Tag Archives: heraldry

UK royal arms : ditch the harp?

vx-uk-shieldDespite the fact that most of Ireland left the UK in 1922, and became a republic in 1949, the British royal arms still uses the arms of Ireland (Azure, a harp Or stringed Argent), presumably on the grounds that it represents Northern Ireland; but perhaps also because of a conservative resistence to change (also seen in resistence to changing the UK flag if Scotland becomes independent).
But does it make sense to use the arms of the Irish nation to represent an entity which consists of only six of the nine counties of one of the four provinces of Ireland? Does it make sense when the reason for Northern Ireland’s existence is that its unionist majority wanted to be British rather than Irish? Would it not be more sensible to replace the Irish harp with something specific to Northern Ireland, and leave the harp to the republic?
The question is : what should replace the harp for Northern Ireland? The obvious place to go for arms is to the province of Ulster.
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The arms of Ulster

The ancient symbol of Ulster is the famous Red Hand of O’Neill, which dates back to pagan times. In the 13th century this was placed on a white shield on the red cross on yellow of Walter de Burgh, who had become Earl of Ulster. This remains the arms of the whole province (nine counties). 

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Northern Ireland government arms, pre-1972
The government of Northern Ireland which existed until 1972 used the hand on a six-pointed star (for the six counties) ensigned by a royal crown and placed on a St.George’s cross (red on white). The banner of these arms are still used (unofficially) as a flag of Northern Ireland today, but it is particularly associated with unionism (the English cross and royal crown are not exactly popular with nationalists!). What is needed now is something which is acceptable to the whole community.
The traditional arms of Ulster seem the obvious starting point, but they need to be modified to represent the six counties, instead of the whole province. Since the six-pointed star is fairly sectarian, another alternative would be to use a hexagon. The six sides still represent the six counties, but the shape also alludes to the basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular and thoroughly non-sectarian natural site in Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland: coat of arms idea

Giant’s Causeway, with its hexagonal columns

The would give us a nice, completely red-and-gold, royal coat of arms, with or without Wales:

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And if Scotland leaves the union:

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Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry,
except the image of the pre-1972 Northern Ireland arms is from Wikipedia by Adelbrecht, and the image of Giant’s Causeway is from Wikipedia by Chmee2; both reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

UK local flag ideas : Bristol (England)

bristol-flag-mini A flag for Bristol?

The City of Bristol, in the west of England, straddles two of England’s historic counties – Gloucestershire and Somerset, although the extension into Somerset (south of the River Avon) only occurred in the late 19th century. However, it has been a City and County in its own right since 1373, except for the 22 years between 1974 and 1996 when it was part of the now-departed and unlamented County of Avon.

For centuries, Bristol competed with Norwich for the status of England’s second city, until both were overtaken by rapidly-expanding industrial cities further north (Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool …). It was a major port, accessing the Atlantic Ocean via the River Avon, which flows through the city and into the Severn Estuary. Bristol has the honour of being the home port of John Cabot, who, in 1497 set sail in his ship The Matthew to become the first European since the Vikings to set foot on the North American mainland. The city also has the dishonour of having been heavily involved in the slave trade, from which much of its wealth emanated.

city bristol

Bristol has a history of innovative engineering achievements, such as the SS Great Britain, which was the World’s largest ship when it was launched in 1843, and the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, wrought iron ship. The same engineer who designed the Great Britain, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was also responsible for the Great Western railway which ran from London to Bristol, and for the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge in the west of the city. In the 20th century, Bristol developed an aircraft industry, producing aircraft for use in both World Wars and later becoming the British centre for the construction and testing of the World’s first supersonic passenger airliner, Concorde. It is now involved in the construction of the Airbus A380, the World’s largest passenger airplane.

The shield of Bristol’s coat of arms dates from the 14th century, and the full arms were granted in 1569. They reflect medieval Bristol’s status as a well-fortified city and a port. These arms now belong to Bristol City Council, and I think I have seen the banner of arms in use by the council.

For a city (as opposed to Council) flag, I opted for simple representations of the city’s maritime and engineering heritage. Maritime activity has to be represented by a ship, as it is in the coat of arms, although I have chosen to use Cabot’s Matthew rather than the medieval vessel in the arms. For engineering and innovation, in the interests of keeping things simple, I opted for nothing more than an inverted arch, indicative of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The colours – red, white and blue – are from the coat of arms.

bristol-flag-idea bristol-flag-clifton

Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry

Wales in the UK

For partly historic, partly spurious (“Wales is only a principality”) reasons, Wales is not represented in either the national flag or the royal arms of the United Kingdom. Since Wales was conquered by the English many centuries ago, it is supposedly covered by the English symbols, St.George’s Cross and the three lions. Whether the people of Wales ever felt that these were their symbols too is not for me to say, but regardless of the history they certainly don’t now, and in today’s Britian the idea is clearly nonsense.

Wales is one of the four nations of the UK. Although it is more closely linked to England than are the other Celtic nations (e.g. there is a common legal jurisdiction), nobody imagines that it is actually part of England. Even in law, the combined area has, for decades, been called “England AND Wales”, not just “England”, as it once was. Wales has its own devolved government and legislature, it’s own royally-designated capital city and national flag, national sports teams, and de jure official language.

Surely, therefore, it is time that our national emblems caught up with reality and gave Wales and the Welsh their proper recognition.

There have been suggestions, in Parliament and elsewhere, that the Welsh red dragon should be added to the Union flag. I can understand resistence to this, because the flag is so iconic and it is difficult to add anything new without undermining that internationally-famous image; an image which is present not only in the UK and its remaining overseas territories, but also in flags outside British jurisdiction (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even a state of the USA). One could add a small dragon without doing too much “damage”:

uk-wales-dragon

However, I think the reality is that the existing Union Jack will remain the flag of the UK as long as the UK exists in its present form.

The royal coat of arms is another matter. Although famous, it is not as iconic, not as commonly used, and has, historically, been subject to more change than the flags, even though the last change was as long ago as 1837. Also, it has a space just waiting to be used for Wales! The fourth quarter of the arms duplicates the English first quarter, and could easily be replaced by the four lions of Wales : four quarters, four nations. It should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it?

The royal arms of the UK as they are and as they should be (in my humble opinion!) :
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Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry.

Coats of arms for Wales

It’s St.David’s Day, the national day of Wales (UK).

Officially, the coat of arms used for Wales is that of the ancient kings of Gwynedd, who eventually became Princes of Wales, ruling the entire country except the south. This shield, Quarterly Or and Gules four lions passant guardant counterchanged armed and langued azure, has been included in the arms of the last two princes of Wales, and in the royal badge for Wales since 2008:-
wales royal badge

However, as far as I know there has never been a full coat of arms for Wales, including supporters and crest, although a Welsh red dragon was used as a supporter in the English royal arms by the Tudor monarchs. So I thought I would put one together> No element of this is new, except putting the dragon on the crown as a crest:
 
wales-full
And then I thought, since the kings/princes of Gwynedd never ruled all Wales : in fact, well over half the population probably lives outside the areas ruled by the “Princes of Wales”, and the capital itself – Cardiff – is outside the medieval principality. So perhaps a coat of arms for the whole of Wales should incorporate more than the arms of Gwynnedd. The old Welsh kingdoms and principalities changed considerably over time, but I think those of Morgannwyg, Deheubarth, Powys, Gwent and Gwynnedd covered the whole territory between them at one point or another, which could give us this:
wales multi

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Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry