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Primitive Arms of Portugal and León: An Article

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 31.08.12


Estudos de Heráldica Medieval

I had the honour and privilege to be included among the authors of a collection of articles - Estudos de Heráldica Medieval (Studies of Medieval Heraldry) - edited by Instituto de Estudos Medievais from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Centro Lusíada de Estudos Genealógicos e Heráldicos from Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa, published by Editora Caminhos Romanos with the coordination of Prof. Doutor Miguel Metelo de Seixas and Profª Doutora Maria de Lurdes Rosa.


It will be presented next 14th September by 9:00 pm at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa, along with the Open Day of Medieval Heraldry, promoted by IEM, CLEGH and Instituto Português de Heráldica. The program will take all day long: in the morning, after 10:00 am, at Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa (Rua da Junqueira 188 a 198, Auditorium 1); in the afternoon, after 3:00 pm, at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Avenida de Berna, 26-C, room Multiusos 2, Building I&D, 4th Floor).


Primitive Arms of Portugal

My modest contribution - Armas Primitivas de Portugal, novos Contributos - tries to be a condensation of the work developed during my MSc thesis, somewhat outdated by recent investigations, nevertheless largely unknown in several specialized circles. Further, we correct a few inaccuracies and add an important semantic level corresponding to our first king and another referring to his residence, the latter still uncertain to be entirely accepted. Simultaneously we develop similar considerations on the arms of the kings of León, that seem to share some organizational behaviour and possibly identical heraldic traces.


The primitive coat of arms of the Portuguese kings was thoroughly analysed in its core, therefore it is possible to say with some confidence, necessarily supported by historical proof, that they must actually correspond to a parophonic intention of whoever had been the creator of the blazon, seemingly still during the reign of D. Afonso Henriques. I consider as reasonably demonstrated the following heraldic traces and respective semantic levels:


The eleven "plates", corresponding to the river Mondego,

The blue tincture of the escutcheons, representing the city of Coimbra,

The escutcheons, associated with D. Afonso Henriques.


The number, disposition and orientation of the escutcheons are also discussed, as well as the white tincture of the main field, still waiting for more substantiation that may support or reject them. Remember that the text of the thesis in Portuguese may be downloaded in the menu bar at the top of this page (download), where we also find answers to the most frequent objections (discussion). I will be present in the presentation of the book in Lisbon, being at your disposal for any relevant questions.

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Published at 23:36

St Edward the Confessor: Tincture Or (4/6)

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 23.08.12
Edward the Confessor - Attributed Arms

We finally arrived at the point where tinctures are considered. How sure are we that this kind of colourful parophonic supposition is reasonable enough to be accepted? Why tinctures aren't always attributed to a natural property of the entities we see outlined in blazons? Well, unfortunately things are not that simple. Nobody can be sure that such or such representation is canting, for example. Even “obvious” representations as the arms used by the King of León (Argent a lion purpure) have been denied their canting status. Some authors say that this lion may well represent the strength and character of the king, instead of a pun that remembers the name of the kingdom: Llion ~ llion (leo. lion). It's a matter of personal interpretation, which will coincide or not with the primitive intentions.


It is perfectly admissible that colours may be canting, even in a conservative view. They normally arise as plain tinctures like in Rossi ~ Rossi (ita. reds), where the full red of the shield turns this evidence into an unavoidable explanation. The parophonic methodology allows a richer domain of interpretation, even explaining small chromatic details, otherwise disdained. Contrarily, what seems to be a natural and well-behaved blue tincture may hide a surprising unsuspected signification, as the blue field used in the arms of the kings of France. Of course, most of the time figurations show their proper colours in heraldry.


What makes the denial of this kind of phenomenon somewhat unreasonable is that canting arms are perceived as a general and acknowledged manifestation in heraldry. Therefore, if it occurs in other instances, it should occur in this particular case too. The same may be said about parophony, with the difference that here the circumscribed universe is much larger. It may reach every aspect of emblazonment: figurations, separations, attitudes, tinctures, etc.


There is almost nothing left for an arbitrary choice, each heraldic trace seem to be prone to a deliberate parophonic intention or result from an immanence of the other elements already represented. But if you see blue lions, pink eagles or green skies, believe me, there is more than simple aesthetical choice there. Medievals were not fools or naïve, as some may comfortably like to think, perhaps to justify the insanity and senselessness of our own time.


But we must leave our generalizations and recall the cross and birds of St Edward. We noted before that “or” could be an appropriate tincture for our cross. Wood, gold, brass or bronze suited perfectly the artefact and could indeed be the reason behind the colour. Besides, we already proposed that the four fleurs-de-lis at the limbs would be the same present in St Edward's Crown. Couldn't it be assumed that the rest of the material of the cross was gold, a sort of yellow - case closed - or maybe not? Yes and no. We do accept that the cross appearing in the arms of St Edward was made in gold. But we shouldn't refuse other contributions from parophonies encompassing this property of the heraldic cross as long as they don't conflict. That's precisely the case and we'll see it next.


After these considerations on the cross we must now turn our attention to the birds. Martlets were inspired on swallows, a well known gregarious bird, with a small beak and tiny legs, so that we hardly can't see them, both in real life and in the simplified drawings of heraldry. Still, there are no yellow swallows and even birds with this full colour are hard to find in Europe.


The fact that martlets stand for birds in general doesn't help much, they appear in all available tinctures. The attributed arms of Sussex that include six of them - three, two and one - appear in late documents and it's difficult to draw definite conclusion from there. It looks like they were inspired by the attributed arms studied in this post, and we mention the parophony Sussex ~ Suos (lat. his) sex (lat. six), that seems to refer someone in particular. Maybe the author didn't know or ignored the parophony - Seint ~ Cinc - applied to Edward and conveniently admitted six birds in the flock, using Latin as an archaising tool. Agreeing with this inspiration, these arms should be created after the end of the 14th century. The remaining aspects we must leave for further research.


For the general case we could admit that brown swallows were transformed into gold, a pertinent assumption, or that the glow of the cross in gold would tint the martlets. This could also be understood by some to derive from a cruciform nimbus at the circular rim around the coin and the cross, the whole spreading its light to the doves; but there are no colours in coins and Edward wasn't recognized as a saint at this time.


Let us remark one more thing about our parophonic methodology. The vast majority of the referent's metonymies are geographical and we still haven't applied none. Why is that? Probably because the arms were based on a numismatic representation and these would demand a different inspiration. Remember that the three metonymies we've already found were based on anthroponymy - Edouard ~ Et due harde - and status - Seint ~ Cinc along with C(e) roi ~ Crois. This is decidedly puzzling compared to the average, the more so if no additional parophonies existed and any geographical metonymies weren't allowed consequently.


The capital of Edward the Confessor was Winchester and only later with the Norman rule it would move to London. We saw in the arms of Sagremor - Aquincenses ~ Ac quini sentes - that demonyms may play a part in translating the referent into pictures. This is also the case for King Edward, not in the plural form used for the fictive Hungarian knight but as another circumstance of his life: someone that lived in Winchester. Notice that Edward wasn't born there; the parophony is linked to the city as the capital of the Kingdom, not as the King's birthplace.


The parophony is built using J' Wincestrin (ano. I Wintonian) ~ Juints cestrins (ano. together lemon yellow). We weren't able to find this specific Anglo-Norman word Wincestrin, or any other, for the inhabitants of Winchester. It is possible, however, to find Wincestre for the name of the city and then compare it with other known demonyms like Parisin, and infer the necessary conclusions. “Together” refers to anything that can be counted inside the shield, obviously excluding the uncountable field, needed for contrast, moreover.


Also note that Je (ano. I) is transformed into J' when preceding vocalic sounds but even before consonants in the oral practice and that the plural endings in “s” are silent. The pronunciation of the first syllable of Wincestrin could well be [win] instead of [wẼ], according to the local nature of the word. The discretion index would be slightly changed from k = 0.0 to k = 0.30, nothing to be alarmed, but we preferred to accompany the obvious intention to equalize sounds, maybe being a bit too much enthusiastic on the Frenchy aspects of Anglo-Norman.


Both the denominant and the designant see their meaning limited by metonymization. The former as two converging metonymies:


I > the coat of arms > the bearer > Edward

Wintonian > living in Winchester > the king > Edward


The latter as two simple distinct metonymies:


together > everything > figurations > cross and martlets

lemon yellow > yellowish > or


We might have classified the last metonymy as a sublimation, where the golden tone would reflect the most flattering choice among any yellow hues. But note that we already have a chromatic pretext founded on the fleurs-de-lis and further that anything yellowish would inevitably be described as or. Therefore the colour of the cross and birds must be understood not as lemon yellow but as gold, transformed and described by the emblazonment practices. This doesn't happen always, some figurations do need to keep their yellow identity in order to improve consistency. Chromatic metonymizations don't take place then, contrarily to their description in blazoning, a conventional language.


But we also need to justify why the birds are gold in the plot of the arms as a drawing. It seems insufficient to state that their colour derive from the lemon yellow parophony. This coherence keeps the whole together and helps us to assert that it would be quite difficult to emerge from other reason than intention. Cestrin is often linked with the description of precious stones. At that period, all that we could imagine would be some gems set on the cross, but they are not. Additionally, there was to technical capacity to manufacture the cross or the martlets as entirely cut from such stones.


We must look for another explanation. Let's come back to the identification of these five martlets with the sanctity of Edward through their number, Seint ~ Cinc and condition as a flock, Edouard ~ Et due harde. It's legitimate to think that the colour could be associated with this condition. They shouldn't reflect then the glow of the golden cross, as guessed before, but an inner glow of sanctity.


The glow is conventionally represented by a halo around the heads of saints when depicted as human figures. Regarding birds, the dove of the Holy Ghost normally appears as entirely white with a yellow splendour around it which comes from within. We will learn in the fifth semantic level that also the blue tincture is “holy” so there was no semantic advantage to mingle the field with a halo. That would appear an odd technique for the emblazonment of this period anyway. What happened is that the author of the blazon just simplified the glowing halo through the tincture of the martlets changed from inside. In the same manner a star was covered by a cloud and changed from yellow to black in the arms of Sagremor. A realistic technique would paint all the cloud white, but that wouldn't carry the hidden semantic component, ignoring the presence of the star. All we need is a feasible construction, that may “excuse” the determinative aspects of the parophony upwards, unusual as it may be, deriving from chance.


 Edward the Confessor - Flock
Attributed Arms R Edward the Confessor
Demonym M Wintonian
Language of Conquest V Anglo-Norman
Denominant A j' Wincestrin
Converging metonymy S I > the coat of arms > the bearer > Edward
S Wintonian > lives in Winchester > king > Edward
Graphemization A  J'  |    |  W  |  I  |  N  |  C  |  E  |  S  |  T  |  R  |  I  |  N 
Phonemization A Z  |  w  |  Ẽ  |  s  |  E  |  s  |  t |  R\  |  Ẽ
Pairing A Z  |  w  |  Ẽ  |  s  |  E  |  s  |  t |  R\  |  Ẽ
A Z  |  w  |  Ẽ  |  s  |  E  |  s  |  t |  R\  |  Ẽ
Coefficient of transposition A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0
Coefficient of character A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0
Coefficient of position A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0
Addends A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0
Discretion index A k = 0.0
Phonemization A Z | w | Ẽ | s | E | s | t | R\ | Ẽ
Graphemization A J | U | I | N | T | S | | C | E | S | T | R | I | N | S
Designant A juints cestrins
Coloration E lemon yellow
Simple monosemy S or
S lemon yellow
Tincture H Azure
Number H a
Figuration H cross
Aspect H flory
Placement H cantoned with
Number H four
Figuration H martlets
Connective H and
Number H another
Placement H in base
Simple metonymy S together > everything > figurations > cross & martlets
Simple metonymy, Redundancy S lemon yellow > yellowish > or
Tincture H lemon yellow or
Immanence, Redundancy C gold (fleurs-de-lis)
Contrast C azure


(next article in this series is V/VI)

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Published at 16:53

St Edward the Confessor: Five Martlets (3/6)

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 16.08.12
Edward the Confessor - Attributed Arms

This is a very brief and simple post. Our third semantic level deals with the change from four doves in the coin of King Edward to five martlets in his attributed arms. For the second time in all our analyses, like in the first semantic level, C(e) roi ~ Crois, the referent's metonymizes Edward with his status; then as a king, now as a saint. Maybe these examples were just another method to build the metonymy of the referent but the fact is that we were able to identify only a few. The overwhelming majority use geographical metonymizations.   


It's also the first time during this analysis that we (slightly) changed the verbalizing agent, Old French, to the language of conquest then still used in England, Anglo-Norman. Even despite almost three hundred years of coexistence since William the Conqueror crossed the Channel.


Hence, the parophony is achieved with Seint (ano. saint) ~ Cinc (ano. five); its discretion index is k = 0. Don't let the writing mislead you, the sounds are effectively [sẼ] ~ [sẼ]. Observe that cinc alone is pronounced [sẼk], but it has the sound of [sẼ] if placed before merlés (ano. martlets) or any other substantive plural starting with a consonantal sound in modern French.


Now we are able to understand that, as the coins were minted in the lifetime of the king, there was still no reason for describing his status as a saint. The doves, however, previously performed the parophony Edouard ~ Et due harde, as appears in his silver penny. Their number was then just an adaptation of the idea of a flock to the available “slots” around the cross.


But now we have a straightforward specification: five birds must be seen. The arrangement used for this purpose was an extra space at the base of the shield, unavailable at the coin, in order to place the fifth martlet. There is nothing more to be said. The idea of “five” follows the emergence of the designant until its accomplishment as five birds. There is no room for misinterpretations on the way.



 Edward the Confessor - Flock
Attributed Arms R Edward the Confessor
Status M Saint
Language of Conquest V Anglo-Norman
Denominant A Seint
Graphemization A  S |  E  |  I  |  N  |  T 
Phonemization A s  |  Ẽ 
Pairing A s  |  Ẽ 
A s  |  Ẽ 
Coefficient of transposition A 0.0 | 0.0 
Coefficient of character A 0.0 | 0.0 
Coefficient of position A 0.0 | 0.0 
Addends A 0.0 | 0.0 
Discretion index A k = 0.0
Phonemization A s | Ẽ
Graphemization A C | I | N | C
Designant A cinc
Quantity E five
Simple monosemy S five
S five
Tincture H Azure
Number H a
Figuration H cross
Aspect H flory
Placement H cantoned with
Number H 4 four
Figuration H martlets
Connective H four + another and
Number H 1 another
Placement H in base
Tincture H or


(next article in this series is IV/VI)

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Published at 12:43

St Edward the Confessor: Martlets (2/6)

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 10.08.12
Edward the Confessor - Attributed Arms

This second part of our analysis will try to justify the existence of birds in the shield of St Edward the Confessor. As with the cross, the drawing has been influenced by the previous numismatic representation, which included only four birds looking like doves. There should be some reason for adding an extra figuration to the shield.


Despite the heraldic arrangement with an implied space under the cross, able to explain the five birds, this could be easily changed by the extension of the lower limb, keeping the original quantity. According to the analysis made in St Edward the Confessor: C(e) roi ~ Crois, only a plain cross is needed, whether it would be Greek, adequate to the circular symmetry of a coin, or Latin, fit to the triangular shape of the shield. Something happened meanwhile, which forced the growth in number. The motivation, however, will only be completely understood with the following article.


Edward, our referent, almost certainly would be metonymized through his own name. All the examples we observed in medieval coins used this resource as a parophonic tool, conjectured to be an unsuspicious source of inspiration for the development of the heraldic language, along with seals. By inheriting this semantic feature the arms also inherited the corresponding language of verbalization, Old French, in particular the French spoken in Normandy. We see therefore the King-Saint shaped by the parophony Edouard (fra. Edward) ~ Et due harde (fra. and corresponding flock). The denominant, at the first part, has no particular difficulty but the designant, at the second, deserves a few comments.


We've already spotted a first parophony so it wouldn't be unreasonable to get both together in a phrasal sequence: Crois et due harde, or even to mix the denominant with the designant: Ce roi et due harde. The function of et (fra. and) is merely additive, connecting the pair of parophonies and justifying its existence. Although the word due, (fra. corresponding) doesn't keep its meaning in modern French but quite specifically, could indeed be interpreted in the past as: “due”, “respective” or “corresponding”. Therefore, a link is made between the cross (or the king) and harde (fra. flock). This last word also has lost some of its older meaning; still, we are only interested in medieval times where, without any hesitation thanks to many examples, it had the meaning of a flock of birds.


In conclusion, the phrase “cross and corresponding flock of birds” appears to be perfectly consistent with the images seen in the coins of Edward the Confessor. It doesn't mean that we don't need to investigate the consistency in the opposite direction, among other things, nor that other alternatives or maybe better solutions couldn't exist, which we very much doubt. We still refer the impossibility of developments like ait un harde or et du harde because harde was a feminine substantive in French.


The semantic convergence of a generic flock of animals into a particular flock of birds is achieved by a metonymization, emulating the designer's choice. A flock of sheep could have been preferred instead but the reason for the drawing choice would be due to the relative size of the four animals to the cross. A flock of quadrupeds, even smaller than sheep, would demand a huge cross, excluding any conventional artefacts, whereas a flock of birds would imply an acceptable dimension, as for a processional cross. Then, a second metonymization transforms the birds into martlets by request of the designant “flock”, which doesn't specify any particular species but recurrent in heraldry:


flock of animals > flock of birds

birds > martlets


What would be the reason for the birds to be doves initially, or equivalent, and later being transformed into martlets? The answer is given by the time gap between the representations. Whereas the coin took indifferently a common gregarious bird, the arms abode by the heraldic rules already in force, adopting a figuration that would represent birds generally: the martlet.


Thus we may see the second modification of the original design, after the introduction of flory endings at the cross limbs. These recalled the royal condition of Edward.  Would it be possible to attach a specific meaning for the martlets? We think otherwise; they would be only due to the need of consistency in the armorial language. It's also unfeasible to ascribe any connection with the sanctity of the king, subsequent to the coining, or with his royalty, already stressed by the cross flory. Furthermore, as the dove symbolizes the Holy Ghost, it is quite likely that the sole presence of a cross would be enough to inspire the resort to that figuration, but the presence of four birds dissuades taking them with such semantic specifity.


A point deserving our attention is the attitude of the birds. Even though we didn't reach the stage of chromatic analysis, it's patent that the field where the birds rest is blue. It would be comfortable to assume a sky as an appropriate background either for the martlets or the cross. There is a detail that undermines this reasoning: the birds fold their wings in the coin and in the shield, indicating that they couldn't be flying, at least in a strict interpretation.


Another possibility is to assign blue to water, where the five little birds would drift. But it's obvious that they aren't any water birds and that the cross, eventually considered in wood and allowed to float, already has the metallic elements of the Crown of St Edward, so that the remainder is also assumed in the same material. It would then be expected that the cross was in gold and that the condition of our referent as a saint would require a more glorifying plot, including the escorting figurations. Once again we must postpone the answer to our inquiries, this time in what refers the analysis of the blue tincture, provided with a semantic level of its own and conditioned by a particular referent's metonymy.


The syntactical arrangements were conditioned by the presence of the cross, allowing the necessary space for the introduction of four birds. It's not easy to tell which of the two numismatic parophonies was conceived first. Edward, through the martlets, is more obvious as a determinative linguistic expression. As to the cross, generated by his royal capacity, adjusts better to the visual practices usually reproduced in coins. Anyway, the gathering of the two ideas could only be consistently exhibited as it is. The introduction of a supplementary martlet, implied to maintain the Greek cross, as already seen, fitting the fifth figuration in the space between the lower limb of the cross and the end of the shield. A virtual square outline is defined by the cross, very well adapted to the sides and top edge of the shield, leaving the base as only possible region to place the said martlet.


Agreeing that there is in fact an association of the number of martlets with the cross, it is quite obvious that the quantity is determined upstream, not by the four slots of the cross but by the specification provided by “flock”. If hypothetically the parophony described the designant as two or three it would only be needed to make the corresponding adjustments. Nevertheless, by stating a flock, we couldn't imagine only two or even three birds. Maybe four is a feasible quantity, if we remember “cuadrilla”, a similar idea, embodying this number in its etymology. It constitutes what we may call a third metonymization, simple as the others - flock > four (five) birds - assisting the change from a nebulous numerical concept into a precise specification, in spite of two distinct versions of four and five units, by the additional influence of distinct semantic levels.


Centralities are harder to define. The drawing of each martlet is entirely asymmetrical preventing the homogeneity of the residual spaces, even with the eventual correct location of the geometrical centres. On top of this the five birds are turned to the dexter of the shield, impairing the axial symmetries regarding the cross and the shield, despite a strict compliance to the implicit rules demanded by the emblazonment. We must look after a balance among the shapes of all figurations and the corresponding spaces in-between; this will vary from one interpreter to another, ourselves included. Besides, this will contribute little or nothing to the semantic subjects that interest us primarily.


 Edward the Confessor - Flock
Attributed Arms R Edward the Confessor
Anthroponym M Edward
Language of Influence V French
Denominant A Edouard
Graphemization A  E |  D  |  O  |  U  |  A  |  R  |  D 
Phonemization A e  |  d  |  u  |  a  |  R  |  d 
Pairing A e  |  d  |  u  |  a  |  R  |  d 
A e  |  d  |  y  |  a  |  R  |  d 
Coefficient of transposition A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0
Coefficient of character A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.5 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Coefficient of position A 0.0 | 0.0 | 1.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Addends A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.5 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Discretion index A k = 0.17
Phonemization A e | d | y | a | R | d
Graphemization A E | T | | D | U | E | | H | A | R | D | E
Designant A et due harde
Zoology E and corresponding flock
Simple monosemy S flock
S martlets
Tincture H Azure
Number H a
Figuration H cross
Aspect H flory
Placement H at the quarters cantoned with
Number H 4 four
Simple metonymy S flock of animals > flock of birds
Simple metonymy S birds > martlets
Figuration H flock martlets
Orientation C turned to the dexter
Disposition C 2 and 2
Centrality C shape balance
Connective H martlets + martlet and
Simple metonymy S flock > 5 (4) birds
Number H 1 another
Placement H under the lower limb of the cross in base
Orientation C turned to the dexter
Symmetry C halfway the martlets at each side
Centrality C halfway the placement
Tincture H or


(next article in this series is III/VI)

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Published at 17:50

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