Archive for April 2011

Return of Fr. Guy Selvester to blogging

One of the more popular heraldic blogs for the longest time was one called “Shouts in the Piazza” maintained by Fr. Guy Selvester, one of the most noted heraldists in the world and a noted expert on heraldry in the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, Fr. Guy chose a while back to suspend his blog permanently. It appears that he used to get a lot of flak from those with too thin a skin or have other issues…

In any case, I was very happy to receive an email from the good Fr. announcing his new blog called “OMNIApost”!

As the name implies, it will be a blog about everything and anything Fr. Guy  feels like writing about.

I wish his new blog well and look forward to reading his posts, whatever their frequency. Welcome back!

The URL to the blog is:

General Levashov – A Knight of the Order of St. Lazarus?

COA Portadei

On April 12 2011 the blog Blog de Heráldica, maintained by Maj. José Juan Carrión Rangel, published an article written by Dr. José María de Montells y Galán, Viscount Portadei and Chief Herald of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. The article, in Spanish of course, presented a hypothesis by the Viscount regarding a General of the Imperial Russian Army from the 19th century and his probable membership in the Order of St. Lazarus.

Personally, I found this essay to be very interesting as it relates to the history of an organization that has a commendable track record with its humanitarian efforts. Though there has been (and there still is) some controversy regarding the Order’s historical continuity, their truly remarkable charitable work cannot be denied.

Dr. Montells y Galán has graciously allowed me to translate his original article and have it published here for those English speakers that are interested.

It is very well known that the supporters of the claim that the Order of St. Lazarus is extinct, place the year of said extinction in 1831. Even though they base their claim on the French Restoration and after Louis XVII’s return in 1814, he resigned as Grand Master and became Protector of the Order, conforming with his dynastic rights.

Louis XVIII used the insignia of the Order until the end of his life, though he abstained from admitting new Knights. Neither did his successor, Charles X admitted anyone but, during his reign new Knights appear in the Almanaque Real, authorized by the General Chapter of the Order. This royal tolerance of the admissions appear to give credence to the position that the Knight of the Order had the right to perpetuate the Hospital of the Green Cross.

Many of the Order’s detractors interpret an edict of 1824, that is literally referring to the united Orders of St. Lazarus and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, saying that “admissions have not been made since 1788 allowing its extinction” as proof of the royal decision to abolish the Lazarite Order. What is not said, is that the aforementioned edict is uniquely and exclusively referring to the Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, reunited with St. Lazarus and not united, and that had ceased to be given out since the closing of the École Militaire in 1788.1

The known expert on Chivalric Orders, Mr. Guy Stair Sainty, proponent of the extinction of the Order, argues: “Indeed, the complete absence of any contemporary documentation such as diplomas or letters of nomination (whereas there are numerous examples from before 1788), of paintings (or later of original nineteenth century photographs) of these individuals wearing the Saint Lazarus Cross, or of any record in contemporary correspondence of such nominations or admissions, is astonishing.”2

In other words: For those that believe that the Order of St. Lazarus became extinct in 1875 with the death of the Viscount of Chabot, last Knight of the Order to be alive in 1831, everything began in 1788 when, according to them, it ceased to be given.3

Therefore you can imagine my surprise when, while browsing the web, I found an image of, what appears to be, an officer of the Russian Hussars with the Cross of Justice of the Order of St. Lazarus worn as a neck decoration. To positively identify him, I reached out to various friends without much success until Alfonso Floresta suggested the name “Vasily Vasilievich Levashov”.

Born in 1783 of a noble family, though illegitimate, he took part in the war against the French in 1805 as Captain of the Imperial Guard. After intervening in the battles of Pułtusk, Yankov, Landsberg, Eylau, Dobre Miasto (Guttstadt) and Passengeyme, he was promoted to Colonel.4

Levashov takes part in the Patriotic War of 1812 as Colonel of the Cuirassiers no 5 in the battles of Vitebsk, Smolensk, Borodino, Tarutino and Maloyaroslavets, receiving on November 21 1812 the Order of St. George for his heroic acts in Borodino, replacing Col. Karl Levenwolde, who had died in combat, in charge of the Regiment of Cavalry Guards.5 Promoted to General, he joined the battles of Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden suffering a sabre wound in Leipzig and later a gunshot to the chest.

On July 15, 1813 he was named Chief of the Regiment of Cuirassiers of the Imperial Guard of Novgorod. In 1817, we find him as an Aide to the Czar. Between April 25, 1815 and May 23, 1822 he served as the Commander in Chief of the Regiment of Hussars of the Guard. Later, he was appointed by the Emperor as the military governor of Kiev and Governor General of Podolia and Volynia. In 1833, the nobiliary title of Count of the Russian Empire was conferred upon him. A year before his death, he was named Presiden of the Counsil of State and member of the Committe of Ministers. He was buried in 1848 in the Dukhovskoi church of the Monastery of St. Alexander Nevsky in St. Petersburg.

There is also another painting of the General Count Levashov, very similar to the one shown above but, with a difference in the decorations. This painting is conserved in the gallery of the Heroes of the War of 1812 in the Imperial Palace of St. Petersburg and was created by the English artist George Dawe. From the painting, one can see that the Count was Knight of St. Vladimir (2nd class), St. Ana (1st class), St. George (4th class). He is also depicted bearing the medal of the campaign of 1812 as well as those of foreign campaigns unknown to me. According to my sources, this painting is located in the Kremlin of Novgorod but I have been unable to conclusively find out who is its creator.

It is very well known that thanks to the hospitality of the Czar Paul I, the Grand Master of the Order of St. Lazarus King Louis XVIII, in exile in Mitau, Lithuania, admitted into the Order sometime between 1798 and 1800 the Czar himself, his sons the Grand Dukes Alexander, the Charevich, Constantine and another twenty Russian dignitaries. Among those were the Count Rostopchin and the Barons Fersen and Dreisen.6

Unfortunately, the complete list of Knights admitted in Mitau by the Grand Master has not survived. Examining the information, it does not seem far fetched that General Levashov was one of them. He was probably assigned to the entourage of the small court of the exiled King, perhaps as a junior officer or page. In 1800, Levashov would have been 17 years old, the age that cadets in France would be awarded the Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

What is without doubt is that Levashov is depicted with an unusual insignia of St. Lazarus. The eight-pointed green cross of the time was on the clothing. However, there are several surviving examples of reusing the Maltese cross, only in green. Even more so in Russia where the Order of Malta was liberally being given out by the Czar. In any case (as all this is just a hypothesis), judging by the painting in Nevgorod, the General Count Levashov was a proud Knight of the Order of St. Lazarus.




  1. The insignia of the Order of Mt. Carmel, separately from that of St. Lazarus, were given to three noble cadets annually.
  2. From Guy Stair Sainty’s page on the Order of St. Lazarus ( In this case, he frequently neglects to bring up the political happenings in France during the period in question, that made it necessary to move the archives of the Order to Damascus, the seat of the Melkite Patriarch.
  3. These dates are important because, as the detractors say, an Order that has been inactive for 100 years becomes extinct. What is certain is that in 1841, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, Maximos III Michael Mazloum, accepted the spiritual protection of the Hospital of St. Lazarus. Just 10 years after the supposed suppression!
  4. On November 5, 1808
  5. The Grand Master of the Order of Malta, at the time the Czar of Russia, was assigned to the Regiment of Cavalry Guards. All within the regiment were noble, even the foot-soldiers.
  6. According to Stair Sainty, Dreisen was admitted by the Grand Master in Mitau in 1800 as a Knight of Honor, a rank that was not in the statutes enacted by the Grand Master himself. From this, he infers that the Russian appointments are null or suspect.

As the Viscount points out above, this is a hypothesis and has not been proved yet. But, as with most research, you’ve got to start somewhere and this lead seems to be promising.

However, as Arturo Rodríguez López-Abadía points out in a follow up to this essay on the same Spanish blog, the neck decoration may very well be the Prussian Pour le Mérite medal that has a similar design and whose blue color might be made to appear green in a painting with shading.

Pour le Mérite

However, and here is where the plot thickens, there is another painting (found by Carlos Cerda Acevedo) of a different Russian General, Vasily D. Rykov, that appears to be wearing the breast cross of the Order of St. Lazarus. The argument that this is the Grand Cross of the the Prussian Order is invalid because, very simply, the class of “Grand Cross” was established in 1866 whereas General Rykov died in 1827

In addition to the above, the following information (relayed to me in a separate email and originating from Dr. Alfonso Ceballos-Escalera, III Marques de La Floresta) is worthy to be noted:

  • In the private collection of the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Imperial House of Russia, are found the Lazarite insignia of her parents, the Grand Duke Vladimir and the Grand Duchess Leonida.
  • In the collection of foreign decorations of the Czar Paul I kept in the Kremlin, one would find two medals of the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Lazarus
  • The certificates and letters patent for the Russian members are conserved in St. Petersburg. Within this collection, there are documents that show that King Louis XVIII while exiled in Mitau (present day Jelgava in Latvia), had conferred upon Czar Paul I the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Lazarus. Additionally, there are more than two dozen additional certificates for the Czar to distribute among his generals and courtiers.


The link to the original article is:
The official international site of the Order of St. Lazarus is:
The official site of the Order of St. Lazarus in the United States is:

Link to an article where I write about my personal opinion on the group


I am not a member of the Order of St. Lazarus
Images provided by Dr. José María de Montells y Galán, Viscount Portadei and from Wikipedia

Is it snobbish to have a Coat of Arms?

The misconception that having a Coat of Arms makes you somehow “special” has existed for centuries and, unfortunately, I haven’t seen it get any better.

To add fuel to the fire, the inability to escape from the media circus that has become the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton on April 29th has given a lot of exposure to the recent grant of arms to the bride’s father.

Arms of Ms. Catherine Middleton blazoned:
Per pale Azure and Gules a Chevron Or cotised Argent between three Acorns slipped and leaved Or

In an article publised in the Daily Mail on April 20th, 2011 there is a side panel with the attention grabbing headline “How do you get a Coat of Arms” and here is a snippet of the text therein (reprinted and attributed to the Daily Mail):

However, that doesn’t mean that just anybody can pay the fee and get a coat of arms. The cumulative knowledge of the Earl Marshal gathered over hundreds of years has given them the skill of tactfully suggesting that people don’t proceed with their application.The late Peter Gwynn-Jones, a former Garter King of Arms, once said: ‘In practice, eligibility depends upon holding a civil or military commission, a sound university degree or professional qualification, or having achieved some measure of distinction in a field beneficial to society as a whole.’

This is all fine and dandy for the United Kingdom but, and pay attention here: THE BRITS DID NOT INVENT HERALDRY AND THEIR RULES DO NOT APPLY TO THE ENTIRE WORLD! Not only that, even in the British Isles heraldry existed before the College of Arms came to be and no grants or registrations were necessary. For example, there are some ancient families in England (listed in the Domesday Book) with arms that are just as old who wouldn’t be able to present a grant of arms if their lives depended on it (e.g. the Scropes of Danby).1

The United Kingdom (and I’m including Scotland here) have come up with some very elaborate rules and have a very enviable heraldic tradition that works very well for them. English heraldic experts have contributed much literature and a big part of my heraldic library is by them. But, just like German rules don’t apply in London, English rules don’t apply in Berlin. Most people tend to forget that and assume that what what happens in the UK is the only way.

Heraldry, from the very beginning has been a means of identification. Nothing more and nothing less. We’ve all heard the stories of identification in battle of knights in armor etc. but, heraldry was used beyond the battlefields from where it originated.

At a time where the vast majority of the population was illiterate, symbols were easy to identify and use. Heraldry (and badges) were used in lieu of a signature by anyone who needed it. This is why more than just the nobility adopted and used arms.

This is also why your average pig farmer in the 15th century didn’t have a coat of arms: he didn’t need it! But, he was more than eligible to adopt them if he so wanted to, let’s say, brand his pigs with his mark.

Another example of non-nobles having arms is the Armorial Général de France where about 70% of all the arms listed belong to merchants, artisans and others.

The same could be said about Germany, Switzerland and most of the non-English world.

Specifically in the United States, anyone can adopt, devise and use a Coat of Arms at any time and for any reason. Unfortunately, there isn’t any legal protection of arms in the country but, you do have the option of publishing it and registering it with private registries.

A Coat of Arms is nothing more than a heritable form of identification that does not give it’s owner any more “special” status than coming up with a signature to sign checks & documents with does.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this entry: Heraldry is snobbish if you also think that having a signature is snobbish.

Oh! One more thing: in those places where grants of arms come from a sovereign, the grant does not ennoble the recipient. This is another major misconception but, I’ll save it for another article.

1. Posted by Joseph McMillan in the forums of the American Heraldry Society
Image from the College of Arms of England, Wales and N. Ireland

Official Heraldry in the United States

For those who don’t know, the American Heraldry Society (AHS), under the auspices of its Director of Research Joseph McMillan, has done a tremendous job of researching not only the national arms but also those of the individual states comprising the USA.

The main entry on this topic on the AHS site is split into two categories:

  • The national arms
  • The arms of the states

In the first section, the author delves into some of the more interesting topics regarding the arms of the nation. Perhaps the most interesting sections (to me) are those on the criticisms and on the myths & misconceptions.

The second part is noted as a never ending work in progress as more states are investigated and the findings published. Here, you will find information about the arms of:

The link to the article is:

I also highly recommend reading through the rest of the site as it is a true treasure trove of information. If you live or hail from the USA, I would urge you to sign up for a (free) account on the AHS forum. The discussions there are (usually) very illuminating and moderated to keep the quality high.

Note: Images from the AHS site and Wikipedia


Do I have the right to display the arms of X?

Over the weekend I received a tweet on this blog’s Twitter account asking me whether university graduates have the right to display their school’s arms. This made me realize that this information is not readily available in the typical heraldic sources and therefore would make an excellent blog topic!

So, what are the rules governing the display of arms of insitutions you’ve been or are a member of?

Ex Libris of Elisabeth Tropp von Rheude
Ex Libris of Elizabeth Tropp von Rheude

The simple answer is that you can place the arms of your alma mater, your birthplace, your military unit, etc. in an armorial display such as a bookplate (or “ex libris”), your wall or your signature line in online discussion forums and anywhere else you want to show your affiliation.

However, the very bright and clear line is drawn when it comes to incorporating those arms into your own arms. In other words, just because you served in the USMC (United States Marine Corpe) it doesn’t mean that you could incorporate the EGA (Eagle, Globe & Anchor) onto your shield. Heraldry is very symbolic and the incorporation of the identifying symbol of another (person or organization) into one’s own arms denotes ownership. In other words, if you were to incorporate the EGA on your shield, you would be telling the world that you “own” the USMC.

COA Duke of Wellington
Coat of Arms of the Duke of Wellington with the Union Jack as an augmentation

The only time when a symbol of an institution/organization is added to personal arms is when the actual owner gives the explicit permission to do so. This is what is called an “augmentation”. The permission given is very explicit and can be just for the lifetime of the grantee or may include his legal heirs. However, the way the augmentation is presented makes it very clear that it is not an integral part of the shield but, an “add-on”. Augmentations are overlayed onto the original arms, many times even hiding whole or parts of the charges underneath.

A note should be made here that I am not referring to marshalling of arms but, the inclusion of the arms of another as an integral part of your own. For more on marshalling, you can head over to an article I wrote on the topic a while ago.

The rule of thumb always to remember is that heraldry is a form of identification and no different than a surname, online avatar or even a Tax ID. Using someone else’s arms is no different than committing identity theft.

Now, before anybody emails me with examples of royal arms allow me to say something: royals don’t have to follow any rules and can make their own. In the words of the inimitable Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be the King“.

Note: All images are from Wikipedia