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The history of Polish heraldry is an integral part of the history of szlachta, or a local class of nobility. Contrary to its formation in the countries of Western Europe, the Polish szlachta did not emerge from the chivalry, but rather from a Slavic class of free warriors. Those were often hired by the prince to his unit (Polish drużyna) and who were eventually paid in land.
Only a small number of szlachta families or clans are traced from traditional clan system and were actually related with other members of the clan. Most of szlachta were, at least since 12th century, not related and their unions were mostly voluntary and based on parentage rather than kinship. Since Poland emerged almost at once as a relatively unified duchy in 10th century, it was the Prince or the King who was considered the patron of all the clans. He granted privileges and land to clan members rather than to clans as such and was allowed to assign new knights to the clans of his choice. Because of that, the system of strong and wealthy groups of relatives was never developed in Poland. Instead, the Polish clans (Polish rody) were much more unstable than their Western counterparts.
The first heraldic signs arrived to Poland in 13th century. In early 15th century the Polish generic word for a Coat of Arms was invented: herb. It was a Polish version of the Czech erb, which in turn came from German Erbe - heritage.
Although the Polish heraldic system evolved under influence of the French and German coats of arms, there are many notable differences:
As mentioned above, coat-of-arms does not belong to a single family. On the contary - a number of unrelated families (sometimes hundreds of them) with different surnames "belong" to a coat-of-arms, which has it's own name. When presenting a man of noble origin, a after his name a name of his coat-of-arms is given, for example: Jan Zamoyski herbu Jelita (literally Jan Zamoyski of Jelita coat-of-arms , although normally it is translated rather ...of clan Jelita ). This system was also applied to persons of foreign origin, who were officially included into the ranks of Polish nobilty, but retained their original coat-of-arms - for example: Jan Denhoff herbu własnego (literally Jan Denhoff of the coat-of-arms of his own )
Logically, a number of various coats of arms in this system was rather low - in late middle ages it was less then 200.
Single herb could appear in slightly different versions (most typically in different colours), depending of family which used it. Such versions ( odmiany ) were still considered to represent the same coat-of-arms.
Typical figures used in Polish heraldry include horseshoes, arrows, maltan crosses, scythes, stars and crescents. There is also a number of purely geometrical shapes, for which a separate set of heraldic terms was invented - these are largely intranslatable into English (and sometimes their origin is obscure even in Polish). Comparing the oldest recorded forms of Polish heraldic signs with later ones suggests, that originally they all represented abstract geometrical shapes, which were gradually "rationalized" into above mentioned horseshoes, arrows etc. The look of these earliest examples leads to hypothesis, that Polish heraldry originated from a system of property marks akin to tamgas - signs of property used by nomadic people of the Steppe, like Sarmatians or Avars.
A Polish coat-of-arms consists of shield, crest, helm and mantling. Supporters, mottos and and compartments normally do not appear, although certain individuals could use them, especially in 18th and 19th century.
Polish coats of arms are divided in the very same way as their Western counterparts. However, since the coats of arms were originally granted to clans rather than separate families, there was no need to join various coats of arms into one when a new branch of the family was formed. Thus Polish escutcheons are rarely parted. The hearted shape of the shield can be seen mostly on the symbols of royal families, with the coats of Poland and Lithuania placed diagonally and the coat of arms of the monarch placed centrally.
|English name||Parted per fess||Parted per pale||Parted per bend sinister||Parted quarterly||Parted quarterly with a heart|
|Polish name||w pas||w słup||w skos||czterodzielny||sercowy|
Also, the tradition of differentiating between the coat of arms proper and a lozenge granted to women did not develop in Poland. Usually men inherited the coat of arms from their fathers (or the member of the clan who "adopted them") while women inherited it after their mothers or were adopted to the family of the husband. Also, the brisure was rarely used.
There are seven basic tinctures in English heraldry. On the contrary, in Poland and Lithuania many more tinctures were frequently used, including grey, steel, brunatre, weasel and carnation.
|Tincture||Heraldic name||Polish name|
Bibliography and CoA listings
- Bartosz Paprocki , Gniazdo cnoty. Kraków, 1578.
- Bartosz Paprocki, Herby rycerstwa polskiego; Kraków, 1584 (II ed. Kraków, 1858).
- Szymon Okólski , Orbis Polonus; Kraków, 1640.
- Wacław Potocki, Poczet herbów szlachty Korony Polskiey i Wielkiego Xsięstwa Litewskiego; Krakow, 1696.
- rev. Kacper Niesiecki , Herby i familie rycerskie tak w Koronie jako y w W.X.L.; Lwów, 1728.
- rev. Kacper Niesiecki, Korona polska; Lwów, 1728–1743.
- rev. Benedykt Chmielowski , Zbiór krótki herbów polskich, oraz wsławionych cnotą i naukami Polaków; Warsaw, 1763.
- rev Kasper Niesiecki, Herbarz Polski; Leipzig, 1839-1846.
- Teodor Żychliński , Złota księga szlachty polskiej; Poznań, 1879-1908
- Adam Boniecki , Herbarz polski; Warsaw, 1899-1913.
- hr. Jerzy Dunin-Borkowski , Almanach błękitny. Genealogia żyjących rodów polskich; Lwów, 1908.
- Edward Borowski , Genealogie niektórych polskich rodzin utytułowanych; Buenos Aires-Paris, 1964.
- Sławomir Górzyński , Jerzy Kochanowski Herby szlachty polskiej; Warsaw, 1990
- Alfred Znamierowski Insygnia, symbole i herby polskie; Warsaw, 2003
- Polish Coats of Arms listing (Polish)
- Coats of Arms of Lands of the Commonwealth (several hundred pictures, welcome text Polish)
- Polish Nobility and Its Heraldry
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