Excerpt from the book
HERALDRY OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by
Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.
Internet version edited by Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.
Poland, Lithuania and Belarus
(pp. 148-151, 229-231)
Polish heraldry differs considerably from that of other countries, both in its appearance and its system. - Most of the divisions and charges common to the rest of European heraldry (bend, bar, pale etc.) are almost unknown in Poland. On the other hand many Polish coats of arms have various rune-like and cipher-like charges which are unknown elsewhere (see p. 150 / Fig.801). In many cases such emblems have become a form of heraldry (probably to facilitate description) consisting of horse-shoes, half-moons, crosses, arrows etc., but there is little doubt that such arms are closely connected with original cipher arms. Fig. 796 is a good example; its three tournament lances may well once have been a simple figure of three straight lines, something like an X superimposed on an I. There is no consensus among experts about what lies behind the idea of these figures, but most agree that they go back to some form of cipher.
Another special feature of Polish heraldry are the so-called proclamatio arms. By this is understood armorial bearings common to several noble families, each with its own name and as a rule having no family relationship with one another.
Some of these proclamatio arms are common to more than a hundred families. The record is probably held by the horse-shoe enclosing a cross which is common to 563 families (see Figs 805 and 804c). These arms held in common, or arms of family groups, like all coats of arms of Polish families of ancient lineage, have their own nomenclature, usually different from the names of the families that bear them. Their designation is at times the word for the device itself, but most of them might well be old rallying or war cries used in the past by a family group, clan or tribe. The Latin word for war cry is proclamatio, and it is from this that the group of arms takes its name.
It may be another instance of this organisation into family groups that ennoblement in Poland often took the form of adoption. Instead of a person for example being raised to the nobility by royal patent, he was adopted into a family that was already noble. Fig. 797 shows the arms of a family (Wielopolski (-Gonzaga)-Myszkowski), adopted by the Italian princely family Gonzaga in Mantua, whose arms can be seen in the first and fourth quarters of the principal escutcheon.
797. Arms of the Marquises Wielo- polski (-Gonzaga)-Myszkowski.
The inescutcheon is the hereditary coat of arms belonging to the Staryikon group.
This procedure is perhaps connected with the extraordinary standing of Polish nobility. All Polish noblemen were in theory equal, and it was particularly the less well off among them, the Szlachta, who tried zealously to prevent the Polish kings from introducing orders of precedence within the aristocracy. The majority of Polish titles—baron, count, marquis, prince — are of foreign origin, especially German, Austrian, Russian and Papal. Native Polish titles, granted by the kings, were extremely rare and seldom hereditary. But Polish kings could on the other hand invest foreigners with Polish titles of nobility.
In the coats of arms in Figs 796, 802 and 805 the coronet is set on the helmet, but just as frequently we find it ensigning an inescutcheon (see Fig. 797), in which case there may also be a coronet on the helmet. Barred helmets were as likely to be used as the tournament helmet shown in the three examples.
There are thought to be at least 5,000 Polish coats of arms. There may be even more burgher and farmers' arms, a few of which date back to the thirteenth century, but the majority come from the sixteenth century and later, and in addition to these there are over 1,000 ancient city and rural arms. Most of the burgher and civic arms have been lost as a result of Poland's unhappy history.
By the Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795 the country was in turn swallowed up by Russia, Austria and Prussia, and one of the expressions of Polish nationality which was subsequently suppressed was its heraldry. Russia was particularly guilty in this respect. When in the nineteenth century the Czarist regime reluctantly gave ten Polish administrative districts permission to have coats of arms, it was on the condition that these armorial bearings should in no way contain or even be reminiscent of the older devices of these localities. The Germans during the Second World War tried to find the ancient Polish civic seals and those discovered were destroyed.
All the same not everything had been destroyed or forgotten. When after the First World War Poland had once again become independent, the use of many old city arms was resumed and new civic arms were created. What the situation is like today is not certain. But Poland, alone of all the Communist countries, still uses its old coat of arms, a white eagle on a red field. These were originally the armorial bearings of the Polish kings and can be traced right back to the thirteenth century. The bordure, which can be seen in Fig. 795 and which is inspired by Polish military uniforms, was only used between the two wars. After the last war the crown, which the eagle had borne since the Middle Ages, was omitted.
For those who can read in Russian, the below book may be interesting as well because it covers the mottoes in both Finnish and Russian heraldry:
Изд. Сiриусъ, С-Петербургъ 1910