Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms;
by Thomas Allen Bohnstedt, California USA
(the text of this page is my intellectual property. Please do not copy and repost without my written permission)
Components of a typical Coat-of-Arms. Coats-of-Arms used by nobility and royalty are more elaborate and often include crowns (for royalty) and quartered shields, used to represent the merging of two or more family lines.
A Background and History of Heraldry
Although this article is not intended to be a complete, detailed history of heraldry, a brief treatment of the subject might be useful for those not entirely acquainted with the art. A typical "coat-of-arms" will usually have the following features; the shield, the helmet, the torse, the mantle, and the crest. Those arms belonging to nobility, royalty, or one of high office will sometimes have supporters. A coat-of-arms will often be mistakenly referred to as a "crest", but the crest is only one feature within a coat-of-arms.
The practice of Heraldry as we know it may have begun with the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Allegedly, the nobles, knights and soldiers from Normandy who invaded England painted designs on their shields, or attached pennants to their lances to identify themselves to their followers in battle. A man in amour was very difficult to recognize, especially after the initial cavalry charge when the battle had broken up into chaotic hand-to-hand combat. However, some scholars do not agree that the practice of heraldry began with the Normans.
The Shield and Charges
The designs which were painted on the shields (known as charges) were eventually drawn and recorded in books so that each design came to be identified with a man and his heirs. In time the practice of heraldry came under the control of the royalty because of the great proliferation of different shield designs. One could only receive a coat-of-arms if it was granted by a king, queen, or a royal representative. These arms were granted if the grantee was given a title, or if the grantee had done (or was deemed to have done) some great thing in service to his king or country. Artists and scribes were given the responsibility of designing coats-of-arms for those being granted arms, and then recording them in books to protect them from being inappropriately used by other people. From this practice businesses today create logos or pictures to represent the company, and then copyright them to prevent usage by another company.
The first shield charges were simple geometric designs. Later, as there was a limited "supply" of these simple geometric designs, heraldic artists began designing charges from more elaborate objects. These were objects that could be found in nature, such as trees, or animals. Man-made objects, such as castles, swords, or goblets, or mythical creatures such as dragons or unicorns were also used. This enabled heraldic designers to choose from a much broader range of designs. These geometric, natural, mythical or man-made objects were often derived from pre-Christian mystical symbolism. Later, when a heraldic artist designed an emblem for a knight or noble, the artist tried to pick out objects that symbolically reflected the man's personality, accomplishments or profession.
The symbolism of heraldry can be derived from a name, an occupation, a personality characteristic, or a special event or deed. Many scholars believe that much of the older heraldic symbols such as the eagle or lion may derive from much earlier sources, specifically the Roman Empire, Babylon, Assyria or even Egypt. Arthur Charles Fox-Davies ("A Complete Guide To Heraldry") agrees with other scholars that there is special symbolism in the charges and crests of a coat-of-arms. He disagrees, however, with the notion that colors held any special symbolism. It may be true that the symbolism of colors is a presumption on the part of occultists. He is also skeptical of the idea that heraldic symbols have any special relationship to the ancient cultures. I personally disagree with this assessment. I think it entirely possible that heraldic symbols can be traced to great antiquity. It must be remembered that the western world in general and Europe in particular owes its culture to the Roman Empire. Rome, in turn, borrowed much of it's culture from ancient Greece which in turn absorbed culture from the Persians, and earlier, from Assyria and Babylon. It is difficult, and often impossible to prove conclusively that heraldic symbols were indeed carried down over 4000 years. Yet it is still a possibility and shouldn't be ignored.
These shield charges were also used to identify an individual on official documents. The shield and charges were engraved in a metal stamp which was used to impress the design into sealing wax. This wax stamp was then used to seal the document or could be placed at the bottom of the document in lieu of a signature. This was especially useful in medieval Europe when most people were illiterate except for priests and scribes, or those royals or nobles who had access to education.
In time the heraldic artists began recording these shields with a helmet on top of the shield. Some theorists believe this may have been done to represent the shield as it was hung on a peg under the fireplace mantelpiece when a warrior returned home from battle. The helmet would then be placed upon the mantle above the shield.
The Crest and "Heralds"
Knights often participated in tournaments as sporting events. These tournaments usually consisted of jousting, or tilting, and sometimes included hand-to-hand combat. Tournaments and combats were also used as means of settling legal disputes, in the belief that God would grant victory to the combatant who had the valid claim. Such methods of settling disputes may have been the origin of sword and pistol duels in Europe, and later, fast-draw gunfights in the American pioneering period. The practice of tournaments themselves may have evolved from the Roman gladiator fights centuries earlier.
In a tournament the knight would often wear an object fashioned from wood, metal or leather fixed to the top of his helmet as an additional decoration. This custom was probably derived from primitive Europe when the chieftains of tribes and clans would sometimes wear headgear or objects on the headgear as a symbol of authority. This object was called the crest. A herald would announce the arrival of the knight or combatant and his entry into the tournament, and would describe his place of origin, his colors and charges. This is the origin of the term "Heraldry".
Heraldic artists later began adding crests to the coat-of-arms in the heraldry books. This was a good way to multiply the amount of designs available to the heraldic artists.
The term "Coat-of-Arms" comes from the surcoat, a cloth covering often worn by the knight over the armor as an additional identification. The design and colors of the surcoat matched those of the shield. Thus the origin of the term "Coat-of-Arms".
The Torse and Mantle
History scholars generally believe that the practice of drawing a torse and mantle in a coat-of-arms has it's roots in the crusades. When the European knights and soldiers arrived in the Holy Land they were unprepared for the extreme heat of the Middle East and would have soon baked to death inside their armor. To fend off the Sun, the armored warriors adopted the Arab practice of wearing cloth on the head. Popular belief has it that the knights twisted two pieces of cloth or silk together to create a torse, just as the Arabs did, and still do. The torse was then used to tie another piece of cloth or silk to the head or helmet. This was called the mantle. The mantle usually appears to be shredded or torn. This is supposed to represent the cutting action of an enemy's sword or lance in battle. This, in turn, was meant by the heraldic artist to represent courage; that the knight had faced and overcome great danger or death. The shredded mantle soon became a standard feature on most coats-of-arms.
Supporters and Base
Some coats-of-arms have supporters on either side of the shield, and they stand upon a base, which appears below the shield. Supporters usually took the form of humans, or natural or mythical beasts. A coat-of-arms with supporters implied that the bearer of the arms had authority, such as a king or emperor. In later centuries the arms of other authority figures, such as noblemen and governors came to have supporters. Most coats-of-arms do not include supporters.
Over time strict rules were developed for heraldic artists. These rules were adhered to most closely by heralds in England and Scotland. These rules included the use of colors, metals, and the shape and style of shields and helmets. For instance, the shape of the shield was determined by the gender of the bearer, male or female. The style of helmet came to represent rank; different styles or positions helmets for various ranks of feudal society such as Squire, Knight, Duke, King, etc. Heraldry became more elaborate at the level of high nobility and royalty. Features such as crowns were placed above helmets, and "furs" were added to the list of colors and metals.
Colors and Metals
It would be impossible to list the entire range of symbolic shield charges, but the list of acceptable colors and metals is short and can be repeated here. Two metals were used; gold, represented by yellow, and silver, represented by white. The colors are blue, red, green, purple, and black. Each color and metal had a symbolic meaning just as the shield charges and crest did. According to Cirlot's Dictionary of Symbols, each color or metal corresponds to a heavenly body, each of which, the ancients believed, corresponded to certain active or "spiritual" forces or principles. It is also possible that the use of one metal and one primary color for a coat-of-arms was intended to symbolize an astrological conjunction between the Sun or Moon, and one of the planets, whichever was represented by the appropriate color. The shield charges were intended to symbolize the dynamic action of the charges on the passive principle of the color or metal of the shield. This was a complex, detailed process for a herald to sort out, and heralds or heraldic artists in past times might have been versed in mystical, esoteric and occult lore. Dictionary of Symbols says of heralds;
Like Egyptian and Chaldean scribes, heralds at arms are repositories of hermetic [mystical] wisdom and, therefore, 'keepers of secrets'...Heralds at arms are related to shield-bearers and to the standard-bearers of ancient armies.
Listed here are the metals and colors with their symbolic meanings. I have also given the name of each metal or color in French, as it was the language usually employed in heraldic art.
Or / Gold (yellow); The Sun, heroic, valiant, dynamic
Argent / Silver (white); The Moon, passive, reflective, magical
Gules / Red: Mars; passionate, active, fortitude
Vert or sinople / Green: Venus; fertile, fresh, adaptable
Azure / Blue: Jupiter; loyalty, devotion, truth, religious feeling
Purpure / Purple: Mercury; royal, powerful, majestic. Usually reserved for royal arms.
Sable / Black: Saturn; humility, repentance. Usually reserved for clerical (priestly) arms.
In some cases purple might be used to represent Jupiter and Blue to represent Mercury. This is because Jupiter is the Roman king of the Gods corresponding to the Greek Zeus, thus purple for majesty. Mercury was the sky god (blue).
The Three Bohnstedt Coats-of-Arms
There are three known coats-of-arms from this Bohnstedt family; (1) those used by Pastor David Sigismund Bohnstedt displaying a chalice and eagles wings, (2) those used by Teodor Ludvig von Bohnstedt displaying a palm tree, hammer and torch, and (3) those used by several branches of the Bohnstedt family in eastern Germany and Prussia displaying three trees; two on the shield and one in the crest.
"Westfalen" Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms
The coat-of-arms used by David Sigismund Bohnstedt do not seem to bear a relationship to those arms used by the Prussian or Swedish Bohnstedt lines. It appears that they were designed specifically for David, or for his father Sigismund Bonstedt, rather than having evolved from some other coat-of-arms. The symbols are religious; the chalice, the three flowers emerging from the chalice symbolizing the trinity, and the eagles wings being associated with St. John the Evangelist.
1-2. "Westfalen" Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms
There is no available information regarding the colors of these arms. An American company speculated that the primary color and metal were probably blue and gold. In heraldic art, blue, or azure, is symbolic of loyalty, devotion, truth, and religious feeling. The obvious color for the chalice would be gold, and again, the color symbology would be appropriate: heroic, valiant, and dynamic. Sigismund Bonstedt was a son of Bartholomäus Bonstedt, and it is tempting to draw a connection between the blue-gold color scheme of the Swedish arms, and the assumed blue-gold color scheme of David Bohnstedt's arms, but it may just be coincidental.
Swedish Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms
It should be mentioned here that the ancestors of the Swedish Bohnstedts arrived in Swedish Pomerania as early as 1677 or earlier. It seems clear that the features in the crest of the Swedish arms are symbolic of the industrial pursuits of Carl Fredrik Bohnstedt and his sons, therefore it is very likely that the features in the crest were added during their lifetime. But if it turns out to be true that the "Prussian" arms and the Swedish arms had a common origin, the shield portion of the "palm-tree" coat-of-arms may have originated prior to 1677 in Germany.
1-2. "Swedish" Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms
Since Bartholomäus Bonstedt was the common ancestor of both the Swedish line and the Prussian line, this leaves open the possibility that Bartholomäus may have been using some form of this coat-of-arms with one tree on the shield. Without more information it would be impossible to know or even guess whether these arms were displayed with a crest.
"Prussian" 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.
1-2. "Prussian" Bohnstedt Coat-of-Arms
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.
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.
The "Norwegian Arms"
I had originally intended to include a full size picture of the arms used by the Bohnstedt family in Norway, but I could not obtain any information from the family regarding the colors used in these arms. Furthermore, the arms were not registered. The Prussian arms also were never registered but I did include them because of their widespread and long period of use by the family. By contrast the "Norwegian Arms" seem to have been temporarily adopted in the mid 20th century.
Walter Bohnstedt, who adapted these arms to his use seems to have tried to incorporate elements found in both the Swedish and Prussian arms; Walter used three trees, like the Prussian arms, but the trees are palm trees, as in the Swedish arms. There also seems to be a hint of the Westfalen arms in the two wings, although in this case it is questionable whether the wings are intended to be the wings of a Pegasus, or if they are eagles wings which happen to be adjacent to the horse's head. One might be tempted to wonder whether Walter had also tried to incorporate the "Eagle's wings" element from the Westfalen Arms into the crest of this new coat-of-arms.
Alternate Coat-of-Arms provided by Hjørdis "Bonnie" Bohnstedt of Oslo, Norway
According to Hjørdis "Bonnie" Bohnstedt of Oslo, Norway, her father, Walter, believed he was using the Bohnstedt arms as they originally appeared in the 1700s before their evolution into the two different types used in Sweden and Prussia. There might be some truth to this assertion, depending upon what originally appeared on the shield; one tree or three trees; a lime tree or palm trees. However, he may have taken liberties where the crest was concerned; using wings and a horses head. I might also add that, according to heraldic rules, a crown should never have been used in these arms, as crowns were reserved for use by royalty.
Even if it were proven that the shield charges in the Prussian Arms and the Swedish Arms had a common origin, I remain confident that the Westfalen Arms had an origin completely independent of the others.
- Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. 1971 (English translation)
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
1-19 / Heraldry and the Bohnstedt Coats-Of-Arms; Prussian Bohnstedt Arms
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