Royal Arms

Royal Cypher

 National Arms





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The Kingdom


Royal Arms


No portraits of early norse kings have been preserved. A reconstruction of the clothes of the couple buried in the Oseberg ship shows the man clothed in a red mantle lined with vair. Descriptions of the kings themselves are not contemporary but date mainly from the first quarter of the 13th century. Statues of 13th century kings show them in official dress: their cloaks blue and lined with vair, their tunics red, crowned and with a sceptre and orb, but not with heraldic devices.

Unfortunately, the seals of the 12th century kings which were until the 17th century in the archives of Akerhus, have been lost. They could have provided us with pictures of  Sigurd Mund (1136-’55), Magnus Erlingsson (1161-’84), Sverre (1177-1202), of the Bagler-kings Erling (1204-’07) and Philippus (1207-’17), of Inge Baardssjøn (1204-’17), and of the jarls Erik and Haakon.

At the beginning of the 13th century the sources slowly began to flow. In king Haralds saga for example is written:


King Harald of Norway (1045-’66) [.....] was riding a black horse with a blaze, which stumbled under him, and threw him off forwards. [.....]

Then King Harold of England said to some Norwegians who were with him, ‘did you recognize that big man who fell off his horse, the man with the blue tunic [.....]?’

       ‘That was the king himself’, they said. [1]


William of Newburg (†1198 ca.) writes in his Historia rerum Anglicarum. about the seal of king Sverre (1177-1202) that it bore the legend: "Suerus Rex magnus, ferus ut leo, mitis ut agnus." (Sverre the Great King, ferocious as a lion, soft as a lamb), which of course does not imply that he bore a lion as a badge of rank. It confirms merely that the lion-symbolism was quite well known in Norway as has also been explained in the first section of this essay.


From about the twenty years later the first seals have been preserved. [2] These at first do not show any heraldic devices until the seals of Skule Jarl, dated 1219 and 1225.


First seal of Skule Jarl, 1219.

Lion rampant within the legend X VERVS TESTIS EGO NVNTIA VERA TEGO. [3]


This lion is still in the ancient tradition, standing free in the field on a non-described or uncoloured background.


Contemporary to this seal is the section in the Fagrskinna (1220 ca) ascribing “a golden helmet  on which a golden lion was painted (and that his sword was called Læggbitur (legbiter)” to king Magnus III Barelegs (1093-1103). [4] This is more or less in accordance with the quote of Inges Saga which tells us that when Skule Jarl visited the tomb of his brother Inge Baardsson he saw that it was beautifully carved and covered with gold and carved with his arms.  [5] As Inge was a king and not a jarl, and ruling with two subservient jarls (Philippus in the east and Haakon in the west) of which the badges of rank only can have been lions, the shield of Inge, when it bore a device at all, was most probably decorated with an eagle.


On the next seal however the new heraldic fashion is followed:



Seal of Skule Jarl, 1225

Equestrian Seal: Knight on horseback

Heraldic seal: Arms: Lion rampant. Legend: [X Sigillvm Scvlonis] COMOTis In DITI[one regni] ParTIS ConSTitV[ti].


Haakon IV Haakonson


King 1217-1264

Ruler of Eastern Norway 1224

Sole king 1227

Crowned 29 july 1247


About the arms of Haakon IV Haakonsson much is still speculative. Only at the end of his reign we are on much safer grounds.


It is said that Haakon Haakonsson sealed official documentes together with Skule Jarl and that his seal was identical or looked like the seal of Skule. Also it is thought that Skule, as he sealed in the name of the king, has used the royal heraldic device. No such seals have been preserved, his first seal, dated 1224/1243 being too damaged to be able to determine what device was on his shield.


Seal of Haakon IV Haakonsson, 1225/1243 [6]


Probably the shield descibed by Conrad von Mure was his shield as an uncrowned pretender king:


Ecce tuus Norwegia rex Danis bene notus

Fert clipeum cuius color est niger, ut puto, totus.


That is: Look, your King, Norway, well known by the danes, bears a shield which is all black, I think.


In the Heimskringla, written in about 1240 Snorri Sturlusson writes that King Magnus Barelegs had a helmet on his head and a red shield decorated with a golden lion (and his sword was called Leggbítr). [7] And thus tinctures were added to the heraldic device. But we still do not know if the shield he describes was of Skule Jarl or Haakon IV?


A seal of 1247 however shows the king on horseback with a shield charged with a lion on his left arm. This opens the possibility that Haakon has adopted the device of Skule Jarl after his killing on the battlefield. This is explained by assuming that he considered these arms as his dynastical arms, not symbolizing a military rank per se. [8] Later, in any case, these arms were treated in that way.


Obverse and reverse of the seal of Haakon IV Haakonsson, 1247-‘48


Seal of Majesty: The king on his throne with sword (and globe?), a lion couchant guardant at his feet.  L.: sigI [...] ia regis norweg.. D.: 1247-‘48


Equestrian seal:  The king on horseback armed with a sword. Arms: A lion. L.: X REX HACO MAGNVS SVBJECTIS : MITIS VT [agnvs : ivstius letatur: inivstis  enze mi]NATVR. D.: 1247-’48. [9]


The Norwegian Royal Arms by Matthew Paris.



The benedictine monk and chronicler Matthew Paris accomplished a diplomatic mission to Norway in 1248-’49. The most detailed account of his time in Norway is contained in the Chronica Majora. [10] Because of this pretty long stay in Norway we may expect that Matthew Paris was very well informed about his host and the ways he presented himself. A shield of the arms of the king of Norway is given by him in his Historia Anglorum and in his Chronica Majora. In both manuscripts he ascribes a coat of arms charged with three galleys to the king of Norway:


In the Historia Anglorum (B.L. Ms Roy 14.C.VII), there are five coats of arms in the margin of fol. 150. These are labeled: Five Kings take up the cross, [1250] (a) top of the page between columns: Gules, a triple-towered castle argent (!): Scutum regis castellæ, cruce signati. (b) top right margin: azure, six fleurs de lis or with a banner next to it bearing azure, three fleurs de lis: Scutum regis Francorum, sed vexillum prostratum in bello; c. right margin: gules, three lions passant gardant or: Scutum regis Anglorum, cruce signati; (d) right margin: gules, three galleys or, above the first a cross formy argent: Scutum regis Norwagiæ, cruce signati; (...) (e) right margin: John de Brienne, King of Jerusalem (or crusuly argent, a cross ar­gent): Scutum regis Ierusalem, cognomen­to Bresne. (...)


These arms we may explain by the circumstance that after the fifth crusade John of Brienne undertook a voyage to the main courts of Europe to gather support for a new crusade against de sultan of Egypt to wipe out the failure of the the fifth. It is known that on this voyage he visited the English, French and Castilian king whose arms the illustrator of his manucript has painted in the margin. By this illustrator or by Matthew

Paris himself it is suggested that also king Haakon IV was visited or has promised to support the mission as his arms were also painted in the margin. Indeed, but in 1248, Louis IX of France had proposed (by Matthew Paris as messenger) to Haakon to join him for a crusade, with Haakon as commander of the fleet, but Haakon had turned the offer down. At that time John of Brienne (whose arms are painted) was already dead for eleven years and Castile had been united with Leon in 1230.

The  “taking up the cross” then refers to the tour in 1222  of John of Brienne t.E., regent of Jeruzalem, to gain support for a crusade against the Sultan of Egypt.


A second time the arms with the three golden galleys occur in the Chronica Majora CM16 fol. 216v. This is labeled:

Coronation of Haakon, King of Norway 1247 upper left margin: erect shield: gules, 3 galleys with dragon heads at each end or, one above the other, surmounted by a crown: scutum regis Norwagiae nuper corona­ti, qui dicitur rex insularum.” [11]

Because Haakon IV is called ‘King of the Isles’ here it is thought by Gustav Storm that there can not be any doubt that these arms are of the norwegian king in the Isles (until 1266) that is to say the southern Islands and Man of which the Isles bear a ship in its arms until present. [12]



A picture of the shield in colour is given by Matthew Paris in his “Life of St. Edward the Confessor”, executed 1250-’60. [13]. It is: Gules, a lion rampant Or.



* A ‘king of Norway’ is depicted who resembles very much the statuette of king Haakon IV Haakonson in Oslo, instead of Harald III (1045-’66) who ruled in the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-’66). And whose portrait cannot have been known in the middle of the 13th cent. [14]


Magnus VI Håkonsson Lagabøte


Co-regent 1257-1263

King 1263-1280


The arms with the lion were also borne by his son and successor Magnus. It is on his seals of 1265 and 1278


Equestrian seal of 1265 [15]

Equestrian Seal of 1278 [16]


English rolls of arms of the end of the seventies show the lion with an axe in his claws. As follows:


1270-'80 ca Heralds Roll: Gules, a lion Or, an axe Azure in his claws. [17]


1280 ca. Roll of Arms Ms. B29 hos, College of Arms, ca. 1280: rey de nor..­.ye: Gules a lion with an axe Or. [18]


Other early pictures of the lion and the axe are in:



1280 ca Wijnbergen Roll fol. 35r (n° 1275): Le Roy de noruee: Gules, a lion with an axe Or. [19]


1282 ca. Segars's Roll (ca. 1282): Gules, a lion with and axe Or. [20]


This is to say that the axe was introduced in the last years of the reign of king Magnus VI.


Of course much depends of the correct dating of these rolls of arms and usually the introduction of the axe is ascribed to his co-regent and successor, Eric II. [21]


St Olaf’s Axe


Generally the axe is thought to be the attribute of St. Olaf (king Olaf Haraldsson) who was beatified in 1031, only one year after his death. Gradually, Olaf became a symbol of the Norwegian regal power. Archbishop Eystein Erlendsson, the second archbishop after the establishing of the seat in 1152, persuaded King Magnus (V) Erlingsson (or possibly his father, as the king was a mere child), in 1170 to issue a letter of ecclesiastical privileges. Here, it is stated that the King is the knight of St. Olaf’s, and accepts his realm from him, thus being a vassal of St. Olaf, and not the Pope, which implies an absolute sovereinty.

The battle-axe of Olaf Haraldsson was called Hel. He brought it to the battle of Stiklestad, but otherwise it is not mentioned in the sources here. When his son, King Magnus (I) won a battle against the West Slawic Wends in South Jutland in 1043, this axe was honoured as the main reason for the victory. The axe, together with other relics, was apparently preserved in Nidaros Cathedral, the Archbishop’s seat, until the Reformation in 1537. The last Archbishop escaped to the Netherlands, taking the crown, and other relics, and among them the axe (all now lost).

Early on, the axe became his attribute. On old calendar sticks, his feast (July 29) is marked by an axe. But a battle-axe as a special attribute of St. Olaf was not yet introduced in ecclesias-tical- and military iconography in the beginning of the 13th century. On the contrary, the battle-axe only appeared on the shields of norse kings in english manuscripts from the time of the rule of king Haakon IV Haakonsson who had, as said before, close relations with Matthew Paris and the english court. This has, we may say, culminated in the introduction of the battle-axe on the royal arms. No king, in the meantime, has ever been depicted in official dress with a battle-axe in his hand, nor did the statues called of St. Olaf - in fact of 13th century ruling kings - have a battle-axe in their hands before the beginning of the 14th century. Then it was to make the difference between a royal statue and the statue of St. Olaf visible.

For that reason we may safely assume that the battle-axe was introduced in military- and ecclesiastical- iconography by king Magnus VII when it appeared in the claws of the royal lion and on the seals of the archbishops of Nidaros (Trondheim). [22]

As king Haakon Haakonsson had been recognized by the pope in 1246 and crowned by a papal nuntius in 1247 the independence of the king from the Holy See may not have been undisputed at the time. The reason of the introduction of Olaf’s axe may therefore possibly have been to illustrate the independence of Norway from it.  At the same time the eagle, introduced after the papal recognition of Haakon Haakonsson, disappeared from the sceptre held in hand by Magnus VII.



Eric II Magnusson


Co-regent 1273-1280

King 1280-1299


Initially however, the arms of Eric II seems to have been, during his minority, a lion with an axe on a field strewn with the roses which were also on the coat of arms and horseclothes (but not on the shield) of his father (as shown by Matthew Paris). These roses can be considered devices to make a difference between the arms of the father and the son (who, it should be said, was a co-king between the age of 5 and 12 just for the purpose to be sure of his succession). These arms were painted in Camden Roll, dated 1280 ca.:


Camden Roll (no. D13): Le rey de Norwey, with the legend: l'escu de goules a un leun rampant de or od une hache d'argent

A reconstruction of the picture in Camden Roll by Hallvard Trætteberg indeed shows the field strewn with roses [23]:


The field strewn with roses is confirmed by the seal of Eric dated 1283 but a crown has been added:




Heraldic Seal: 1283 - 13 March 1285: Arms: Strewn with roses, a lion rampant with an axe. L.: REX ERICVS [eg]O NORICA : REGNA : REGO. [24]  


This crown may have been added after his coronation on 2 July 1280. 


After his coming of age he omitted the roses:


1285 c. Coin, 1285: Arms: Lion with axe 


Heraldic seal: Arms: Gules: a lion rampant with an axe Or.[25]

Equestrian Seal:  The king on horseback with sword, ailettes and shield. Arms: Gekroonde leeuw met bijl. L.: X ERI.[cvs] MAGNvs : EGO NORICA REGN[a rego] SIT  ORDinanCia Nostra : Per Te : IVSTA Devs AGNVS  . D.: 1289-‘99. [26]


The crowned lion with the axe was used by all successors of Eric II Magnusson kings of Norway.

Until the union of Norway and Sweden in 1362 these arms were the royal arms of Norway. After that date it it became a part of the arms of the successor kings, thus becoming the emblem for the kingdom of Norway.

Counterseal of Haakon V (1299-1319)


Heraldic seal: Arms: Lion with axe. L.: X NORICvs : HAQviNUS : REGNO : IAM : REX : EGO : QUINvs : REGNanDI : MVNvs : FAVSTVM : MiCHI:  DAT . DEvs : VNvs. D.: 1305 - 1318. [27]


Magnus VII/II Eriksson


King of Norway 1319-1355

King of Sweden 1319-1364


King Magnus VII/II Eriksson  bore the royal arms of Norway and of Sweden separated:


Counterseal of Magnus VII Eriksson (1319-’55)


Heraldic seal: Arms: Lion with axe. L.: X  [sigillvm ž magni ždei žgracia žr]EGIS : NORWEGIE : SVEWORVM : ET : GOTORvm ILLVSTriS. D.: 1322-1367 [28]


Haakon VI Magnusson


Co-regent of Norway1343-1355

King of Norway 1355-1380

King of Sweden 1362-1364


A crest was added by Haakon VI Magnusson:

Counterseal of Haakon VI Magnusson


Secret seal: Arms: Crowned lion with axe. Crest: a five-pointed screen charged with the lion from the arms issuant, set with peacock-feathers proper. L.: SECRETUM HAQUINI : DEI ž GRaciA : REGIS : NORWEGIE. D.: 1361 - ‘69. [29]


When a king of Sweden he quartered his arms with the arms of Sweden:


Arms of  king Haakon Magnusson 1362-‘64


Arms: ¼: 1&4: Gules, a corwned lion with an axe Or; 2&3: Azure, strewn with hearts Gules, three bends sinister Argent and a crowned lion Or over all. Crest: A five-pointed screen of the crowned lion of Norway issuant, the points set with peacock’s feathers proper. [30]


Union with Denmark



After the death of Haakon he was succeed by his son Olav, king of Denmark since 1376. Norway and Denmark were united afterwards until 1814 and accordingly the royal arms as used in Norway were those of the Kings of Denmark of which the emblem of Norway was an integral part.


Oluf II (IV)


King of Denmark 1376-1387

King of Norway 1381-1387


Coat of arms of King Olaf IV of Norway, Olaf II of Denmark.

Contemporary wall sculpture near his grave. Cloister Church of Sorø, Ringstead, Denmark


Arms: The arms of Norway the hilt of the axe curved


Margaret I


Queen of Denmark 1387-1396

Queen of Norway 1387-1412

Æ See Denmark


In the years 1449-1450 the personal union of Denmark and Norway was interrupted when Charles I Bonde was a King of Sweden and also King of Norway. From his short reign of the personal union a seal as well as a statuette are preserved showing him bearin a coat of arms of a quarterly of Sweden and Norway:

Statuette of King Charles I Bonde

Plaster cast, Holsten Museum, Lübeck


Arms: ¼ Sweden and Norway and a cross fimbriated over all charged with an escutcheon Bonde


Christian II


Viceroy of Norway 1506-1512

King of Denmark 1513-1523

King of Sweden 1520-1521

164st knight T.d’O. Barcelona 1519


Seal of Christian I King of Norway, 1508

Petersen 96


Arms: ¼ Norway, Schleswig, Holstein, Stormarn. In nomril point: Oldenburg





Petersen 97

Arms: As before

L.: s cristierni d g e i s d n h n s ahe s d d i o e d


In the course of the four centuries that Norway was a part of the danish monarchy the royal arms were successively augmented with the quarters of the royal posessions up to a shield of six quarters with an escutcheon of another five quarters. Supporters were added in the 15th century and a royal mantle and other showpieces in the 17th century. 

For administartive purposes a smaller version of the royal arms was created in the 17th century. This showed a per pale of Danmark and Norway and a base of the Union of Kalmar:



These arms were also on the banknotes issued in 1813 on the initiative of the then governor-general Christian Frederick of Oldenburg by Norges Rigsbanken (National bank of Norway).



Union with Sweden



After the Union of Sweden and Norway by the Treaty of Kiel (14.01.1814), and the conditions of the Union as laid down in the Convention of Moss, the revised Norwegian constitution, and the Act of Union the only institutions common to both countries were the king and the foreign service.

Accordingly the royal arms were common for both Sweden and Norway. To express the union the royal arms of king Charles XIII were changed in that the arms of Sweden and Norway were united, the escutcheon with the arms of the royal dynasty added as before. Initially the arms were tierced per chevron inversed, the main part of the shield occupied by the swedish quarters. In fact this division was inspired by the former smaller arms of the Danish Monarchy which showed per pale of Danmark and Norway and the arms of the Union of Kalmar in base.


Arms of King Charles XIII as a knight of the Order of the Seraphim.


The same arms, the escutcheon replaced by the arms of the Bernadotte dynasty were used by king Charles XIV John (1818-’44) but it met with opposition from the Norse because the spaces reserved for both kingdoms were not equal.



Norwegians considered it offensive that the arms were also displayed in Sweden on Swedish coins and government documents, as if Norway was an integral part of Sweden. All of these questions were resolved after the accession of King Oscar I in 1844. The proposals of a joint committee with regard to flags and arms were enacted for both countries. A union mark was placed in the canton of all flags in both nations, combining the flag colours of both countries, equally distributed. The two countries obtained separate, but parallel flag systems, clearly manifesting their equality. Norwegians were pleased to find the former common war flag and naval ensign replaced by separate flags. The Norwegian arms were removed from the greater arms of Sweden, and common Union and royal arms were created to be used exclusively by the royal family, by the foreign service, and on documents pertaining to both countries. A significant detail of the Union arms is that two royal crowns were placed above the escutcheon to show that it was a union between two sovereign kingdoms.


í However, it must be noted that in fact the spaces for Norway and Sweden were nevertheless equal. The three crowns were the arms of the Union of 1388 but were maintained in Sweden and Danmark, both pretending to be the legal heir of the Union and both pretending that the other had left it. This may be compared with the Holy Roman Empire the emblem of which is only borne by Danmark and the Swiss Federation now, all other parts having left the Empire.


For that reason the royal arms were changed by King Oscar I by resolution of 20 June 1844 by placing the swedish quarters in the dexter half and the Norse lion-and-axe in the sinister half. To make the equality of both parts even more visible the shield was crowned by both the swedish and the norse crown, as follows:

Royal arms adopted 20 June 1844





After the proclamation of independence in 1905 the royal achievement was changed. The arms became identical with the national arms as adopted on 14 december 1905 with the difference that it was surrounded by the collar of the Order of St. Olav (founded 1847) and was placed on a royal mantle, crowned with the crown of the national arms.


The Royal achievement as painted by Eilif Peterssen, 1905.


The decree about the National and Royal arms reads:


Rigsvaabenet er en heraldisk, kronet Løve med Olavsøksen, der har sølvfarvet Blad, i trekantet, høirødt Skjold uden Ramme.

Skjoldet er oventil ret, mod den nedre Spids let afrundet.

Løven er, væsentlig i Overensstemmelse med de Løver, der sees paa de gamle Kongesegl fra det 13de og 14de Aarhundrede, en opreist, gylden, kronet Løve, vendt mod Høire. Løvens Stilling er afpasset efter Skjoldets Form, saaledes at den hviler paa det venstre Bagben og holder det høire i løftet, fremadskridende Stilling. Løvens Hale er bøiet indover mod Løvens Ryg. Paa sit Hoved bærer Løven en aaben, trebladet Krone. Øksen holdes i ret Stilling. Over det Skjold, i hvilket Løven er anbragt, er der en lukket kongelig Krone. Denne afsluttes foroven i en Kugle (Rigsæble) med Kors. Bag Korset staar en halv, opreist, kronet Løve, som sees fra Siden.



Rigsvaabenets Skjold paa den kongelige Hermelinskaabe, der holdes af den norske Kongekrone. Kongevaabenets Skjold er omgivet af St. Olafsordnenes Kjede. Kaaben og Kronens Hætte er purpurfarvet.


That is:

Royal arms:

The shield of the national arms is on the royal mantle of ermine which falls from the Norwegian royal crown. The shield of the royal arms is surrounded by the collar of the Order of St. Olafs. Mantle and cap of the crown are purple.


Royal Cypher


The tradition of the royal cypher, which goes back to early medieval times in Europe, was continued or revived by the Danish-Norwegian kings. An uninterrupted series of royal cyphers is known from the time of King Frederick III until present.



Royal Cypher of King Frederick III

Ǻkershus Castle, Oslo.

Royal Cypher of King Frederick V

Above the entrance of the church of Stavern  (Larvik)



Royal Cypher of King Christian VII

On a bronze cannon


The Kings of Norway only


King Haakon VII

King Olav V

King Harald V


National Arms


In this essay the norse word ‘Rigsvaaben’, literally ‘the arms of the realm’, is translated with National Arms.


At the beginning of the 13th century Snorri Sturlusson, writing about the battle of Nesjar in 1016, describes in his Heimskringla shields which we may call national arms because they are borne by soldiers of the norse army.



King Olaf had in his ship 100 men armed in coats of ring-mail,

and in foreign helmets.  The most of his men had white shields,

on which the holy cross was gilt; but some had painted it in blue

or red.  He had also had the cross painted in front on all the

helmets, in a pale colour.  He had a white banner on which was a

serpent figured.


In these verses the Norse army is armed according the way the crusaders of the first and second crusade were armed. Sturlusson can have had first hand information from participants of the 3rd crusade of which for example Petrus de Ebulo has given us quite detailed pictures. Also he can have spoken to some participants of the sixth crusade many of whom had also (latin-) crosses on their shields. 


The idea of the cross on the national arms was continued at the beginning of the 14th century. It is on the so-called Olavsantemissale, today in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

On this missal King Olav bears a red shield charged with a yellow pointed latin cross:


St. Olavsantemissale, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim.

On this Missale the central figure strongly resembles king Erik II Magnusson (1280-‘99) [31]


Such a cross is specific for Norway because for example the Byzantine cross was just a plain yellow cross on a red field and the cross of the Holy Roman Empire (to which Danmark belonged) a white cross on a red field.

For that reason it can be called a national arms, the royal arms being the lion with the axe.



* In fact, the christian community of Norway is represented by these arms, the norwegian administration being represented by a square cross.


When Norway became integrated in a larger empire, the arms with the cross was abandoned and replaced by the arms of the new empire. [32] The royal arms of the kings of Norway were integrated in the new Royal arms together with the arms of other posessions of the royal house and the arms of the former kings became the national arms of Norway.


At te beginning of the 15th century the parts of the Union of Kalmar were heraldically considered as independent entities and the former royal arms became the national arms of the country  This can be seen in the french Armorial de l’Europe et de la Toison d’Or in which each part has its own mannequin.


Initially the former royal arms were displayed together with the arms of other territories on the larger seals of the kings, surrounding the ruler or his dynastic royal arms.  

On the seal of king Christian I (1448-’81) the arms of Norway are on the upper right of the king, the lion keeping the axe with all his four legs. This version was common until 1844.


Arms of Norway on the seal of Christian I, 1464.[33]



On this detail the arms of Norway and Delmenhorst (Azure, a (square) cross Or, which are also the national arms) are visible.


The arms of the Rey de Norovee

In the portuguese Livro do Armeiro Mor (1509)


In the 16th century they were struck on coinage for circulation in Norway:


Skilling coin, 1523

Arms of Norway

1 mark danske, 1543

Arms of the Kingdom of Norway

Photo Kurt Story

2 Skilling coin 1687


Norwegian arms in Ǻkershus castle, Oslo, 18th century


Arms of Norway

On a map of Norway by O.A. Wangenstein, 1761


On 11 May 1813, as the heir presumptive of the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, Christian (VIII) Frederick was sent as stattholder (the Danish king's highest representative in overseas territories) to Norway to promote the loyalty of the Norwegians to the House of Oldenburg. To begin with he let the Norges Rigsbanken to begin to issue banknotes. Though his endeavours were opposed by the so-called Swedish party, which desired a dynastic union with Sweden, he placed himself at the head of the Norwegian party of independence after the Treaty of Kiel (14.01.1814) had forced the king to cede Norway to the king of Sweden. He was elected Regent of Norway by an assembly of notables on 16 February 1814 and reigned 17.05-10.10.1814.

On the banknotes the seal of the danish chancellery was printed which consisted of the smaller royal danish arms. The arms of Norway itself were not changed, the lion crowned and keeping a halberd in all of his four feet as was introduced in the 16th century.


A flag was adopted by the assemby on the following 27 of February. This flag was identical to the Danebrog but the Norse lion was added in the dexter upper cormer.


National flag (ensign) of Norway adopted 27 February 1814

Kaptein Jens Petter Stibolt - 

Riksarkivet, privatarkiv etter Ludvig Fredrik Brock/Wikipedia


This flag was used well into the reign of king Charles XIV when it was replaced by the present one in 1823.

After 1814 the arms were changed only in that sense that the shield was surrounded by a riveted iron bordure:


8 skilling, 1817

1 specie daler (1826-’36)


After the accession of King Osar I on 8 March 1884, the arms of the kingdom of Norway were changed by royal decree of 10 July 1844. The decree reads:


Det norske Rigsvaaben er, saaledes som antydet paa vedlagte, af Hans Majestæt naadigst approberede Tegning: Et rødt fiirkantet Skjold, i hvilket sees en, nederst fra Venstre og opad til Høire i fremadskridende Stilling opreist kronet gylden Løve, med aabent Gab og udstrakt Tunge, holdende i Forlabberne en opløftet Stridsøxe med gyldent Skaft og Blad af Sølv, – over Skjoldet en kongelig Krone.


That is::

A red square shield on which is a from the lower left to the upper right rising and walking crowned and golden lion, with open muzzle and put out tongue, keeping in its forefeet a rised battle-axe with golden stem and silver blade, -  on the shield a royal crown.



The arms of 1844 on the Residence in Trondheim


After the accession of Haakon VII on 18 November 1905 the national arms were changed by royal decree of 14 December of the same year.



The arms are essentially the same as the arms of 1844 but the shield is now a pointed three-cornered shield and the position of the axe is upright (vertical).

The royal crown on the shield has five hoops, three leaves and two pearls and is lined with a low purpure velvet cap. It is crested by a blue globe and the lion from the arms issuant.


In the royal decree the arms are blasoned as follows:


Rigsvaabenet er en heraldisk, kronet Løve med Olavsøksen, der har sølvfarvet Blad, i trekantet, høirødt Skjold uden Ramme.

Skjoldet er oventil ret, mod den nedre Spids let afrundet.


The arms are explained in a second section of the resolution (see: Royal arms):

“The Lion resembles the lions on the ancient royal seals of the 13th and 14th century which is a golden, crowned lion rampant to the right. The form of the lion is adapted to the form of the shield, standing on his left leg and holding its right in the air as if walking. The tail of the lion is upright over his back. On his head the lion has an open crown of three leaves. He holds the axe upright. On the shield with the lion is a closed royal crown. This is crested with a ball (Sphaira) with cross. On the cross is a demi, crowned  lion rampant, seen from the side.”


When, in 1933 the Roll of arms Wijnbergen was exposed by the Koninklijk Genootschap voor Geslacht en Wapenkunde in Den Haag, the Norwegian ambassador in Kopenhagen Jens Bull, who had visited the exposition wrote an article in the Historisk Tidsskrift in which he reported that he had seen the very oldest picture of the coat of arms of Norway. [34]

As a result the keeper of the records Halvard Trætteberg made the design for a new coat of arms based on the picture in Wijnbergen Roll.

The new design was adopted by royal resolution of 19 March 1937


National Arms of Norway  19.03.1937

National Arms of Norway 16.12.1992


The resolution reads:


Noregs riksvåpen er ei upprett gull-løve på raud grunn med gullkrone på hovudet og gullskjeft sylvøks i framlabbane.

Riksvåpnet skal vanleg ha skjoldform. Over skjolden skal vanleg stå ei kongskrone med rikseple og kross.

Alle teikningar til riksvåpnet til bruk for offentlege institusjonar må bli godkjende av Utanriksdepartementet, so framt dei ikkje er eller blir fastsett av Kongen.

Noregs riksinnsigle skal i stempelen ha riksvåpnet i skjoldform under kongskrone med kongsnamn og kongstitel i omskrift.

Den kgl.res. frå 14. desember 1905 om riksvåpnet og riksinnsiglet gjeld ikkje lenger.


The arms were restyled by Sverre Morken in 1992 and approved by king Harald V on 16 December 1992.


Achievement of State


The Union of Norway and Sweden


Since Norway legally had the status of an independent state, the only institutions common to both countries were the king and the foreign service. All other ministries and government institutions were separate to each state, even the armies, navies and treasuries. The foreign service was directly subordinate to the king, an arrangement that was embodied already in the Norwegian constitution of 17 May 1814, before the revision of 4 November. An unforeseen effect was that foreign policy was decided in the Swedish cabinet and conducted by the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs. When matters of foreign policy were discussed in cabinet meetings, the only Norwegian present who could plead Norway's case was the prime minister. The Swedish Riksdag could indirectly influence foreign policy, but not the Norwegian Storting. Because the representations abroad were appointed by the Swedish government and mostly staffed with Swedes, the Union was often seen by foreigners to be more like a single state than two sovereign states. It is important to note, however, that the Union was no political entity; no one was a subject or citizen of the Union. This is clearly expressed in its official designation: The United Kingdoms.


Because the Swedish state was a royal institution the achievement of state was an augmentation of the royal arms.


Royal achievement of king Charles XIII
The legend below reads: Fra Norges første Dampskib “Konstitutionen” 1828.

Oil on canvas  51 x 72 cm. Marinemuseet, Horten.

Royal achievement of Charles XIV John


As the Norwegians were quite annoyed with this achievement an other coat of arms was apparently propagated at the end of the reign of king Charles III John on which the arms were impaled of Sweden and Norway instead. This version was published in France and it is not known if this was also accepted in Norway itself in any form. It is:


Larger achievement of the Union of Sweden and Norway

From a french armorial, 1844 [35]


Arms: Per pale, the dexter of Sweden the sinister of Norway.

Crown: A royal crown.

Order: Of the Seraphim (Sweden, 1336)

Supporters: Two lions reguardant proper, royally crowned

Mantle: Purpure, lined ermine tasseled Or vaulted and royally crowned.


In a smaller version the mantle is omitted:

In the achievement adopted in 1844 however, the quarter for Sweden is of Sweden and Gotland  and a demi-cross patée and an escutcheon with the arms of the Bernadotte dynasty have been added.


Royal achievement of the king of Sweden and Norway.

For use in both kingdoms.


Arms: Per pale, the dexter per fess of Sweden and Gotland, charged with a dimidiated cross patée Or ; the sinister of Norway. Escutcheon impaled of Vasa and Pontecorvo.

Crown: Two royal crowns.

Order: Of the Seraphim (Sweden, 1336)

Supporters: Two lions reguardant proper, royally crowned

Mantle: Purpure, lined ermine tasseled Or and royally crowned.


The number of orders can vary, below the arms are surrounded by the collars of the orders of Seraphim, of the Sword, of the Northern Star and of St. Olav.


Royal Achievement of the Union

On the coach used at the coronation of Charles XV, 1860

Kongelig Livrustkammaren, Stockholm




The Norwegian state, which was a national institution consisting, after 1814, of all ministries and government institutions with the exception of the ministry of foreign affairs, was represented by an achievement of state which was an augmentation of the national arms. It was on the Royal Standard made for the coronation of King Charles XIV John on 17 September 1818.

It showed the crowned arms of Norway supported by two crowned lions reguardant. [36]

This achievement was used alongside the royal achievement of Sweden until 1844 and the royal achievement of the Union afterwards, as long as the ministry of foreign affairs was a common institution for both Sweden and Norway.


For the planned coronation of Oscar I as a king of Norway the standard of 1818, severely damaged in the mean time, was restored. On that occasion the original arms were replaced by a version of the new national ams of 10 July 1844. The achievement on the standard was:


Achievement on the reverse of the Royal Standard, 1846

In the Museum of the Archbishop’s Palace, Trondheim.


Arms: Gules, a crowned lion rampant keeping an axe in his forepaws Or, the balde Argent.

Crown: A Royal crown.

Supporters: Two lions Or, royally crowned.


At the end of the 19th century another achievement appeared to which the decorations of the Order of St. Olav were added and a crowned royal mantle:


Achievement of state until 1905 (unofficial) [37]


Arms: Gules, acrowned  lion rampant Or, holdong in its forpaws an axe, the stem Or, the blade Argent.

Crown: A Royal Crown

Order: The ribbon and cross of the Order of St. Olav (1847)

Supporters: Two lions reguardant Or royally crowned

Mantle: Purpure, lined ermine, tasseled Or and royally crowned.


After independence a new achievement of state appeared but this apparently had no official status. It soon became obsolete and the institutions of state usually are represented by the National Arms.


Achievement of state (obsolete).

Showing the arms of 1905-’37 supported by two lions guardant.

Inner court Ǻkerhus Castle, Oslo.




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© Hubert de Vries 2013-09-19; 2019-05-28



[1] Haralds Saga. Penguin Classics L183 p. 149.

[2] Brinchmann, Chr.: Norske sigiller fra middelalderen: Kongelige och fyrstliche segl. Kristiania, 1924.

[3] Seglstamp av messing, 60 mm., ifølge Nicolaysen’s «Norske Fornlevninger», s. 769, funden 2 meter nede i grunden ved en kjelderutgravning midt i byen Tønsberg omkr. 1875, nu i Universitets Oldsaksamling (C2303) i Kristiania (= Oslo).  - Tegning av Karl Dahl efter gipsaftryk av originalstampen. At stampen har tillhørt Skule Jarl, tør sluttes av løvefiguren (slg. pl. I.2) og bokstaven S, som ogsaa er indgravet paa baksiden. I Tønsberg opholdt Skule sig i følge met kongen paa eftersommeren 1217 of fra sommeren 1218 tol vaaren 1219, da hans datter blev fæstet av kongen, samt som kgl. høvedmand mot Ribbungerne tre vintre (se Eirspennill, Unger’s utg. [Konunga Sögur], s. 286, og F. Jónsson’s utg. , s. 513) 1220-1223. Figurindholdets og legendens stilpræg peker tilbake til samme period. Slgn. Oluf Kolsrud, Bergens bys sgl, vaaben, farver of flag, i Skrifter utgit av Bergens Hist. Foren. Nr. 27. 1921, s. 33f. Stampen kan ha været brukt som signet for kontrasegl og som stempel til prægning av f. eks. et stykke lær. at bringe med som jarteiku ved ortsending.              Omskrift: X VERVS TESTIS EGO NVNTIA VERA TEGO (Sandt vidne [er] jeg, sande bud dækker jeg). (Brinch. I.1.2.; XXI.1 )

[4] Jonsson, Finnur: Fagrskinna Nóregs Koninga Tal. København, 1902-1908. P. 327: Magnus […] hafðe hialm gullroðenn. oc skrifat a leon af gulli. sværð hans var kallat Læggbitur.

[5] “lod  giore it kostelige verck offuer hans graff udhuggit oc formalit, oc belagt met guld, oc lod der udhugge oc maale hans Vaaben”. Cited by Storm, Gustav: Norges Gamle Vaaben, Farver og Flag. Kristiania, 1894. p. 16. The argumentation of Storm is that when the shield was gold, the lion should have been red, blue or green and he choosed red as the most likely possibility.

[6] Brinchmann op.cit. Pl. IV. 1.2

[7] hafði Magnús konungr hjálm á hofði ok rauðan skjǫld, ok lagt á með gulli léó, gyrðr, er Leggbítr var kallaðr.

[8] In this time some arms of office became dynastical arms. The arms ‘Gules, three lions passant Or’ of Henry III of England for example, were the arms of ‘henricus dvx norman­nie et aquitanie comes andega­vie’ in 1219 and in 1259 the arms of ‘henricvs dei gracia rex anglie dominvs hyber­nie dux aquit­anie’ and the exclusive relation of Normandy with these arms was disrupted and replaced by an exclusive relation with the Plantagenets. Such a development can also be seen in France.

[9] Brinchmann op cit.. II.1.2.; III.1.2. 1224-1248


[11] Both labels in: Lewis, Suzanne: The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1987.

[12] Storm, Gustav: Norges Gamle Vaaben, Farver og Flag. Kristiania, 1894. p. 19

[13] Life of St Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris  Part of the Treasures of the Library Collection. Part of the Christian Works Collection. Imagae 67.

[14] Olav from Fresvik Church, Leikanger, Sign i Fjordane. Univ. Mus. Of Cultural Heritage Oslo. Inv. Nr. C 35142/NM 17797.

[15] Brinchmann V.1.2

[16] Brinchmann VI.1.2

[17] Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge Ms. 297. See: Greenstreet, James. Planché's Roll of arms. In: The Genealogist, New Series, vol. III London 1886.

[18] Trætteberg, Hallvard: Norges våi engelske kilder I middelalderen. In: Heraldisk Tidskrift. Bind. 3 nr. 21 Marts 1970. pp. 29-39. P. 34

[19] Adam-Even, Paul & Léon Jéquier: Un Armorial français du XIIIe siècle, l'armorial Wijnbergen. In: Archives Heraldiques Suisses. 1951 pp. 49-62, pp. 101-110, 1952 pp. 28-36, 64-68, 103-111, 1954 pp. 55-77. (p. 75, planche VIII.)

[20] Green­street, James. The "Segar" Roll of Arms as an Ordinary. In: The Genealogist. Vol IV, London, 1880.

[21] Warming, P.: L’apparition de la hache dans les armes de Norvège. In: Arcivum Heraldicum, Ao LXVIII, 1954 Bulletin 3-4. pp. 38-40.

[22] See also: Vadholm, Tom S.: Hellig-Olavs øks som norsk symbol. In: Heraldisk Tidsskrift, October 2010

[23] Trætteberg, Hallvard: op. cit.  p. 37

[24] Brinchmann, op. cit. p. 5, Pl. VIII 1.2.

[25] Brinchmann, op. cit.. VIII.1.2 dd. 3 July 1285 & 25 June 1287.

[26] Brinchmann, op. cit.  pp. 6-9; IX.1.2

[27] Brinchmann. Op.cit. Pl. XII. 1.2. pp. 12-14

[28] Brinchmann, op. cit. Pl. VII, 2 pp.17-19

[29] Brinchmann, op. cit.. Pl. XVII 2 pp.23-25

[30] Gelre, Heraut: Wapenboek/Armorial. Ms. 15652-56. K.B. Brussel. Fol. 66.

[31] His statue in the Historical Museum in Oslo entitled: Olav from Tanum Church, Brunlanes, Vestfold. Inv. C 11697.

[32] I.e. the three crowns of the Union which is merely the emblem of the united administration.

[33] Petersen, Henry: Danske Kongelige Sigiller samt Sonderjydske Hertugers, 1185-1559. Kjobenhavn, 1917, N° 75.

[34] Bull, Jens: En hittil ukjent tegning af Norges kongevåben fran ca. 1300. In: Historisk Tidsskrift, 1930-1933. Pp. 545-548.

[35] Jouffroy d'Eschavannes, M.: Armorial Universel. Précédé d'un traité complète de la science du blason. L. Curmer, Ed.. Paris, MDCCCXLIV.

[36] Ridåsen, Geir Thomas: The Norwegian Crown Regalia. Oslo, 2006. Pp. 90-91. The arms are supposed to have been the norwegian lion with the halbard and within the iron riveted bordure. However, the shield had the shape of the royal arms of Charles XIII which suggests the tierced arms. The original arms were replaced in 1846 because they were ‘damaged by damp’.

[37] Heyer von Rosenfeld, Friedrich: Die Staatswappen der bekanntesten Länder der Erde. Frankfurt a/Main, 1895.