On a separate thread (and in a diofferent context) Joseph McMillan raised the interesting question -
Originally Posted by Joseph McMillan
I’m not sure this is correct, at least not universally. In what respect were the assumed arms of nobles (such as the Uradel) treated differently in law than the assumed arms of non-nobles? As far as I’m aware, in most of northern Europe (Germany, France, the Low Countries) there were nobles with assumed arms and nobles with granted or recorded arms, and there were non-nobles with assumed arms and non-nobles with granted or recorded arms, and the legal system treated all of them the same. I would have to find the citations but at least one prominent Continental heraldist, perhaps Michel Pastoureau, rejects the distinction between noble and non-noble arms altogether.
In a different discussion around standards (flags not guidelines) Derek Howard gave a good summary of the Law of Arms in Belgium that I thought might interest colleagues here.
Belgium and before that the Spanish and Austrian Netherlands has and
had one of the most legalistic mindsets when it comes to heraldry and
noble attributes. They have always been carefully guarded and
In Belgium the French term "écuyer" is assigned to those people who
have been granted or have inherited the recognised status of untitled
nobility. If there is no royal grant or recognition then it is
unlawful to use the term after the name. The term écuyer is not itself
in the grant, the grant is merely of personal (life) or hereditary
nobility. There is no honorary or courtesy use other than the male
line untitled descendants of titled nobility. There is no feminine
version. Those entitled to "écuyer" after their names also have
"Messire" before the name. The Dutch equivalent used in Belgium before
the name is "jonkheer" - the feminine is "jonkvrouw". It is possible
for a lady to be recognised as an untitled noble only in the Dutch
version of an official text. Officials should recognise all noble
terms and there is provision for them in for instance documents
showing civil status, such as marriage cerificates, but officials must
not attribute them where not entitled.
Standards have not been a factor in Belgian heraldry ancient or
modern. Banners are not freely adopted and no-one does so. Banners
were restricted under the Ancien régime to knights banneret and barons
and were explicitly granted. They related to the former territorial
baronies. They are usually shown borne by the supporters on either
side of the shield. Supporters are not granted below the level of
baron and banners not usually granted these days.
The association with nobles of the rank of baron or above continues.
They may however now be borne by the male line descendants of such:
for instance I am looking at the grant in 1994 of the hereditary title
of chevalier (transmittable by masculine primogeniture) to C M J de la
Kethulle de Ryhove, écuyer, which grant recognises him with his
ancient family arms including supporters bearing banners, though he is
not a baron. Interestingly the canting banners shown in this case (Or
a wild boar passant sable) are those of Eversteyn - they were not
borne when the de Kethulle arms were recorded in a grant of 1816 to
but are on a grant of barony in 1921.
It is unlawful in Belgium to present oneself as noble when not. In
consequence golden helmets are not allowed (signifying a sovereign),
nor coronets of rank and crest coronets when not entitled. Supporters
and banners are not allowed without authority. By not allowed I mean
they would not be registered by, for instance, any of the heraldic
societies with armorial rolls nor would they be recorded and conceded
by the Flemish Heraldic Council. Their use could be challenged in
court as an infringement of the royal authority under the
Thus the noble heraldry appears to be somehow dispersed; the King grants titles and arms with them, but the people of the jonkheer/jonkvrouw rank (i.e. untitled) can, as I understand, only register their arms with the two ethnic communities. As to the purely nobiliary aspect, this is not unlike the Spanish situation (Grandees and titled nobles are "formally fixed" within the current legal system but it is much more problematic in the case of the hijosdalgo).
In order to understand the different titles one first needs to understand the difference between the different tribes and their strive for superiority in the region. There were more then 2 different ethnic groups, and it wasn’t purely a ethnic division rather more a political one. The Saxons that settled in the Netherlands or the Dutch republic were in strife with the Frisians. Both of them were at odds with the "Batavieren", with the south being Catholic and the North being Protestant. It can be traced back to Charlemagne and the settlement of the Frisians in the region. The title Jonkheer has a different meaning in border regions (Dutch German) as these were wealthy and influential families that did not want to adhere to the central authority and thus granted themselves their own arms and titles.
In all of the Benelux it is not allowed to use noble titles if one is not, nor is it allowed to assume/absurp arms.
The noble heraldry is well organized in different councils still active today.