Thursday, March 31, 2022

Armorial Tapestries at Kronborg Castle: King Oluf

Finally, in the last tapestry of this series, we come to the one depicting Oluf (king 1376-1387):

Oluf was the son of the Norwegian King Haakon VI and Margrete, the daughter of the Danish King Valdemar III. Oluf’s mother Margrete was also depicted in the series, but the tapestry dedicated to this extraordinarily powerful woman in Nordic history no longer exists. As a guardian for the young Oluf, Margrete succeeded in gaining power in Denmark as well as Norway. In the verses at the top of the tapestry, however, it is nowhere acknowledged that Oluf was a king by name only, and not by deed!

As a matter of fact, Oluf died before he had become of age, and soon Margrete was confronted by King Albrecht of Sweden who laid claim on her two kingdoms. Yet King Albrecht’s confrontation led to complete failure: he was defeated and forced to surrender his own kingdom to Margrete, who triumphantly united her three kingdoms in the Union of Kalmar (1397-1523). Formally, the union was governed by her young relative Erik IX of Pomerania, whose tapestry is still preserved in the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen. In reality, however, it was Margrete who pulled the strings. [Margrete here is the same Queen Margrethe I who died in 1412, and whose lavishly carved sarcophagus we have seen in Roskilde Cathedral in our post of December 13, 2021, at]

The king’s coat of arms carries the three lions of Denmark, the axe-bearing Norwegian lion, and the three “Baltic” lions. In reality, however, none of the Baltic regions were still governed by the Danish kings.

This post ends our trip to Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, and indeed to all of the heraldry that we have seen during our stay in Denmark. I hope that you have found at least some of these posts to have been of interest!

Monday, March 28, 2022

Armorial Tapestries at Kronborg Castle: King Christoffer II

The next tapestry in this royal series is that depicting Christoffer II (king 1319-1332):

Accompanied by trumpeting horsemen, a knights’ tournament is held in the background to the right. To the left, a couple of workers are setting up enclosures prior to the noblemen’s hunt. Tournaments and hunts were privileged activities of the king and the nobility and as such, they are a much-favored motif in the tapestry series. In this particular instance, however, the jousting horsemen probably carry a second meaning, mockingly commenting precisely the king’s lack of jousting and warfare abilities.

The king’s inability is displayed in the accompanying monologue, which opens as follows: “for the kingdom’s dignity I little cared / much land gave away, with others shared / against my subjects I was also tough / so, from my throne they pushed me off”. Later Christoffer did in fact regain his throne, but this was accomplished only by buying foreign support and by pawning several territories. This approach entails the following conclusion: “He, who wants to rule people and land / needs advice and honor, or it all turns into sand.”

Only the three lions of Denmark and the three uncrowned “Baltic” lions are present in the king’s coat of arms. The armorial bearings that symbolize those territories, which his predecessor Erik VIII had conquered, have vanished once again.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Armorial Tapestries at Kronborg Castle: Kings Erik VII and Erik VIII

Now we come to a tapestry not one king, but two: Erik VII (king 1259-1286) and Erik VIII (king 1286-1319)

The destiny of Erik VII is intertwined with perhaps one of the most well-known murders in Danish history: the regicide in the barn at Finnerup. The brutal fate of Erik VII is scarcely mentioned in the accompanying monologue, stating that “my own struck me down”. In the verses at the top of the tapestry, however, it is openly acknowledged that the king’s violent end to a large extent was self-inflicted – he was notorious for stealing the church taxes and for misusing his royal power to seduce the noblewomen of the realm.

Notwithstanding the king’s flawed character, the murder of a king should not be tolerated. Accordingly, the monologue of his successor, Erik VIII, acknowledges this king for having revenged his father. Furthermore, Erik VIII is famous for the conquest of several territories in northern Germany. Appropriately, a besieged town is seen in the background of the tapestry. The defence is breached by spear-bearing infantry, who ascend the town walls using ladders. On top of the wall the red and white flag signify that the Danish king’s arms is about to win yet another battle.

Mounted on his rearing horse, the king calls out for combat and brandishes his marshal’s baton, the commander-in-chief’s mark of distinction.

Erik VIII’s great success on the battlefield is accounted for in the king’s coat of arms, where yet a couple of armorial bearings are displayed in comparison with his predecessor’s coat of arms. The griffin at the bottom left symbolizes the land of the Wends, and the lion and hearts at the upper right symbolizes the land of the Goths, or Jutland.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Heraldry in the News!

Late last week I ran across an article about some heraldry with a more or less local flavor.

I say "more or less" local, as Texas is a large state, and Dallas, where I live, and San Antonio, where the article is about, are 274 miles (441 km) apart, or as we generally think about it here, a four-and-a-quarter hour drive.

Still, even that many miles away is still well inside the boundaries of the State of Texas, and so more or less "local".

Anyway, there was an article published on March 16, 2022 in the San Antonio Express-News noting the fact that the city of San Antonio, and the county in which it is located, Bexar (pronounced "bare", like "bear") County, each have a Spanish coat of arms.

No, really!

The arms were designed in 1971 by Thomas A. Wilson, a member of the Texas Hispanic American History Foundation, who then had them officially catalogued and filed in the heraldic archives of Spain. Wilson and Fernando Muñoz Altea of Madrid, the Spanish Chronicler King of Arms, presented them in San Antonio on December 18, 1971.

(I've known about the existence, though not all of the history, of the Bexar County arms for some time now; I even use it as an example of "local" coats of arms in some of my presentations about heraldry to genealogy groups and lineage societies here in Texas. And I've seen the San Antonio coat of arms before, but had no idea of its origins or history.)

Anyway, there's a lot more in the article including a bit of the history of the area, the history and elements of these two coats of arms, their uses today both here and overseas, and the fact that the official copy of San Antonio's coat of arms has been missing for 50 years.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Finally! Some New Entries

Something has finally happened that some of us have been waiting and hoping would occur for some time.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society's (NEHGS) Committee on Heraldry has over the years produced A Roll of Arms, amounting to, to date, ten parts in a series of booklets. (These booklets are not always easy to find. For myself, I only own Parts 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9, though I do have all ten in digital - .gif - format.) These ten parts were also published as a single hard-back book in 2013, which can be purchased from the NEHGS bookstore for $34.95 (

Full disclosure: I am a paying member of the NEHGS, but have no other connection to them. I don't receive any benefits of any kind for plugging their book here. Shoot, I couldn't even talk them into publishing my own book on the Gore roll of arms (available from my website), though I know that they have purchased a copy for their own library.

Anyway, with all that as background, I heard today of the latest issue of their quarterly magazine, The NEHG Register.

If you look carefully at its cover, in addition to the prominent coat of arms taking up the center of the cover, down in the lower right-hand corner is "Feature: Roll of Arms, Eleventh Part".

Now, this isn't the full Eleventh Part, just the first installment, covering registration nos. 742 through 765. (The numbers in the full Eleventh Part run through 813. Those will be published in upcoming issues of The NEHG Register, followed before long those in the the Twelfth Part and eventually the Thirteenth.)

Now, why am I telling you all this? Because I have added these recent NEHGS Committee on Heraldry registrations to my American Heraldry Collection, as well as a few new grants (well, they call them devisals, but that's really just semantics) to Americans by the College of Arms in London, published in their quarterly newsletter. (The arms of Thorold on the cover have been registered by the Committee on Heraldry earlier, and are already included in my American Heraldry Collection.)

So, if you would like to have the most recent and up-to-date version of this Collection, there is a link by which you can download the .zip file containing the Excel spreadsheet that is the Collection and a Word document giving some background as well as all of the sources for the Collection, right here on this very blog! Look near the top of the page in the left-hand column for the section "Some Articles I've Written", and click on the link labeled "American Heraldry Collection (in .xlsx and .docx)".

As new installments of the Roll of Arms, Eleventh, and later Twelfth and Thirteenth, Parts are published, I will add them to this Collection, along with any new grants (excuse me, "devisals") to Americans by the College of Arms as they are published.

But for now, at least, this is the latest up-to-date version of my American Heraldry Collection, for those of you who are interested in such things.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Armorial Tapestries in Kronborg Castle: King Abel

Next we come to the tapestry depicting the short reign of Abel (king 1250-1252):

A quiet peasant scene and a group of hunters on foot or mounted on horses is seen in the background of the tapestry. This apparently idyllic setting sharply contrasts the ferocious acts spelled out in the accompanying verses: “For kingship I did crave / thus my brother I sent to the grave”. Consequently, the wildlife of the foreground carries a hidden symbolism, referring to Abel’s dreadful deed.

On the left side of the king, a falcon has put its claws on a small bird while a poisonous snake is quietly slipping away in the shrubbery underneath. Most likely, this scene is modelled on the classical theme of the “Eagle fighting the snake”, symbolizing the struggle between good and evil. Alas, in this instance evil – in the shape of the snake – slips away while the claws of the falcon grip the powerless bird. Due to higher justice, however, the evil king was himself killed in an uprising only two years after the ruthless assassination. The overturned helmet at his feet refers to his death on the battlefield.

Abel carries the same armorial bearings as his predecessor, the brother he had assassinated: the three lions of Denmark and the uncrowned “Baltic” lions. During his short reign no further territories were conquered.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Armorial Tapestries in Kronborg Castle: King Erik VI

Next we come to the tapestry depicting Erik VI (king 1241-1250):

The king wears a crown on top of his hat and is dressed in a costume with no authentic historical reference – supposedly signifying that the king ruled “in distant times” (well, distant from the times of Frederik II, who commissioned these tapestries and ruled from 1559 to 1588). In his left hand he clutches his scepter while vividly gesticulating with his right hand. This significant gesture draws the viewer’s attention towards the animal life in the foreground on the king’s left side. A wolf lurks in the bushes, attentively watching a bittern which has caught an eel. The wolf, the incarnation of evil, sneaks up on its unsuspecting prey, while the bird grasping the slippery eel, the symbol of falsehood, quite possibly signifies that good shall overcome evil in the end.

Consequently, the wildlife of the foreground contains a hidden reference to the king’s ill-fated destiny. As a matter of fact, Erik was assassinated by his own brother, Abel, who much envied his crown. Abel, who is depicted on the next tapestry in line, did not live to regret his brother's murder, however, as he was killed on the battlefield only two years later.

The king’s coat of arms carries the three lions of Denmark and three uncrowned lions that symbolize the Baltic territories of the Danish kings.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Armorial Tapestries in Kronborg Castle: King Valdemar II

The next tapestry in order of his reign is that depicting Valdemar II “the Victorious” (king 1202-1241):

Clad in his shining armor, the king carries his crown, the most powerful symbol of royalty, and he brandishes his sword as if preparing for combat. In the accompanying German verses, a full account is given of the king’s many successful war campaigns which secured him the epithet “The Victorious”. The king’s many victorious battles, however, are nowhere accounted for in the background of the tapestry, where a hunting scene occupies the entire scenery.

As stated in the verses at the top of the tapestry, Valdemar II was also an accomplished legislator. In the final years of his reign, the first official code of the kingdom, Jyske Lov (the law of the province of Jutland), was written down. In fact, the oldest surviving transcript of this code is presently to be found in Sweden, to where it was taken as a spoil of war during the years of the Swedish occupation of Denmark (1658-60). On the same occasion, most of Kronborg’s priceless art treasures were also shipped to Sweden – including the table canopy of Frederik II that belonged to the series of king tapestries.

Compared to the coat of arms of Knud VI, yet another armorial bearing is here introduced: three uncrowned lions – a symbol of the Baltic territories that were conquered by Valdemar II, and which we'll be seeing more of in this series of armorial tapestries.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Armorial Tapestries in Kronborg Castle: King Knud VI

Upstairs in Kronborg Castle there is on display a series of tapestries commissioned by King Frederik II (reigned 1599-1598), who did so much to modernize and extend the Castle, depicting some of his predecessors. Each tapestry contains a block of text relating to the king portrayed.

I am going to review these tapestries in chronological order of their reigns as kings of Denmark. Much of the information given with each tapestry comes from the informational signs, in Danish and in English, accompanying each tapestry.

First is the tapestry depicting Knud VI (king 1182-1202):

The king wears richly ornamented body armor and is armed with sword and shield. Furthermore, the king’s dignity is emphasized by the royal regalia: crown and scepter. His breastplate depicts the imperial eagle, referring to the king’s opposition to the German emperor, Frederik Barbarossa, who is mentioned in the accompanying verses. The Danish king was met with a demand to plead allegiance to the emperor, but this he ardently refused. On the contrary, he led his army into northern Germany, where he conquered several territories which were under the jurisdiction of the emperor.

In reality, the powerful Bishop Absalon played a major part in the Danish king’s victories. However, following the Lutheran reformation of the Danish church in 1536, the bishops of the realm had been stripped of their former political power. Frederik II, who was an orthodox Lutheran, probably felt not urge to have the political power of the late bishop Absalon spelled out in his tapestry series!

A large convent is seen behind the king: the now-demolished Groenendael south of Brussels. The motif is purely decorative and is derived from a tapestry designed by Berent van Orley.

Apart from the three lions and nine hearts of Denmark, two further armorial bearings are displayed in the king’s coat of arms. The griffin refers to the land of the Wends, the standing lion to Northalbing, i.e., the land north of the river Elbe.