Non-noble coat of arms in Europe

Non-noble arms

In Switzerland and the Low Countries there have been non-nobles or peasants with Coats of Arms since the Middle Ages. The word peasant in this case does not mean agricultural laborers but rather small freeholders, owners of small plots of land. In other words it refers to yeomanry in the correct use of that term. The caste structure that arose in Europe following the conquests of the  Germanic tribes resulted in leaders becoming the nobility and their followers becoming freeholders of yeomanry status. In most countries the yeomanry were recognized as belonging to the frank or free classes, although over time the upper and lower freeman divided, so that in the end the noble did not intermarry with the yeoman. In some societies however this division did not develop strongly, in particular Switzerland, because of its own peculiar social history, tended to be a peasant rather than a noble society. Therefore when Arms became the cognizances of nobility they could spread to classes below the nobility in societies where the nobility was not numerous and not powerful enough to prevent it from happening. Consequently, Arms began to be used by non-noble, but free yeomanry in Switzerland. These yeomanry existed in a state of society where there was not a powerful nobility ruling over them, as a result they tended to be more important as a class than they would have been in France or Britain.

Adelsarchiv ViennaWhen it comes to the Low Countries of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg where small land holders had Coats of Arms, we are in a society where the nobility was as strongly entrenched as in Britain. But these petty landowners held their land by free military tenure and they could bear Arms as they were a species of sub-nobility based on the fact that they belonged to the Frankish class that had originally conquered the land. In France there is a similar situation. In the County of Clermont ( Beauvaisis ) and the bailiwick of Senlis the Arms of merchants, burghers, and farmers who possessed land are recorded on heart shaped shields. Further examples can be found further east with records from the Adelsarchiv in Vienna show examples of granting Coats of Arms to men described as Landtman in places like Tyrol. These are the types of places where a strong free and very independent yeomanry existed. Such a Coat of Arms was granted in 1546 to George Kühn, “ain Landtman in Tyrol”, another was granted to the DeJaco family of Tyrol in 1458, see image above. Such Coats of Arms undoubtedly acted as a stepping stone to full entry into the nobility.

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