Attributed arms

Attributed arms

Attributed arms are coats of arms given to legendary figures, or to notable persons from times before the rise of heraldry. Beginning in the 12th century, imaginary arms were assigned to the knights of the Round Table, and soon arms were given to biblical figures, to Roman and Greek heroes, and to kings and popes who had not historically borne arms (Pastoreau 1997a, 258). The specific arms could vary, but the arms for major figures soon became fixed.

Notable arms attributed to biblical figures include the arms of Jesus based on the instruments of the Passion, and the shield of the Trinity. Medieval literature attributed coats of arms to the Nine Worthies, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and King Arthur. Arms were given to many kings predating heraldry, including Edward the Confessor and William I of England. These attributed arms were sometimes used in practice as quarterings in the arms of their descendants.


Attributed or imaginary arms appeared in literature in the middle of the 12th century, particularly in Arthurian legends. During the generation following Chrétien de Troyes, about 40 of Arthur's knights had coats of arms (Pastoreau 1997a, 259). A second stage of development occurred during the 14th and 15th centuries when Arthurian arms expanded to include as many as 200 coats of arms.

During the same centuries, rolls of arms included invented arms for kings of foreign lands (Neubecker, 30), and for the Nine Worthies of history. When coats of arms were the established fashion of the ruling class, it would have been inconceivable for a king not to be armigerous (Loomis 1922, 26). In such an era, it was "natural enough to consider that suitable armorial devices and compositions should be assigned to men of mark in earlier ages" (Boutell, 18). The specific arms could vary, although regional styles developed, and the arms for major figures soon became fixed (Turner, 415).

Some attributed arms were incorporated into the quarterings of their descendants' arms. The quarterings for the family of Lloyd of Stockton, for instance, include numerous arms originally attributed to Welsh chieftains from the 9th century or earlier (Neubecker, 94). In a similar vein, arms were attributed to Pope Leo IX based on the later arms of his family's descendants (Turner, 415).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, additional arms were attributed to a large number of saints, kings and popes, especially those from the 11th and 12th centuries. Pope Innocent IV (1243–1254) is the first pope whose papal coat of arms is known with certainty (Pastoreau 1997a, 283–284). By the end of the 17th century, the use of attributed arms became more restrained (Neubecker, 224).

The tinctures and charges attributed to an individual in the past provide insight into the history of symbolism (Pastoreau 1997b, 87).

Literary figures

Around 1310, Jacques de Longuyon wrote the "Voeux de Paon" ("Vows of the Peacock"), which included a list of nine famous leaders. This list, divided into three groups of three, became known in art and literature as the Nine Worthies (Loomis 1938, 37). All of the Nine Worthies were given a coat of arms. King David, for instance, was assigned a gold harp as a device (Neubecker, 172).

From the 13th century, King Arthur was most commonly given three gold crowns on an azure field (Loomis 1938, 38). In a 1394 manuscript depicting the Nine Worthies, Arthur is shown holding a flag with three gold crowns (Neubecker, 172). Eleven, thirteen, or even thirty crowns were also used to symbolize kingdoms he conquered (Brault, 46).

Other characters in the Arthurian legends are described with coats of arms. Lancelot starts with plain white arms but later receives a shield with three bends gules signifying the strength of three men (Brault, 47). Tristran was attributed a variety of arms. His earliest arms, a gold lion rampant on a red field, are shown in a set of 13th-century tiles found in Chertsey Abbey (Loomis 1915, 308). Thomas of Britain attributed these arms in the 12th century (Loomis 1938, 47) in what is believed to be heraldic flattery of his patron, either Richard I or Henry II, whose coats of arms contained some form of lion (Loomis 1922, 26). In other versions the field is not red, but green. Gottfried von Strassburg attributed to Tristan a silver shield with a black boar rampant (Loomis 1922, 24; Loomis 1938, 49). In Italy, however, he was attributed geometric patterns.


Arms were attributed to important pre-heraldic kings. Among the best known are those assigned to the King of the Franks, who was given three toads. The three fleurs-de-lis of France supposedly derive from these (Neubecker, 225).

William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, had a coat of arms with two lions. Richard the Lionheart used such a coat of arms with two lions on a red field (Loomis 1938, 47), from which the three lions of the coat of arms of England derive. However, there is no proof that William's arms were not attributed to William after his death (Boutell, 18).

The earlier Saxon Kings were assigned a gold cross on a blue shield, but this did not exist until the 13th century. The arms of Saint Edward the Confessor, a blue shield charged with a gold cross and five gold birds, appears to have been suggested by heralds in the time of Henry III of England (Boutell, 18) based on a coin minted in Edward's reign (Neubecker, 30). These arms were later used by Richard II of England out of devotion to the saint (Fraser, 44).

Arms were attributed to the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy. The Kingdom of Essex, for instance, was assigned a red shield with three notched swords (or "seaxes"). This coat was used by the counties of Essex and Middlesex until 1910, when the Middlesex County Council applied for a formal grant from the College of Arms ("The Times", 1910). Middlesex was granted a red shield with three notched swords and a "Saxon Crown". The Essex County Council was granted the arms without the crown in 1932.

Even the kings of Rome were assigned arms, with Romulus, the first King of Rome signified by the she-wolf (Neubecker, 224–225).

Flags were also attributed. While the King of Morocco was attributed three rooks as arms, which are therefore canting arms (Neubecker, 224), the whole chessboard was shown in some sources, resulting in the 14th-century checkered version of the Flag of Morocco (see "Flags of the World", 2007).

Religious figures

Jesus and Mary

Heralds could have attributed to Jesus the harp for arms inherited as a descendant of David. Nevertheless, the cross was regarded as Christ's emblem, and it was so used by the Crusaders. Sometimes the arms of Christ feature a Paschal lamb as the principal charge. By the 13th century, however, numerous indulgences had brought increased veneration for the instruments of the Passion. These instruments were described in heraldic terms and treated as personal to Christ much as a coat of arms (Dennys, 96). An early example in a seal from c. 1240 includes the Cross, nails, lance, crown of thorns, sponge and whips.

The instruments of the Passion were sometimes split between a shield and crest in the form of an achievement of arms (Neubecker, 222). The "Hyghalmen Roll" (c. 1447–1455) shows Christ holding an azure shield charged with Veronica's Veil proper. The heraldry continues with the 15th century jousting helmet, which is covered by the seamless robe as a form of mantling, and the Cross, scepter (of mockery) and flagellum (whip) as crest. The banner's long red "schwenkel" is a mark of eminence in German heraldry, but it was omitted when this image was copied into Randle Holme's Book (c. 1464–1480). The image on the opposing page (shown above) includes a shield quartered with the five Wounds of Christ, three jars of ointment, two rods, and the head of Judas Iscariot with a bag of money (Dennys, 97–98).

While Christ was associated with the images of the Passion, Mary was associated with images from the prophecy of Simeon the Righteous () (Dennys, 112).


*cite article | title=Armorial bearings of Middlesex | date=November 7, 1910 | work=The Times
*cite book | author=Charles Boutell and Arthur Charles Fox-Davies | title=English Heraldry | publisher = Kessinger | year = 2003 | isbn = 076614917X | pages=p.18 | url=
*cite book | author=Gerald J. Brault | title=Early Blazon | edition=2nd edition | publisher=Boydell Press | year=1997 | isbn=0851157114
*cite book | author=Rodney Dennys | title=The Heraldic Imagination | publisher=Barrie & Jenkins | year = 1975 | isbn = 0-919974-01-5
*cite book | author=Antonia Fraser | authorlink=Antonia Fraser | title=The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England | publisher=Queens | year = 2000 | isbn = 0520224604
*cite book | author=Roger S. Loomis | authorlink=Roger Sherman Loomis | title=Arthurian Legend in Medieval Art | publisher=Modern Language Association of America | year=1938
*cite journal | author=Roger S. Loomis | title=A Sidelight on the 'Tristan' of Thomas | journal=Modern Language Review | volume=10 | issue=3 | pages=304–309 | year=1915 | month=July | doi=10.2307/3712621
*cite journal | author=Roger S. Loomis | title=Tristan and the house of Anjou | journal=Modern Language Review | volume=17 | issue=1 | pages=24–30 | year=1922 | month=January | doi=10.2307/3714327
*cite web | url= | title=Morocco Historical Flags | work=Flags of the World | date=9 July 2007 | accessdate=2008-02-03
*cite book | author=Ottfried Neubecker | title=Heraldry: Sources, Symbols and Meaning | publisher=McGraw-Hill | year=1976 | isbn=0-07-046308-5
*cite book | author=Michel Pastoreau | title=Traité d'Héraldique | edition=3e édition | publisher=Picard | year=1997a | isbn=2-7084-0520-9
*cite book | author=Michel Pastoreau | title=Heraldry: An introduction to a noble tradition | publisher=Harry N. Abrams | year=1997b | isbn=2-8109-2830-2
*cite book | author=Jane Turner | title=Dictionary of Art | year=1996 | volume=14 | pages=415

External links

* [ St. Benedict's attributed arms] and ecclesiastical heraldic stained glass

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