The Art And Order Of Putting Symbols On Shields

The Blazon of Arms are the symbols, colors, markings and metals awarded, recorded, preserved  and placed on the shield of the Coat of Arms.


Making marks or symbols for military purposes can probably be found going back to the earliest man. The Greeks put marks on their shields long before Christianity. Even African warriors painted their wooden shields with symbols of heritage. However, the art and order that we know as HERALDRY today didn’t start until the 1100's, around the time of the Crusades.

Men from several countries were thrown together during the Crusades. So, the need for a quick, visual way to identify each other became a matter of survival. Especially when wearing suits of armor and closed helmets. English Knights started putting their marks on their armor and soon the practice spread quickly throughout Europe. Later, cloth, or surcoats were worn over the suits of armor mainly to prevent them from becoming solar ovens for the wearer. The Knight's marks and symbols, now known as arms, were embroidered on the surcoats making them known as coats of arms.

It wasn’t long before the need to distinguish between these symbols gave rise to a new occupation known as Heralds. A Herald would memorize the knights’ arms and would announce to the public who they were. They became the masters of ceremonies at public competitions. And later, became court appointed positions.

As the use of coats of arms became more widespread and elaborate, there began to be some duplication. Which among knights, who’s only occupation was fighting, caused some lethal battles over their arms. This was not good for the King to have his knights, who were hired to protect his kingdom, fighting among themselves, so Royal regulation began in 1419 under Henry V of England. Thus the Heralds were called upon to verify, record, and deny the use of arms.

The Heralds developed a unique language of their own to describe these symbols known as a Blazon of Arms. These descriptions are recorded in Colleges of Arms throughout the world. They are historic records, just as deeds, and registrations are, and can be researched and reproduced by anyone understanding the heraldic language.

For example, the heraldic language describing the TIERNEY blazon of arms is "Azure two lions rampant or, supporting a sword proper." This would mean that the family shield has a blue background with two gold rampant lions holding a sword.

Azure (blue) stands for loyalty and truth. The Or (gold) means generosity and elevation of mind. The lions represent strength and courage.