Excerpt from the book




       Written and illustrated by

          Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.

                    Copenhagen 1973


       Internet version edited by   Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.








(pp. 82-89 and 197-200)



The heraldic lily is in people’s minds so readily associated with France that it is simply known as the French lily or fleur-de-lys. Lilies were the device of the French kings (pp. 82 and 85) and as such have made an impression which has never been erased, either by the French Revolution (which abolished them) or by two Napoleonic empires and a number of republican constitutions (which replaced them with other devices). And the fact that such lilies are common to the heraldry of nearly every country, not just to that of France, has had no influence on the popular conception that such lilies are ‘French’.


The lily was used as a symbol by the French royal house even in pre-heraldic times. At the beginning of the twelfth century it appeared on the coronation robes, the crown and the sceptre. From the end of the twelfth century it was shown on the royal standard, but it is only from the beginning of the thirteenth that proper royal arms bearing the fleur-de-lys are known (on a seal).


Originally an unspecified number of fleurs-de-lys were strewn over the field, as can be seen in derivatives of the arms (see Figs 429 and 447), but from the close of the fourteenth century three was the accepted number (Fig. 424).





In civic heraldry the fleur-de-lys still lives on throughout the whole of France, especially as an augmentation (see p. 54) as a chief in the armorial bearings of certain towns of some importance (see Figs 454-7). As already mentioned the arms of Paris contain a chief with the fleurs-de-lys in their ancient form, and they are similarly included in the arms of all departments of the central province of France, the lie de France, which, however, is of a more recent date.


In the Middle Ages the French royal house differenced its arms for the various princes or lines (see also p. 181). The heir apparent, le dauphin (= dolphin), had the royal arms quartered with a blue dolphin on a gold field (see Fig. 444), and there is a story behind this unusual title. A noble family in the South of France, the Dauphins de Viennois, owned among other estates the province that had been called ‘le Dauphine’ after them. In 1349 the last male of the line bequeathed this to the king on condition that the French king’s eldest son should bear the family’s arms and name to all eternity. The figure of a dolphin was later included in the crown of the French heir apparent (Fig. 426).

Another way of differencing was with the aid of marks of cadency. Charles of Anjou, a younger brother of Louis IX (Saint Louis), bore a red label. When he conquered Southern Italy and established a kingdom there a chief with fleurs-de-lys and the Anjou label became the badge of his followers (see Fig. 718). Subsequent Dukes of Anjou used the difference of a red bordure (Fig. 447) and several hundred years later the label was used once more by the French prince who in 1700 became King of Spain as Philip V.


A white label was borne in the fifteenth century by the Dukes of Organs (Fig. 448) and this difference has since remained a constituent of the arms on the Orleans side of the French royal house. Another famous mark of difference in the French royal arms is the red bend of the Dukes of Bourbon (Fig. 446).


Differencing was originally used by people other than members of the royal family, but it gradually fell into disuse.










In France coats of arms are protected by law, and it is punishable to use the arms of others. On the other hand everybody is free to assume armorial bearings, provided they are not already in existence. The Association de la Noblesse Francaise was established in 1932 and to be a member you have to prove that you belong to the aristocracy. There is no institution for the registration and supervision of coats of arms.


In former times there was, however, for in 1407 King Charles VI instituted a college for the French heralds, at the head of which was a specially appointed heraldic official. In 1616 the office of Juge General d’Armes de France (Judge General for French Arms) was established and the holder had two main tasks. He had to deal with disputes between people who could not agree on who had the right to a certain coat of arms, and he had to ensure that new coats were designed in conformity with the rules of good heraldry. The conferment of new arms and the confirmation of existing arms were also his responsibility. From 1641 up to the French Revolution in 1789, when all traditional heraldry was abolished and prohibited, it was always the same family, that of d’Hozier, who held this office of heraldic judge.


Among burghers, merchants, craftsmen and farmers coats of arms were common as early as the thirteenth century and in 1696 their number was greatly increased. That year King Louis XIV, in order to obtain money for his wars, introduced a tax on escutcheons, and many who did not already possess one immediately had a coat of arms bestowed on them. From the purely heraldic point of view the result was, among other things, a tremendous list, the Armorial General, which still exists. Of its c. 110,000 coats of arms, about ninety per cent of which are those of commoners, it is believed that about two-thirds were created for the occasion, to provide money for the Treasury. It should be noted, however, that commoners were forbidden to use a helmet and crest.


Quite contrary to the Armorial General and to the country’s traditions, King Louis XV tried in 1760 to enforce that only the aristocracy were entitled to bear arms, but the attempt failed. However, thirty years later the Revolution, as mentioned above, abolished all traditional heraldry, both for commoners and for the nobility. After Napoleon became Emperor in 1804 he introduced his own, imperial heraldry, the most characteristic feature of which was a consistent regimentation and regulation (see pp. 90-3 and 201 ff.). After Napoleon the old heraldry was to some extent revived. When the monarchy was restored and the second empire established, offices were instituted which among other things had to deal with titles of nobility and armorial bearings, but these offices no longer exist. Nowadays there is a great interest in civic heraldry.


Before the Revolution the French kings bore a gold helmet with raised visor, red on the inside and set affronty (Fig. 440). It was as a rule surmounted by the royal crown, was richly decorated and had the collar of the Order of the Holy Spirit around the neck. Nobles had silver or steel-coloured barred helmets with edges and grills of gold. Dukes and marquises had the helmet affronty, counts and lesser ranks, in profile (p.88). The number of bars might indicate the rank, from eleven for a duke to three for a noble without title, but the system varied and was not always adhered to. The visored helmet in profile was the rule for new aristocracy without a title (Figs 458 and 461), but it could also in certain cases be used affronty by dukes.


A coronet was set above the shield surmounted by a helmet (Figs 459 and 460), but later it became the custom to set the coronet on the helmet or omit the helmet altogether (Figs 462 and 463). Members of the nobility without title have no coronet.

Pair de France was originally an office, and later became an honorific title which could be bestowed on a noble regardless of his rank. A pair de France was entitled to a robe of estate (Figs 459 and 464). Under the restored monarchy at the beginning of the nineteenth century the robe was blue, bordered and decorated with gold and lined with ermine, and surmounted by a coronet (Fig. 434).

Supporters are common in the armorial bearings of the French aristocracy, but unusual for commoners; there are however no hard and fast rules for their use. If there is a motto, and it stems from a war-cry, it is as a rule set above the achievement.


Heraldic association: Societe Française d’Heraldique et de Sigillo- graphie, 113 Rue de Courcelles, Paris 17.