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A Story on Stamps

Shields of the Provincial Capitals of Spain


Between 1962 and 1966 the Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbres (F.N.M.T) produced a series of fifty-seven stamps, each of which shows a shield. Fifty-six of these feature shields of capitals of provinces. The last one shows the shield of Spain. The stamps were issued in five batches, four batches of twelve (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965) and one of nine (1966). The shields appear in alphabetical order, starting with Álava and ending with Zaragoza (provincial capitals), not counting the final stamp with the shield of Spain.

Design of the Stamps

The design of the stamps follows a standard pattern. They all have a face value of 5 pesetas, except for the shield of Spain, which has 10 pesetas. The value is top-left in every case. At the foot of the stamp we find 'ESPAÑA - CORREOS'. The main body of the stamps is taken up by the central part of the shield. In the case of Ciudad Real there is mantling bearing the motto 'MUY NOBLE - CIUDAD REAL - MUY LEAL':

This is the exception rather than the rule. More typical is the case of Baleares, with no mantiling at all:

The stamps are numbered 'No. 1' and so on in the bottom left-hand imprint, and the mark of the Spanish Mint (F.N.M.T) is seen on the right, but this requires magnification to see. Below are details of the imprint of the stamp showing the shield of Baleares, seen above:

In the illustrations that follow only the ‘shield’ component of the stamp is shown. In the ‘Introduction’, in order to exemplify the concepts and how they provide a framework for my simple account, I will use a selection of shields.

Formal Features of the Shield

I do not pretend to have a command of the language and terminology of blazon. This project started in one of my albums of stamps of the Franco era and grew from there. I have relied heavily on Stephen Friar, The Sutton Companion to Heraldry (2004). For the most part, I have used simple English. Terms such as bordure are used where English descriptions like ‘surround’ are quite unsatisfactory. That said, I hope that purists will forgive me for not using the terminology of blazon for colours. I use ‘black’ and not sable, ‘red’ and not gules and so on. Usually the explanations of terminology include a photo of an example from the shields.

Typically, the form of the shield will be like the shield of Zaragoza seen below:

On some shields there is also a surround or bordure. A motto can work its way round this, as in the case of Lugo (below left). Alternatively, the bordure can be broken into componys. On the shield of Córdoba, there are 9 castles and 9 lions.


In the vast majority of cases, the crest is a coronet of eight projections, though the colour of the jewels round the rim varies.

No Divisions


These two shields also provide a good illustration of the difference between an emblem (right) and a motif or representation. While the lion has iconic value as the emblem of León, the tower seen on the shield of Coruña is a representation of lighthouse, the Torre de Hércules, that exists in real life and could equally well figure in a drawing or a painting.

Per Pale
In this case, the shield is divided vertically into two sections. An example of this is the shield of Ávila. In the sinister or left-hand side it has a castle, gold on a field of red. On the dexter or right side, the same castle, but on a silver field with weaponry and the words 'ÁVILA DEL REY' (Ávila of the King). The shield of Cáceres has a similar colour scheme, but a rampant lion replaces the castle with weaponry:



This is the division into four, numbered according to the following convention:

Here are some examples:


The shield of Baleares has the four red bars of Aragón in 1 and 4 and elements suggestive of the Mediterranean in 2 and 3 (castle, palm-tree and blue sea). In the centre, Jaén, with gold in 1 and 4, red in 2 and 3. The castle is a recurrent feature, seen here on the shield of Palencia in 2 and 3, with a cross, silver, of the type Moline in 1 and 4 on blue. Perhaps surprisingly, this division is not all that common in this set of shields.

Three-way Division

A good example is the shield of Salamanca where the top section is occupied by two snakes, with tongues, face-to-face. The left-hand division has the four bands of Aragón, surrounded by a blue bordure with eight silver Greek crosses. The right-hand division has four elements: tree, bull bridge and river.

The stamp for the province of Madrid shows a slightly different arrangement of the three divisions, the two-way division being at the top, the left-hand one being occupied by a heraldic beast, with the face of a dog, wings of a bat and a dragon (or devil’s tail). On the right we find a bear climbing a tree. In the lower section, the wreath is most likely a laurel one.


By far the most common motifs to occur are the castle and the lion. The bordure is often divided into sections (componys). In the shields seen below, the castle and the lion alternate and each motif occurs four, seven, eight or nine times:


Other objects occurring in the bordure are the yolk and arrows of the Catholic Monarchs, chain links and swords in saltire, seen below:

Gran Canaria


The sentiments generally relate to the good character of the town, very often to its loyalty towards a king in battle. The mottos are in Latin or Spanish. The motto on the shield of Soria is in Spanish:

‘Pure Soria, head of Extremadura. (Soria)


We move to the areas of the devices, emblems and motifs to be found on the shields. These are generally referred to as 'charges'.


The Charges

For a definition I rely on Friar: “There are innumerable charges used in heraldry, ranging from the fleur-de-lis, a stylised form of the madonna lily (Lilium Candidum) to the unique urinal crest of Dr Louys Caerlyon (1483).” (194)

With the exception of the African provinces of Ifni and Sahara, in the chief there is a coronet, of eight projections. Round the rim are arranged a number of jewels. Examples show that the jewels vary fall into one of three types.

Almería (diamonds, rubies)
Soria (diamonds, rubies, sapphires)
Teruel (rubies, emeralds)

The importance of the cross scarcely requires emphasising. Friar notes: “The preponderance of crosses in armory... reflects both the influence of the Crusades and medieval man’s preoccupation with his religion.” (194): I have identified six different types of cross on the shields of the Provinces of Spain:

Cruz de los Ángeles
St. George

In most cases, the castle on the shield, rather than depicting any particular castle, is used as a symbol of local and national authority. Essentially a military symbol, it features in eighteen out of the fifty-seven shields. The castle is very often three-towered, its general shape resembling the rook or castle in a chess set. It represents the Kingdom of Castile. “ Generally located on the top of a mountain or hill, which gives it height-symbolism as well, strength. The shape and color help define it as an embattled, spiritual power, a vigil. Grandeur, nobility, search for divine grace.

A symbol of strength and nobility, the lion is to be found in a wide variety of emblematic situations. On the Spanish shields, the lion calls up the Kingdom of León. It also occurs on the shield of Spain (along with the castle). The lion comes in a number of positions: linguado (tongue out), rampant (well-known in common parlance), statant (standing) or sejant (sitting) along with several others. The position will be identified in the entry for a particular provincial shield. On a number of shields we see the castle occurring along with the lion, a juxtaposition that is explained below.

At the head of the shield of Spain we see the imperial eagle. This bird was the standard of the Roman legion. Charlemagne is said to have adopted it as his device when he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in AD 800. When the eagle is found on the lecterns in a church, with wings spread, it has the significance of carrying forth the Word of God (Friar, 195). Although the shield shown on the stamp is from the Franco period, the use of the eagle as a symbol of imperial authority is by no means limited to this context. There is a clear instance, for example, on the Mexican ‘ eagle’ issues of 1864, issued during the short reign of the Emperor Maximilian. It is also found on the shields of Austria, Poland and Romania and in other countries and regions.

Countless volumes have been written on the symbolism and associations of numbers. The research and theories are many and various, but in the end speculative. That said, looking over the charges on the provincial shields, there is no doubt that the numbers do fall into a detectable pattern. Numinous numbers like 3 and 7 occur frequently, but others make their presence felt also. Let us examine the numbers from low to high.

The number ONE is associated with unity, very often the godhead. The Catholic Monarchs apart, unity, in the sense of being the sole figure to appear, is reserved for a number of kings of the Middle Ages, kings such as Alfonso X El Sabio. The mythical Hercules, seen on the shield of Cádiz is another example, as is the warrior Álvar Fañez on the shield of Guadalajara. It has to be admitted that unity in the sense of ‘oneness’ is not a strong feature of this scenario. More commonly, factions vie the one with the other for hegemony.

A number of elements occur in pairs, lending significance to the number TWO. In general, charges that appear as a pair are supporters and subsidiary elements to the left and right of the shield proper. Lions, dogs and pillars feature in several places. To these can be added images to do with angels and bishops. On the shield of Lugo, the lions that are supporters in the lower quarters are matched by two angels in the upper, suggesting heavenly, and below it earthly, that is, royal authority. On the shield of Oviedo, the angels stand on a cloud against blue, again suggesting Heaven. We have already mentioned snakes (Salamanca) and wolves (Vizcaya), all of which occur in pairs. On the shield of Seville, two bishops attend the king. The heads of two sailors look over the Torre de Oro and the broken chain (Santander). Melilla has two baskets, with mysterious contents. When all is said and done, however, we have to remember that numerous natural phenomena point to a dualistic world-view: light and shadow, heaven and earth, night and day and several others.

The number THREE has many religious and mythological associations. According to Brewer: “Pythagoras calls three the perfect number, expressive of ‘beginning, middle and end’, wherefore he makes it a symbol of the Deity.” (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Centenary Edition, revised Evans, 1974, 627). Brewer also cites: Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost); the trident of Neptune; the three Fates; the three Graces and so on (312). On the provincial shields, an obvious example of a group of three comes in the arrangement of towers. In the case of Albacete, two towers form the support for a third, while on the shield of Logroño a bridge supports a row of three towers. The shield of Burgos is particularly emphatic in its use of groups of three. In the use of the bridge that supports three towers, the shield resembles that of Logroño, but matters go much further than that. The supporting towers right and left, in turn incorporate three-towered motifs at the foot of their columns. Further to this, the king’s cloak shows quite clearly three folds and in each of the three folds we see further example of the motif of three towers. Other shields that show these phenomena will be dealt with in the A to Z, in particular Huelva, Orense, Tenerife and Vizcaya.

The religious and mythological associations of the number FOUR are numerous: the elements (fire, water, earth, air), seasons, suits of cards and many others. The division of the shield into four quarters, termed quarterly, is perhaps not as frequent here as might be expected, occurring in only four of the fifty-six shields, namely Baleares, Barcelona, Jaén and Palencia. A recurring element is the four red (on gold) bars of Aragón, found on shields of the area that used to be under that domain, roughly definable at the present time by the extent of the Catalán language and of the Valenciano variant of the same: Baleares, quarters 1 and 4; Barcelona, 2 and 3; Teruel, the first quarter. On the shields of Castellón and Gerona, the four bars are the background to a lozenge. In the case of Lérida, the four bars are set within a rhombus, while on that of Barcelona, the bars within quarters 2 and ovcincial SheildsTarragona, we have four bendy (wavy) bars, but they are blue and white, whereas the pattern is usually red and gold. All of this is very much in the domain of formalities of heraldic arrangements. In terms of the significance of the charges, the four red bars of Aragón apart, there is very little of note, an exception being the four anchors in the bordure of the shield of Tenerife.

There are only two shields where FIVE appears to have significance. On the shield of Ceuta, the city-province in North Africa, close to Tangiers. In the centre of this shield, there are five shields, each with five dots on it. The shield of Valladolid there are five flames rayonné.

The Creation took SEVEN days. There are seven divisions in the Lord’s Prayer, seven age in the life of Man, churches in Asia to mention only a few of the religious associations. There are seven coronets on the shield of Murcia and seven scallops (the symbol of Santiago de Compostela) on the shield of Coruña and in the bordure of the shield of Jaén there are seven castles and seven lions.

There are EIGHT bunches of bananas (Ifni); castles in bordure (Ciudad Real, Murcia, Valladolid); lions in bordure (Murcia); shape of knot? (Seville)

NINE is not so common. Again this occurs in the bordure, where we have 9 castles and 9 lions (Córdoba, Melilla).

In the A to Z we will try to decipher/explain a number of letters, combinations of letters. These include: ‘AL...LA’ (Alicante); ‘BIAFRA’ (Fernando Poo); ‘V.V.OSCA’ (Huesca); ‘NO...DO’ (Seville); the letter ‘L’ as a supporter; ‘S.S.’ (Guipúzcoa); ‘T.M.’ (Málaga) and the name ‘TERUEL’.

There are a number of charges that occur occasionally. These are items such as bat, bear, bull, dog(s), oak,raven(s) and so on. These are dealt with as and when they occur on a particular shield. Incidental features, with no apparent symbolic value, such as 'horse' and 'bridge' are mentioned in passing only. It is now time to look at the shields one by one.

A to Z of Shields

Shields are named and presented in the order given in EDIFIL, Catálogo Unificado de Sellos de España, 2012, pages 48 (1962, Group I), 50 (1963, Group II), 52 (1964, Group III), 54-55 (1965, Group IV) and 57 (1966, Group V). NOTE: The point of reference in all cases is period 1962-1966. It is tempting to include mention of the present-day autonomías, but this clouds the issue.


On the rim of the coronet, sapphires and rubies, on the projections the same. This shield is relatively unusual in having mantling, which bears the motto 'HAC EST VICTORIA - QUE VINCIT' (Here is victory - that overcomes). The shield has features in common with other shields in the lions guarding the gate of the castle in the passant position (walking with one paw raised). Also the towers on castles frequently number THREE. The two birds must be ravens. Generally regarded as birds of ill-omen, Becker cites the call of the raven 'cras, cras' as having the meaning of "tomorrow, tomorrow". Thus the bird is a symbol of hope. Certainly on the shield, the birds occupy the position of authority.


On the rim of the coronet, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, on the projections sapphires. The area was liberated from the Moors by Fernando III and in 1375 the town was formed. In the heraldry, the bat stands on the same level as the coronet, suggesting that it is the symbol of the ruler. Luis G. García-Saúco Beléndez has written at length on this subject. Up till 1476 and the unification under the Catholic Monarchs, Albacete was part of the so-called Marquesado de Villena, which had formerly been the domain of the famous writer and warrior Juan Manuel, author of El Conde Lucanor. For those of us excited by the find of a bat on the shield, his conclusion may disappoint a little, but the research is extensive. He concludes that the true meaning of the bat is no more than the formal evolution that began with hands winged with swords, and then passed to the flying mammal by way of an eagle. The same transformation took place on the shield of Valencia.


On the rim of the shield sapphires and rubies, on the projections sapphires, rubies and diamonds. This shield is relatively unusual in having mantling, in this case a chain, with whatever appear to be feathers at each of the eight links. The rock represents Monte Benacantil, where there was a Moorish alcázar, at the present time converted into Castillo de Santa Bárbara and from which the name ‘Alicante’ is derived. The castle mounted on the rock is typically 3-towered (See also Albacete, Logroño, Soria). On top of the central tower, in a rhombus, the four red bands of the old kingdom of Aragón (for this shape see Lérida and Valencia). Not without significance for Alicante is the blue sea. To interpret the significance of the letters ‘A’ and ‘L’, we have to go back to the time of the Greeks and the name Akra Leuka, which means ‘white peak’.



In the rim of the coronet, diamonds and rubies. The bordure is a variation on the more common alternating castle and lion. Here we have five different charges – castle, lion rampant, four bands of Aragón (elsewhere red on gold), yolk and arrows of the Catholic Monarchs (and of Falange Española) and chains linking in centre. There are three of each of these charges. At the foot in the centre, there is a pomegranate. As in the shield of Granada the fruit is split. The linking chains are also found on the shield of Navarra in exactly the same pattern, that is a rectangle intersected from corner to corner and from side to side (4 x 4 x 4). The main charge on the shield is a cross of St George, red on silver. The cross of St. George is found on some representations of the shield of Barcelona.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds or sapphires, on the projections rubies and diamonds. Per pale, with a brown (golden) castle on a red field in the sinister domain (see also Cáceres and Palencia). It can just be made out that the castle is three-towered, which is frequently the case. On the right, this time brown (gold) and red, a similar castle but this time with symbols of fortification and below the motto 'ÁVILA DEL REY' (Royal Ávila). The castle is still to the fore but the arrangement of the shield is different.


On the rim, emeralds, rubies and diamonds, on the projections diamonds. This shield is closely connected to that of Cádiz, with the pillars and lions to the fore. Hercules is missing as are the ribbons wrapped round the pillars with the words 'NON PLUS' and 'ULTRA' (together meaning 'no further, limit of the world...'). In this case the lions, red, wear coronets. All this is set against blue sky and green grass. We may speculate that historically Badajoz shared many of the associations of cities like Cádiz and Seville with the New World. Wikipedia has a similar shield, but with one lion rampant, with gold coronet, to the right of a single white pillar round which gold ribbons with 'NON PLUS' and 'ULTRA' in red, are wrapped.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections rubies, emeralds and diamonds. In quarters 1 and 4, the four red bands of the ancient kingdom of Aragón (see Barcelona, Castellón, Gerona, Lérida, Teruel and Valencia). In quarters 2 and 3, the charges are pictorial, suggestive of the Mediterranean island location with blue sky and sea, with the castle symbolising royal authority.



On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections emeralds and diamonds. This is one of the few shields divided into quarters (see also Baleares, Jaén and Palencia). In quarters 1 and 4, the cross of St. George. In 2 and 3, the four red bars on brown / gold of the old kingdom of Aragón, as in numerous shields of that region.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections the same and, in addition, diamonds. The bordure of this shield uses two key colours, brown / gold and red, but the band running round is exclusive to Burgos. This shield, with the king at the centre is almost an essay in the matter of castles of three-towers, but first note the use of the bridge as a bearer of towers, seen also on the shields of Orense and Pontevedra, for example. The pillars supporting the bridge each contain a three-towered structure and in the middle of the bridge itself are three more towers. In its complexity, this structure brings to mind another unusual example on the shield of Ciudad Real. The king's cloak has three folds and on each of the three folds a castle of three towers. Note further that the king's cloak follows the convention of having brown (gold) towers on a red background, found on a number of shields (Palencia, Soria).


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and diamonds, on the projections diamonds. Again in a province well to the south we find arms associated with Castile and León. There is a story attached to this one. I summarise Enciclográfica: First of all, Fernando IV, of Castile, came to the aid of the city. Some time later, in 1229, Alfonso IX of León conquered the town for Christianty. Out of this there arose two rival factions, one pro-Castile, the other pro-León. When the Catholic Monarchs came on the scene, they put and end to these disputes by devising a per pale design, with the castle of Castile on the sinister side and the lion of León on the dexter. This was in 1477. The use of silver (or gold, brown) for the castle occurs elsewhere in several bordures and in the shields of Palencia and Soria. The lion is generally red (for example Badajoz, Córdoba, León).


In the rim of the coronet, blue and red jewels. In the bordure, the motto reads 'HERCULES FUNDATOR GADIUM DOMINATOR' (Hercules, founder and master of Gadium), Gadium being the Roman name for Cádiz, pointing up the strategic position of the city at the gateway the gateway between the Mediterranean and ultramar, across the ocean - America. Legend has it that the mountains Calpe and Abyla were joined until Hercules tore them apart to reach Gadium. Mythology transmuted the mountains into pillars. By the time of Philip II and Spanish dominion in the Americas, the pillars of Hercules became associated with the ideas of ‘ULTRAMAR’ and ‘(NON) PLUS ULTRA’, where the western empire is envisaged as extending as far as understanding can reach (non plus ultra = there is nothing beyond). The words ‘PLUS’ and ‘ULTRA’ are often found on ribbons wrapped round the pillars. In centre-shield, Hercules, with lions rampant, in front of the pillars. The pillars also feature on the shields of Badajoz and Spain.


On the rim, rubies and diamonds, on the projection the same. The main body of the shield bears the four red bands of the old kingdom of Aragón, seen also on shields of Baleares, Barcelona, Gerona, Lérida, Teruel and Valencia. In centre-shield in a lozenge, castle typically three-towered , as in many other cases in different areas.

Ciudad Real

On the rim of the shield rubies and diamonds, on the projection the same. On the mantling, the motto 'CIUDAD REAL - MUY NOBLE - MUY LEAL' (Ciudad Real - Most Noble - Most Loyal). In the bordure, brown / gold castles of Castile, eight in number on red. In the body of the shield, a cross of Santiago and three Latin crosses with fleur-de-lys. The most interesting charge sees Alfonso X El Sabio (The Wise) seated on a silver throne under a silver arch, denoting light. The arch is inseparable from the gate and ramparts that surround the monarch.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies. The lion rampant, linguado (with tongue) is the main charge, red on silver, a coronet on its head indicating that it is a royal symbol. In the bordure we find the very common juxtaposition of castles and lions, with eighteen componys (sections), nine of the castle, gules on argent and nine of the lion, gold on gules, suggesting that the design of the shield dates from the Reconquest. As in the case of several cities in the south, where the Moors were defeated by forces of the kingdom (s) of Castile and / or León, the city adopted the arms of the northern domain. In this case, there nine castles and nine lions.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections the same and diamonds. Seven scallops of Santiago surround a representation of the Torre de Hercules, the lighthouse outside La Coruña. At the foot of the tower, the skull and crossbones. There is a legend attached to this. Hercules was hot on the trail of a king of Troy called Gerion. Having pursued the king from Cádiz, Hercules finally caught up with him at La Coruña, where he defeated the king and cut off his head. Having buried his foe on a small peninsula, Hercules built the famous lighthouse, which has figured on the shield since 1521. The skull and bones are of Gerion. Note that the skull wears a crown.


On the rim of the coronet, sapphires and rubies, on the projections rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Cuenca was re-conquered from the Moors in 1177 by Alfonso VIII. In this he was assisted by a number of the Knights Templar, long associated with secrets pertaining to the Holy Grail. Alfonso was about to marry Leonor of England, a descendant of the house of Anjou, a Plantagenet house and part of the Merovingian line descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdelene. Alfonso’s wish was to mark his court as worthy of such illustrious lineage. The chalice is a direct allusion to the Grail. The shield of Cuenca is a star suspended over a chalice, that is over a/the Grail.

Fernando Poo


The coronet here is quite different from the others. It has sixteen projections. Which jewel is embedded in them is difficult to tell from the stamp image. The rim has regular longer stones, rubies. The large top division contains a representation of the Pico Basilé, a mountain that dominates the island now called Bioko in the way Teide does Tenerife. The lower left-hand charge has the appearance of a crown together with two whips. The lower right-hand quarter with the word 'BIAFRA' and a semi-submerged anchor can only be explained by the location of the island, close to Biafra, with the suggestion that it should be under Spanish dominion and not part of Cameroon.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections rubies and diamonds. The main body of the shield is occupied by the four red bands of Aragón. In the centre there is a lozenge with an unidentified charge, wavy red bands on silver


On the rim emeralds and rubies, on the projections red and white. In the bordure, the castles and lions of the Catholic Monarchs, four of each. This is one of a small number of shields with a three-way division (the others are Madrid, Salamanca and Teruel. In the upper section, Fernando is to the right, with a sword in his hand and Isabel is to the left, with a sceptre. In the lower left-hand quarter has the Torre de la Vela with the flag of Spain flying. In the lower right-hand quarter, there is an open pomegranate, a charge found also on the shield of Almería. Not included on the stamp is the mantling on the shield of the city of Granada, which has the message 'MUY NOBLE, MUY LEAL, NOMBRADA, GRANDE, CELEBÉRRIMA Y HEROICA CIUDAD (Most noble, most loyal, renowned, great, most famous and heroic city).

Gran Canaria

In the rim of the coronet, green and red jewels, on the projections red. This is one of the more densely populated shields, with several charges. In the bordure, seven pairs of silver swords in saltire, the SEVEN occurring also with scallop (Coruña) stars (Madrid), coronets (Murcia). In the first 'quarter', the gold / brown castle of Castile on a red field and the red lion rampant of León on a white / silver field. Below, the silver castle is set against blue sky. The supporters here are palm trees and dogs, mirroring other supporters such as lions (Cádiz), angels (Oviedo) and bishops (Seville). In broad terms, the shield combines suggestions of the tropical clime with symbols of royal authority.


The shield of Guadalajara is the only one of the set that is entirely pictorial. It could feature in a painting or on a tapestry as a true-to-life representation of a medieval scene. According to tradition the scene depicted took place at a particular moment in the Reconquest, the night of the 24th June 1085, night of San Juan. The town in the background is indeed Guadalajara. Alvar Fáñez, on horseback, is waiting in the night for the right moment to make their entry into the town and surprise the inhabitants.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections the same. The bordure and the main field of the shield are silver. In the bordure, the motto '(ARMAS) GANADAS POR FIDELIDAD NOBLEZA Y LEALTAD' ((Arms) won by faithfulness, nobility and loyalty). As noted elsewhere one of the main reasons for an emblem or motto appearing on a shield is in acknowledgement of the help rendered by the city or province in a war situation. The three-masted sailing ship rests on the conventional wavy blue and silver bands for sea. The capital of this province is San Sebastián and the letters 'S.S' must be an abbreviation for this.


On the rim green and red jewels, on the projections red and white. In the bordure, the motto 'PORTUS MARIS ET TERRAE CUSTODIA' (Gateway to the sea and custodian of land). The single tower to represent a castle is found also on the shields of Cáceres, Palencia and Orense. This symbolises the defence of land by royal authority. The anchor in connection with dominion over the sea is also found on the shields of the islands Fernando Poo and Tenerife. Remember that Huelva is the most westerly of the provinces of Andalucía with a sea-board to the Atlantic. The tree is difficult on a number of shields. The olive-tree is possibly the most likely, though the oak is also important in the poetry and lore of Spain.


On the rim of the coronet rubies and diamonds, on the projections diamonds. Working its way round the bordure the motto: HEROICA – LEAL – INVICTA ‘Heroic – loyal – undefeated’. This shield is shown above right. The figure of the horseman is found on coins from the Roman period. The title ‘V.V. OSCA’ is an abbreviation of ‘URBS VICTRIX OSCA’ (Huesca Conquering City). Remember that ‘U’ and ‘V’ are interchangeable in Latin. This title was granted to the town by Julius Caesar in gratitude for help given at the Battle of Lérida. The evolution of the name from Latin 'OSCA' to Spanish 'HUESCA' via Arabic 'WASQA'.


This shield is rare in that it has no coronet. The shield of Sahara is the only other one like this. This must be to with the absence of (ducal?) jurisdiction in those places. In the silver bordure, eight bunches of bananas and a tree that one supposes to be typical of the desert on a brown / gold background. The upper division seems overtly propagandistic, with the armed hand shaking the 'desert' hand, suggesting friendship between the conquerer and conquered (what else?).



On the rim of the coronet, red and white jewels, on the projections white. Within the shield, and this is unusual, we see another coronet with the same arrangement. In the bordure, the castles and lions rampant of the Catholic Monarchs, seven of each. The system of alternating back colours, red and silver or gold occurs on other shields of Andalucía (Cordoba, Granada, Murcia). Another feature here is the use of brown for gold. This is found also with the four red bars of the old kingdom of Aragón (shields of Barcelona, Lérida, Teruel for example). On the shield of Jaén, quarters 1 and 4 are gold (brown), while 2 and 3 are red.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds. The red lion rampant with a brown (gold) crown is the archetypal symbol of the Kings of León. It is also found as the principal charge on the shields of Cáceres, Córdoba and Zaragoza and in the bordure of a good number of others.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, emeralds and diamonds, on the projections only diamonds. In a rhombus, the four red bands of Aragón form the backcloth to a three-pronged pike with white / silver fleur-de-lis.



On the rim of the coronet, emeralds and rubies, on the projection emeralds, rubies and diamonds. In the blue bordure, three fleur-de-lys. The mystical associations are the number THREE are numerous. In the heart of the shield we find three towers. It is also noteworthy with respect to the arrangement here to note that the towers are mounted on a bridge over a river, which shows the city's proximity to a river. Compare this to the third 'quarter' of the shield of Salamanca, where the bull stands on a bridge over the river Tormes, to that of Orense, where the lion and tower are mounted on a bridge over a river and to Zamora where the dexter side has a bridge with two high towers.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections rubies and diamonds. In the bordure on silver the motto 'HOC HIC MISTERIUM FIDEI FIRMITER PROFITEMUR' (In the firmness of faith, here let us profit by this mystery). The upper and lower sections of the shield work in parallel. The object of veneration at the top, that is the crib, is matched below by the castle, symbol of royal authority. Similarly the supporters, angels and lions, each in a pair as is usual, balance each other, the angels being set on a background of blue (sky, heaven) and the castle on a base that is red, suggestive of, say, red carpet and authority, dignity.


On the rim of the coronet, green, white and red jewels, on the projections white. The shield of Madrid has a three-way division. In the first ‘quarter’, we have the one and only example of a dragon in the set. In the second quarter, we have the oso (bear). In the third quarter, a laurel wreath. The dragon is a common heraldic device. This particular creature has the face of a dog, wings of a bat and a devil’s tail. The laurel is a symbol of victory and peace. This leaves us with the bear leaning against the trunk of a tree, its eye on the red fruit. In the surround are seven stars. In Madrid, in 1211, Alfonso VIII made a sortie from Madrid against the kingdom of Murcia. The standards of Madrid showed a black bear against a silver background. In 1217, when Fernando III took Seville, the bear featured. The seven stars may have an astronomical explanation in Ursa Major (The Great Bear). The tree is most likely the madroño or strawberry tree.


On the rim of the coronet, red and green jewels, on the projections the same. In the bordure, the yolk and arrows of the Catholic Monarchs who granted the shield to Málaga in 1494. On it we see the famous Gilbralfaro. On the top are towers in memory of two martyrs, San Ciriaco and Santa Paula. The waves at the foot mark the city's maritime location and symbolise its importance in this sense. It is difficult to miss the mystery element here! Yes. 'T.M. is one of a number of cryptic letters and letter combinations that appear on shields in this set (see also Alicante, Fernando Poo, Huesca, Seville, Valencia and Guipúczoa). What is almost certainly the correct interpretation I found on an Internet blog for the football club Málaga C.F. and it was ‘TANTO MONTA’, as part of the motto of the Catholic Monarchs 'TANTO MONTA, MONTA TANTO', meaning...


On the rim of the coronet, emeralds and rubies, on the projection rubies and diamonds. In the bordure, the castle and lion of the Castilla and León, eight of each, alternating on red and silver (see also Córdoba and Jaén) indicating the role of the northerly neighbours in the Reconquest. In the centre of the shield against a red background, a lozenge which has the form of a further shield, mounted with a coronet. Round this shield the bordure bears a message. To establish the words, the lettering is so small that it will be necessary to find the original shield. If we take the coronet that is mounted along with the two columns of three coronets, we get a total of seven, which mirrors the arrangement of scallops on the shield of Coruña.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projection these and, in addition, diamonds. In the bordure a gold chain on a red background. In the main body of the shield the royal crown and a silver lion passant, with red tongue. Another source has the chain as the main charge on the shield, with an emerald set in the centre of a more elaborate arrangement.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, on the projections only diamonds. Here we have the castle of Castile mounted on a bridge. This is found elsewhere, notably on the shield of neighbouring Pontevedra. The lion rampant, wearing a coronet and carrying on the end of the sword a crown passant, crosses the bridge. Wherever there is a river, this is clearly shown on the shield (see also Salamanca, Vizcaya, Zamora).


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. On the projections, diamonds. In quarters 1 and 4, a silver Latin cross with extremities fleur-de-lys on blue. According to Enciclográfica, this cross was granted in the aftermath of the Battle of Tolosa, in the times of Alfonso VIII and is called La Cuz de las Victorias. In 2 and 3, a brown (gold) tower / castle on red. See also Ávila and Cáceres.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, on the projections only diamonds. The shield shares a number of characteristics with that of neighbouring Pontevedra. The towers are mounted on the bridge (Puente del Burgo) that goes over the River Lérez. Between them, a Cross of Calvary. As in the case of Salamanca, the openings between the pillars on the bridge number THREE.

Río Muni

The coronet has nine projections of the type fleur-de-lys, with, possibly, rubies and emeralds on the rim. The imagery on the shield is pictorial and symbolic of the tropical area with mountains and sea. The tree recalls the shield of Ifni.


This shield is unusual in the set in that it has no coronet at all. The shield of Ifni is the only other one like this. In the bordure, which is a sandy orange-like colour rather than the conventional brown / gold, the castle of Castile and the lion of León, four of each. In the main body of the shield allegorical imagery suggesting the desert: camel, river, palm-tree.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections the same and, in addition, diamonds. This shield is one of a small number with a three-way division (the others being Fernando Poo, Granada, Gran Canaria, Madrid and Teruel). It contains a number of interesting charges. This is the only shield outside the domains of the ancient kingdom of Aragón to have the four red bars. In this case they are surrounded a secondary bordure of blue with seven silver Maltese crosses. The two snakes at the top are replaced in variations on the shield by two dogs. On the bridge, to be taken as over the River Tormes, which runs through Salamanca, a bull and an oak tree. Both the beast and the tree are important to this area of Spain. In passing note that the spaces of light between the pillars of the bridge are THREE in number.


On the rim of the shield, rubies and sapphires, on the projections, the same and diamonds. The puzzle here is why the shield of Santander, on the north coast of Spain has a representation of the Torre de Oro of Seville. According to legend, Admiral Bonifaz, in command of seamen from Santander, participated in the capture of Seville. He did this by breaking the bridge to the boats and the chain between Seville and Triana, thus cutting off the food supply. If you look carefully at the picture on the shield, one end of the broken chain can be seen stretching down from the tower, with the other in the sea. Two seamen preside over this scene, remembering the crew that manned the galleon.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections the same and, in addition, diamonds. It was in the alcázar at Segovia that Isabel met Fernando. This meeting led to marriage and an alliance that was to bring together the kingdoms of Castilla-León and Aragón and herald an enormous imperial expansion in the New World. It is fairly certain that the head set at the top of the famous acueducto at Segovia is hers. The motif of the head perched on top of a structure brings to mind the shield of Soria.


In the centre a king (possibly Fernando) attended by two bishops. The use of the pair of supporters here parallels instances like the lions attending Hercules (as on the shield of Cádiz) or angels attend a cross (Oviedo) or crib (Lugo). They symbolise part of the grand order: God, Monarch, Church, Army... We must not miss the small partition at the foot of the shield, where we find the letters 'NO' and 'DO'. One interpretation of the letters ‘NO – DO’, which appear at the foot derives from NO ME HA DEJADO (...has not left me), suggesting loyalty. Between the letters, what in some shields looks like a figure ‘8’, is in the shield on this stamp much more like a knot, and, given this, the Spanish word nudo (knot) comes to mind, suggestive of binding and alliance.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projecttions these and diamonds. SORIA PURA CABEZA DE EXTREMADURA ‘Pure Soria, head of Extremadura’. According to one account, the name ‘Extremadura’ used to refer to all the land beyond the River Duero (‘EXTRA DURIAM’). The motto has ‘CABEZA DE’, head of. Studying the map of Spain, we find that Soria is indeed at the head of a tributary of the Duero. The king perched on the tower puts us in minds of Isabel La Católica mounted on the aqueduct of Segovia. Who this king is and why he is there is still a matter for debate.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, on the projections only diamonds. The four wavy / bendy bands are red and brown / gold on other shields, such as ...


In the rim of the coronet, rubies, emeralds and diamonds, on the projections diamonds. This shield provides plenty food for thought. The oval shape is unique. In the bordure, with a field of sea, fitting the tropical climes in which the island sits, four anchors associated with the sea (see Fernando Poo and Huelva), three three-towered castles and at the head of the bordure, a symbol that calls up the volcano Teide which dominates the island. In the body of the shield, we have a Cross of Calvary and, below that, three lions, linguado, all of this on a brown (gold) field.


On the rim of the coronet, white, blue and red jewels, on the projection white. As on the shield of Cuenca, we find a star, but its meaning is quite different. Quite unusual too is the fact that all sources agree that the motifs in the second ‘quarter’ of the shield have to do with the origin of the name of the capital of the province: “The inhabitants of a village in the region went out in search of a wild bull that was roaming around. One night, the animal stopped under a star and began to bellow. The villagers took this as a good omen from Heaven and Earth and they constructed a village there. From the word toro (bull), they took three letters ‘TOR’ and from the star, called Actuel. they also took three ‘UEL’. Joined together this made ‘TORUEL’. The place where the bull stopped is the present-day main square.” From (My translation).


On the coronet diamonds. This is one of the more unusual shields. In the body of the shields, in quarters 1 and 4, the castle of Castille. In 2 and 3, the lion rampant of León. The two-headed bird is very clearly identifiable elsewhere as an eagle as in the case of Enciclográfica. On the shield on the stamp, seen to the left, a cursory perusal of any reference book will see the white head, smooth neck and feathers as being much more in character with a vulture.


On both rim and projections of the coronet, diamonds. The main part of the shield has the four red bars of Aragón, common in shields of provinces that occupy that former kingdom. The shield dates from the 14th century. In recognition of the town’s support for him in the war against Castile, Pedro ‘El Ceremonioso’ allowed the town to place a crown above the ‘L’ in its name. The placing of an ‘L’ on either side of the shield dates from much later. Note that on each ‘L’ a coronet is mounted. As in the case of the shield of Albacete, García-Saúco Beléndez takes it as common knowledge that the ‘rat penat’ had its origin in the dragon of the Aragonese king Pedro el Ceremonioso. This still leaves the lingering issue of why the two (white) bats of the different provincial shields are identical, if their evolutions followed separate paths.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections diamonds and, possibly, emeralds. This shield is unusual in having mantling, in this case in the form of a laurel wreath. In the bordure, eight brown / gold castles of Castile. The arms of the cross look very much like the blades of a sword. In the body of the five flame-like elements in brown / gold on red, a common arrangement, are like elsewhere termed rayonné. Elsewhere a group of FIVE objects is found only on the shield of Ceuta.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, on the projections only diamonds. The bridge over the blue river is found in several shields where the city is by a river (Orense, Pontevedra, Salamanca, Zamora). In the background, we have a basilica and two wolves.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and emeralds, on the projections the same and diamonds. The per pale arrangement is not common in this set of shields. The armed arm on the left (sinister) side is of the Viceroy. It holds a lance with eight red bands, symbolising eight victories over the Romans and one green band added by the Catholic Monarchs for help rendered at the Battle of Peleagonzalo in 1476 against Juana la Beltraneja. On the right a twin-towered bridge across a river, allegory of the conquest of the city by Alfonso IX and the Puente de Mérida (Enciclográfica).


Round the rim of the coronet, rubies and diamonds, on the projections diamonds. A number of different shields are reported for this area, of which the shield on this stamp is by far the plainest, consisting of the lion rampant, gold this time, on a red field. Of the other versions, Javier Mendivil Navarro has a shield per pale, with the lion rampant on the dexter side and the four red bars of Aragón on the sinister. Wikipedia has a shield with four quarters, featuring a tree, crosses of St. George and Santiago and the four red bars of Aragón. Mendivil Navarro also has this shield.


On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections the same and diamonds. In the bordure, the brown (gold) castles of Castile on red, a common charge. In the silver main section, the arrangement of five blue shields, each with five silver spots (roundels) as yet has no explanation. There is only one other grouping of FIVE objects and that is on the shield of Valladolid.



On the rim of the coronet, rubies and sapphires, on the projections the same and diamonds. In the bordure, alternating red lions of León on silver and brown / gold castles of Castile. There are nine of each. In the main body of the shield two baskets against a blue backcloth. They contain..

The Shield of Spain

Although it is the last in the series of fifty-seven stamps, the higher face-value of the stamp, 10 pesetas as opposed to 5 for all the others and its position at the head, underlines the priority of Spain over its provinces. More importantly, the charges on the shield include elements to be found on other shields and it is worthwhile spending some time identifying these. First let us look at the shield:

In the chief, against the sun, the head of the imperial eagle and the motto ‘UNA, GRANDE, LIBRE’. At the base, there are elements very much resonant of the Franco era. Originally, the yolk and arrows were emblems of the Catholic Monarchs, but in the mid-1930s, they were adopted by José Primo de Rivera’s quasi-Fascist Falange Español and indeed they continue to this day to be associated with that faction. With the advent of la democracia and the Constitutional Monarchy, the royal crown replaced the eagle and the yolk and arrows were removed altogether. In the first and fourth quarters, we find the castle and lion of Castilla and León, which fell under the rule of Isabel la Católica. In the second and third, the four vertical red bars on gold of Aragón, the domain of Fernando el Católico. The arrangement of the shield is based on the union of the two crowns to form what we now know as Spain.




Web Sites

The project entitled Enciclográfica is to be found at

A search on ‘Javier Mendivil Navarro Escudo de Teruel (or de Zaragoza)’ will take you to his pages.

Books / Articles

Friar, Stephen The Sutton Companion to Heraldry, 2004.
Becker, Udo Encyclopaedia of Symbols, New York/London, 2005.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Centenary Edition, London 1974.
García-Sauco Beléndez, Luis G. ‘El escudo heráldico de la ciudad de Albacete’, Boletín Informativo Cultural Albacete (17), 1987.









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