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The Coat of Arms of the Canary Islands

16th and 17th centuries

The accomplishment of the conquest of the Islands was symbolized with the addition of the title of Rey de las Islas de Canaria (King of the Islands of Canary) to the official list of titles of the Spanish monarchs. This way, the archipelago was granted the rank of kingdom, but this fact did not implied the granting of a distinctive coat of arms. During the first centuries after the conquest, only the cabildos (councils) of the three islands under direct royal administration (Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma) were granted a coat of arms, but the islands as a whole, lacking any institution common to all of them, were not formally granted any distinctive emblem.

Nevertheless, in the beginning of the 16th century, an idea began to spread among the European heralds, to the effect that every territory with a title of sovereignty (kingdoms, principalities, lordships…) should be identified by a heraldic emblem of its own, even if there was no institution to make use of it.

Therefore, many of these heralds proceeded to create coats of arms out of their own imagination for all those territories without emblem, and showed them in the works they wrote. As time went on, some of these imaginary symbols managed to be accepted as the official emblems of these lands.

In the case of the Kingdom of the Islands of Canary, the first known examples appear in the 2nd Book of the Genealogical and Heraldical History of the Emperors, Kings and Noblemen of Europe, written by Hans Tirol and presented to Philip II in 1549, being preserved in Monasterio de El Escorial Library (1). There are shown two completely different versions of the supposed arms of the R[egnum] Canariae, that can’t be considered nothing more than the product of the author’s imagination. In the 1st volume, the arms are blue, with a silver elephant and above it a gold lion, while in the 2nd volume, the arms shown are blue with a diagonal band charged with the zodiacal signs of Cancer, Leo, Virgo and Libra, accompanied by two golden six-pointed stars, and below it a silver animal resembling a boar. Curiously, a very similar and equally fantastic emblem is attributed in the same work to the Kingdom of Gibraltar, other of the royal titles.

Regnum Canariae

A manuscript dated prior to 1580, entitled Nobiliario de España and written by Alonso Téllez de Meneses (2), shows as arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries a gold shield with three green sugarcanes and a purple dog with a golden collar. This emblem seems fantastic, too, but it is to be noted that for the first time there appears a dog, making reference to the most accepted hypothesis on the origin of the name of the Canary Islands, that would come from the Latin word canis (dog).

But we must wait until the mid-17th century to find the first reference to a coat of arms of the Canary Islands containing the main elements of the current arms. At the end of the reign of Philip IV (1621-1665), Francisco Valonga y Gatuellas, in his manuscript entitled Títulos de los Reyes de España (3), describes the arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries as follows: This Kingdom and islands have as arms seven islands in the middle of a sea, with a gold letter below saying OCEANI.

Títulos de los Reyes de España

From the same time would be another version of the arms of the Canary Islands that would have been the source for the anonymous author of the map entitled Plan de las Afortunadas Islas del Reyno de Canarias, dated by Juan Tous Meliá around 1765 (4). This map is illustrated with a coat of arms that accompanying text decribes this way: These are the arms of the Kingdom of the Canaries: 7 silver islands on blue and white sea waves, and the white fess on top symbolizing that it is a feudatary kingdom; and in the chief of the shield some gold letters saying Occeano. According to Salazar.

Plan de las Afortunadas Islas... (ca. 1765)

This Salazar would be Miguel de Salazar y Mendoza, who was Chronicler and Honour Chapain of Philip IV, but we have no information to know if he was the creator of this heraldic achievement for the Canary Islands or he just echoed some other work, like the forementioned one by Valonga. Anyway, the text of the map is rather inexact: it describes as a fess what in the drawing appears as a chief, while it says that the inscription Occeano is on the chief, when in the drawing it is shown forming an arch above the crown.

NOTES


(1) Biblioteca del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, sign. 28-I-10, 11 y 12, vitrinas 21, 22 y 23

(2) Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Colección Salazar y Castro, sign.9/236

(3) Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Colección Salazar y Castro, sign.9/495

(4) Tous Melián, Juan. El Plan de las Afortunadas Islas del Reyno de Canarias y la isla deSan Borondón. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Militar Regional de Canarias, 1996