Heraldry is basically all things related to coats of arms. This quick video provides a good intro:
Heraldry can be different depending where about in the world you are. Some places like the United Kingdom or Ireland have strict rules governing heraldry other countries like the United States are fairly relaxed with no official laws covering the subject. In the UK for example for one to have an official coat of arms one has to have a grant from either the College of Arms or the Court of the Lord Lyon, depending on the region you live in. The Lord Lyon is responsible for all heraldic affairs in Scotland, the College of Arms is responsible for the rest of the UK. The Office of the Chief Herald is responsible for the Republic of Ireland.
The USA for example is very relaxed with few rules, with anyone able to assume arms without any legal or official process, although there are various organisations like the US College of Heraldry who offer assistance and a registry, to help follow the local heraldic rules and provide some form of legal protection.
All Heraldic authorities and organisations agree that there is no such thing as a Family coat of arms. A coat of arms is an individual thing, originally it was used to identify individuals on the battle field:
English Knights at BannockburnSo to have a collective coat of arms like a family coat of arms is a contradiction to the historic practicality of arms and crests. Anyone can apply to heraldic authorities for a grant of arms, although they normally cost at least £4000. However there is also a tradition of assuming arms, the most notable example that I can think of is the Anglo-Norman knight John De Courcy who assumed three eagles as his arms, when he invaded Ulster in 1177.
Statue of John De Courcy, Carrickfergus CastleThe reason he did this was because he wanted to fulfil an ancient Irish prophecy which stated a knight of three birds would invade Ulster.
There are many different components to a coat of arms, that often tell you a little about the individual they represent. For example on the arms of a gentleman you would usually find:
MottoThis is usually situated at the bottom, however in Scottish heraldry it is traditionally placed above the crest. In Spanish heraldry a motto may appear in the bordure of the shield. A motto may be in any language, however Latin is the most common in the western world (my motto fallows this trend), a trend that is developing in North America is for the motto to be in the tongue of the "old country," often used to demonstrate a cultural or heritage identity or link. For example Irish Americans may have a Gaelic motto. Germanic Americans a German one, French Canadians a French one etc etc. This is the case on the lower motto on the example above which is in Lullans (Lowland Scots).
In English heraldry mottoes are not granted with armorial bearings, and may be adopted and changed at will. In Scottish heraldry mottoes can only be changed by re-matriculation, with the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
A motto may also contain some word play, for example "ready for peace, prepared to fight" or "make heist slowly". This is called a canting motto.
CrestA much misused term. The word crest is often used as another word for a coat of arms, however this is wrong. Historically the crest was displayed on top of the helmet of a man at arms. Early crests would have been plumes of feathers or horse hair, however as heraldry advanced more elaborate crests began to appear. Objects frequently borne as crests include animals, especially lions, normally showing only the fore half; human figures, likewise often from the waist up; hands or arms holding weapons; bird's wings. In Germany and nearby countries, the crest often repeats the liveries in the form of a tall hat, a fan of plumes in alternating tinctures, or a pair of curving horns.
HelmetThe helmet or helm is used to display the crest. The style and position of the helm often varies depending on the individuals rank or social status, these developed over time in heraldic styles and with the development of military helmets in the middle ages. In some traditions notably Germanic and Norse ones, may display more than one helmet in a single coat of arms, if the individual has more than one crest. As such in these traditions the helm is an essential part of the coat of arms, and never dropped as is sometimes the case in some other traditions.
Open-visor or barred helmets are typically reserved to the highest ranks of nobility, while lesser nobility and burghers typically assume closed helms. While these classifications remained relatively constant, the specific forms of all these helmets varied and evolved over time. The direction a helmet faces and the number of bars on the grille have been ascribed special significance in later manuals, but this is not a period practice. A king's helmet, a golden helmet shown affronté with the visor raised, crowned with a royal crown, first became adopted by the kings of Prussia. The arms of Clergy and Laddies (exception of a ruling Queen) don't have helmets as traditionally these people never fought in battle.
Historically, the helmet was not specifically granted in an achievement of arms, but was naturally assumed by appropriate rank as a matter of "inherent right". In English heraldry only one helm was used, if there was more than one crest to be displayed, they were drawn above a single helmet, but not attached to it. Where in Germanic heraldry the crest was never separated from the helm, thus the use of multiple helmets. In Europe multiple helmets usually faced inwards, however in Scandinavia they would face outwards.
The style of helmets normally used in the United Kingdom is as follows:
- Gold helmet with bars for the Royal Family;
- Silver helmet with gold bars for peers;
- Steel helmet with gold bars for the non-peerage Scottish feudal baron;
- Open steel helmet shown affronté for knights and baronets;
- Steel tournament helm for Scottish clan chiefs;
- Closed steel helmet for esquires and gentlemen.
Mantling or Lambrequin is drapery tied to the helmet above the shield, and forms the back drop of the picture. The early designs with mantling were probably attempting to depict the protective cloth covering worn by medieval soldiers from their helmets as protection from the elements. However in modern heraldry mantling is generally seen as purely decorative rather than symbolic. Generally, mantling is blazoned mantled x, doubled; the cloth has two sides, one of a heraldic colour (the five principal colours being red, blue, green, black, or purple—there are other colours but these are rare) and the other of a heraldic metal (white or yellow). The mantling is usually in the main colours of the shield. The arms of sovereigns are a common exception. The royal arms of the UK and those of Emperor Akihito of Japan are both or, lined ermine, such a mantling often being held to be limited to sovereigns. Like helmets mantling does not appear to have been granted but naturally assumed.
ShieldThis is were things can get very complicated but I will do my best to try and keep it simple. The shape of shields or escutcheons have developed over time and may vary depending on region or period. The most common shield design for men in modern heraldry is the Heater Shield as this was a design used in combat. The shield design for Women will be covered later on. However shield types may vary slightly depending on region:
- mediaeval French & English "heater style";
- modern French;
- English, Tudor arch (16th century);
- à bouche;
- traditional Iberian
Here are some examples of various ways the shield is designed:
Canting is an image that represents the bearers name in a visual pun. This has led to the joke "Heralds do not pun, they Cant." But apart from bad jokes this has led to some clever and interesting designs:
The arms of my friend and fellow student of Vexillology, Leonardo Piccioni (left) for example feature a lion which is canting (or punning) Leo (the lion) which is also an abbreviation of Leonardo. Another example could be the arms of Berlin (right) as Berlin sounds like "Bär" (bear). Another famous example of canting arms are those of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who's maiden name was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her arms (pictured below) contain in sinister (i.e. on the bearer's left, viewer's right) the bows and blue lions that make up the arms of the Bowes and Lyon families.
Quartering is used in heraldry to display two or more coats of arms on one shield, usually by dividing it into four equal parts each containing a coat of arms:
Strict rules apply, both as to what arms may be displayed by way of quartering, and the order in which they may be displayed. Men and women are always entitled to display the arms of their paternal line but are not usually entitled to display by way of quartering the arms of families from whom there is descent only through a female line, although there are circumstances that dictate exceptions to this rule. Quarterings are displayed in the order in which they are acquired( usually by marriage), starting with those acquired to bring in quartering. It is permissible to omit quartering, but if another quartering was brought in by a later quartering, it is essential to show the whole chain of quartering leading to the quartering displayed, or else to omit the chain altogether.
Perhaps one of the more well known examples of quartering, is the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom (left). This depicts the arms of the old kingdoms which combined to make the UK. England being in the first quarter, Scotland the second, Ireland the third, and England again filling the fourth. (the arms used in Scotland have the Scottish arms in the first and fourth quarters, and England in the second):
Despite the name quartering is not limited to four sections, College of arms records show one of 323 quarterings! Here is an EU coat of arms I did some time ago, it has the arms of all 27 member states:719 quarterings of the Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville family! A perfect example of quartering gone mad.
The coat of arms of a gentleman are the most simple form of arms, there are other components that may be added to a coat of arms that traditionally denote nobility. For example if I was a Peer then my coat of arms might look like this:
UK & Commonwealth
Generally speaking a coronet is now only a heraldic item used on coats of arms (most people entitled to wear one never have one made as it is only supposed to be worn at royal coronations). The Coronets differ slightly to denote one's rank. Click here to see the rankings for coronets.
Coat of arms from left to right: State of New York, supporters representing liberty and justice, examples of human like supporters. City of London, dragon supporters, mythological creatures. Namibia with gemsbok Oryx supporters, example of animal supporters. Dominican Republic, Palm and Laurel plant supporters. Columbia, flag supporters. Spain, Pillars of Hercules, unanimous object as supporters.
An order of merit is a visible honour awarded by the sovereign or government, often to recognise distinguished service. Some have their origins in the chivalric orders of the middle ages, others are more modern. The distinction between orders and decorations(medals) is somewhat vague, except that most historic orders imply a membership in a group. In the case of most European orders, membership was also limited in number. Decorations have no such limitations (with the exception of the UK Victoria Cross which is only made from metal melted from captured cannon from the Crimean War).
Some UK Orders that you might see on coats of arms are:
Top, Left-Right: Order of the Garter, Order of the Thistle, Order of St Patrick, Order of the Bath.
Northern Ireland coat of arms designs).
The coats of arms for ladies often differ from men. For example as females did not normally fight in battles in the old days (although there are historical exceptions such as Joan of Arc and others) they do not have a helmet and crest or the mantling that all accompany it:
- The shield is normally a lozenge shape, rather than the heater shield used by males, as this was a shield that was used in combat. Unless she is granted arms in her own right, a spinster uses her father's arms. A married woman however uses the arms of her husband but impaled with her father's (or her own if she has one):
If the lady is unfortunate enough to become a widow she may keep her husbands arms, however it must now be displayed on a Lozenge shield. The same is true of a divorced lady who keeps her married name, however it must be marked to show the marriage is now non existent:
Because Clergy were also not supposed to fight in battles they too have different coats of arms.
In the Anglican Church Bishops are often granted arms:
Instead of a helmet, a bishop's coat of arms has a Mitre, the traditional headdress of Bishops.
A crozier, a shepherd's staff, is carried by a bishop, and two of them may be placed crossed behind a bishop's shield, but they are frequently omitted.
A Bishop's shield differs little from that of an ordinary coat of arms, however an archbishop will impale his personal arms with that of his diocese.
The arms used by Roman Catholic clergy also differ:
The ecclesiastical hat has been used by Catholic clergymen since the middle ages. The colour and number of tassels on the hat depend on the rank or position of that individual. A priest will only have one tassel on each side, however a bishop has six on each side. Although the hat became a part of coats of arms in the middle ages, the tassel system didn't become official until the 1700s. Mitres were also used however this practice ceased in 1969. However older arms might still have them, and are still displayed in the arms of dioceses .
A Bishop's cross may be placed behind the arms of a bishop. The shield is the same as Anglican Bishops. They use their personal arms, but arch bishops impale the arms of the dioceses.
Vexiology has its origins in heraldry, this is due to people displaying their arms on heraldic flags.
Banners of King John of England, the Norman knight De Courcey, and Earl of Ulster De Bouragh; Carrickfergus Castle
There are three main types of heraldic flags. The most common is the banner of arms. This is an ordinary flag blazoned with the respective arms:
The banner is normally used to signify when its bearer is in residence. Its normally flown over buildings or even on vehicals. As can be see with the Royal Standard (which is actually a banner):
Royal Standard at Buckingham Palace
Royal Standard Queens personal Vehicle
Until 1906 they were available to all noblemen and knights. In 2011, Garter Woodcock said that the banner for an Esquire or Gentleman should be the same size as a Marquess’s and those of a lower rank down to Knight, that is, 3 feet by 3 feet. In Scotland, the size of personal banners, excluding any fringes, are specified by the Lord Lyon.
Standards are different from banners. They were historically carried into battle rather than flown from a castle or building. They may have evolved from lance pennants.
They were normally used by people of noble rank to display heraldic badges on. it tapers, usually from 4 feet down to 2 feet, and the fly edge is rounded (lanceolate). In England any armiger who has been granted a badge is entitled to fly a standard.The medieval English standard was larger than the other flags, and its size varied with the owner’s rank. The Cross of St. George usually appeared next to the staff, and the rest of the field was generally divided per fess (horizontally) into two colours, in most cases the livery colours of the owner.
Two standards of the two nobles who claimed to be King of England, at battle of Bosworth. The flag of Wales owes its origins to the Tudor standard.
The other type of heraldic flag is a gonfalone.
A gonfalone or gonfalon is a vertically hung banner emblazoned with a coat of arms. Gonfalons have wide use in civic, religious, and academic heraldry. Although common on mainland Europe and possibly South America they are not widely used (in the heraldic sense) in the British Isles.