Dr. Tudor-Radu Tiron
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE HERALDRY
AND GENEALOGY IN THE MODERN
In 2011, the 40th anniversary of the National Committee of Heraldry, Genealogy and Sigillography of the Romanian Academy passed almost unnoticed. However, ten years earlier, a festive moment was organized, together with a session of lectures and the public presentation of a medal issued upon this very occasion. The decrease of interest of the specialists and of the amateurs is obvious and, sadly, irreversible…
The climb and down of these auxiliary sciences of history in Romania is explainable. The art and the science of the blazon, as well as the genealogy, haven’t known the same evolution as in the Western and Central Europe. People used coats of arms and knew their ancestors, but in an imprecise way. As example, the only published complete overview on the Romanian boyar class, Octav-George Lecca’s volume Familiile boiereşti române (1899), is full of unsustainable genealogical legends and mistakes. On their turn, the coats of arms were used – from the state heraldry downwards – with a great number of varieties and curiosities. There were correctly conceived arms, there were clear instances of logical transmission and marshalling, but there were also abuses and misunderstandings of the general rules of the heraldic phenomenon. Thus, Franz Josef Sulzer, a Swiss author entered in the Austrian army, who knew the usages of the old Wallachian society, was writing in 1780: „the main boyars accustomed themselves to use carriages, which they were importing from Transylvania or Vienna, and were using without even erasing the coats of arms of the former owners” . No further comments...
Another cause of the misunderstanding of the heraldry and genealogy was the lack of methodic research: the auxiliary sciences have been approached in the universities only since the end of the 20th century. The profile bibliography developed slowly, particularly regarding the science of the blazon, whose terminology in Romanian is far of being definitely regularized.
The interest for heraldry and genealogy in the modern Romanian state (since 1866) was unfortunately inconsistent and uneven. As for the genealogy, almost all the authors approached only the history of their own families. Trained researchers – as the senator Ştefan D. Grecianu (1825-1908) – leaved their published work unfinished, or collected genealogical materials all their lives, without accomplishing definitive works. The main reason of this result is that the amateurs of coats of arms and pedigrees (they were, as a rule, equally interested), were all members of the upper class, having careers with no connection with their interests: Mateiu Caragiale (1885-1936) was a writer, Emanuel Hagi-Moscu (1882-1976) was an architect, Ferdinand Bartsch (1913-1983) was an engeneer, Petre V. Năsturel (1854-1920), prince Marcel Sturdza-Săuceşti (1896-1984) and Octav-George Lecca (1881-1969) were officers, Ştefan D. Grecianu, Paul Gore (1875-1927), Ioan C. Filitti (1879-1945) and Constantin Gane (1885-1962) were jurists etc. Therefore, their interest on heraldry or genealogy came only after the everyday activity, the politics and the society life. Since the late 19th century, the heraldry has been rather a hobby than a professional interest...
After the year 1918 and the creation of the Great Romania, the premises changed. The state coat of arms was hastily created, in 1921, by the Transylvanian painter József Sebestyén of Keöpecz (1878-1964), in the eve of King Ferdinand’s Coronation as sovereign of all the Romanians. The law on the state coat of arms stipulated the creation of a Consultative Committee of Heraldry depending to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Having as main purpose the approval of civic heraldry, the Committee accomplished in 1928 the coats of arms for all the 71 counties of the Kingdom, followed by dozens and dozens of achievements of the cities and towns, all approved by Royal decrees in the next decade. The activity of the Committee had interruptions, because of the fact that a formal Regulation was issued only in 1938, when most of its work was already done. However, it is important to notice that, generally correctly conceived (from the heraldic and the historic points of view), all the civic heraldry was homogenously realized (as the work of a single person, a certain Dumitru Păcurariu, good heraldic painter). The 1938 Regulation stipulated that the Committee had also in its “field of activity” the arms of the rural communes, as well as these of the “civilian, military and ecclesiastic institutions”. The personal coats of arms were unprotected, as a collateral result of the stipulations of the Constitutions of 1866 and 1923, regarding the ban of the discrimination between the social classes, as well as the interdiction to use foreign noble titles.
1938 was a year also interesting from the genealogical point of view, upon the background of the authoritarian regime instituted by the King Carol II. A detailed project for a so-called Romanian Genealogical Institute was forwarded by George D. Florescu (1893–1976), deputy director of the Municipal Museum of Bucharest, to the great historian N. Iorga, at that time Royal Advisor (the project also mentioned the need for a self help association, and also an almanac of the Romanian ‘nobility’). This demarche should be connected with the information that Carol II was intending in these years to institute a system of noble titles of French type, the descendants of boyar roots receiving titles according the seniority and the status of each family. Never legally institute, this alleged system was however made possible by the fact that the new Constitution of 1939 discontinued the written mention about the ban of noble titles. The premises for having, de jure, a Romanian nobility, were then created.
The fall of King Carol’s regime, the important territorial losses of 1940, the dictatorships and eventually the war had consequences about the development of both heraldry and genealogy. The Consultative Committee of Heraldry practically ceased to function and the Genealogical Institute remained only as a project. However, in 1943, a group of prominent genealogists animated by the above-mentioned George D. Florescu founded the Romanian Genealogical Circle. Besides the purpose to approach the past of the families of the country, the association was intended to “establish a spiritual connection between all the researchers of the past, in order to hold up the conscience about the doings of the ancestors, for the sake of the Fatherland”. Leaded by the general Mihai Racoviţă-Cehan (1868-1954), the association had between its members an important number of historic researchers, as a clear sign that approaching genealogy was no longer a hobby for the people of the high society, but also a pursuit for the trained scientists.
Unfortunately, this initiative was also ephemeral, because of the political and social changes that determined, together with the fall of the Monarchy (1947), the end of the ‘Old Regime’. Approaching heraldry and genealogy in these times could be regarded as an act “against the People”, the more that many of the passionates of these disciplines were inevitably ‘compromised’, as “exponents of the bourgeois and landowners class”. Several suffered and even lost their lives, for political reasons; as example, the old general Racoviţă-Cehan died in the Jail of Sighet, aged 86, while Sever Zotta (1874-1943), prominent genealogist of Bukovina, died into a Soviet imprisonment camp… Others escaped, but lost their social status, and felt down to the brink of starvation; as example, the valuable Bessarabian researcher Gheorghe G. Bezviconi (1910-1966) got in the fifties only a job as a graveyard guardian. Meanwhile, the young generation was excluded from universities because of the “unhealthy past” of their families.
Two other decades passed without any other public activity in the field of heraldry and genealogy. Those who escaped the political persecutions continued to gather together in private homes, which became areas for heated debates on the past. The beginning of the seventies brought a change in the attitude of the regime. Having in their mind the example of the Soviet Union, where the civic heraldry was reinstituted, the State Council of the Socialist Republic of Romania issued in 1970 a decree regarding the initiation of coats of arms for counties and cities, considered to “depict symbolically the most characteristic elements regarding the historical traditions and the political, economical and social relations”. Two years later, all the work was done, and Romania got its ‘socialist’ civic heraldry, that remained in use until the Revolution of 1989. In the same time, different specialists had been allowed to attend (personally or only by sending papers), the profile scientific meetings on heraldry and genealogy. The above-mentioned Ferdinand Bartsch, the prince Marcel Sturdza-Săuceşti, the professor Traian Larionescul (1905-1979), the heraldists Dan Cernovodeanu (1921-1999) and Jean N. Mănescu (1927-1999) and others were representing Romania at the 10th Congress of Genealogy and Heraldic Sciences of Vienna (1970), establishing contacts and bringing in the country new methods of research, as well as a new mentality…
There were sufficient arguments for the creation of a scientific body. In 2 April 1971, a Memorandum was addressed in this respect by a group of heraldists and genealogists to the president of the Academy of Social and Political Sciences. The latter approved the foundation of the Committee of Heraldry, Genealogy and Sigillography, depending to the Institute of History “N. Iorga” of Bucharest. The first session of the Committee took place in 12 May, the same year. Direct ‘descendant’ of the 1943 Romanian Genealogical Circle (George D. Florescu was also between the petitioners), the Committee has been chaired between 1971 and 1989 by the professor Mihail Berza (1907-1978), and since 1989 by the academician Dan Berindei (b. 1923). Since its foundation, the Committee proved to be a real place for lectures and debates on various themes, while its members were encouraged to attend the national and international meetings. Its first decade of existence was particular reach in accomplishments. As example, number of important volumes on theoretical and practical heraldry was published by the authors Traian Larionescul, Dan Cernovodeanu and Jean N. Mănescu, while Maria Dogaru (1934-2006) was bringing to light the seals belonging to the collections of the State Archives. Affirmed in the same years, the genealogists Ştefan S. Gorovei (b. 1948), Constantin Rezachevici (b. 1943) a. s. o., found a place for exchanging ideas and improving their knowledge on the princely and boyar genealogies. Even having going into exile in the Western Europe, specialists as Dan Cernovodeanu and the prince Mihai Dim. Sturdza (b. 1934) fructified there the result of their researches, and acted as permanent ‘ambassadors’ of the Romanian heraldry and genealogy to the foreign profile medias.
The political change of 1989 had consequence also in the field of these domains. The Committee was called to express a point of view concerning the project for the state coat of arms. The debates were animated, inside and outside the Committee, with a strong reflection in the media. The institution of the new state coat of arms, by law (1992), proved that the scientific body having 20 years of activity attended its maturity to serve the society. The text of the same act issued by the Romanian Parliament stipulated that the Committee was entitled to analyze and decide on the projects of civic heraldry (subsequently approved by the Prime-Minister). Detailed through two successive decisions of the Romanian Government (1993 and 2003), the attributions of the Committee are now mandatory on the domain of the coat of arms of counties, municipiums, cities, towns and villages (the rest of the public heraldry is not regulated by law, with the exception of the achievements of the Romanian Orthodox Church, whose approval is entrusted to the Holy Synod).
Re-subordinated directly to the Romanian Academy, the Committee also became ‘National’. The word is not meaningless, because of the fact that in the post revolutionary period were founded the branches of Cluj-Napoca (for the region of Transylvania) and Iaşi (for the region of Moldavia). Leaded by two prominent historians, the academician Nicolae Edroiu (b. 1939), and the above-mentioned professor Ştefan S. Gorovei, the branches gathered their own members, who became eventually full members of the National Committee. The three resulted centers coexisted in parallel, having separate sessions, where found place for affirmation genealogists and historians of the ‘new wave’ (enumerating their names is practically impossible, because of the ‘effervescence’ known by heraldry and genealogy immediately after the Revolution, while the permission to speak freely was finally obtained).
The branch of the Committee of Iaşi has been particularly rich in scientific contributions. There came to reality the old deed of a periodical on genealogy and heraldry (that had become the revue “Arhiva Genealogică”, followed by the revue “Herb”), and also there were organized the annual meetings (now biennial). Thus, the last year has occurred the 16th Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry, with 71 participants from Romania and several other countries. Last but not least, the branch of Iaşi succeeded to enforce the connections between the researchers of the Republic of Moldavia and of Ukraine, as a souvenir of what it was the old Principality of Moldavia, whose parts Bukovina and Bessarabia were unfairly attached by the Austrian and the Russian empires. In 1999, the Institute of Genealogy and Heraldry was finally founded in Iaşi, receiving the name of Sever Zotta, the genealogist died, 56 years earlier, in the Soviet ‘Gulag’…
Today’s panorama of the study of heraldry and genealogy in Romania is, curiously, both rich and poor. On the one hand, these disciplines were finally accepted in the universities, with number of BA, MA and even several PhD theses publicly defended. The instruments of work (such as several compendiums of documents, inscriptions, coins, seals etc.)., have been published, and the ways of communication and exchange of ideas are now incomparably more numerous than in the passed decades. On the other hand, the interest for these auxiliary sciences is continuously decreasing. The students and the graduates are finding very little opportunity to deal only with coats of arms and pedigrees in their careers, and there is practically no constant interest for people under 30 years old (as far as the author knows).
However, things must be considered positively. It is true that the old local perception of the heraldry and genealogy was imprecise, even incorrect (as written previously), and that the Communist period erased most of what the common people knew about the past of their families. The genealogical memory forgotten, it is explainable why speaking about titles and accomplishments of the ancestors determines now, often, the mockery of other people. This attitude is not even recent, as reflected by the main character of Tănase Scatiu (a 19th century novel by Duiliu Zamfirescu). Type of the social thruster, enriched by robbing his master, Tănase Scatiu was saying that: “Are you having money – you are a boyar. If you are not having money, you may come down by a rope from the Heaven, which is of no importance”. Yet, no further comments…
Approaching genealogy or heraldry doesn’t ennoble anyone. Nobody chooses his ancestors. However, it is important to understand that everyone has the right to a coat of arms, and that that everyone has the obligation to preserve, understand and transmit the memory of his roots. The rebirth of the genealogical and heraldic sciences will take place in Romania, as happened in other places, when and if people will responsibly consider this right and this obligation.
*Published in Serbian translation, in the On-line Magazine ''Otzilo'', the herald of The Society of Serbian Armigers ''Milosh Obilich'' (No.8, Belgrade, November 2013; pg.32-39)