Familial Coat of Arms for Men vs. Women

As a lover and researcher of Family Crests and Coats of Arms, we thought it might be interesting to show and explain the differences in how heraldic devices are used for men versus for women. We most commonly think of heraldry as a mark of familial standing and one that is more often used for men, however women too have their own way of using such devices to denote their family and social standing.

In the above triptych painting (c.1503), we see a portrait of the first three children of Philip of Habsburg and Juana of Spain. They are from left to right: Eleanor (who became Eleanor of Austria, Dowager Queen of Portugal & Dowager Queen of France), Charles V, and Isabella (who became Isabella of Austria, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden). What is interesting to a heraldry appreciator is the difference between the coats of arms for the two sisters versus their brother, who was the eldest male child. For the girls, their coat of arms are identical, but the left side is left blank, presumably one day their husbands familial arms will be placed there. But as children they remain blank, yet notice the shape the arms are placed upon. They are a diamond or 'lozenge' shape, which denotes the arms of an unmarried woman of an important family or family of high social standing.

The arms for Charles, the eldest male child, are more or less the same, however they are fully represented and placed upon a shield. Why lozenge vs. shield? Because men went to battle and a shield was considered necessary armor for protection during battles. Since women did not go to battle in those days, they had no need for a shield and thus their arms were placed on shapes that would not be confused with a traditional shield shape. In addition to Charles' coat of arms being on a shield and fully represented across the entire surface of the shield, we also see his paternal grandfather's crown (Emperor Maximilian I) atop his arms. In addition to the 'family crown' we also see the Order of the Golden Fleece wrapping around the entire coat of arms, and we also see this young boy wearing a child-sized version of the same Order of the Golden Fleece around his little neck in the painting.

Below is a portrait of Charles V's father, wearing the adult-sized Order of the Golden Fleece round his ermine collar. Note his facial details and how alike they seem to be to his son's in the above painting, both having similar eyes, nose and mouths, not to mention the same chins! We also see some of the imagery of Charles V's coat of arms represented on his father's clothing - talk about announcing who you are to the room.There's nothing subtle about Philip's garb as it makes very clear how important he is!

There is much more that could be said about these images, but if you've any specific questions, please ask in the comments below. We hope you've enjoyed this little peek into the differences between heraldic imagery and devices for men versus women.

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