The Realm

The Ruler


The State



The Three Crowns

The Achievement




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The State





In medieval swedish society an important role seems to have been played by three officials reminding us of the archontate created in Athens in about 750 BC.. There the institutions of state were distributed over three archonts: one giving his name to the year  (έπωνυμος), one being the head of the church (βασιλευς) and one being the commander of the army (πολεμαρχος). These archonts had their counterparts in the mythical world in the Gorgon sisters Euryale (the far wanderer), Medusa (the ruler) and Stheno (the powerful).

In iconography there is a symbol representing such a trinity. It is the triquetra which appeared in the realm of Athens not long after the institution of the archontate. It consists of three bended legs conjoined at the thights. A more abstract form of this triquetra consists of a whirl of three parts. This symbol has a wider range of distribution, apparently being an ancient celtic symbol of trinity.

The oldest way a trinity was symbolized in Sweden was also a triquetra. It is on a runic stone from the 5th-6th century, found in Gotland. This shows a triquetra composed of three snakes and a sitting man supporting two other snakes. We may suppose that the stone actually symbolizes the three institutions of the swedish state, the man below ruling two of the state institutions, probably a combination of religious and armed authority or of administrative and armed authority or two of the instititutions of state as they were in Sweden of the time.


Triquetra from Rune Stone G181


Swedish Archonts


Odin, Thor and Freyr.

On a detail from Gotland runestone G 181, Viking Age (800-1050 ca)

Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.


The inscription reads (in latin script): roþuisl : aug : farborn : auk : kunborn : (Hróðvisl and Farbjôrn and Gunnbjôrn).


About this very interesting stone several hypothesis’ have been proposed. One of them states that the Odin, Thor and Freyr trinity is represented.

In the upper register is a scene of an appointment, the man in the middle receiving a spear from a seated man on the right. On the left is another seated person being a woman or another man pointing at his nose (or having an enormous erection?). On the left side of the scene is a bird of uncertain species but on the right side is another version of the triquetra, this time composed of a threepointed endless line. This symbol links the picture to the swedish state of the time.

The inscription may be taken literally and may apply to the three men of the second register who should be Hróðvisl, Farbjôrn and Gunnbjôrn then. The first is bearing the spear which was presented to him in the upper register. This spear is the symbol of armed authority. The two other men bear a mace and a sickle, which are the symbols of governance (or justice) and fertility. In that case the three men represented are holding the offices of a swedish 11th century archont or they are the priests of Odin Thor and Freyr as documented by Adam of Bremen who may have been identical anyhow.


The first known attempts to Christianize Sweden were made by Ansgar in 830, invited by the Swedish king Björn at Haugi. Setting up a church at Birka he met with little Swedish interest. A century later Unni, archbishop of Hamburg, made another unsuccessful attempt. In the 10th century English missionaries made inroads in Västergötland.

In about the middle of the 12th century when Christianity was almost established in Sweden, the swedish archonts were represented somewhat different, probably to appease criticism of the church. An example of a representation of such archonts is on the Tapestry in Skog Church (Hälsingland).

Terje I. Leiren writes about the iconographic program of the tapestry: “Scandinavian/Viking kings could easily be depicted as representions of the earlier pagan deities without the authorities of the Roman Church being any the wiser. In the same way that an anonymous woodcarver craftsman working on the Borgund Stave Church in western Norway could put a representation of the one-eyed Odin on the top of a column in the dark upper reaches of the sanctuary, so too could an artisan represent the pagan gods as medieval kings and/or saints. Consequently, with his axe, St. Olaf came to be associated with Thor and his hammer.”


The three ‘Gods’ of Skog Tapestry


In the tapestry, however, there seems to be a mixing of deities, as St. Olaf with his axe represents not Thor, but the one-eyed Odin who is placed next to a representation of a tree, perhaps the Yggdrasil from which he had hung. In addition, King Knud, killed at the alter of St. Albans Priory in Odense, Denmark, is placed in the middle, holding a Thor-like hammer (the crucifix?), while King Erik (the fertility diety, Frey) flanks him on his right holding an ear of corn. This arrangement, with Thor in the middle, is similar to Adam of Bremen's description of the idols in the great temple at Uppsala where Thor is said to be flanked by Odin and Frey.” [1]

Taking into account what I have remarked before, it is likely that not deities but the swedish archonts or commissioners are represented, each with his badge of office. These are an axe for armed autority, a sword (not a Thor-like hammer) for judicial and administrative authority and an ear of wheat for religious authority.


The three Lions


Initially the administrative and armed authority of the king were symbolized by two lions, it taken for granted that the religious authority was vested in the Pope or his archbishop of Uppsala. This can be seen on the seal of Erik X Knutsson


1210-1216 7. Samma Konung Eriks kontrasigill. Med inskrift på Peringskjölds ritning: X clipevs . erici. d.g. regis . sveorvm). Två mot hvarandra gående, krönta lejon med framvända hufvud.

Sv. Dipl. N. 137, på baksidan af No 6. Om detta gäller allt hvad vid N. 6 blifvit anmärkt. Den teckning Jph. Schefferus bifogat sin afhandling De antiquis verisque Regni Sveciæ Insignibus, Tab. G. N. XXVIII, visar tydligt att redan då detta arbete utgafs (1678) endast funnits ett obetydligt fragment af detta sigill.


Later the religious, armed and administrative authorities of the king were symbolized by three lions. These are on the royal seal of King Erik Eriksson (1222-’29).


Counterseal, 1224

Three crowned lions passant guardant.

L.: X clipevs . erici . dei . gracia . regis sveorvm . (n°  11)


This idea was also adopted by King Waldemar (1250-’75) who, however placed the lions on a shield, thus stressing his armed authority. His shield is also strewn with hearts. These were the symbols of a Byzantine proedros and primikērios who was the head of an administrative department also the president of the Senate (ὁ πρόεδρος τῆς συγκλήτου).


Heraldic Seal  of King Waldemar, 1252


Arms: Strewn with hearts, three crowned lions passant guardant. L. .X............[SVEOR]VM (n°  15)


The Council of the Realm and The Head of State


The Riksrådet, (Council of the Realm, or simply The Council, sometimes: Senatus Regni Sueciae) was a cabinet of medieval origin, consisting of magnates (stormän) which advised, and at times co-ruled, with the King of Sweden.


The arms with the three crowns

Fresco in the Hall of Arms of the Gozzoburg in Krems (Austria), ca 1276


These arms are on the Frescoes in the Gozzoburg in Krems which were discovered in 2006-’07. These show the arms of Przemysl Otakar of Bohemia when King of Bohemia, margrave of Moravia and duke of Austria and Stiria which was the case between 1261 and 1276.

The arms with the three crowns may be of the Swedish Riksrådet, in the time between the ousting of King Waldemar in 1275 and the election of Magnus Ladulås in 1276.


During the reign of Magnus III between 1275 and 1290, the meetings of the council became a permanent institution having the offices of Steward/prime minister (Riksdrots), Marshal (Riksmarsk) and Chancellor (Rikskansler). Of these Magnus Ragvaldsson is known to have been a steward from 1276. Torgils Knutsson was a marshal from 1282-1306. In 1277 the brother of Magnus, Birger Birgersson became Chancellor of his brother in 1277 until 1280. [2] He was succeeded by Peter Algotsson bishop of Linköping

Particularly from the reign of King Gustav Vasa, with his efforts of creating a centralised State, the members of the Council (Riksråd) gradually became more of courtiers and state officials rather than the semi-autonomous warlords they once were.

In 1634 Sweden's first written constitution in the modern sense stipulated that the King must have a council, but he was free to choose whomever he might find suitable for the job, as long as they were of Swedish birth. At the introduction of absolutism, Charles XI had the equivalent organ named as Royal Council (Kungligt råd). In the Age of Liberty, the medieval name was reused, but after the bloodless revolution of Gustav III, the old organ was practically abolished, and he established in its place the Council of State (Statsrådet), a similar organ which circumvented the constitution in force.

The 1809 Constitution, created a new Council of State, also known as the King in Council (Konungen i Statsrådet) which became the constitutionally mandated cabinet where the King had to make all state decisions in the presence of cabinet ministers (Statsråd). Throughout the 19th century and reaching its culmination with the enactment of the 1974 Constitution, this new Council gradually transformed into an executive cabinet of ministers chaired by a Prime Minister that governs the Realm independently of a ceremonial monarch.


The Council of the Realm of Magnus Eriksson was symbolized on his seal by three crowns. It has long been a matter of discussion why these crowns were chosen and what they actually were imitating. A long and learned article about the origins of the three crowns has been written in the middle of the 20th century by  Heribert Seitz who mainly concentrates on the arms with the three crowns of Albrecht of Mecklenburg. He has pointed out that a coat of arms Azure, three crowns Or was in no way unknown in the 13th and 14th centuries, they often being attributed to the legendary king Arthur. [3]


Œ At the beginning of the 13th century the three crowns were connected with the Three Magicians of who the relics were in Cologne Cathedral, brought there by Frederick Barbarossa from Milan. The veneration was so popular that in 1200 king Otto of Brunswick presented “three crowns for the heads of the Kings” to Cologne Cathedral. Not long afterwards the crowns appeared in the arms of Cologne. Later in the century the three crowns became the arms of the early English kings in pafrticular St. Edmund and King Arthur. This was founded on the legend of St. Helen, told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his "Historia Regnum Brittanniae" written about 1137. Helen was the daughter of the British king Coel of Colchester and married with the Roman emperor Constantius I Chlorus (305-306).Helen was supposed to have transmitted the Relics of the Three Magicians from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople to Milan where they were put down in the Chapel of the Three Magicians in the church of St. Eustorgio. Here Frederick Barbarossa took them away after the devastation of the city in 1162.

The connection of an English princess with the Three Magicians and therefore with the three crowns, seems to have been enough to make the same connection with the other popular English kings of the thirteenth century.

A coat of arms with three crowns occurs frequently at the end of the thirteenth century in manuscripts of the Adventures of Arthur. The number of crowns and the tinctures differ initially but stabilize at the beginning of the 14th century of thee golden crowns on a blue field. Thes arms though are not supported by the text of the adventures. [4]

At the same time the arms of St. Edmund of East Anglia (855-871) was  developed. In theSiege of Caerlavarock is written in vs. 945 et seq:

Puis fist li rois porter amont

Sa baniere e la Seint Eymont,

La Seint George, e la Saint Edwart,


This banner of St. Edmund was, according to later sources Azure, three crowns Or. [5] Three crowns are also on a seal of King Edwad II (1307-’27) from 1319 from which there also exists a representation in color. At the same time they are on an Irish coin. The three crowns were later used as a coat of arms for Ireland by the romantic King Richard II (1377-’99)  a contemporary of Albrecht..


It may of course be true that the three crowns are meant to symbolize the three magicians from the east. Another possibility however is that they symbolize the three officials of the Council of the Realm, the Steward, the Marshal and the Chancellor. The Steward of Magnus III was Magnus Ragvaldsson, his Marshal Torgils Knutsson. The office of Chancellor was usually performed by the bishop of Linköping, in the time of  Magnus by his brother Bengt.  The arms of Magnus were strewn with hearts, symbolizing the Byzantine office of  Primikerios or Head of the Administration. This he already bore when he only was a Jarl serving king Waldemar (1266-’75). This makes him the the president of the Council, i.c. head of State.


The Arms with the Three Crowns


The first time three crowns occurred in connection with the arms of the King of Sweden was in 1275 when they were accompanying the arms of Magnus Ladulås. Here they clearly symbolize the state  and in this meaning they were the foundation of the arms with the three crowns which are the arms of state of Sweden.

The three crowns are comparable with other European emblems of state. In the first place the arms with the patriarchal cross of Byzantium and Hungary but also with the arms of Aragon, dating  from 1281.

The combination of the royal arms and the three crowns symbolizes the king being head of state.

When the arms with the three crowns were made the arms of a person, for example by adding a helmet and crest or, later,  the collar of an order, i.c. the collar of the order of the Seraphim, the arms are the emblem of the head of state regardless by whom this office is occupied.

The combination of the royal dynastic arms and the arms of state which we notice here was also adopted in other kingdoms, for example in Hungary in the late 14th century, transitory in England in the time of Richard II and much later in Germany in the time of Maximilian I. Where it was not done was in France where the king was considered to be the personalisation of the state (the l’état c’est moi of Louis XIV). Nor was it done in Aragon where the arms of state and the royal arms remained separated until the abolition of the kingdom in the 18th century.

In Sweden the innovation of Magnus Ladulås was followed by Albrecht of Mecklenburg who, besides bearing the arms of the head of state with the three crowns also bore his personal arms quartered with the arms of state. This configuration has been continued until the present day.


25. Samma Konung Magnus’s kontrasigill. Inskriften borta. Ett uprest krönt lejon gâende öfver tre ginbalkar. Skölden, beströdd met hjertan, omgifves af tre kronor.

Sv. Dipl. N. 586, 593, 621, 631, 638, 640, på baksidan af N. 24. Peringskjölds teckning har inskriften: clipevs magni dei gracia regis sweorvm, med hvilken torde vara samma förhållande, som blifvit anmärkt, vid N. 24. De tre kronorna förekomma här första gången i ett Svenskt konungasigill. När de sedermera insattes inom skölden, blefvo de blott, till följd af sköldens form, satta i annan ordning, 2 och 1. Jfr dock anmärkningen vid Johan Sverkerssons kontrasigill här ofvan, N. 9.


Apart from the fact that a crown is the badge of administrative rank,  the three crowns are supposed to symbolize the Swedish council of the realm consisting of the Drots (head of the Royal Household) the Marsk (Keeper of the horses) and the Kansler (Chancellor/secretary) who were court officials with administrative authority. As they had no religious or armed authority, these resting with the archbishop and the king, they may be considered to be an administrative board. This is confirmed by a runic calendar (probably from the 15th-16th. century) representing two drinking horns signyfying the beginning and the end of Christmas, but also a sword symbolizing (Swedish) armed authority, a mitre symbolizing religious authority and three crowns on the same level symbolizing administrative authority.


Runic Calendar

Coll. Nordic Museum, Stockholm.


The seal of  former king Valdemar has only two crowns, suggesting that his council consisted of only two officials:

Secret seal, 1286




Waldemar After the death of King Magnus Ladulås in 1290 the three crowns of the council of the realm disappeared during the rule of his son Birger Magnusson. His pennies and half-pennies show a single crown implying that the regency was reduced to one single person.


During his minority (1290-’98) the regent of the kingdom was marshal Torgils Knutsson whose arms were his arms of office of  Marshal of Sweden: Per bend sinister Gules and Azure a lion rampant Or.


Seal of Torgils Knutsson




After the deposition of Birger Magnusson in 1318 his sister in law Ingeborg Haakomsdotter was made a member of the regency council of her son Magnus VII of Norway, who at the age of three, was elcted king of Sweden by the Swedish nobility. Ingeborg was made nominal regent of Sweden and given a seat and vote in the Swedish government and the title: Ingeborg, by the Grace of God, daughter of Haakon, Duchess in the Kingdom of Sweden.

The exact position of Ingeborg in the regency council is hard to define properly due to the shortage of documentation. Mats Kettilmundsson, her ally, presided over the Swedish regency council "alongside" the two "Duchesses Ingeborg"; Ingeborg Håkansdotter and her cousin and sister-in-law Ingeborg Eriksdottir. Magnus, already King of Norway, was elected King of Sweden with the approval of the Norwegian council in her presence. Ingeborg was the only one with a seat in both the Swedish and the Norwegian minor regency and council of state.

Regardless her position it proves from the fact that she shared her regency with Mats Kettilmundsson and her sister-in-law Ingeborg Eriksdottir, that the regency consisted of three officials, which may have had the authorities of the steward, constable and chancellor. 

The council manifested itself apparently on coins struck by Magnus Eriksson, representing three crowns around his initial  M


Penning of Magnus Eriksson, 1340-‘58

Kungl. Myntkabinett, Statens Historiska Museum


Three crowns surrounding the letter M [agnus]. On the reverse the lion of Bjelbo.


(Swedish Numismatic Society)


The Council of the Realm came into open conflict with King Magnus Eriksson in 1363 when he tried to check the power of the Swedish nobles to which he had been forced to make considerable concessions.

In 1363 Magnus’ remaining son, Haakon, king of Norway, was forced to honor an agreement with his father’s ally, king Valdemar. Before the troubles began, he was betrothed to Valdemar’s daughter Margareta with whom he married in 1363.  When Valdemar waged war on Sweden, Haakon broke the agreement and made a new one: he betrothed Elisabeth of Holstein,  in 1361. In late winter 1362 she was sailing to Sweden with her escort to marry Haakon, but a storm drove the ship to Bornholm, which was controlled by the archbishop of Lund – loyal to king Valdemar. The archbishop declared that no marriage could take place between Haakon and Elisabeth, as this was against canonic law; from the archbishop’s point of view Håkan was still to marry Margareta. They tied the knot in 1363.

The Swedish nobles seethed with fury. Their arch enemy Valdemar was now bound to Sweden, which could well mean that a son born by his daughter could be king of Sweden – and run his grandfather’s errands. Meanwhile, the counts of Holstein were disappointed as their possibility of an important alliance was made impossible. The Hanseatic league worried about which consequences this new alliance could have when it came to their influence in Sweden and at the market of Skanör and Falsterbo.

The Swedish nobles acted first. Some of them, including the powerful Bo Jonsson Grip, went to Mecklenburg to offer duke Albrecht the crown of Sweden. His son, Albrecht the younger, was appointed the task. The Swedish cities joined the two Albrechts when they and the Swedish nobles arrived in Stockholm with a fleet and about 1 500 soldiers the 29th of November 1363. The same day the burghers of Stockholm swore allegiance to Albrecht the younger and promised to “live and die” with him. This marks the beginning of a civil war between  Magnus and his son Haakon on the one side and the Nobility-party and Albrecht on the other side. On 18 february 1364 Albrecht the younger was really elected king and crowned on the Stones of Mor. By july Haakon and Magnus were forced to negotiations after losing the castle at Örebro and the newly erected Svaneholm. A truce was signed by both parts but in the autumn the hostilities continued, and Albrecht himself lead the siege of Åbo castle in Finnland.

Immediately after his election and coronation on 18 February 1364 a coat of arms with three crowns appears. It is on the seal of Albrecht used from 1364 to 1368. It makes him King of the Swedish nobility represented by the Council of the Realm.

Secret seal of Albrecht of Mecklenburg, 1364-‘68


Arms: Three crowns 2 &1. Crest: Two horns set with little pennons.

In the field two bearded heads resembling Albrecht himself. L.: SECRETUM ALBERTI DEI GRACIA SUEOR GOTORVM REGIS


On this seal Albrecht presents himself as a Head of the Administration.


Albrecht of Mecklenburg and his Father Albrecht II of Mecklenburg

In: Ernst von Kirchberg’s Reimchronik, 4. fol.1v., 1378 (Landeshauptarchiv Schwerin).


Albrecht of Mecklenburg on a tapestry, last quarter of 14th cent.

Probably by Nicolas Bataille of Paris. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


After the siege of Stockholm in 1371 Albert secured the Swedish crown, but was also forced to make a belated coronation oath in which he agreed to extensive concessions to the Swedish nobility ceding most of his power to the regency council and de facto to Bo Jonsson (Grip). As a result his  seal with the arms with the three crowns disappeared. A new coat of arms appeared in Bellenville Armorial (compiled 1355-1380) marshalling the arms with the three crowns with the quarters of  Mecklenburg.


Bellenville Armorial fol. 27 (upper half). 1371ca. [6]


On this leaf the hearts symbolizing the presidency are removed from the arms of Magnus Eriksson. Instead a quarter with three crowns symbolizing Swedish administration are added to the arms of Albrecht. A candidate for the arms Or strewn with hearts, three bendlets sinister a lion Azure, is Haakon (VI) being the second son of Magnus Eriksson. The same arms but without the hearts may have been intended for his son Olaf  (*1370) before his coronation of a King of Denmark in 1375 (at the age of four). For the arms Azure, three bendlets sinister Argent and a lion Or no owner could be found (Euphemia Eriksdotter, sister of Magnus? †1370).



Queen of Denmark and Norway 1387-1396

Queen of Sweden 1389-1396

Secret seal of Queen Margaretha used 1391-‘93

L: X secretum X secretum X secretum X secretum X secretum [7]




King of Denmark and Sweden 1396-1439


The arms with the crowns of Eric XIII were supported by a square cross which is the symbol of administrative authority.

Secret Seal of Erik, 1403-‘36


Arms:  [Azure] three crowns [Or] 2&1.

Supporter: Square cross

L.: secretu erici dei gra regnor dacie suecIe norwegie sclavor gothor q regis et duc pomarii  [8]


Charles VIII Knutsson

Regent of Sweden 1438-1441

King of Sweden 1448-1457

King of Norway 1449-1450


In the time of the regency of Carl Knutsson (Bonde) 1438-‘41 the use of the arms with the three crowns of King Albrecht was continued, the crest however changed. It consists of two arms vested in blue sleeves lined ermine and upholding a plumed crown which we may suppose was the crown of the regent himself.


Crested arms of Sweden

From the Armorial Bergshammer  fol. 222. v°. [9]


Arms: Azure, three crowns Or 2&1.

Crest: On a helmet lambrequined Or two arms vestedAzure lined Ermine, upholding a crown Or plumed Argent.

L.: die coninc van sweden


These arms are the arms of Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson who was appointed Rikshövitsman, (Commander in chief), at the Riksdag in Arboga of 1435 that is often considered the first Riksdag in Sweden. After his victory over Eric of Pomerania  the national seal  (Riksklämman) was introduced, alsoshopwing the arms of the realm.


Rikshövitsman was a military office in late medieval Sweden, especially during the Swedish freedom struggle against the Danish union kings at the time of the Kalmar Union. Rikshövitsmannen was then commander in chief of the national Swedish army. Board stood near riksföreståndarämbetet, but had a clearer military profile.

Riksföreståndarämbetet = Regent is a temporary or deputy head of state in a state with monarchical form of government. Sometimes the term as a synonym regent regent. The title was introduced in the Scandinavian countries in the 1400s as a translation of the German title Reichsverweser.


The Swedish kings were inaugurated near the Stones of Mora at 10 km S.E. of Uppsala. The origin of the tradition is unknown. On one of the stones are the arms with the three crowns in the style of the beginning of the 15th century. The stones were severely damaged in the the beginning of the 16th century but the stone with the arms seems to have been damaged later.


Stones of Mora by Johann Schefferus (17th cent.)


Damaged Stones of Mora

Mannequin wearig the coat of arms of Sweden

From:  Grand Armorial Equestre de la Toison d’Or. (1419-’61).

Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal  Ms.4790


No younger representations of a knight vested in the coat of arms of the regent  are known.


The use of the arms of the Swedish Administration alias the arms of the Swedish Head of State was continued by the later Kings of Sweden


Arms of Sweden on the seal of King John of Denmark, 1500 [10]



Swedish Örtug  (½ öre), 1530 of King Gustav Vasa (1523-’60)


Arms of Sweden supported by an angel

on the seal of King Christian III of Denmark, 1546  [11]


These arms were a stumbling block for Gustav I and Erik XIV who claimed the use of it for the Kingdom of Sweden.


Örtug, of King Erik (1560-‘68) Stockholm

Æ 19 mm. Weight 1.070 g. Silverpercentage 31.3%



On this coin the arms supported with a square cross of Erik XIII are restored. In fact this symbolizes the Swedish administration, the cross symbolizing the administration of the personal union of Denmark, Sweden and Norway (The Union of Kalmar).  Indeed the arms of Denmark were sometimes also supported by a square cross, symbolizing the administration of Denmark. The Swedish square cross, to avoid any confusion with the Danish cross was soon tinctured Or instead of the Danish Argent. Also, it lost its function as a supporter of the arms with the crowns but was inserted into the royal arms of Gustav Vasa (1523). It has remained a part of the royal arms until the present day.


The arms with the three crowns in Sweden was also used during the reign of king John III. Probably to make a proposal for the arms for the independent kingdom of Sweden or to make a difference with the arms of the Union of Kalmar as usurped by Denmark, the field was tinctured red instead of blue. For supporter the golden square cross, introduced in 1523, was taken. This ‘proposal’ however was not followed.


The arms of King  Erik

In: Fru Margareta Grips Bok, 1570.

(Trolleholms slott, Skane.)

Arms: Gules, three crowns Or, 2&1.

Supporter: A square cross Or.


Instead the arms with the crowns were royally crowned and the square cross left out. These arms symbolize the royal administration of Sweden. The three crowns which occur at the same time still represent the council of the realm

Seal of Majesty of John III, 1571


The king seated, crowned and with sceptre and orb between the crowned arms of Sweden and Götaland. 




The crowned arms of Sweden are the arms of the king in his quality of the Head of State of Sweden.



Arms of Sweden on a coin of John III, 1585


Sweden's first constitution was adopted on 29 July 1634. It regulated some of the administration, judiciary and the military. It was never accepted by the monarch but was nonetheless in use until Charles XI formally established an absolute monarchy in Sweden. The Riksdag of the Estates confirmed his power in 1693 by officially proclaiming that the king was the sole ruler of Sweden effectively nullifying the constitution.

Öre of King Charles II, 1698



Some time afterwards the arms with the three crowns were surrounded by the Collar of the Grand Master of the Order of the Seraphim  thus re-creating a difference between the arms of the realm of Sweden and the arms of its Head of State, being the king. The office of Head of State, separated from the office of King was only created in 1876. Its first officeholder was Louis De Geer, the architect behind the new bicameral Riksdag of 1866 that replaced the centuries old Riksdag of the Estates.

No heraldic consequences seem to have been taken from this creation, the arms with and without the collar both being called ‘the lesser arms of the realm’ (Lille Riksvapen).

Frederick I  1720-‘51

Adolpus Frederick 1751-‘71

Gustavus III 1771-1792

Gustavus IV 1792-1809

Charles XIII 1809-‘18

Charles XIV John 1818-‘44


In the law about the Arms of the Realm the arms with the three crown alias the arms of state are described as follows:

Lag om rikets vapen

den 15 maj 1908


3 §. Lilla riksvapnet utgöres af en blå sköld med tre kronor af guld, ställda två öfver den tredje. Skölden är täckt af en kunglig krona och omgifven af serafimerordens insignier. Vapnet må dock brukas äfven utan dessa insignier.


Lag (1982:268) om Sveriges riksvapen


3 § Lilla riksvapnet består av en med kunglig krona krönt blå sköld med tre öppna kronor av guld, ordnade två över en.

Skölden får omges av Serafimerordens insignier.

Såsom lilla riksvapnet skall också anses tre öppna kronor av guld, ordnade två över en, utan sköld och kunglig krona.

Myndigheter som använder lilla riksvapnet får till vapnet foga emblem som symboliserar deras verksamhet. Innan ett vapen med sådant tillägg tas i bruk, bör yttrande inhämtas från statens heraldiska nämnd.


Thus making no difference between the royal arms of the head of state and the arms of the state, a difference which can be deducted from earlier swedish heraldic configurations of the royal arms and the arms of state. This also matches the trend in other countries  where the different coats of arms are all called the arms of the kingdom/realm of which there are only smaller, lesser and larger versions.




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© Hubert de Vries 2015-04-24. Updated 2017-10-26




[1] Leiren, Terje I:  From Pagan to Christian: The Story in the 12th-Century Tapestry of the Skog Church, Hälsingland, Sweden.

[2] Line, Philip: Kingship and stateformation in Sweden  1130-1290

[3] Seitz, Heribert: De Tre Kronorna. Det Svenska Riks vapnet i Sitt Europeiska Sammanhang. P.A. Norstedt & Sönersförlag. Stockholm, 1961.

[4]  Brault, G.J.: Early Blazon. Heraldic Termminology in the XII and XIII centuries with special reference to Arthurian literature. Oxford, 1972 i.h.b. pp. 44-45. The color of the crowns is most of the time silver, and varies between two and four. The field  is  red or blue.

[5]  The banner with the arms of St. Edmund  is also mentioned  in the "Wardrobe account for 1299-1300" (Liber Quotidianus Contratulatoris Garderobae ... A.D.MCCXCIX & MCCC, London 1787, p. 64).

[6] Source:  Gallica bnf fr/Bibliotèque Nationale de France.                                                                                                                                                    

[7] Petersen, Henry: Danske Kongelige Sigiller samt Sonderjydske Hertugers, 1185-1559. Kjobenhavn, 1917. N° 55

[8] Petersen op. cit N° 62

[9] Raneke, Jan: Bergshammar Vapenboken - En Medeltidsheraldisk Studie. Lund, 1975

[10] Ibid. N°89

[11] Ibid. N° 122