Coat of Arms

THE COAT OF ARMS OF THE CANARY ISLANDS: ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION

The accomplishment of the conquest of the Islands was symbolized with the addition of the title of Rey de las Islas de Canaria (King of the Islands of Canary) to the official list of titles of the Spanish monarchs. This way, the archipelago was granted the rank of kingdom, but this fact did not implied the granting of a distinctive coat of arms. During the first centuries after the conquest, only the cabildos (councils) of the three islands under direct royal administration (Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma) were granted a coat of arms, but the islands as a whole, lacking any institution common to all of them, were not formally granted any distinctive emblem.

Nevertheless, in the beginning of the 16th century, an idea began to spread among the European heralds, to the effect that every territory with a title of sovereignty (kingdoms, principalities, lordships…) should be identified by a heraldic emblem of its own, even if there was no institution to make use of it.

Therefore, many of these heralds proceeded to create coats of arms out of their own imagination for all those territories without emblem, and showed them in the works they wrote. As time went on, some of these imaginary symbols managed to be accepted as the official emblems of these lands.

In the case of the Kingdom of the Islands of Canary, the first known examples appear in the 2nd Book of the Genealogical and Heraldical History of the Emperors, Kings and Noblemen of Europe, written by Hans Tirol and presented to Philip II in 1549, being preserved in Monasterio de El Escorial Library 1. There are shown two completely different versions of the supposed arms of the R[egnum] Canariae, that can’t be considered nothing more than the product of the author’s imagination. In the 1st volume, the arms are blue, with a silver elephant and above it a gold lion, while in the 2nd volume, the arms shown are blue with a diagonal band charged with the zodiacal signs of Cancer, Leo, Virgo and Libra, accompanied by two golden six-pointed stars, and below it a silver animal resembling a boar. Curiously, a very similar and equally fantastic emblem is attributed in the same work to the Kingdom of Gibraltar, other of the royal titles.

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A manuscript dated prior to 1580, entitled Nobiliario de España and written by Alonso Téllez de Meneses 2, shows as arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries a gold shield with three green sugarcanes and a purple dog with a golden collar. This emblem seems fantastic, too, but it is to be noted that for the first time there appears a dog, making reference to the most accepted hypothesis on the origin of the name of the Canary Islands, that would come from the latin canis (dog).

But we must wait until the mid-17th century to find the first reference to a coat of arms of the Canary Islands containing the main elements of the current arms. At the end of the reign of Philip IV (1621-1665), Francisco Valonga y Gatuellas, in his manuscript entitled Títulos de los Reyes de España 3, describes the arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries as follows: This Kingdom and islands have as arms seven islands in the middle of a sea, with a gold letter below saying OCEANI. 3, describes the arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries as follows: This Kingdom and islands have as arms seven islands in the middle of a sea, with a gold letter below saying OCEANI.

From the same time would be another version of the arms of the Canary Islands that would have been the source for the anonymous author of the map entitled Plan de las Afortunadas Islas del Reyno de Canarias, dated by Juan Tous Meliá around 1765 4. This map is illustrated with a coat of arms that accompanying text decribes this way: These are the arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries: 7 silver islands on blue and white sea waves, and the white fess on top symbolizing that it is a feudatary kingdom; and in the chief of the shield some gold letters saying Occeano. According to Salazar.

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This Salazar would be Miguel de Salazar y Mendoza, who was Chronicler and Honour Chapain of Philip IV, but we have no information to know if he was the creator of this heraldic achievement for the Canary Islands or he just echoed some other work, like the forementioned one by Valonga. Anyway, the text of the map is rather inexact: it describes as a fess what in the drawing appears as a chief, while it says that the inscription Occeano is on the chief, when in the drawing it is shown forming an arch above the crown.

Little earlier than the anonymous map is another one entitled Plano de las Islas de Canaria, made by Francisco Javier Machado Fiesco in 1762 5. On top of it ther is a coat of arms showing the same elements, but with significant differences: the islands are drawn in elevation instead of as ground plans; the background is represented as being plain blue by horizontal lines; and the crown is open instead od closed. On the other hand, the motto "Oceano" (in its correct form, with a single “c”) really occupies the chief of the shield.

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A manuscript of uncertain date, estimated between 1770 and 1784, entitled Canaria Ilustrada y Puente Americhano and written by Dámaso de Quezada y Chaves 6, a clergyman born in Tenerife and living in Rome, devotes a chapter to describe the coat of arms of the Canary Islands, with the following words: as a kingdom, they were granted for arms seven islands on a background of blue sea waves; on top a silver fess and gold crown framed with 6 gold letters [saying] OCEANO. And next, he draws two variants of these arms, one including the “fess” or chief and the letters and the other one without these elements. On both cases, it looks very similar to the arms in the 1765 map.

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In 1772, the first printed edition of Noticias de la Historia General de las Islas de Canaria, the work of José de Viera y Clavijo 7, includes as a frontispiece an engraving with a version of the arms of the islands containing all the elements of the current emblem: the seven islands shown in elevation and ordered two, two, two, one, the motto OCÉANO in a ribbon and not as part of the field, the royal crown closed and, on both sides of the shield, a dog with collar as an iconographic reference to the hypothetical ethimology of the islands’ name. Other accesory elements are: some flags, an anchor, a compass, a cannon, etc. In chapter 90 of this work the arms are described, falling again into confusion about the “chief”: The ancient Fortunate islands are a kingdom. Their coat of arms represents the seven islands by seven rocks on blue waves, with royal crown, and in the chief gold letters saying Oceano.

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The following known arms appear on the map of Gran Canaria made by Tomás López in 1780 8, showing a typically rococo style, where the outer decorations are made of plants, and the crown has been replaced by a sort of shell.

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Another version, dated 1785, shows the peculiarity of being surrounded by military trophies and drawn in colour, though, oddily, the field is not blue. It appears on the map entitled Plan et Vue des Iles Canaries, made by Emmanuel D'Hermand, French consul in the Canaries 9.

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The arms shown on the first printed map of the Canary Islands, made by José Trinidad de Herrera and published in the Semanario Enciclopédico Elemental in July 1786 10, is clearly based on the one appearing in Viera’s work.

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In december the same year it was established in La Laguna the Real Consulado de Mar y Tierra de Canarias (Royal Consulate of Sea and Land of the Canaries), with the aim of promoting the economic development and the commercial relations of the Islands. As its emblem, it chose a composition clearly based on the earlier ones, though showing important variations. It’s a round-shaped shield where the seven islands appear on a blue background surrounding an escutcheon with the arms of Castile and Leon. On top of a closed royal crown, the ribbon with the motto OCEANO. This was the first and only time, until the arrival of the autonomy, when the emblem of the seven islands served as the symbol of an official Canarian institution, though its life was ephemeral.

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Throughout the 19th century, the arms of the Canary Islands kept appeared as a decorative element in different art works, like the examples that can be seen in the main front of the ancient Hospital de San Carlos, now Museum of Nature and Man, or that in the building of the Sociedad Filarmónica Santa Cecilia, now the seat of the Parliament, both in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

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A version from 1876 shows the arms flanked by the Spanish flag

La Ilustración de Canarias, a literary and culture magazine published in Tenerife from 1882 to 1884, showed on its heading a shield topped with with a mural crown, with islands ordered the other way round: one, two, two and two.

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An odd variation appeared in Tierra Canaria (no. 16, 1931, p. 5), a magazine published in Havana, Cuba, by the Canarian Association. There, the Canarian shield is shown together with the arms of the Republic of Cuba. Maybe in order to armonize with this last, the Canarian shield is drawn with fasces, a Phrygian cap, and branches of laurel.

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The approval of the Statute of Autonomy in 1982 made the arms official, with the following text:

The Canary Islands have its own coat of arms, whose description is as follows: azure, seven islands silver well ordered, two, two, two and one, this last in point. As a crest, a royal crown gold, surmonted by a ribbon silver with the motto "Océano"sable, and as supporters two dogs proper collared.

The design of the arms has suffered some changes. During the first ten years of self-government, this model was used:

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In 1993, the following design was adopted:

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In 2005, the Handbook of Graphic Corporate Identity of the Canarian Government simplified the design:

 

Independentist proposals

On “El Guanche” website (http://elguanche.net), the digital edition of the official newsletter of the Congreso Nacional de Canarias (a party founded and headed by Antonio Cubillo upon disbanding the MPAIAC), a so-called “Coat-of-arms of the Canary Islands” appears, its field vertically divided into three bands: white, sky blue and yellow. In the center, in green, a letter of the Berber alphabet corresponding to the “Z”, which, according to the design’s description, it’s the “symbol of the free men”. This letter is the initial of the word “independence” (azarug in Berber language, since the vowels are not written), and it’s used as a symbol by the Berber nationalist movements, especially in Algeria’s northern region of Kabylia. It’s use by the Canarian independentists is due to their claim that the Canarian people of today is a direct descendant of the aboriginals (commonly known as “guanches”, though this name corresponds properly only to the first inhabitants of Tenerife), and therefore makes part of the Berber ethnical community, and the Berber language would be the real language of the current inhabitants of the Islands. The symbol is tied by a red ribbon as a “symbol of the libertarian struggle”, bearing seven green stars, the same that, put on a circle, appear on the independentist flag. In the lower part of the shield there is a white ribbon with the inscription "Canarias libre" (Free Canaries), in Spanish, while in the upper part (it seems to be the “chief” of shield, but it could also be an externall element, depending on the meaning of the widest black border), the words AWAÑAK KANARYA, meaning “Canarian Motherland”

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Even strangest is the emblem appearing in the book Taknara Tel'la: Historia de la bandera canaria, by Manuel Suárez Rosales (v. Bibliografía) and labelled "Escudo de Taknara libre" (Arms of Free Taknara), as a proposal for a would-be independent Canarian state. The islands are in a circle, instead of the traditional arrangement two, two, two, one, and the shield is surrounded by different elements: a flag of the Ateneo and an independentist flag. On top, a rising sun, and below, a Carian pinetree and a ribbon with the inscription, in Berber language, “They are one”.

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BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

1 - Biblioteca del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, sign. 28-I-10, 11 y 12, vitrinas 21, 22 y 23

2 - Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Colección Salazar y Castro, sign. 9/236

3 - Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Colección Salazar y Castro, sign. 9/495

4 - Tous Melián, Juan. El Plan de las Afortunadas Islas del Reyno de Canarias y la isla de San Borondón. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Militar Regional de Canarias, 1996

5 - Tous Melián, Juan. Plano de las Islas de Canaria, por D. Francisco Xavier Machado Fiesco, 1762. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Militar Regional de Canarias, 1994

6 - Biblioteca Nacional. Ms. 22.520

7 - Viera y Clavijo, José de. Noticias de la Historia General de las Islas de Canaria. Madrid, 1772

8 - Tous Melián, Juan. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria a través de la cartografía. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Cabildo Insular, 1995

9 - Tous Melián, Juan. Carte et Vue des Iles Canaries, por Emmanuel Louis Joseph D'Hermand, Cónsul de Francia en las Islas Canarias. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Militar Regional de Canarias, 1994

10 - Tous Melián, Juan. El primer mapa impreso en las Islas Canarias. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Militar Regional de Canarias, 1994

 

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