεσαίωνα) by the Greek artist Ioannis Vlazakis that will be held from February 23rd through February 27th, 2009. Vlazakis was previously mentioned in the heraldic artists post of December 4, 2008.

Vlazakis art 02

The event, hosted by the Organization of Syrans (as in “from the Greek island of Syros”) (Σύνδεσμος Συριανών), and will exhibit over 35 example of Vlazakis’ work in illuminated manuscripts, heraldic achievements and ex libris. Part of the work to be presented was previously exhibited at the 2008 Rhodes Medieval Festival which is hosted in the old, crusader city of Rhodes on the island of the same name.

Vlazakis art 03

What is most exciting about this exhibition is that this appears to be the very first exhibition focusing on heraldry ever hosted in Greece. Inquiries were made to the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece requesting information about similar past exhibitions and none were reported back.

Vlazakis art 04

With the support of the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece, whose chairman will speak on the third day of the event. However, the speaker who will open the exhibition will be Tony Breidel-Hadjidemetriou, Baron Breidel, chairman of the Cyprus Center of Medievalism and Heraldry. At the inaugural event, the musical accompaniment will be led by the musician Kostas Chronopoulos.

Vlazakis invitation - tracing the middle ages
invitation to the event

Vlazakis’ website is

Controversial arms – Skull and crossbones in heraldry

In this entry in the series on controversial arms we will explore the user of the skull and crossbones in heraldry.

This combination has for centuries been associated with death and has adorned cemeteries around the world. It has also become closely tied to piracy as variations of the theme were used on their flags by American and European pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. These skeletal images were collectively called the Jolly Roger.

Jolly Roger

The flag above, arguably the quintessential pirate flag, was actually that of Edward England, a pirate operating in the Indian ocean during the 18th century.

In the German speaking countries, the skull and crossbones is known as Totenkopf. The word literally means “dead man’s head”. The difference from the Jolly Roger is that the bones are placed directly behind the skull. Its use began in the 18th century by the Hussars of the Prussian army under King Frederick II the Great.

SS Division Totenkopf

The German tradition of the symbol was besmirched by the Nazi regime of Germany and used by the Schutzstaffel units, better known as the SS.

Kuperjanov BattalionInterestingly, this dubious history has not precluded its use by honorable groups, such as the Queen’s Royal Lancers and the recon battalions of the USMC. The arms above is the insignia of the Kuperjanov Battalion of the Estonian Army infantry, one of the elite of that country’s armed forces.

Hazard Skull and Crossbones

This association with death has also made the skull and crossbones as the international symbol for danger of death, especially for poison. The symbol above is the one used to denote a toxic substance.

So far, we’ve looked at the history of the skull and crossbones but, this is a post on heraldry. Let’s look at some coats of arms with this symbol.

COA Mallemort

The shield above is that of the French commune of Mallemort, located in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in the south of the country. The blazon of these arms would be:  Sable, at the fesspoint a death’s head above two bones in saltire Argent in chief a vase couche Or, all within a bordure Argent charged with the word MALLEMORT Sable.

COA La Coruña

This shield is that of La Coruña in Spain. The blazon for these arms would be: Azure, upon rocks proper charged with a skull crowned Or over two bones in saltire Argent, a lighthouse Argent masoned Sable its lantern room Gules all between to dexter and sinister three coquiles and in base one coquile Or.

COA Riumors

Another shield with the cross and skullbones, this time of Riumors, Girona in Spain. The blazon here would be: Argent in chief two skull each above two bones in saltire Sable and in base two bars wavy Azure.

The following images are from the site displaying an armorial of Polish arms.

COA von ParsowThe arms above of von Parsow would be blazoned: Azure two thighbones in saltire Argent between at each end of the bones 4 estoiles of 6 Or.

COA von Oesterling

The arms above of von Oesterling would be blazoned: Quarterly, first and fourth Sable two thighbones in saltire Argent, second and third Or a human skull Argent. What is interesting in these arms is that the crest follows the same theme of two thighbones in saltire.

COA BiałogłowskiAbove, we have these Polish arms of Białogłowski blazoned: Gules three human skulls Argent 1 and 2.

COA Kerkovius

Finally, Mr. Ton de Witte supplied me with the arms above of the Dutch family of Kerkovius. The name means “cemetery” and therefore the arms allude to that. A very impressive and, dare I say, morbid shield but nonetheless well designed. I would blazon the arms as: Sable three Totenkopfs 1 and 2 above a fence fleury enarched Argent.