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  entry June 2003

Bourbons (7)

The Bourbon Coat of Arms

Heraldry is the study of coats of arms. The "herald" was a medieval court officer responsible for maintaining records of coats of arms and titles of nobility. The emblems on a coat of arms were the individual's own distinctive marks; thus, the arms were the property of a person rather than of a government. Although coats of arms were originally used in battle for recognition of those otherwise unrecognizable (encased as they were in complete suits of armor), once introduced, the coats of arms were retained, even when displayed elsewhere. The widespread emergence of heraldry in the Middle Ages is associated with the Crusades and chivalric tournaments, which provided the opportunity for knights from all of Latin Christendom to come together as well as meeting the need to identify these knights on the battlefield and in tournaments.

The emblems used to mark an individual were various and might include animals, crosses, plants, letters, castles, and obscure symbols. Such emblems might be the individual's own emblem, one acquired through marriage, or an ancestral one; the emblems could show alliances or claims to fiefs and property rights; they often symbolized various honors bestowed upon the bearer or the bearer's ancestors and indicated various orders of which the bearer was a member; and, in some cases, the symbols represented historical events connected to the bearer's family history.

Although individual, the coats of arms displayed on an appropriate flag often came to symbolize the state itself, as is the case with the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Naples, also known as The Kingdom of Two Sicilies. The Neapolitan branch of the House of Bourbon was the last dynasty to rule Naples before its incorporation into a united Italy. The Bourbons ruled from 1735 to 1860, except during the Napoleonic interlude. The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Naples displays various historical connections between the Neapolitan Bourbons and other European nobility.

For purposes of this description and with intense apologies to specialists, I shall dispense with the obscure vocabulary of heraldry. Looking at the coat of arms, you see that the shield is divided, vertically, into thirds. In the left-hand third are the arms of Farnese consisting of blue fleurs de lis on gold. This three-pointed stylized flower, based on the lily was the symbol of the French Bourbon dynasty.

In the same third of the shield, Austrian connections are shown by the red-white-red horizontal stripes (still the flag of modern Austria, by the way); close-by are the blue and gold diagonal stripes of ancient Burgundy. In the middle of that third of the shield and imposed over the rest of the emblems are the arms of Portugal.

The center third of the shield is particularly complex. At the top, the "quartered" display on the left shows two segments with castles representing the Spanish house of Castile; the other two segments show lions for the House of Leon. At the bottom of that segment of the quarter, the small triangular section with a flower represents Granada. To the right of that quartered section are the four red poles on gold representing the House of Aragon; to the right is another "quarter" showing, again, two segments of Aragon and two of Sicily (a crowned black eagle).

In the middle of the center third of the shield, most prominent, are the arms of the House of Bourbon—three golden fleur de lis set on blue with a red border. These arms are imposed over the Austrian red-white-red on the left and the golden fleur de lis on blue with a red border of modern Burgundy. 

The lower part of the center third is "quartered" and shows in the upper-left quarter the diagonal stripes of ancient Burgundy with the black lion on gold of Flanders; in the upper-right quarter are the golden lion on black of Brabant and the red eagle on silver of Tyrol; the lower-left quarter represents the Sicilian House of Anjou with golden fleurs de lis topped by a red lambel; the lower-right quarter shows the golden cross on silver of Jerusalem flanked by four other small crosses.

The right-hand third of the shield is the simplest. It shows the arms of Medici: a gold field with five red balls and a blue upper bigger ball on which are displayed three golden fleurs de lis

There are six orders displayed, hanging from the collars at the bottom of the coat of arms. From left to right they are: 

· the military order of King Francis I; 
· the order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit; 
· the order of St. Januarius (top center); 
· the order of the Golden Fleece (center bottom—this is among the oldest chivalric orders in Europe and was founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, at Bruges in Flanders in 1430, to commemorate his wedding to Isabella of Portugal); 
· the Constantinian Order of St. George; 
· the Spanish Order of Charles III.

At the very top of the coat of arms, of course, is the royal crown. The crown is topped by a cross, representing the intense Catholic nature of the kingdom.

As might be expected of a coat of arms representing a dynasty founded by a Spanish prince (Charles III) of an originally French dynasty (Bourbon), this one is very Spanish and very French: heraldic symbols from Spain abound, and the Bourbon arms are at the center of everything. In terms of general design, its complexity is Spanish. The coat of arms has, however, a simpler side to it: it does not display "supporters" on the side—that is, human or animal figures on one or both sides of the shield, supporting it—nor does it display a helmet with or without a crest at the top, choosing, instead, to show the crown mounted directly on the shield. This simpler display was typical of French heraldry starting in the 18th century.

There is, indeed, a modern Bourbon pretender to the throne of Naples —Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Castro. He resides in France with his wife, the Duchess of Castro, the former Countess Chantal Frances de Chevron-Villette. There is even a Neo-Bourbon Society in Naples, which exists, according to their literature, not to restore the Kingdom of Naples, but to get southern Italians to appreciate their history. In 1999 they held a small demonstration in the historic center of the city to commemorate the Bourbon counter-revolution that defeated the Neapolitan Republic in 1799. More recently —and mundanely— they even held a Miss Kingdom of Two Sicilies beauty pageant!

Ironically, the modern Bourbons seem to get along quite amicably with the modern Savoys, the dynasty that defeated them in 1860 and that ruled Italy until deposed by popular referendum in 1946. The two houses give each other honors; the Duke of Castro has received the Order of the Annunciation of the House of Savoy, and the Duke of Savoy has received the Constantinian Order of Saint George of the House of Bourbon of Naples, as did his late father, King Humbert II. This friendliness should not be surprising in spite of the enmity between the two houses caused by the unification of Italy. Prior to that time, there were numerous episodes of intermarriage between the Bourbons of Naples and the Savoys, the most prominent of which was in 1832 when Ferdinand II of Naples married Cristina, daughter of Victor Emmanuel I, the Savoy monarch of Sardinia.

Also, see the entries about Naples under the Bourbons: (1) , (2) and (3) as well as the other "Bourbons" items in the subject index

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