Written for Virtual Finland by Maunu Harmo, Master of Pol. Sc., Former President of Finnish Society of Heraldry.
The pictures of the new provincial coats of arms are digitised from original drawings by graphic artist Juhani Vepsäläinen.
The following is a brief description of Finland's national coat of arms and the arms of the nation's nine provinces. A short account is given of what each of these symbolises and how it came into being. The article is based on the official blazon and the most widely approved explanation of each coat of arms.
When King Gustav I of Sweden (died 1560) gave his son John the title of duke of Finland in 1556, the territory also received its own coat of arms, which was probably approved by the king in 1557, although as far as we know Duke John never used it. In addition to national emblems, this coat of arms (Figure 1) included two other symbols referring to northern and southern Finland, in actual fact the areas of Satakunta and Varsinais Suomi (Finland Proper). These two symbols were later retained in the arms of these two provinces.
After ascending the Swedish throne, King John III adopted the title of "Grand Duke of Finland and Karelia" in the year 1581. It was probably at this time or a little later that Finland received a second coat of arms, which is somewhat like the present one. This coat of arms is generally thought to have been modelled on a shield sculpted for the tombstone of King Gustav I at the Uppsala Cathedral (completed 1591). This monument was designed during the reign of John's elder brother, Erik XIV, who was king from 1560 to 1568, but it was only completed some thirty years later during John's reign. The shield was probably designed by the Dutch artist Willem Boyen, who served under both Gustav I and Erik XIV.
There is no way to know whether Finland's second coat of arms was purely the product of Willem Boyen's own imagination or whether it was based on Erik XIV's wishes or some other unknown historical tradition. It is known, however, that Erik XIV was himself interested in heraldry. This matter has been the subject of considerable academic debate among scholars and laymen.
At any rate, the general consensus has been that the symbol of the lion is derived from the arms of the Folkung family, which are included in the royal arms of Sweden. The two swords were borrowed from the Karelian coat of arms, which was publicly displayed for the first known time on a banner at the funeral of King Gustav I in 1560.
The placing of the curved Russian sabre beneath the lion's paws is undoubtedly a reflection of the political situation at this time. Sweden and Russia were almost constantly at war, and the Swedes made use of this propaganda device to imply that they had the upper hand over their enemies. The nine roses are decorative, although they have falsely been interpreted as referring to Finland's nine historical provinces. It is worth noting that the number of roses has varied over the centuries.
When Finland gained independence in 1917, the "lions arms" became the coat of arms of the new nation. Before this it had served as the common symbol for all the Swedish territory to the east of the Gulf of Bothnia; and from 1809 to 1917 it served as the coat of arms for the Grand Duchy of Finland, which was under Russian rule during this period.
The Finnish coat of arms appears on the state flag, official seals, coins, banknotes and postage stamps. On the President's car it takes the place of an ordinary registration plate.
It was not until 1978 that legislation was passed concerning Finland's coat of arms. This legislation gives the official blazon and prohibits the sale of the national coat of arms, subject to fine.
The national coat of arms displays a crowned lion standing on a red field. The lion holds a raised sword in its right gauntleted fore leg and is trampling a curved sabre. The lion, the crown and the sword and sabre handles are gold, as are the gauntlet joints. The blades and the gauntlet are silver. The field is adorned by nine silver roses.
Finland's nine historical provinces include VarsinaisSuomi (Finland Proper), Satakunta, Ahvenanmaa (Åland), Uusimaa, Häme (Tavastia), Kariala (Karelia), Savo, Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia) and Lappi (Finnish Lapland). Several Finnish provinces had their own seals as early as the Middle Ages. No present day coats of arms have developed from these seals, however, which included representations of saints. It was probably not until the reign of Gustav I that Finland's provinces received arms similar to those existing today.
The provincial arms were all apparently designed under kings with a personal interest in heraldry. Each coats of arms is clearly representative of the province, its fauna or other special characteristics. The coronets which appear in Finland's provincial arms are based on historical practice and show a certain degree of ignorance regarding continental heraldic tradition and conventions. The ducal coronet on some provincial arms differs from the normal crown, while the count's coronet on other provincial arms resembles a baronial crown.
Today provincial arms are used in various provincial symbols. The coats of arms of Finland's modern administrative provinces are in the main derived from those of the historical provinces. Many municipalities have also adopted the colours and motifs of provincial arms.Provincial coats of arms
A golden jousting helmet in front of crossed golden lances on a red field. Each lance bears a blue forked pennon with a golden cross. Ducal coronet.
The arms of this province appeared on the coat of arms designed when King John III took the title of grand duke of Finland. The helmet and lances no doubt have reference to Turku Castle, the military and administrative centre of southwestern Finland. The helmet also bears witness to the importance of the nobility and knighthood, established in Medieval times.
A black bear standing on a blue and golden field, with red claws, tongue and teeth. The bear holds a silver sword with golden haft and wears a golden crown. On either side of the bear's head is a silver star. Ducal coronet.
This coat of arms also figured in the arms created for Duke John. The bear is a reference to the old fur trade and the existence of bears in this region in the Middle Ages and the early part of our own era. The bear may have appeared on the arms of this province as early as the 15th century. The animal is a symbol of the wilds. The sword and the two sevenpointed stars are mainly ornamental. Swords and stars have always been common heraldic devices. The stars can be thought of as referring to the clear winter sky of the North, for example. The ducal coronet indicates the importance of the province.Provincial coats of arms
A stag on a blue Qeld. Baronial coronet.
As mentioned above, the coat of arms adopted by Duke John in 1556 included the arms of southern and northern Finland (Finland Proper and Satakunta). In 1569 Katarina Stenbock, the widow of Gustav I, received the Åland Islands as a fief, and this area was then considered a province in its own right. This is reflected by the baronial coronet.
This province's first coat of arms displayed two deer one above the other, symbolising the rich game of the islands. Around the beginning of the 17th century, however, the two deer were replaced by one stag.
According to one view, this change resulted from the confusion of the names Åland and Öland. The arms of Öland did in fact show a golden stag on a blue field, a reference to the splendid hunting which Öland offered the nobility.
The arms of Åland have remained basically the same since the early 17th century. The Öland arms, on the other hand, for a time displayed two deer. Nowadays they, too, feature a stag and greatly resemble the Åland coat of arms.
The coat of arms of Åland was slightly changed in 1951, when a ribbon was removed from the stag's neck. The arms were redrawn by the renowned Finnish heraldist Gustaf von Numers at this time.Provincial coats of arms
A golden boat between two wavy silver lines on a blue field. Baronial coronet.
The oldest known depiction of this province's arms is in a runic painting in Uppsala which dates from 1599. The boat is a traditional symbol of coastal areas and refers to the importance of navigation and fishing. The wavy lines supposedly represent the Vantaa and Porvoo rivers, which are old trading routes and connections between the coast and the interior, i.e. the province of Häme. Another interpretation is that they refer to the Kymi and Mustio rivers, which border the province to the west and east.
The arms of municipalities in this province quite often make use of the provincial colours: blue, gold and silver. The modern administrative province of Uusimaa also makes use of the same arms, without the coronet.Provincial coats of arms
A golden lynx with black ear tufts on a red field, with three sixpointed silver stars above and four silver roses underneath. Ducal coronet.
An armorial banner representing the province of Häme was also noted at the funeral of King Gustav I. The principal charge, the linx, was added later as part of the coat of arms for Gustav's tombstone. Since then it has always figured in the provincial arms.
The lynx was once a very common animal in this part of Finland. The stars and roses are ornamental. In the days of Gustav I, Häme was regarded as a duchy, hence the ducal coronet.
The arms of this historical province nowadays appear as one side of the arms of the administrative provinces of Häme, Mikkeli and Keski-Suomi (Central Finland). The "Häme lynx" also appears on the arms of several municipalities. Many organizations, including one of Finland's best known icehockey and football clubs, have also adopted the lynx as their symbol. The provincial colours are often found in municipal arms.Provincial coats of arms
A golden crown above two duelling arms, the right guantleted arm holding a sword and the left mailed arm a scimitar, all silver except for golden hafts and gauntlet joint. Ducal coronet.
The oldest known Karelian arms date from 1562. An armorial banner representing this province most probably appeared before this time at the funeral of King Gustav I in 1560, however. This banner carried the same shield which has remained on the provincial arms for four centuries.
The origin and symbolic function of the Karelian arms have long been debated. The emblem is generally interpreted as a reference to the province's position as an eastern border region and to the lengthy struggle between Sweden and Russia for ownership of this area. Finland's national coat of arms borrowed the sword and scimitar from the Karelian arms. The ducal crown in the shield itself reflects the province's historical heraldic status. The Karelian arms, without the coronet, nowadays serve as the coat of arms of the administrative province of PohioisKarjala (North Karelia).Provincial coats of arms
A drawn bow on a black field, with golden bow and arrow and silver feathers and arrowhead. Baronial coronet.
The simple and quite beautiful arms of the Savo province also appeared on a banner displayed at the funeral of King Gustav I. The Savo arms have remained unchanged since the 16th century. The bow and arrow refer to hunting and the need to defend the nation's border. The Savo arms, without the coronet, nowadays serve as the arms of the administrative province of Kuopio. The bow and arrow also appear on the arms of Mikkeli province, together with the lynx of Häme, as well as in numerous municipal arms. Black and gold are also commonly found in various municipal arms in this part of the nation.Provincial coats of arms
Six silver ermines with blacktipped tails on a blue field. Baronial coronet.
Various interpretations have been advanced concerning this province's arms. The Ostrobothnian arms also appeared on a banner displayed at the funeral of King Gustav I. In 1562 the province had its first known coat of arms, consisting of a pine marten on a white/silver field. This animal has also been interpreted - erroneously - as a black fox or even a hound. Over the course of time the province's symbol has changed in size and shape, although it has always remained a fur animal. The number of animals has also varied. It is worth mentioning that the Ostrobothnian arms appeared on a 1576 medallion in practically the same form as today. The ermine was once quite common in this area.
The Ostrobothnian arms appear on the arms of the modern provinces of Oulu, Vaasa and Lappi (Finnish Lapland) and in various municipal arms.Provincial coats of arms
A wild man carrying a golden club on his shoulder and wearing a green garland and girdle on a red field. Baronial coronet.
King Karl IX, the third son of Gustav I, is responsible for giving Finnish Lapland its own arms. The original arms were depicted for the first time on a 1606 coin as part of a chain around the king's seal. The shield shows a wild man apparently clothed in furs and carrying a club on his shoulder. Later on the man was shown with only a laurel girdle and garland. This figure, which also appears in the arms of Swedish Lapland and Finland's modern administrative province of Lappi, is no doubt a poor symbol of this cold northern region. The wild man is a reference to the primitive conditions of the province's inhabitants.
It is worth mentioning that a list illustrated in the 1580s by Rev. Johan Klint of Östra Stenby, Sweden, includes a Lappi coat of arms with two golden/yellow wolves on a silver/white field. This coat of arms never came into general use, however.Provincial coats of arms
1997 saw the redrawing of the boundaries of the Finnish administrative provinces, and a reduction in their numbers was from twelve to six. The present provinces are (from north to south) Lapland, Oulu, Western Finland, Eastern Finland, Southern Finland and the autonomous province of Åland, whose status was not affected by the changes. In line with the old heraldic traditions new coats of arms had to be designed for the new administrative units. The work was based on the coats of arms of the former administrative provinces and the nine historical provinces, the latter of which are presented above. The new coats of arms all bear ducal coronets, except for Åland, which retained its traditional baronial coronet.
The red right-hand field of the coat of arms of the Province of Lapland displays a wild man, the traditional heraldic symbol of the province. He is silver-coloured, rather than flesh-coloured as in the coat of arms of the historical Lapland. As the historical province of Ostrobothnia used to extend to the territory of the present-day administrative province of Lapland, the blue left-hand field displays three silver-coloured ermines.
The boundaries and the coat of arms of the Province of Oulu remained unchanged, though a new coronet was adopted. The shield of the coat of arms is paly with the blue right-hand field displaying the six silver-coloured Ostrobothnian ermines and the left-hand field showing the castle symbol from the coat of arms of Kajaani. This refers to the old, now ruined, castle in the city. The adoption of a city symbol is unusual; the other administrative provinces make use of elements taken from the coats of arms of the historical provinces.
As the provinces of Western and Southern Finland are quite large and cover several historical provinces, both have had to draw on more than two provincial coats of arms. The shields of the coats of arms of these two new administrative units are accordingly paly and horizontally divided. The coat of arms of the Province of Western Finland displays the heraldic symbol of Finland Proper on its right-hand field and the coat of arms of Satakunta on the left-hand field. Below these there is a blue field with three ermines to represent Ostrobothnia.
The coat of arms of the Province of Southern Finland also has three fields. A lynx, the symbol of Häme, is displayed on the right-hand field and the Karelian sword and scimitar on its left. Below these is displayed the symbol for the historical province of Uusimaa.
It was relatively easy to design a coat of arms for the Province of Eastern Finland, because the new administrative unit only covers the historical provinces of Karelia and Savo. As the historical duchy of Karelia used to be the more important of the two, its symbols were placed on the right-hand field, with the coat of arms of Savo on the left.
Even though the coats of arms of the new Finnish provinces may not display the same considered, simplified design as the coats of arms of the historical provinces and municipalities, they aptly symbolize Finland's administrative and historic traditions. Nowadays, coats of arms are rarely used. The former practice of displaying the heraldic symbols of the provinces on the roadside on their boundaries has been abandoned, and the coats of arms are mainly found on desk pennants and the stamps, seals and documents of the provincial State offices.
Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last update: December 5, 2001