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.







Napoleonic Heraldry

(pp. 90-93 and 200-202)



When Napoleon became emperor in 1804 he did not assume the arms of the Buonaparte family (Fig. 469) as his imperial escutcheon, but adopted a completely new one: an eagle with a thunderbolt in its claws, clearly inspired by the eagles of the ancient Roman legions (see Fig. 11).


For his new, imperial aristocracy Napoleon devised a heraldic system which was to some extent based on the old heraldry from before 1789, but which at the same time contained many new details and was different because of the standardisation, or even compartmentalisation, it symbolised. The idea behind the system was that it should reflect the Napoleonic state, especially the army, and this new heraldry became so regimented in its categories that the individual characteris¬tics of the various coats of arms almost disappeared. The stereotyped patterns given as examples on pp. 91-3 show the empty shields which were all that was left for the personal arms of the holder. It was the same with civic heraldry (Figs 487-9). Furthermore, even in those cases where there was a free choice the designs became very repetitive, because so many people chose the same bearings: sabres, swords, cannon, grenades, pyramids, bridges and suchlike, inspired by the campaigns of those days. The royal fleurs-de-lys disappeared completely and were replaced by bees (Figs 467, 472 and 487).





Helmets and crests as well as supporters and mottoes were excluded. The coronet was replaced by a black velvet cap or ‘toque’ (French: barrette) (pp. 91 and 92). The fur at the edge, the clasp at the front and the number of white ostrich feathers indicated the rank. Both a non-royal prince and a duke had a gold clasp and seven plumes, but the prince had an edging of miniver (or ‘vair’), in contrast to the ermine edging of the duke (Figs 473 and 474). A count had an edging of ermines (white spots on a black field, see Fig. 62), with a clasp half of which was gold and the other silver, and five plumes (Figs 277 and 475). A baron had an edging of counter-vair, a silver clasp and three plumes (Fig. 476). The cap of a knight (chevalier) had green edging and a single tuft of white horse hair (Figs 485 and 486).


The highest ranks had mantles or robes of estate. A non-royal prince’s mantle was blue strewn with gold bees and surmounted by another cap with ermine edging (Fig. 472). A duke’s mantle was blue with a lining of vair, while the mantle for a count who was also a senator was blue with a white lining.


Embellishments reminiscent of mantling or lambrequins issued from the cap of rank (p. 92). Princes and dukes had six of these, all gold. Counts had four, two gold, two silver. Barons had two silver, and knights had none.


With the aid of specified content and tincture classification could be carried even further. All non-ruling princes had a blue chief strewn with yellow bees (Fig. 472), and all dukes had a red chief strewn with white stars. All counts had a blue dexter canton with an emblem which further indicated their position in life e.g. senator, officer or archbishop (Figs 478, 479 and 480). All barons had a similar, but red, sinister canton (Figs 481 and 482). Knights of the Legion of Honour bore the cross of the Order on a red ordinary, usually a pale or a fess (Figs 285 and 485). See also Italy, p. 213.


Women bore oval shields between two palm branches, gold with a blue knot for a countess, silver with a purple bow for a baroness. Both categories had also an oval inescutcheon, yellow for a countess, white for a baroness.


In civic heraldry there were three grades of ‘important towns’, and the attributes of their rank can be seen in Figs 487-9.


With the return of the monarchy this heraldry disappeared from the official scene until it was revived under Napoleon III (1852-70).