Archive for August 2009

Non-reigning dynasts

To most of us living in republics, the concept of monarchy is something very foreign and harkens to a time long ago. This is usually because the country of residence disposed itself of its monarchy in way or another.

I won’t go into political theory of whether monarchy is better than republicanism or not. There are plenty of books and opinions on the matter abound on the Internet.

All these republics that are no longer monarchies have created the same result: formerly reigning dynasts and their families.

This is a product not only of republics but also of monarchies that through conquest or otherwise replaced the previously reigning dynasty.

Collectively, these former dynasts are called “pretenders” and through custom are permitted to use their prior titles. However, it is a rare occasion where they can do that in the country which they were previously a ruler of.

The better known pretenders are those whose families recently lost their throne or of a large and still extant country. Some of the better known are those of Greece, Serbia, Italy, Bulgaria, etc. In the latter’s case, the pretender to the Bulgarian throne, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who was deposed as a child in 1946 has had a successful political career after the fall of communism becoming the Prime Minister of the country in 2001-2005.

However, we also have pretenders to thrones of kingdoms that have not existed in centuries. Perhaps the most known are the Imperial family of Brazil (various pretenders), the various claimants to the throne of France and those of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.

Going further back, we can also find pretenders to thrones as old as that of Aragon and Jerusalem.

Though opinions vary on whose claim is the “valid” one, in some cases it is crystal clear. Even with particularly old ones. Perhaps some day, when I feel adventurous, I’ll start looking at the various claims and share my opinion.

All these pretenders, as mentioned, can still use their previously held titles and are recognized in international law as heads of state.

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.


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