This is a very cursory introduction to heraldry in Sweden, loosely based on an unpublished essay I wrote in 1998 for a university course.
The introduction of heraldry into Sweden follows a similar pattern to much of the rest of Europe, albeit perhaps at a slightly later point in time. Due to a paucity of surviving evidence, one of the earliest known occurrences is the 1219 arms of Sigtrygg Bengtsson (Boberg), which show a fleur-de-lis between dear’s horns on a kite-shaped shield.1 From then onward, heraldic arms become commonplace among the aristocracy and clergy. There are, however, no traces of a heraldic authority in Sweden in the medieval period, although one is likely to have existed.2 There are also no preserved rolls of arms from this period, and it’s not until the Bellenville armorial, dated to the 15th century (copy of earlier original?), thought to be originally Flemish, that we see Swedish arms in heraldic – albeit foreign – rolls.2b
Personal and Familial Arms
It is noteworthy that arms in Sweden during the medieval period were personal. Members of the same family could use the same arms, and it was common to inherit components, and make adjustments according to ones own personality. However, it was also quite probable that a person with one coat of arms could have children that used a completely different one.3 There must, however, have been a tendency towards stabilising the arms within a given family. Certainly by the time the House of Nobles was created in the early 17th century, each family introduced there would be using one design only per family. Differencing of arms would occur if a member of the family was raised to a higher rank of the aristocracy (meaning that his family would be treated as a separate one at the House of Nobles), in which case that individual’s heirs would be entitled to the same arms and honorific.
Regulation of Arms
It was not until a Royal proclamation in 1762 that the office of National Herald was established along with legal protection for aristocratic arms.4 Further stipulations restricted several components of arms, and codified an existing (but heavily abused by commoners) practice limiting the use of an open helmet to the aristocracy alone.5 In the 1809 act of government, any newly created titles would belong to the head of each family, which restriction also entailed the use of arms. Thus, only the oldest male would inherit the title and the aristocratic arms, whereas cadet branches would be allowed to use the arms without aristocratic insignia.6
In other words, Swedish heraldry was largely unregulated, and remains so until this day. Anyone may simply design a coat of arms and use it for themselves and/or their family. Whereas arms in, e.g., the UK, are personal, arms in Sweden may be familial, according to whatever principle is deemed appropriate by the person assuming the arms. That means that it is, currently, possible for women to inherit arms, aristocratic ones excepted.7
Although special protection has been legislated for aristocratic arms, no such protection exists for commoners’ arms. It is, however, encouraged that one registers any assumed arms with the Swedish Heraldic Society (Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen). This is to avoid duplication and to avoid confusion between families.8
Maybe it’s time for me to register my own arms! Are you an armigerous commoner? Tell me in the comments!
1. Raneke, J. (1982) Svenska medeltidsvapen. Lund: Doxa, p. 650.
2. Raneke, J. (1990) Svensk adelsheraldik. Malmö: Corona, p. 12.
2b. Armorial Bellenville, giving the origin of the armorial as Flemish, and dating the manuscript between 1401 and 1500, see https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8470169b/f27.item, accessed 9 Oct 2018.
3. Janzon, 2003, p. 4, noting the arms of Jöns Abjörnsson and his sons, where the father bore a star divided by a capital I, and the sons a pendant leaf under a chevron. Janzon, K. (2003) “Sparre med något krams där under. Några uppgifter om det medeltida frälset i västra Småland” in Släkt och Hävd, vol. 2003:1, pp. 1-21.
4. Raneke, 1990, p. 12; Sunnqvist, M. (2001) “Den Svenska vapenrätten” at Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen, https://heraldik.se/artiklar/vapenratt/den-svenska-vapenratten/, accessed 9 Oct 2018.
5. Iserell, V. (http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1020915/FULLTEXT02
6. Sunnqvist, M. (2001)
7. Iserell, V. (2011) Släktvapenrätt. Det rättsliga skyddet för släktvapen i Sverige. Unpublished BA thesis at the university of Luelå, http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1020915/FULLTEXT02, p. 17, accessed 9 Oct 2018.
8. Sunnqvist, M. (2001)
9. SHDK no. 370, https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/Sdhk_original_370, accessed 9 Oct 2018.
10. Armorial Bellenville, https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8470169b/f27.item, accessed 9 Oct 2018.
11. Bergshammarsarkivet, vapenboken, dated about 1440 and probably of a Flemish provenance, see https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/R0001216_00225, accessed 9 Oct 2018.