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Moravian Eagle

Moravian Eagle
Middle Ages Friday, 24. May 2024

The origins of the coat of arms associated with the title of Margrave of Moravia are somewhat shrouded in mystery. The margraviate and the title did not emerge all at once but developed gradually through the amalgamation of older territorial units of the Přemyslid dynasty's cadet branches, known as "úděly" (lots), around the late 12th century. The title was usually granted to a younger or secondary member of the family. In the 13th century, under the last Přemyslids, and in the 14th century, under the Luxembourg dynasty, the practice of granting the title of Margrave to the heir to the Bohemian throne became established. However, it never evolved into a firm tradition, unlike the title Prince of Wales for the heir to the English throne or Dauphin for the heir to the French throne. Following the death of Margrave Jobst of Luxembourg in 1411, the margraves were elected by the provincial diet until 1628, when Emperor Ferdinand II issued the „Renewed Land Ordinance for Moravia“, designating the title as hereditary within the House of Habsburg.

Moravian Eagle. Fresco in the Gozzo Palace (Gozzoburg) in Krems, 3rd quarter of the 13th Century. Wikimedia Commons

The coat of arms of the Margrave of Moravia originated sometime in the mid-13th century or shortly thereafter, possibly before the death of King Wenceslaus I in 1253, during the time when Přemysl Otakar II was the margrave and heir to the throne, or it was created directly by the new king Přemysl after 1253. The coat of arms is first mentioned in writing during the description of Přemysl's victorious Battle of Kressenbrunn (1260). The oldest known depiction of the so-called Moravian eagle is a fresco in the Gozzo Palace (Gozzoburg) in Krems, Austria. The exact date of its creation is uncertain, but it undoubtedly occurred sometime between 1250 and 1270, during which period Přemysl Otakar II was consistently striving for control over the Austrian territories and managed to secure it for some time.

Depictions dating before the mid-14th century usually show the eagle with its head tilted slightly askew (e.g., Codex Manesse, Zurich Wappenrolle, the aforementioned fresco in the Gozzo Palace), while from the latter half of the 14th century onwards, the eagle’s head is shown in a horizontal line. Interestingly, throughout various centuries, the crown on the eagle's head appears intermittently—such as the eagle on the Gozzo Palace fresco having a crown, while the one in the Codex Manesse does not, and so on. It is only from the 16th century onwards that the Moravian eagle is traditionally depicted with a crown.

Moravian Eagle. Lauf Castle (Germany), Hall of Arms, 1356-1361. Wikimedia Commons

Among scholars, the reason for the Moravian eagle’s red and white checkered pattern remains a topic of discussion. Given that the creation of the coat of arms is linked to Přemysl Otakar II’s accession to the Bohemian throne, older theories suggested that the checkered pattern symbolized the emerging Přemyslid king's ambition to claim rule over Croatia. According to other, more likely theories, the red and white color combination merely referenced the colors of the Bohemian king's coat of arms, thereby symbolizing the connection between Moravia and the Bohemian Kingdom. In fact, during the Luxembourg rule in the Bohemian Kingdom, the margrave's coat of arms began to be understood as the provincial emblem of Moravia during the 14th and 15th centuries. This became evident when Emperor Frederick III granted the Moravian estates the privilege of enhancing the emblem in 1462, changing the checkered pattern on the eagle from red and silver to red and gold. This, however, interfered with the authority of the Bohemian king, as Moravia was an inseparable part of the Crown of Bohemia, and the emperor had no real jurisdiction there. The reigning Bohemian King George of Poděbrady did not ratify the privilege, so the Moravian eagle remained in its original colors as the official emblem to this day.

 

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