College of Arms

Royal Aragonese College of Arms (RACA)

Real Collegio d’Armi Aragonese

General background

In the early mediaeval period the proclamation and organisation of tournaments was the chief function of heralds. They marshalled and introduced the contestants and kept a tally of the score. From this derive both their modern roles of organising ceremonial and of being expert in what we now call heraldry. The knights taking part in those tournaments were recognisable by the arms they bore on their shields and the crests they wore on their helmets. Similar distinguishing shields and crests were used in battle. Heralds soon acquired an expert knowledge of these and became responsible for recording arms and later for controlling the use of them.

As coats of arms soon became hereditary the heralds soon came to add expertise in genealogy to their skills. The use of arms on the jousting field and in battle became steadily less important but at the same time the civilian, social and eventually antiquarian uses of heraldry grew.

In mediaeval times there were heralds in service both of the monarch and of certain great noblemen as well as certain territories and prominent cities in continental Europe. Heralds were a standard element of a royal household by the Thirteenth Century and perhaps even in the century before. In England which led the field in this respect the royal heralds had their own seal from at least 1420 and acted in some ways like a corporation. Other countries – France, Scotland and indeed Aragon – soon followed suit. In 1484 The English heralds were granted a Royal Charter and also a royal residence in which to store their records. The social status of heralds inevitably rose and soon they were employed by their monarchs for the most important and sensitive diplomatic missions.

At an early stage the officers of these college of arms were soon ranked as pursuivants who were the sort of trainee heralds, heralds pure and simple and kings of arms who were superior heralds and who may have territorial responsibilities. When it became virtually universally accepted fact that noble arms had either to be granted or recognised by a college of arms instituted by a fount of honours, such a grant or recognition could only be issued by the kings of arms. Quite often one of the kings of arms would have authority over his peers as effective president of the college. Heraldic offers are appointed to office by a formal ceremony in the course of which they are given a predicate by which they are known hereafter. Traditionally kings of arms are called after a territory of the monarch they serve, heralds after a city but pursuivants after an heraldic attribute of the monarch.

In point of fact one of the most famous heralds of the entire mediaeval period was Sicily Herald (Jean Courtois, ob. 1436) who was the senior herald of the King of Aragon, Sicily, Catalonia, Valencia, Majorca, Corsica and Sardinia. He had previously been the herald of a nobleman, Pierre of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol. He wrote and published a ground-breaking work entitled “Le Blason des Couleurs en armes, livrées et devises” which codified a system of tinctures, planets and carbuncles, the virtues, metals, months, signs of the zodiac and weekdays among other elements which found great favour at the time when levels and level of symbolism were worked into every aspect of heraldry. More than a trace of his work persists to this very day and is used particularly when designing new arms.

The College today

The Royal Aragonese College of Arms follows the pattern of others. It is a body corporate instituted and maintained by a sovereign prince, in this case the Head of the Royal House of Aragon, Majorca and Sicily by whom its Statutes were issued. It is composed of kings of arms one of whom acts as its president, heralds and pursuivants.

The College was reorganised and effectively refounded in 1987 largely due to the efforts of the late Don James Frere FSA, Marquès de la Uniòn, who as Chester Herald in the English College of Arms had played an important role in the Coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. Marques Frere drafted the new Statutes that were issued in 1987.

The College’s duties include:

  • To register and record the Arms and Genealogies of Noble, Titled and Armigerous Families conceded, recognised and confirmed by the Head of the House of Aragon, Majorca and Sicily.
  • To issue Certificates of Titles and or Arms and to propose and petition for Titles of Nobility.
  • To attribute on the receipt of a Petition, by means of Letters Patent, Grants of Arms and Augmentations of Arms.
  • To issue Certificates of Family Trees and Pedigrees.
  • To formulate Regulations, Ceremonials, Precedents and Forms of Protocol for the use of the Court and of Aragonese Institutions.
  • To cooperate with the Marshal of the Militare Ordine del Collare di Sant’Agata dei Paternó (Military Order of the Collar or MOC) in the observance of Regulations on Insignia and Uniforms and of the Ceremonials and Heraldry of the MOC.
  • To appoint Officers of the College of Arms by means of Letters Patent.

When engaged in ceremonial activities the Officers of the College wear the Arms of the Royal House either in the form of a tabard of precious fabric or by way of a herald’s jewel of enamelled gold. The Arms in question are those of the Dynasty of Paternò Castello Guttadauro into which the Headship of the Royal House of Aragon, Majorca and Sicily has descended. Whether in tabard or wearing a herald’s jewel kings of arms carry a sceptre of gold or silver gilt while heralds carry the traditional wand of office of white wood.

Note: with grateful acknowledgement to the English College of Arms