The ACHIEVEMENT of ARMS the Coat-of-Arms of SPONNECK – Originate 1200’s – Granted 1669 – Confirmed 1701 – Confirmed 1889
This beautiful family Spon(n)eck ‘Coat-of-Arms’ was at the last seen depicted in the Danish Noble publication – Danmarks Adels Aarbog – of 1916, which carried the full history and genealogy of the Hedwiger/Danish Sponneck family from 1510 to 1916. In this publication appeared many portraits of Danish Sponnecks’ and a full colour depiction of the final Arms of the family as granted to the Knight, Balthazar von Hedwiger in 1669, confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I on the 2nd August 1701 to the four siblings Von Hedwiger with the title grant to ‘Reichsgrafen’ and again to the Danish ‘Sponneck’ family branch by the Danish King, Christian IX in 1889.
In these Arms the ‘Shield’ is quartered with an ‘inescutcheon’ (smaller shield in the centre of the main shield). In the first and fourth quartering can be found the foundational arms of the original ‘Hedwiger’ family whose family are in this publication declared to be from Silesia and of old Silesian Nobility (Uradel) dating back to the 13th Century. It is recorded that the family Hedwiger were first recorded as knights who took part in the historical ‘Battle of Liegnitz’ in 1241 April 9th against the invading Mongol forces. The 13th century Achievement of Arms of this family depicts a ‘Charge’ (any picture on the shield) here of a golden ‘Lion’, Crowned and with a Double Tail (queue-forche) on a Red Shield. The ‘Red Shield’ is very significantly Polish and many shields of Polish Arms have Red for a base colour. The Golden ‘Lion Rampant’ (Rampant – standing on hind legs) would surely represented the ‘Bravery’ of the Knights Von Hedwiger and the Golden ‘Lion Crowned’, their (untitled) nobility, and service to the Crown, so depicted. The double tail, while not unknown in heraldry, is somewhat of a rare phenomenon, which Spon(n)eck is privileged to have.
The older 13th Century single ‘Barrel Helmet’, very indicative of this earlier time, was replaced in the resplendent newer 16th century Sponneck Arms by twin Helmets of the later period being in bright Silver and with five grilles. In European heraldry, each quartering would have its own Helmet. More than one Helmet is virtually unknown in Danish and English Heraldry, although there may be more Crests. The second and third quartering has a blue ‘Shield’ with a ‘Charge’ of a gold ‘Star’ and gold ‘Moon’ above and below a silver ‘Stream’ wherein swims a natural coloured ‘Fish’ upwards (German – Bach). The new Arms now digress from the norm in that instead of depicting a ‘wife’s’ family arms in the 2nd and 3rd quartering, they depict, the story of one, Captain Balthazar von Hedwiger, who as a young army officer, was ordered to ‘swim the Danube’ to spy on the Turks in the standoff between the forces of Syleman the Turk and Charles V Habsburg at Vienna in 1532. For having done this brave deed with distinction, the next Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II, for whom Baltazar is recorded a Privy Councillor at his court, decreed this addition to the Hedwiger Arms, for him and his descendants forever! Thus, the Charge of ‘Silver Stream’ now stands in these new Arms for the Danube River and the ‘Star’ and ‘Moon’ as icons representing the Turkish Empire, on whom he so successfully spied. (Balthazar’s son and grandson are recorded as also being Privy Councillors to the Dukes of Liegnitz and his great-grandson, a Captain in Graf von Thimmisch’s regiment.)
It is noteworty in Heraldry that the Helmet is the most significant indication of the rank of the Arms bearer. All Royal Arms would have ‘Gold’ Helmets. The higher aristocracy and Nobility would have bright Silver Helmets with grilles and the Helmets of burgers, wealthy merchants and civil arms (towns and states) would be of bronze with visors closed. Sometimes the position and the visor of the helmet would also be indicative, but this can be studied in various other publications on Heraldry.
True to the Laws of Heraldry, the twin Helmets of the new arms of the family Hedwiger/Sponneck have for ‘Crests’; firstly on the left Helmet above the Red Shield, a golden Lion crowned seated on, as a torse – a coronet as on the older Arms, but this time showing a double tail (queue-forche) and facing to the right (inwards) now instead of left (outwards). A ‘torse’ or ‘wreath’ is the intertwinned two coloured band seen on top of the helmet in order to seat the crest! Secondly, on the right side Helmet is a coronet torse and to seat the icons of ‘River’, and ‘Star’ and ‘Moon’ is an ‘Eagles Wing’ spread open depicting on it this second and third quartering Charge. The normal rule of Heraldry is that the ‘charges’ on the shields would be displayed in the Crest, which is the charged emblem or icon repeated on the top of the Helmet. Sometimes the ‘Achievement of Arms’ is incorrectly called a crest, but the Crest is strictly the repeat of the charges of the shield on top of the helmet.
With regard to the ‘Inescutcheon’ (smaller shield within the larger shield), it would appear to this writer that this Eagle Displayed, called a ‘Seeadler’ in German, is a reproduction of the Shield and Arms of the province of Silesia, from where the family originate. These Arms have been taken up and included in the New Flag of this province in Poland incorporating four flags of the different areas into one, which includes the Black Eagle on a Gold Shield, ‘displayed’ (with spread wings) Crowned and with red tongue and feet, but with this distinction, that the ‘white Crescent Moon with Cross’ of Silesia is missing! (See illustration below).
For ‘Supporters’ the Arms display two ‘Leopards’ given as in natural colour in the discription of the Arms (Blazen of Arms). The animals are here depicted in profile, and erect, resting upon their hind-paws with their heads turned to face the spectator (‘Rampant guardant’). An interesting observation of the writer’s is that the discription for the ‘supporters’ are not given in the original Vienna title grant file of 1701, to Georg Wilhelm von Hedwiger and his siblings, but indeed given in the 1916 edition of the ‘Danmarks Adels Aarbog’, which leads him to believe that the supporters were only included in the Danish ‘Rigsgreve’ title grant to the ‘Reichsgrafen’ von Sponneck, for the first time and on the 11th July 1889, when the Danish King, Christian IX granted the Danish equivalent title to the family, whereafter they dropped the German ‘von’ and ‘Reichsgrafen’ title for the Danish ‘Rigsgreve’ equivalent. This writer has only found two other families (both extinct) to have the title ‘Rigsgreverne’ (Counts-of-the-Danish-Realm – ‘rige’ = ‘realm’) in past copies of the Danmarks Adels Aarbog. The Danish title ‘Greve’ (Count) or ‘Lensgreve’ (Marquis) are the only other two forms of the Danish ‘Count’ title! This confirms then, that the Supporters (two leopards on each side of the Shield) were granted by the Danish sovereign together with the Danish title ‘Rigsgreverne’ in place of the German ‘Reichsgrafen’ title. The ‘Sponneck’ continued to use ‘Reichsgraf’ after they had moved into Denmark in 1702 and they continued to live in Denmark and serve in high Danish offices both military and civil until the 1889 grant. The ‘Supporters’ (the two leopard holding the shield) would have had to be included in the Sponneck Arms by sovereign decree.
The ‘Compartment’ is anything depicted below the shield as a foothold or resting-place for the supporters, or indeed for the shield itself, should the Arms have Supporters of the Shield. Many interesting designs can be found for a ‘compartment’ in other Arms with Supporters. No fixed rule exists however, but the fact remains that Supporters must have something upon which to stand and if the ‘Blazon’ supplies no clue, the artist is allowed considerable laxity. Simply, a plain yellow Board is here used for these Arms, no doubt because of the complexity of the rest of the Achievement; anything more elaborate might have been just too extravagant.
And so we have this unique magnificent ‘Achievement of Arms’ for the Spon(n)eck Family. At the time of writing, this family Sponneck is strong in the male line as well as the female line so it is hoped that these Arms will continue to grace the homes and hearts of a continuous line of living Sponneck families for many more generations to come!