Eagle

Pretty much anything that is a noun might find its way into armory. An Eagle displayed in heraldrySome few charges are common, while exotic charges may only occur once or twice in 100,000 coats of arms. Many charges have special rules about their use and unusual considerations about their placement and way they are drawn. In an effort to help students of heraldry better understand how the Eagle is used in heraldry, I have included remarks about the Eagle from several of the most prominent heraldic scholars:

Eagle (Aigle): signifying the traits of celerity and nobility, the Eagle is one of the most prestigious charges met with in European heraldry. The Eagle is often met with in the arms of Europe. The picture of Eagle above is .

A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry (1894) states:
Eagle, (fr. Aigle): the eagle being the recognized king of birds, it is natural that it should from a favorite device. With the Romans, it will be remembered, it was adopted as their ensign, no doubt as symbolical of the courage and power attributed to that bird. It is found very frequently in the earlier rolls of arms, and is very common throughout the Middle Ages. In the roll, for instance, of the time of Edward II., to which reference has already been made, over forty coats of arms bear eagles. In that, however, of Henry III there are only two or three, and in that of Edward III not so large a number in proportion. From the following selection it will be observed that amongst the earliest examples the beak and claws are blazoned of a different tincture from that of the body; and in Edward the Second’s reign we find the double-headed eagle, and in Edward the Third’s reign we get the term espanie, signifying displayed, or spread out; (conf. modern fr. épandre). The mention, too, of the eagles being tinctured barry implies rather that they were represented displayed, even where not so described.

In later arms also, an eagle is more frequently rendered displayed (mod. fr. eployé) and it may be drawn in two different ways. The first figure shews an eagle with its wings elevated, which is what is generally intended by the phrase ‘an eagle displayed,’ and the second with its wings inverted. The difference appears, however, to be an accidental one. The term expanded is also found sometimes used, which implies, perhaps, that the wings are displayed more than usual. Unless otherwise appointed, the eagle is to be drawn with the head looking towards the dexter.

But there are various terms which, though not confined to the eagle, are more frequently applied to it than to other birds, namely, as regards its wings, and the several positions in which it is represented.

It may be with wings close, i.e. closed, or it may be with its wings elevated, or it may be with wings disclosed, i.e. somewhat open, but inverted, and pointing downwards (and this is practically the same as the expression overt, written sometimes overture).

If it is recursant, it means the head is turned back towards the sinister, the term reguardant being used for the same. If in full aspect, it is facing the spectator; if in trian aspect, something between that and facing towards the dexter.

Again, an eagle may be rising, that is, about to fly; volant, that is, flying; or eyrant, that is, sitting, as it were, on its nest; or it may be statant, i.e. standing in an ordinary position; and if so, generally perched upon some branch or other object, or holding something in its mouth; or it may be represented as preyant; or, again, pruning its wings. These are a few for which examples are readily found; but to judge of the varieties which might be adopted, the reader is referred to those noted under Bird, and to the article Wings.

Again, Eagles, whether in any of the positions above named, or displayed, may have their beaks, talons, or legs of a different tincture from that of the body. Of the talons the term armed in most frequently used, though unglued (fr. onglé) is sometimes used; of the legs, membered (fr. membré); of the beak, beaked (fr. becqué.) It is not unusual, too, to find an eagle crowned, or having a collar.

When three or more eagles occur in the same shield they are generally represented displayed, though occasionally they are found blazoned otherwise. If they are more than three they are generally blazoned as eaglets.

The double-headed eagle was borne by the German emperors(who claimed to be considered the successors of the Cæsars of Rome), and hence the term frequently applied to it is imperial eagle. The wings of the imperial eagle are always drawn by German heralds with a small feather between each pair of large ones. An eagle is also borne by the emperor or czar (that is Cæsar) of Russia. In the Bulle d’or of Charles IV. (A.D. 1323) the eagle is there represented with but one head, and it is not until Sigismund has son began his reign that we find the eagle represented double-headed.

The eagles in the arms of many English families can be traced to some former connection between those families and the German empire. The Eagle of France dates from Napoleon Bonaparte
A.C. Fox-Davies noted about the Eagle on page 234–240 of his masterwork, A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909):

Though the earliest rolls of arms give us instances of various other birds, the bird which makes the most prominent appearance is the Eagle, and in all early representations this will invariably be found “displayed.” A double-headed eagle displayed, from a Byzantine silk of the tenth century, is illustrated by Mr. Eve in his “Decorative Heraldry,” so that it is evident that neither the eagle displayed nor the double-headed eagle originated with the science of armory, which appropriated them ready-made, together with their symbolism. An eagle displayed as a symbolical device was certainly in use by Charlemagne.

It may perhaps here be advantageous to treat of the artistic development of the eagle displayed. Of this, of course, the earliest prototype is the Roman eagle of the Cæsars, and it will be to English eyes, accustomed to our conventional spread-eagle, doubtless rather startling to observe that the German type of the eagle, which follows the Roman disposition of the wings (which so many of our heraldic artists at the present day appear inclined to adopt either in the accepted German or in a slightly modified form as an eagle displayed) is certainly not a true displayed eagle according to our English ideas and requirements, inasmuch as the wings are inverted. It should be observed that in German heraldry it is simply termed an eagle, and not an eagle displayed. Considering, however, its very close resemblance to our eagle displayed, and also its very artistic appearance, there is every excuse for its employment in this country, and I for one should be sorry to observe its slowly increasing favour checked in this country. It is quite possible, however, to transfer the salient and striking points of beauty to the more orthodox position of the wings. The eagle (compared with the lion and the ordinaries) had no such predominance in early British heraldry that it enjoyed in Continental armory, and therefore it may be better to trace the artistic development of the German eagle.

Figs440-442In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the eagle appears with the head raised and the beak closed. The sachsen (bones of the wings) are rolled up at the ends like a snail, and the pinions (like the talons) take a vertical downward direction. The tail, composed of a number of stiff feathers, frequently issues from a knob or ball. Compare Fig. 440 herewith.

With the end of the fourteenth century the head straightens itself, the beak opens and the tongue becomes visible. The rolling up of the wing-bones gradually disappears, and the claws form an acute angle with the direction of the body; and at this period the claws occasionally receive the “hose” covering the upper part of the leg. The feathers of the tail spread out sicklewise (Fig. 441).

The fifteenth century shows the eagle with sachsen forming a half circle, the pinions spread out and radiating therefrom, and the claws more at a right angle (Fig. 442). The sixteenth century draws the eagle in a more ferocious aspect, and depicts it in as ornamental and ornate a manner as possible.

Fig. 443

Fig. 443—Arms of Duke of Calabria.

From Konrad Grünenberg’s Wappenbuch (Constance, 1483) is reproduced the shield (Fig. 443) with the boldly sketched Adlerflügel mit Schwerthand (eagle’s wing with the sword hand), the supposed arms of the Duke of Calabria.

Quite in the same style is the eagle of Tyrol on a corporate flag of the Society of the Schwazer Bergbute (Fig. 444), which belongs to the last quarter of the fifteenth century. This is reproduced from the impression in the Bavarian National Museum given in Hefner-Alteneck’s “Book of Costumes.”

A modern German eagle drawn by H. G. Ströhl is shown in Fig. 445. The illustration is of the arms of the Prussian province of Brandenburg.

The double eagle has, of course, undergone a somewhat similar development.

The double eagle occurs in the East as well as in the West in very early times. Since about 1335 the double eagle has appeared sporadically as a symbol of the Roman-German Empire, and under the Emperor Sigismund (d. 1447) became the settled armorial device of the Roman Empire. King Sigismund, before his coronation as Emperor, bore the single-headed eagle.

Fig. 444.—Eagle of Tyrol.

Fig. 444.—Eagle of Tyrol.

It may perhaps be as well to point out, with the exception of the two positions “displayed” (Fig. 451) and “close” (Fig. 446), very little if any agreement at all exists amongst authorities either as to the terms to be employed or as to the position intended for the wings when a given term is used in a blazon. Practically every other single position is simply blazoned “rising,” this term being employed without any additional distinctive terms of variation in official blazons and emblazonments. Nor can one obtain any certain information from a reference to the real eagle, for the result of careful observation would seem to show that in the first stroke of the wings, when rising from the ground, the wings pass through every position from the wide outstretched form, which I term “rising with wings elevated and displayed” (Fig. 450), to a position practically “close.” As a consequence, therefore, no one form can be said to be more correct than any other, either from the point of view of nature or from the point of view of ancient precedent. This state of affairs is eminently unsatisfactory, because in these days of necessary differentiation no heraldic artist of any appreciable knowledge or ability has claimed the liberty (which certainly has not been officially conceded) to depict an eagle rising with wings elevated and displayed, when it has been granted with the wings in the position addorsed and inverted. Such a liberty when the wings happen to be charged, as they so frequently are in modern English crests, must clearly be an impossibility.
acfdfigs446-455

Until some agreement has been arrived at, I can only recommend my readers to follow the same plan which I have long adopted in blazoning arms of which the official blazon has not been available to me. That is, to use the term “rising,” followed by the necessary description of the position of the wings (Figs. 447-450). This obviates both mistake and uncertainty. Originally with us, as still in Germany, an eagle was always displayed, and in the days when coats of arms were few in number and simple in character the artist may well have been permitted to draw an eagle as he chose, providing it was an eagle. But arms and their elaboration in the last four hundred years have made this impossible. It is foolish to overlook this, and idle in the face of existing facts to attempt to revert to former ways. Although now the English eagle displayed has the tip of its wings pointed upwards (Fig. 451), and the contrary needs now to be mentioned in the blazon (Fig. 452), this even with us was not so in the beginning. A reference to Figs. 453 and 454 will show how the eagle was formerly depicted.

The earliest instance of the eagle as a definitely heraldic charge upon a shield would appear to be its appearance upon the Great Seal of the Markgrave Leopold of Austria in 1136, where the equestrian figure of the Markgrave carries a shield so charged. More or less regularly, subsequently to the reign of Frederick Barbarossa, elected King of the Romans in 1152, and crowned as Emperor in 1155, the eagle with one or two heads (there seems originally to have been little unanimity upon the point) seems to have become the recognised heraldic symbol of the Holy Roman Empire; and the seal of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, elected King of the Romans in 1257, shows his arms [“Argent, a lion rampant gules, within a bordure sable, bezanté”] displayed upon the breast of an eagle; but no properly authenticated contemporary instance of the use of this eagle by the Earl of Cornwall is found in this country. The origin of the double-headed eagle (Fig. 455) has been the subject of endless controversy, the tale one is usually taught to believe being that it originated in the dimidiation upon one shield of two separate coats {238}of arms. Nisbet states that the Imperial eagle was “not one eagle with two heads, but two eagles, the one laid upon the other, and their heads separate, looking different ways, which represent the two heads of the Empire after it was divided into East and West.” The whole discussion is an apt example of the habit of earlier writers to find or provide hidden meanings and symbolisms when no such meanings existed. The real truth undoubtedly is that the double-headed eagle was an accepted figure long before heraldry came into existence, and that when the displayed eagle was usurped by armory as one of its peculiarly heraldic figures, the single-headed and double-headed varieties were used indifferently, until the double-headed eagle became stereotyped as the Imperial emblem. Napoleon, however, reverted to the single-headed eagle, and the present German Imperial eagle has likewise only one head.

Fig. 456.—Napoleonic Eagle.

Fig. 456.—Napoleonic Eagle.

The Imperial eagle of Napoleon had little in keeping with then existing armorial types of the bird. There can be little doubt that the model upon which it was based was the Roman Eagle of the Cæsars as it figured upon the head of the Roman standards. In English terms of blazon the Napoleonic eagle would be: “An eagle displayed with wings inverted, the head to the sinister, standing upon a thunderbolt or” (Fig. 456).

The then existing double-headed eagles of Austria and Russia probably supply the reason why, when the German Empire was created, the Prussian eagle in a modified form was preferred to the resuscitation of the older double-headed eagle, which had theretofore been more usually accepted as the symbol of Empire.

By the same curious idea which was noticed in the earlier chapter upon lions, and which ruled that the mere fact of the appearance of two or more lions rampant in the same coat of arms made them into lioncels, so more than one eagle upon a shield resulted sometimes in the birds becoming eaglets. Such a rule has never had official recognition, and no artistic difference is made between the eagle and the eaglet. The charges on the arms of Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, are blazoned as eagles (Fig. 454). In the blazon of a few coats of arms, the term eaglet, however, still survives, e.g. in the arms of Child [“Gules a chevron ermine, between three eaglets close argent”], and in the arms of Smitheman [“Vert, three eaglets statant with wings displayed argent, collared or”].

When an eagle has its beak of another colour, it is termed “armed” of that colour, and when the legs differ it is termed “membered.”

An eagle volant occurs in the crest of Jessel [“On a wreath of the colours, a torch fesswise, fired proper, surmounted by an eagle volant argent, holding in the beak a pearl also argent. Motto: ‘Persevere'”].

Parts of an eagle are almost as frequently met with as the entire bird. Eagles’ heads (Fig. 457) abound as crests (they can be distinguished from the head of a griffin by the fact that the latter has always upstanding ears).

Heraldic Eagle's head couped

Fig. 457—Eagle’s head couped.

Unless otherwise specified (e.g. the crest of the late Sir Noel Paton was between the two wings of a dove), wings occurring in armory are always presumed to be the wings of an eagle. This, however, in English heraldry has little effect upon their design, for probably any well-conducted eagle (as any other bird) would disown the English heraldic wing, as it certainly would never recognise the German heraldic variety. A pair of wings when displayed and conjoined at the base is termed “conjoined in leure” (Fig. 458), from the palpable similarity of the figure in its appearance to the lure with which, thrown into the air, the falconer brought back his hawk to hand. The best known, and most frequently quoted instance, is the well-known coat of Seymour or St. Maur [“Gules, two wings conjoined in leure the tips downwards or”]. It should always be stated if the wings (as in the arms of Seymour) are inverted. Otherwise the tips are naturally presumed to be in chief.

An eagle's lure in heraldry

Fig. 458.—A pair of wings conjoined in leure.

Pairs of wings not conjoined can be met with in the arms and crest of Burne-Jones [“Azure, on a bend sinister argent between seven mullets, four in chief and three in base or, three pairs of wings addorsed purpure, charged with a mullet or. Crest: in front of fire proper two wings elevated and addorsed purpure, charged with a mullet or”]; but two wings, unless conjoined or addorsed, will not usually be described as a pair. Occasionally, however, a pair of wings will be found in saltire, but such a disposition is most unusual. Single wings, unless specified to be the contrary, are presumed to be dexter wings.

Care needs to be exercised in some crests to observe the difference between (a) a bird’s head between two wings, (b) a bird’s head winged (a form not often met with, but in which rather more of the neck is shown, and the wings are conjoined thereto), and (c) a bird’s head between two wings addorsed. The latter form, which of course is really {240}no more than a representation of a crest between two wings turned to be represented upon a profile helmet, is one of the painful results of our absurd position rules for the helmet.

A pair of wings conjoined is sometimes termed a vol, and one wing a demi-vol. Though doubtless it is desirable to know these terms, they are but seldom found in use, and are really entirely French.

Eagles’ legs are by no means an infrequent charge. They will usually be found erased at the thigh, for which there is a recognised term “erased à la quise” (Fig. 459), which, however, is by no means a compulsory one. An eagle’s leg so erased was a badge of the house of Stanley. The eagle’s leg will sometimes be met with couped below the feathers, but would then be more properly described as a claw.

Coat of Arms, an eagle's leg erased à la quise

Fig. 459.—An eagle’s leg erased à la quise.

A curious form of the eagle is found in the alerion, which is represented without beak or legs. It is difficult to conjecture what may have been the origin of the bird in this debased form, unless its first beginnings may be taken as a result of the unthinking perpetuation of some crudely drawn example. Its best-known appearance is, of course, in the arms of Loraine; and as Planché has pointed out, this is as perfect an example of a canting anagram as can be met with in armory.
Below you can see , giving another example of the use of the Eagle in heraldry.

Often the symbols or charges used in heraldry were chosen because they sound like some word that has relevance to the bearer of the arms, a name, nickname, deed or battle, a place they lived, or traveled to; this kind of use of charges is called punning or canting arms. Parker gave us the following examples, “Thus were the castle and lion for Castile and Leon, the fers de cheval of Ferrers, the corbeau or raven for Corbet, the herons of Heron, the falcon of Falconer, the swine’s head of Swinebourne, the hammers of Hammerton and the swallows (hirondelles) of Arundel.”

Despite this, there are some good many “traditional” meanings for charges too. In the case of Eagle it can easily be seen to represent high and important matters, a person of great powers.

W. Cecil Wade collected traditional heraldry metaphors in his work The Symbolisms of Heraldry (1898). On page 72–73 we find information on the Eagle, stating, “The Eagle, which is usually represented with wings ” displayed,” signifies ” a man of action, ever more occupied in high and weighty affairs, and one of lofty spirit, ingenious, speedy in apprehension, and judicious in matters of ambiguity.” The displayed wings signify protection, and the gripping talons “rending and ruin to rebels and evil-doers.” (Guillim.) The Eagle was an ensign of the ancient kings of Persia and Babylon; and Marius, 102 B.C., made the Eagle alone the ensign at the head of the Roman legions, but previous to this they had borne the Minotaur, horse, wolf, and boar. The emperors of the Western Roman Empire used a black eagle, but those of the Eastern or Byzantine Roman Empire adopted a golden one. Since the Romans, many empires and kingdoms have taken the eagle for their ensign, viz., Austria, Prussia, Russia, Poland, France, and also, as a supporter and crest, the Republic of America. The two-headed eagle signifies a double empire. William Rufus adopted as a device an eagle looking towards An eagle sable, displayed, within a bordure engrailed the sun, with the motto ” Preferro,” or ” I can endure it.” (Timbs.) Sloane Evans remarks that the Egyptians paid the Eagle high honours at Heliopolis. I think he meant the vulture or hawk, which was sacred to their highest god, Ra, or the Sun god. The Eagle is also held to be typical of a noble nature from its strength and innate power, and has been very generally preferred in Continental heraldry as a high device.

Guillim says that true magnanimity and fortitude of mind is signified by the Eagle, which disdains to combat with smaller birds. The Scriptures make constant reference to the Eagle as a symbol of power. It is also the emblem of St. John the Evangelist.”


The Eagle can be found in following coats of arms:

  • Aerborough: Or, An Eagle’s Head With Hound’s Ears Azure.
  • Atheson: Argent, An Eagle Displayed Double-Headed Sable—Scotland; Bowcegault, Brin, County Chester; Browne, Ireland, etc.
  • Back: Argent, An Eagle Recursant Wings Overture Sable–Back..
  • Bardolph: Gules, An Eagle Ayrant Or–Bardolph, Norfolk.—Norfolk.
  • Bawde,: Gules, Three Eagle’S Legs Erased, Talons In Chief Or—Essex.
  • Bokeland: Argent, An Eagle Displayed Reguardant Sable Armed Or–Bokeland..
  • Bruyne, Harl. M: Argent, An Eagle Displayed Sable, Armed And Langued Gules–Bruyne, Harl. Ms. 1603.—Harl. Ms. 1603.
  • Bygber: Azure, An Eagle Eyrant Or, Armed Gules–Bygbery, Devon.—Devon.
  • Canvill, Richard: Azure, An Eagle Reguardant To The Sinister, Rising Wings Overt And Inverted Or, Breaked Gules.
  • Canvill: Azure, An Eagle Reguardant, Wings Expanded Or Armed Gules.
  • Carnegie: Or, An Eagle Displayed Azure, Holding In The Dexter Talon A Rose Slipped In Pale Proper–Carnegie..
  • Coton, Ashill: Azure, An Eagle With Wings Elevated Argent—Norfolk.
  • Culcheth: Argent, An Eagle Preyant Sable, Upon A Child Swaddled Gules–Culcheth..
  • De Eglesfield, Robert: Argent, Three Eagles Displayed Gules, Armed Or—[Founder of Queen’s College, Oxford, And Borne By The College].
  • Denskine: Azure, An Eagle Pouncing On A Hare Courant Or–Denskine, Scotland.—Scotland.
  • Die: Azure, an Eagle Displayed Wings Downwards Argent, Crowned Or—part of arms.
  • Eagleston: Argent, An Eagle Displayed Sable, Armed Purple.
  • Este: Argent, An Eagle Displayed Sable Crowned Or–Este..
  • Fitzsymon: Azure, Seme Of Eagles Displayed Or—Hertfordshire.
  • Frederick II.: Or, An Eagle Displayed Wings Downwards Sable—Emperor Of Germany, and Edmund, E. of Cornwall, Son of Richard, The King of the Romans.
  • Gambon: Azure, Three Eagle’S Legs Couped Argent.
  • Games: Sable, A Chevron Ermine Between Three Eagles Close Argent—Leicester, Granted 1614.
  • German Empire: Or, An Eagle With Two Heads Displayed Sable.
  • Greaves: Quarterly, Gules And Vert, An Eagle Displayed Holding In The Beak A Slip Of Oak Proper–Greaves..
  • Hiltofte: Argent, An Eagle Wings Expanded Sable, Armed Or.
  • Jernegan, Fitz-Hugh: Or, Three Bars Azure, Over All An Eagle Displayed Gules, Beaked And Armed Or.
  • Jervoise: Sable A Chevron Between Three Eagles Close Argent.
  • Millington: Or, An Eagle Displayed With Two Necks Sable.
  • Monthermer: Or, An Eagle Displayed Vert, Armed Sable–Monthermer..
  • Pevensey: Or, An Eagle Displayed Gules, Armed Azure–Pevensey..
  • Porter, William: Argent, An Eagle Rising, Wings Overt Inverted Gules, Standing On A Baston Raguly In Bend Vert.
  • Priory Of Austin Canons At Caerm: Azure, An Eagle With Wings Endorsed Standing On A Branch Of Laurel All Or.
  • Priory of Austin Canons: Argent Fretty And Four Eagles Displayed Gules—Marton, Yorkshire.
  • Pynell: Per Pale Or And Argent, An Eagle Displayed Perched On A Ragged Staff Sable–Pynell..
  • Ricsworth: Argent, A Bendlet (or Baston) Sable, Between In Chief An Eagle Rising Overt Vert, And In Base A Cross Crosslet Of The Second..
  • Roper: Sable, An Eagle Close Or–Roper—Derby.
  • Rous: Or, An Eagle Displayed Pruning Its Wings Azure, Armed Gules—County. Devon, and Halton, County Cornwall.
  • Smitherman: Vert, Three Eagles Statant, Wings Displayed Argent Collared Or–Smitherman.
  • Staylton or Stalton: Sable, An Eagle Volant Argent–Staylton Or Stalton..
  • Wilcocks: Azure, An Eagle Displayed Argent Armed Or, Collared With A Ducal Coronet Gules–Wilcocks..
  • Williams: Vert, Three Eagles Displayed In Fesse, Within A Bordure Or—London.
  • Wiltram, Robert: Or, A Bendlet(Or Baston) Gules Between Three Eagles Close In Trian Aspect Sable—County York.For more information see the original references:

Originally posted 2015-05-02 08:21:19.

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