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Armorial Général (France)

Last modified: 2013-12-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: armorial general | hozier | municipality | commune |
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Importance of the Armorial Général

The Armorial Général instituted by King of France Louis XVI has been widely used by French municipalities to confirm their arms or design new ones.

Ivan Sache, 20 May 2006

Presentation of the Armorial Général

In 1686, William of Orange formed the League of Augsburg, in an attempt to curb the territorial ambitions of Louis XIV. When Louis invaded the Palatinate in 1688 the League declared war against him. In 1689 England joined the League and made William king.
All wars are expensive to maintain and this one was no exception. So, in order to help raise funds for its prosecution, in 1697 Louis instituted the Armorial Général, under the charge of Charles d'Hozier, juge d'armes. From the point of view of heraldry, it has often been stated that the Edict of November 1697 served to limit the use of arms to certain social classes, since its declared aim was to remedy the numerous abuses committed against heraldic law.
In fact it was simply an ingenious device, among others, to raise money for the war, and from this point of view it was extremely successful, since it has been estimated that five and a half million livres were raised in revenue.

The effect of the work was twofold: firstly, through regional maîtrises, or administrative centres, under the direction of Paris, de connaître et de régler toutes les causes héraldiques [to know and prescribe all heraldic cases); and secondly, to compile an Armorial Général, despot public des armes et blasons [public depot of arms and balzons] in which were gathered together all the arms borne in the realm, whether those of nobles or common people, individuals or communities.
Failure to register arms led to a fine of 300 livres, but in spite of this threat registrations during 1697 were small in number, and were largely confined to the nobility and to religious institutions. A further decree of December 1697 brought about the drawing up of rolls for each community which, according to the administrators, indicated those who were capable of bearing arms. When the rolls were published in the communes registration of their arms by those named had to take place within eight days.
It was from this point onwards that thousands of unwanted arms were ascribed to artisans, bourgeois, merchants and communes who would not otherwise have considered the bearing of them. It was for these who had not previously borne arms that Hozier and his commissioners constructed series of similar arms with variations on a theme for whole area, as well as a huge quantity of tasteless armes parlantes [canting arms], arms which were lovingly entered into the Armorial Général but never used by the recipients.

The first wave of registrations lasted for two years, with frequent fines being imposed on defaulters. Riots broke out in some areas, for example in Bayonne and Toulon, because of the rigour imposed, and eventually, in December 1699, a further decree gave certain exemptions to indivuals and communities which were considered too poor to pay for their arms. Following this, the regional maîtrises were gradually suppressed, registration became rarer, and then ceased in 1709; dès lors chacun fut de nouveau libre de porter les armes de son choix ou de ne pas en adopter [then everyone was free again to bear the arms of his choice or not to bear any arms].
In 1760, an attempt was made to reverse this decree, to make it illegal for certain people to bear arms who were deemed unworthy to do so, but this was rejected by Parliament as being contraire aux lois, maximes et usages du royaume [contrary to the laws, maxims and uses of the kingdom].
It seems a strange coincidence that there followed in France throughout the 18th century a similar evolution in heraldic matters to that which occurred in England. Most French writers agree that the institution of the Armorial Général caused a deplorable decline in heraldic standards.

The Armorial Général is the most consulted work in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and unfortunately many people mistakenly regard it as the font of heraldic research.
The effect of the work of the Armorial Général on the evolution of civic heraldry in France was enormous, and although many communes rejected the arms ascribed, and either reverted to those previously borne or refused to use any at all, there are as many who today proudly display arms which were arbitrarily given to them without any consideration other than that of convenience.
The cost of the registration of arms was twenty livres for a commune, and the copy of the arms ascribed which were given to the commune were painted on a certicate without the blazon, although the blazon itself appears in the registers of the Armorial Général. It was this practice that led to errors in later copies of the arms of many communes, due partly to the incompetence of the original artists in depicting some charges, and partly to the deterioration of the pigment.

The methods of the administrators were simple. If the commune registered its arms, these were usually accepted without question. If they did not, then arms were ascribed to them and the fee was taken. In order to facilitate the process, certains patterns were used in combinations of tinctures and shapes until they were exhausted; a particular charge, like for example the figure of a saint, was used, with merely a change of name to distinguish it from the arms of a neighbouring commune; and puns and plays on words with no linguistic knowledge were imposed wherever other methods were not. The whole process seemed to depend on the whim of the local commissioner. In the Registre d'Orléans, there is a consecutive list of 198 ascribed arms tierced per bend and tierced per fess. This is not unusual occurrence within the Armorial Général. As far as puns are concerned, one example will suffice to make the point. The arms of Rognonas, Bouches-du-Rhône, are: "Azure three kidneys or kidney beans or", where the charges are a rebus on rognon, kidney.
One aspect of the work of the administrators is not often commented upon. In several cases, both in individual and in communal arms where they had not been voluntarily registered, malice played a part in their entries. For example the arms of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Gard, are: De gueules à trois tinettes ou cuvettes d'or, suspendues chacune à un anneau par trois cordons du même, posées deux en chef et une en pointe; au chef cousu de sinople, chargé de trois fleurs de lys d'or (Gules three tubs with a ring and three cords or a chief vert three fleurs de lis or). The cuvettes were used in the Roman baths from which the name of the commune is derived, from the Roman name Balnearius which gradually changed to its present form in the XVIIth century. The meaning of tinette is soil tub, for carrying away the contents of latrines.

Brian Timms, 20 May 2006

Neubecker [neu77b] gives more technical details on the Armorial Général. Charles d'Hozier, already juge général d'armes de France, was appointed Garde de l'Armorial Général. He was appointed an assistant, Adrien Vannier, who bore the title of directeur du Traité des armoiries. Vannier's duty was the perception of registration fees on the king's behalf.
On 20 Novembre 1996, the Royal Council of Finances stated that the registration fees should be paid to Adrien Vannier personally, and prescribed the fee list as follows:
- personal arms: 20 livres
- provincial arms: 300 livres
- upper rank towns (with an archbishopric, bishopric or upper companies): 100 livres
- other towns: 50 livres
- duchies and pairies: 50 livres
- counties and marquisates: 40 livres
- viscounties, baronies and vidamies: 30 livres
- domains with rights of greater, middle and lesser justice: 20 livres
- domains with rights of middle and lesser justice: 10 livres
- simple domains (without justice rights): 5 livres
- archbishoprics, religious orders and universities: 100 livres
- bishoprics, cathedral chapters and abbeys: 50 livres
- other chapters, priories, convents: 25 livres
- other religious bodies: 15 livres
- bodies of upper companies: 100 livres
- municipal bodies, professional bodies, companies and communities established in upper rank towns: 50 cities
- other bodies, companies and communities: 26 livres
The Armorial Général is made of 69 volumes and include c. 110,000 arms.

Louis de Bresc gives in his Armorial des communes de Provence [bjs94] the complete text of Louis XIV's 1696 edict as well as the list of further decrees related to the registration of arms (after Godefroy de Montgrand's Armorial de la ville de Marseille):
- 20 November 1696: Decree of the Council, appointing Adrien Vannier to perceive the registration fees for the Armorial Général - 20 November 1696: Decree prescribing the paiement of the fees to Adrien Vannier personally - 18 December 1696: Decree appointing Charles d'Hozier Garde de l'Armorial Général de France - 22 January 1697: Decree postponing the deadline for the registation of arms to 1 February 1697 - 19 March 1697: Decree postponing the registration of arms bearing fleurs de lis or on an azure field - August 1700: Decree suppressing the grande maîtrise and the maîtrises particulières in charge of the Armorial Général - April 1701: Decree reestablishing the charge of juge d'armes - 9 March 1706: Decree of the Council allowing d'Hozier to correct the arms erroneously ascribed or explained in the Armorial Général.

The Hozier family is presented on the website of the French National Archives (page no longer online).
Pierre d'Hozier (Marseilles 1592- Paris 1660), lord of La Garde, was a cavalryman (chevau-léger) in a company owned by Marshal de Crequi (1578-1638), ambassador in Venice and Rome. Hozier first built the family tree of the Crequi family, and later of other noble families. He was appointed juge d'armes in 1641, maître d'hôtel of the king in 1642 and State councillor in 1654. Hozier helped Théophraste Renaudot (1586-1653) to found the Gazette (1631), one of the oldest French newspapers. Hozier's main books are:
- Recueil armorial, contenant par ordre alphabétique, les armes et blasons des anciennes maisons de Bretagne (1638) [Armorial including the coat of arms and blazons of the ancient families of Brittany, arranged in alphabetical order]
- Les noms, surnoms, qualités, armes et blasons de tous les chevaliers de l'ordre du Saint-Esprit (1643) [Names, nicknames, titles, coat of arms and blasons of all the Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit]
- Généalogie des principales familles de France [Genealogy of the main French families] in 150 volumes
Charles-René d'Hozier (1640-1732), Pierre d'Hozier's son and the first editor of the Armorial Général, published:
- Recherches de la noblesse de Champagne (1673) [Research on nobility in Champagne].
- Recherches des armoiries de Bourgogne [Research on Burgundian coats of arms]
and several family trees.
Louis-Pierre d'Hozier (1685-1767), Charles-René d'Hozier's nephew, was juge d'armes, State councillor and Dean of the Order of Holy Spirit. He published with his son the Armorial Général de France (1736-1768).
Antoine-Marie d'Hozier (1721-1810), Louis-Pierre d'Hozier's son, was juge d'armes until the French Revolution. He published the third and fourth volumes of the Armorial Général.
Ambroise-Louis-Marie d'Hozier (1760-1834), Antoine-Marie d'Hozier's nephew, was appointed vérificateur des armoiries de France près le conseil du sceau des titres under the Restauration. He published the Indicateur nobiliaire (1818, uncompleted) and the two first volumes of the Armorial Général.

Ivan Sache, 20 May 2006