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The Arms of Košice City / 1369 - The first armorial warrant

The heraldic period / 1369 - The first armorial warrant

One the 7th of May 1369 in Diosgyor, King Lodovicus the Great is the first ruler in Europe to issue an armorial warrant to a city as a legal entity. This is therefore the oldest warrant of its kind.

„Nos Lodovicus Dei Gratia Rex Hungarie memorie commendantes tenore presentium significamus quibus expedit universis. Quod nos comodose utilitati fidelium Civium et hospitum nostrorum de Cassa regia liberalitate invigilare cupientes, et eosdem gretiarum donis gliscantes ampliare, ad devotam et humilem ipsorum supplicationem, eisdem Civibus nostris de Cassa annuimus ex gratia speciali, ut iidem amodo in sigillo ipsius Civitatis secreto et missivo, ac vexillo, formam Clipei de Signo nostro Regio extortam, desuper videlicet unum tractum seu linram flavei coloris, tribus imaginibus liliorum compaginatum, et de subtus quaturou lineas rufas et totidem albas, lateraliter habentis in perpetuum gestare valeant atque possint. Harum sub nostro sigillo secreto testimonio litterarum, quas in formam nostri privilegii sub magno nostro sigillo, pro ipsis Civibus redigi faciemus dum nobis fuerint reportate. Datum in Diiosgewr feria secunda proxima ante festum Ascensionis Domini, Anno eiusdem millesimo trecentesimo sexagesimo nono."

The first armorial warant issued to the city Košice in 1369.

„We, Lodovicus, by God‘s Grace King of Hungary, by means of this warrant make known to all whom it may concern, that with royal favour, and with regard to the appropriate benefit of our loyal Citizens and guests of Košice, desirous that the same should prosper by gifts of grace, on their devoted and humble request we consent out of special benevolence to allow these same our Citizens of Košice the right henceforth and in eternity to use on the confidential and dispatch seal, or flag, of the City the form of a Shield, extracted from our Royal Sign, with namely from the head a band or line of blue colour charged with three images of lilies, and having up the sides from the base four red lines and just the same of white. Under our confidential seal in testimony to this document, which we shall cause to be drawn up as our privilege under our great seal for these same Citizens, when it is brought bask to us. Given in Diosgyor this second day before the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord in this year one thousand three hundred and sixty-nine." (7th of May).

By issuing the city of Košice with this armorial warrant, Lodovicus the Great, as the first of all rulers in Europe, overstepped the customary limits in the granting of arms to individual persons. If on the one hand he was willing, and actually did issue a shield of arms to the city, on the other hand he could not style the shield to any satisfaction so that it would accord with the rules of heraldry. At that period, namely, it was unimaginable that a city, as a legal entity, could obtain those elements of armorial bearings which were the characteristic symbols connected with one individual person. These were the helmet, crest and mantling which only a knight or warrior could wear. Moreover, while the granting of a shield alone was insufficient according to contemporary heraldic customs, from the monarch’s point of view it was logically impossible to grant anything beyond that.

The city obtained only a shield. In granting it and defining the charges on it, Lodovicus took his own coat of arms as his starting- point, but transformed it to create a new achievement. His arms were split vertically, the right field divided seven times into red and silver bands and the left strewn with gold lilies.

For the city shield, as we can see also from the privilege granted in 1423, he created a horizontal split with a blue top part in which he placed just three lilies. Below this he also divided the whole field seven times into red and silver bands, just as in his own bearings, but starting from the base. This way in fact he achieved the alteration in order to silver and red which was necessary if one basic heraldic principle was to be maintained at the contact line between this field and the head of the shield: colour to metal, metal to colour.

Miniature of the coat of arms of 1423.

In granting this shield and deciding the charges on it, Lodovicus the Great (and other rulers after him who granted coats of arms during the period of active heraldry) kept military requirements in mind. On the banner under which city divisions would fight, one of two fundamental symbols of the kingdom would be visible: a field divided seven times into red and silver bands, or a cross of Lorraine. The royal city thus obtained a symbol which clearly and visibly expressed its belonging to the kingdom. In this way the question of the content of the shield in the coat of arms was solved. It remained only to find a solution to the most serious legal and formal problem stemming from the very granting of a coat of arms according to contemporary custom in the form of a deed of privilege (where the seal would hang on a ribbon) would have had the effect of collectively ennobling the city, of raising it to aristocratic status. However, the vision of a situation in which the city might enforce its position of nobility and attempt to claim its share and representation in the administration of the kingdom was in 1369 still something unimaginable. The monarch had to exclude meticulously even the slightest possibility of this happening, and he did so by issuing the warrant in the form of a patent (with an impressed seal which granted temporary rights ), promising simultaneously to draw up an award of privilege guaranteed by the great royal seal, which could only be done after presentation of this warrant.

Most important of all, however, he limited the use of the arms to the confidential and dispatching seal. This smaller city seal had only lesser legal force and a secondary function. In the formal sense he left untouched the use of the authentic great seal with St. Elizabeth, which had full legal power. In this way to some extent he suppressed the signifance of his own decision to grant the bearings.

Košice thus became the first city in Europe to possess an armorial warrant granted by a monarch. While fully aware of the precedence of this position, and that they had something more than other cities, the citizens also knew that their coat of arms was incomplete and lacked proper form. There can be no doubt that they sought to have the warrant issued at least in the form of a privilege, especially as the very text of the document bade them do so. In this desire however they were trying to preempt history to the tune of several decades. Lodovicus the Great obliged Košice by granting the city a shield of arms, but this was at once his first and last granting of arms to a city. Henceforth both he, and later Queen Maria, confirmed the right of towns only to use a particular seal. After several decades of waiting, at the beginning of the 15th century the city had an armorial seal prepared, with a shield according to the original warrant.

The smaller seal S´MINUS*CIVIUM*CIVITATIS*DE*CASSA* from the beginning of the 15 th century, used in green wax until 1453, and subsequently in red.

The components of the coat of arms left out of the latter- helmet, crest and mantling – which should be above the shield, were replaced with an angel which the city put there in vague outline. This apparently and temporarily at least filled the space visually, and they did not realise at that point that this was of no help to them from the heraldic point of view. In fact, Košice was the first of several significant towns to bring into practice such a substitution, which in future would actually work to prevent them from obtaining the further vital components they wanted on their urban coats of arms. In local heraldry the angel gradually turned into a supporter of the shield, thus replacing precisely what the city wished to obtain, and the fact that it consistently desired to acquire a complete coat of arms is supported by all further developments up until the complete fulfilment of that desire. The principal breakthrough out of the legal obstacles came in the year 1405, after which the cities were formally recognised by King Sigismundus as having privileged status in the realm, and then nothing could prevent them from obtaining coats of arms in the form of privileges.

/Translation: A.Y.Billingham/
/© Photo: Marián Krlička/