The Story of the National Coat of Arms of Estonia
On 19 June 1925, the Riigikogu passed the law that established the coat of arms of the Republic of Estonia. This was preceded by more than seven years of looking for the symbol of the state, and stormy exchange of ideas at debates and in the press.
After three competitions, a simple but dignifid coat of arms with three lions passant guardant on a golden shield was chosen from among more than 190 designs created by dozens of artists. The three lions arrived in Estonia with Valdemar II, the King of Denmark, in 1219. As a result of the conquest, Estonia became an overseas province of Denmark, where the King was represented by a viceregent (capitaneus). Agreements, privileges, obligations and other important documents were usually authenticated with the seal of the King’s coat of arms. Unfortunately it is not known whether the vice-regents used the seal with the royal coat of arms and the corresponding legend to legitimise their power. The Danish Rule and the using of Danish royal coat of arms ended with the St. George’s Night Uprising in 1345.
But the three lions remained. It is believed that the King of Denmark gave the town of Tallinn a coat of arms that was very similar to his own coat of arms. We can see the proof of that on the seals of the town council from the 14th century, because on the seal there are three (azure) lions passant guardant on a (golden) shield with a (golden) crown. Besides Tallinn, the coat of arms with three lions was also adopted by the knightages of Harria (Harju) and Wierland (Viru), and later the Estonian Knightage. In both cases we do not know exactly why and when the seal with three lions was taken into use for the fist time. But we know for sure that when Estonia was annexed to Sweden, the coat of arms with three crowned lions became the symbol of the Estonian Duchy. Later it was transformed into the coat of arms of the Governorate of Estonia.
When Estonia became independent in 1918, the issue of the symbols of the Republic of Estonia was raised. First it was discussed whether Estonia should have any symbols at all, but soon the debate about the design of the national coat of arms began. According to the common understanding, the coat of arms had to be simple and Estonian-style. In spring 1919, the Ministry of Education declared a competition. Unfortunately no suitable designs resulted from that. The Minister of Education explained that creating a national coat of arms is not so much artistic creation as a political decision about the symbol of the Republic of Estonia.
Simultaneously with the competition, heated debates on the format of the national coat of arms were held: is the national coat of arms a traditional symbol or a modernistic emblem unfettered by any rules? Thus sending the issue to the Constituent Assembly would have been premature. In order to get the best results, it was decided to take time out and involve a larger circle of experts. In spring 1921, the Ministry of Education declared the second competition for the design of the national coat of arms. Altogether 138 drafts were submitted and put out on a public exhibition. To silence the critics, the State Offie declared one more competition for the national coat of arms. But none of the competitions yielded any results. The committee selected seven works that had been sent to the competition, and four of them were submitted to the Government of the Republic.
In the beginning of 1922, the Bill on the National Coat of Arms was submitted to the Riigikogu together with fie drafts for the coat of arms. After a year and a half of discussions, the Riigikogu rejected all of these drafts. The Estonian Artists’ Association, the Estonian Central Union of Visual Artists and the State Industrial Art School were called on to produce more drafts for the national coat of arms. The General Committee of the Riigikogu selected one design from among 25 drafts. Although the plenary of the Riigikogu supported the proposal of the General Committee, the design was made simpler and it acquired the form it has today. After that, on 19 June 1925, the Riigikogu approved the symbol of the Republic of Estonia – its national coat of arms.