Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms;
Prussian Bohnstedt Arms

A contemporary representation of the Prussian German Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms

These arms, with two trees on the shield and one on the crest, was used by Johann Dietrich Theodor Bohnstedt and his son, August Wilhelm Bohnstedt. They were later used by August Wilhelm's descendants in Germany and East Prussia. There is some question as to what form these arms originally looked like, but eventually they took the form show here. (see Appendix C: Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms; "Prussian" Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms).

A contemporary representation of the Prussian German Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms

According to Martin Bohnstedt some clues as to the origins of the "Three Tree" coat-of-arms were found in letters written on May 6 and June 30 by Edgar Bohnstedt to Joachim von Goertzke (or Görtzke), the publisher of the Deutsche Wappenrolle Bürgerlicher Geschlechter. Edgar wrote that he had found ten leasehold property contracts in the archives of Brandenburg-Prussia, written between 1749 and 1801 concerning the district of Machnow, the lessees being Johann Theodorus Bohnstedt (Johann Dietrich Theodor Bohnstedt) and August Wilhelm Bohnstedt, his son.  On these contracts was seen a coat-of-arms bearing two trees on the shield, and one on the crest. Edgar wrote that he discovered the "Kaltenhausen type" coat-of-arms in contracts dated May 25, 1766, March 20, 1789, April 4, 1795, and June 23, 1801.

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1. Original picture of Prussian German Bohnstedt arms, found on Bohnstedt correspondence and real estate documents from the 1700s
2. Prussian Bohnstedt coat-of-arms as depicted by Edgar Bohnstedt on the Early Stammbaum

Edgar also said that he found a coat-of-arms with the trees having a "slightly different form" in documents of February 20, 1749, March 24, 1758, March 13, 1764, March 11, 1777, January 15, 1783, and March 20, 1783. Based upon this information it appears as if Johann Theodorus Bohnstedt or August Wilhelm Bohnstedt could not make up their mind about what form the coats-of-arms should take. It is also possible that some of the documents were written by Johann, and the others written by August Wilhelm, and the two men were using two slightly different forms of these arms.

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1-2: These family relics were salvaged from the 1945 Allied bombing raid of Dresden Germany. They originally belonged to Edgar Bohnstedt, who had done a great deal of research on the Bohnstedt lines in Germany, Sweden and Russia, and their common origin.  Some of these family heirlooms included glasses and other items that displayed this particular coat-of-arms, as well as rings and stamps used for document sealing with wax.  These were passed down to Edgar's son Wolfram Edgar Bohnstedt, who now lives in Australia.

Another piece of Edgar's correspondence, a postcard dated March 12, 1940, describes the trees in the "different" coat-of-arms as palm trees, but admits that he had not found any written information about the coat-of-arms or its history and origin. In the earliest contract, dated May 1725, Edgar found a coat-of-arms showing one tree only. This suggests a possibility that the "three-tree" arms used by the Prussian Bohnstedts, and the "palm-tree" arms used by Teodor von Bohnstedt in Sweden, or at least the shield, had the same origin. Since the earliest of these had only one tree, the shield which appears in the arms used by the Bohnstedts in Sweden is probably the closest to the original.

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Among the family relics in the custody of Wolfram Bohnstedt were several old documents, some of which displayed these "3 Tree" coats-of-arms.  It's unfortunate that we don't have copies of these pics with higher resolution.

At times there has also been some debate over the primary metal in these "Prussian Bohnstedt" arms. One rendering of these arms, provided by Martin Bohnstedt, seems to show a yellow hue in the shield and mantle, suggesting that the primary metal was gold. However, Martin assured me that the primary metal color was silver, not gold. This also seems to have been the opinion of the artist who depicted these arms in his Early Stammbaum with a light gray-blue color, suggesting silver.

Martin Bohnstedt reported that verbal family history identified these trees as a "linde" tree, which is a lime tree. It would be useful to quote here some comments from The Oxford Guide To Heraldry regarding German heraldry. The first item of interest is the design of charges and crest:

The most striking characteristic of German heraldry...is the design and treatment of crests. These often reflect the shield by repeating the charges and tinctures [colors] in a manner virtually unknown in English heraldry.

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Examples of German heraldry from The Oxford Guide To Heraldry, showing the shield charges repeated in the crests.

Another interesting fact is that these arms were never registered, and therefore were almost certainly never officially granted. According to The Oxford Guide to Heraldry:

A further aspect of the strength of the towns [free imperial cities]...was the emergence of burgher [a middle-to-upper class town citizen] arms in emulation of noble arms, but separate from them, and not recognized as bestowing nobiliary status. Prominent citizens were able with impunity to assume armorial ensigns similar to those sported by the feudal nobility in states where the emperor's authority was distant and weak. These burgher arms came to be treated as a different species, and were differenced from noble arms by the use of a closed tilting helmet to support the crest. Burgher arms spread to Scandinavia where they were freely assumed by merchants in the trading cities of the Baltic (many of whom were of German descent), but they failed to become hereditary there unlike noble arms.


The Shield

Trees: The tree is a widely used symbol, and has much significance attached to it. This is probably because natural objects such as trees were the most obvious and immediate objects to early humans. Thus they have had more time to acquire symbolic significance. The Dictionary of Symbols had these particular comments to make concerning trees;

The tree is one of the most essential of traditional symbols. Very often the symbolic tree is of no particular genus, although some peoples have singled out one species as exemplifying par excellence the generic qualities. Thus the oak was sacred to the Kelts; the ash to the Scandinavian peoples; the lime-tree in Germany; the fig-tree in India. In its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes the life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life, and is therefore equivalent to a symbol of immortality.

Descendants of August Wilhelm Bohnstedt, including Martin Bohnstedt and Wolfram Edgar Bohnstedt felt certain that the trees being depicted on the shield and above the helmet of this Coat-of-Arms were Linden trees.

According to descendants of August Wilhelm Bohnstedt, including Martin Bohnstedt and Wolfram Edgar Bohnstedt, the trees depicted on the shield and crest of this particular coat-of-arms were "Linden" trees, or Lime Trees.  These lime trees are not the same kind of lime trees that produce citrus fruit, just as bell peppers are not hot peppers.  These Linden trees are commonplace in northern Europe, and according to Wolfram Edgar Bohnstedt, there were many of these Linden trees where this coat-of-arms originated.

According to Wikipedia:

In old Slavic mythology, the linden (lipa, as called in all Slavic languages) was considered a sacred tree. Particularly in Poland, many villages have a name "Święta Lipka" (or similar), which literally means "Holy Lime". To this day, the tree is a national emblem of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Lusatia. Lipa gave name to the traditional Slavic name for the month of June (Croatian, lipanj) or July (Polish, lipiec, Ukrainian "lypen'/липень"). It is also the root for the German city of Leipzig, taken from the Sorbian name lipsk. The Croatian currency, kuna, consists of 100 lipa (Tilia). "Lipa" was also a proposed name for Slovenian currency in 1990, however the name "tolar" ultimately prevailed. In the Slavic Orthodox Christian world, limewood was the preferred wood for panel icon painting. The icons by the hand of Andrei Rublev, including the Holy Trinity (Hospitality of Abraham), and The Savior, now in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, are painted on linden wood. Its wood was chosen for its ability to be sanded very smooth and for its resistance to warping once seasoned. The southern Slovenian village of "Lipica" signifies little Lime tree and has given its name to the Lipizzan horse breed.

In Baltic mythology, there is an important goddess of fate by the name of Laima /laɪma/, whose sacred tree is the lime. Laima‘s dwelling was a lime-tree, where she made her decisions as a cuckoo. For this reason Lithuanian women prayed and gave sacrifices under lime-trees asking for luck and fertility. They treated lime-trees with respect and talked with them as if they were human beings.

The linden was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.


The Crest

The shield charges are repeated in the crest and carry the same symbolism.


The Colors

Argent (Silver or white): Passive, reflective, magical
Vert (Green): Fertile, fresh, adaptable


Book References
- Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. 1971 (English translation)
- Woodcock, Thomas and Robinson, Martin The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press. 1988 (English)
- Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles. A Complete Guide to Heraldry. London, U.K.: Bracken Books. 1993 (English, first published in 1929)


See Also:
1-5 / Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms; German Westfalen Bohnstedt Arms
1-10 / Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms; Swedish Bohnstedt Arms
1-18 /
The Bohnstedt Lines in Prussia
5-3 / Appendix C: Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms; Overview