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Section: Michael Medvedev, GHA[R] chairman

Countess [von] Carlow

Artist: Michael Medvedev, GHA[R]

In 1890, a German Prince in Russian service, Duke George of Mecklenburg-Strelitz married Natalia Fedorovna Vonlyarsky, whose family (also known as Wonlarlarski) belonged to the ancient yet minor nobility. According to the House laws of Mecklenburg, the marriage with a representative of an “unequal” family could only be morganatic, that is, not affording a spouse or children born to the marriage rights to any titles. As a means of “consolation”, usual for this kind of situation, the husband’s uncle, the ruling Grand Duke Friedrich-Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had granted to Natalia Fedorovna and her future children, the title of Counts von Carlow (after a place of this name in the Principality of Ratzeburg; a number of possible titles were discussed but “von Carlow” was probably preferred because of its location; Ratzeburg was the only part of the Grand Duchy where the local senioral rights were not shared by the ruling house with other noble families, so these were not to be asked in advance). At the same time, there had been granted a coat of arms with a griffin, derived from the arms of the possessions of Mecklenburg: the Lordship of Rostock and the Principality of Schwerin. The title of the Counts [von] Carlow had been recognised in Russia and so were the arms.

Despite everything, George has used his ducal coat of arms as a family one, sometimes adding a motto in Latin: “We were and we are”. Probably only after the death of duke in 1909, his widow had assumed personal coat of arms.

Pursuant to the traditions of female heraldry, the Countess had used lozenge, impaling the arms of the Counts von Carlow (modestly placed instead of the husband’s dynastical coat or arms) with the arms of the Vonlyarskys. The lozenge was ensigned with a Count’s crown and surrounded with a specific Russian version of a widow’s cordeliere, with the knots completely tied. This original version is given here in a more splendid form to which the Countess was basically entitled: with the crested helmet (according to the Russian tradition, the Countess had the right to bear this “male” additament as the immediate recipient of the grant), the supporters of the Vonlyarsky family, and the motto.

By a coincidence, the Countess’ title sounded close to the name of the family estate of Karlovka [Karlivka in Ukrainian] in the province of Poltava; whence the wrong but widely known myth about the title’s essentially non-German provenance.

We are most grateful to our colleague R. Lippert from Mecklenburg, who kindly provided us with the information about the origin of the Countess’ title.

This laconic version of arms was used on domestic utensils. Here, the personal coat of arms is reproduced in somewhat amended form: with a crested helmet, supporters (from the old coat of arms of the Vonlyarskys) and the family motto.

Coats of arms of ladies usually do not have helmets; but Natalia Fedorovna’s case is special: being a “family founder”, she could use all the heraldic attributes conferred to the lineage, as her very own.

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© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / M. Medvedev