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Section: PAPERS

Russia: The Absence Of A System?

Author: Michael Medvedev / Publication date: 2006-08-16

Russia: The Absence Of A System?I would like to present some general notes on Russian systems of marshalling and illegitimate cadency.

It seems to be a common belief that family heraldry was artificially introduced into Russia by Peter the Great. But in reality this monarch just tried to control and to put in order practices which already were broadly based and unruly. Until the finish of the 18th century (the time of Paul I) freely invented and freely adopted arms predominated in Russian heraldry. This was inimicable to the establishment of a national heraldic system, especially under the pressure of different heraldic and emblematic traditions, foreign and domestic. The great influence of Poland is well-known, German influence being less obvious but doubtless operative; the first official Russian heraldist was an Italian gentleman educated in France etc. The system of grants and augmentations was close to the Austrian one (because of the imperial idea) and to the Swedish one (because a rival is a common object of imitation). It is amusing that the heraldic activity of James Count Bruce (Peter the Great's friend), who was evidently a Scotsman and a patriot, was marked by a strong Scandinavianism.

As a result, the Russian system of marshalling became open to all possibilities. Side by side with the usual quarterings, impalings and partitions per fess one can find other examples which are complicated and sometimes amusing (for example the marshalling by interpolation of Princes Romodanovsky-Lodyzhensky). It is difficult and sometimes impossible to distinguish combined coats of arms from the pseudo-combined ones which were invented, following the fashion, alreadó with partitions. There was no general system in such an heraldic miscellanea but it is specially pleasant to discover particular systems in certain groups of arms.

The main and the largest of these groups is the house of Rurik, "the first monarch of Russia". This house had (and has) a number of branches historically connected with certain ancient "apanages" and principalities, each branch being divided into several lines or families. Different lines of a branch normally used the arms of the corresponding principality but some used them without additions and some marshalled them with other arms and emblems (territorial, symbolic or canting).

The usual partitions were quartering (with or without an inescutcheon), per pale (sometimes plus a base) and per fess. Russian arms of alliance usually contained two family shields and not a united one; that is why impaling was widely used for "usual" marshalling.

There is a theory enunciated in the middle of the 19th century by Alexander Lakier that the oldest line (or lines) use the unmarshalled arms of "their" principality and the rest of the branch has to bear a combined achievement. At the same time Baron Boris von Koehne decided that the oldest lines of branches must have the most complicated arms which would show their brilliant provenance.

All these statements are too general to be true. One has to note also that in Russia the term "oldest" was sometimes applied not to the oldest line jure primogenitatis but to the line which was the first to form a separate family (which is surely the situation with cadet lines).

Anyway, there are contrasting examples. Some families like Rzhevsky or Princes Koltsov-Mosalsky tried to modify their achievements thus emphasising the prestigiousness of simplicity. At the end of the 18th century Rzhevsky refused to add the old family arms to those of the ancestor's principality; Koltsov turned the line's arms into additional charges, preserving the simple composition. On the other hand, some families made their achievements more complicated.

The branch of Starodub provides the most impressive example. At the beginning of the 18th century this branch used a kind of common heraldic property which can be reconstructed as an unmarshalled shield with a crest and supporters.

But then princes from this branch began to divide the shield into several parts and to fill them by repeating emblems from the old shield, crest and supporters.

There is another pleasant example of barbarism which can be defined as pseudo-marshalling. Thus, Princes Sheleshpansky (from the branch of Belo-Ozero) used the apanage's arms but with quartered field instead of the usual blue one. I believe this to be an imitation of marshalling intended to indicate that this family is the oldest "bó existence" in the branch, the Princes Beloselsky (the oldest line by primogeniture) bearing simply the arms of the apanage.

In contrast to this the untitled line of Gorchakov modestly differenced its coat of arms from that of the princely Gorchakovs by the similar imitation of a partition. This time even a bend for cadency is added but under and not over the charge.

Finally, some minor families used the parted arms of elder lines but modestly turned most of the additional emblems into meaningless mullets, discrete armour etc. So Princes Sontsov bore quarterly Kiev and Smolensk and over all Yaroslavl; untitled Sontsov quartered mullets with Kiev (strongly differenced) and a sallet helm (perhaps a bad redrawing of the arms of Smolensk) with Yaroslavl over all.

Rurikides types of partitions, as well as similar ones (for example, impaling with a chief), were quite usual for other ancient Russian clans such as Radsha's offspring. Partitions per bend and per saltire were used rarely, being understood as more or less unusual and "ungenealogical". That is perhaps why in the 18th and early 19th centuries augmentations were often marshalled per saltire.

Then, from the time of Nicholas I, these partitions, as well as per fess, were often considered inappropriate. Some of such achievements were re-granted, their parts being turned into quarters. The practice of impaling continued successfully.

The absence of a system of marshalling was reflected also in bastards' heraldry. From the juridical point of view a bastard, usually mentioned in documents as a "pupil", had no rights of inheritance but the emperor could grant him all these rights.

I would like to give some examples. The famous son of count Orlov and Catherine II, Count Bobrinsky, bore a shield parted per fess and with an inescutcheon. The upper part contained delicate hints inexactly showing connections with the Orlov family and Askanian house and below the arms of Beringen from the maternal family achievement were openly displayed. The inescutcheon was charged with the Imperial eagle (for an augmentation and not for the provenance which is clear from details).

Martha Musina-Yurieva, natural daughter of Paul I and of a lady descended from Radsha, bore the arms of her father without changes (and even with insignia of the Grand Master of the Order of St. John) quartered with a part of the maternal achievement which was also quartered. This combination became possible perhaps because the first and fourth quarters could be understood and explained as augmentations.

Some arms of bastards contained paternal arms with certain changes (Bibitinsky, bastards of Princes Bariatinsky, bore a harp or in azure instead of St. Michael for Kiev, the rest of the paternal shield remained almost unchanged); an imitation of the western marks of cadency (Polugarsky, one of Prince Gagarin's bastards) and even the representation of the father's augmentation but without the use of the father's family arms (Counts Perovsky, illegitimate branch of Counts Razumovsky). One of the Romanovs' grand-ducal bastards, the titular Count of Belev (Belevskoy alias Baron Segiano), received the coat of arms with a burning garb from the arms of the town of Belev, accompanied by a lion or, noble but symbolically discrete.

There is here no connection with Romanov, imperial or even Oldenburg heraldry; the prince's bastard was off the dynastic life. Later the achievement of Belevskoy was united with that of Zhukovsky, the offspring of the celebrated poet Vasili Zhukovsky who was de facto a natural son of one Bunin but de jure a son of one Zhukovsky. No wonder that when Vasili Zhukovsky obtained a grant of arms there was nothing in his achievement to indicate bastardy. Anyway, the personal merits of Zhukovsky were of much greater importance than his origin.

However, the absence of a system does not mean an absence of logic.

I hope the past tense which I use throughout this short study will not mislead you. Evidently, most of the arms mentioned are still in existence. But at the same time heraldic Russia suffers much from disorder, ignorance and especially from several false heraldic offices and "jurisdictions". They pretend to grant arms and surely they misuse the very idea of marshalling, turning the new so-called arms into soviet "communal flats". At the same time they bastardized the idea of bastardy: so the self-styled All-Russian Association of Nobility (in reality a private Muscovite club) proclaimed all offspring of civil marriages to be not nobles and "half bastards" but armigerous; this is far from being juridically corrector traditional in Russia. Surely all this is heraldic rubbish which will be discarded during the Russian heraldic renaissance.

Returning to the matter of marshalling and the indication of bastardó we can state that instead of a general norm there is a co-existence of "minor norms" applicable to certain families and groups of families, which can mislead (and often misleads) genealogists as well as heraldists themselves. It is clear that a difference between connected coats of arms usually expresses a difference between positions in (or outside) a family, rights, pretentions, pride or modesty. But what each particular achievement expresses must be studied in a particular context, both armorial and historical and here history can show its nature as an applied science of heraldry.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / M. Medvedev