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Sweden - state arms

Last modified: 2021-08-25 by christopher oehler
Keywords: sweden | royal coat of arms | state arms | riksvapen | stora riksvapnet | lilla riksvapnet | crown: royal | crowns: 3 (yellow) | vasa sheaf |
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[Arms of Sweden] Greater state arms (stora riksvapnet)
Greater state arms developed since 15th Century, present design adopted in 1844,

[Arms of Sweden] Smaller state arms (lilla riksvapnet)
smaller state arms dating from 14th Century,
both confirmed in act of law 15 May 1908. Present act of law adopted in 1982 (1982:268).

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About the Greater State Arms

The Bernadotte dynasty superimposes an inescutcheon of the Vasa and Bernadotte families, impaled, over the traditional arms of Sweden which are the gold lion on a blue and white striped field (the original medieval arms of the Folkunga dynasty) quartered with the 14th century three gold crowns on a blue field, the quarters divided by a gold cross. (Literature: [lou81]).
John Andrew Lowe, 15 October 1995

The present Greater State Arms have had the same form since 1844, when King Oscar I, who had just succeded his father Carl XIV Johan (the former French Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, also former Prince of Ponte Corvo), changed it back to the form it had had before the union with Norway (1814-1905). In the first years of union with Norway, the greater Swedish state arms were divided into three fields, the first for Sweden (the three crowns), the second for the Folkunga dynasty (lion on streams) and the third for Norway (lion with axe).

When the arms were changed back, Union Arms were also created. These looked like the Greater State Arms of Sweden but had the arms of Norway in the heraldic left half of the shield and two royal crowns on top of the shield. These arms were only to be used in matters regarding both of the two realms.

The first act of law on the state arms were issued in 1908 (before this, the state arms were changed by royal decrees). The only change made in 1908 was, that from then on the shield is only surrounded by the Order of the Seraphim, the highest ranking royal order of Sweden (while before 1908, the shield could be surrounded by all royal orders).

The Greater State Arms are also personal arms of H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf.

(Sources: [nev92])
Elias Granqvist, 8 July 2000

About the Smaller State Arms

"A with a royal crown crowned shield azure with three open crowns or, placed two above one. The shield may be surrounded by the insignia of the Order of the Seraphim."

The royal crown upon the shield denotes royal worthiness. The royal crown is also a sign for the state, which means that state activity carried on under a certain symbol can have the royal crown in this symbol, as for instance the royal crown can be found in the arms of the Customs Authority. State authorities and civil service departments can also use the smaller state arms with addition of special symbols denoting their activity, as in the arms of the Police, where the three crowns-shield is accompanied by oak leaves and fasceses.
Elias Granqvist

Use of the arms by private citizens

A private citizen is not allowed to use the state arms.
A news article from United Press International, Inc., tells us the story of a Swedish woman whose request to the National Archives for permission to tattoo the Greater National Coat of Arms on her wrist was rejected. Henrik Klackenberg, chief heraldist at the National Archives, said that the coat of arms is the personal crest of the head of state and is usually reserved for use by the king, the armed forces, the Swedish parliament and other government departments. The woman was however free to use the Swedish flag for her tattoo.
Reported by Lewis A. Nowitz, 10 September 2009

The state heraldist was quite right to reject this – as one may have expected from a Swedish herald, he rightfully protected the dignity of the coat of arms, while the national flag is to be freely used, even in such unusual uses as long as it is treated with dignity and for the good purpose – quite in the customs of the use of Swedish flag.
But, I just wanted to mention that some of us had pleasure of meeting Henrik at the Stockholm ICV - beside being a very learned heraldic expert he is also a nice and cheerful gentleman. I hope to meet him again some time.
Željko Heimer, 10 September 2009