SOME HISTORY ABOUT COAT OF ARMS FAMILY CRESTS & HERALDRY
The Art And Order Of Putting Symbols On Shields
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 didnà³´art 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 wasnà¬¯ng before the need to distinguish between these symbols gave rise to a new occupation known as Heralds. A Herald would memorize the knightsá²s 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, whoà¯®ly 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.
The crest, above the helmet is a pheasant proper.
So what is a crest? Simply, a crest was worn above the knights helmets because the shields were difficult to see in the heat of battle. They helped to further identify the knight. Today they are a part of the coat of arms as we know them.
The crest is placed on top of the helmet. The history of the crests is somewhat obscure. Most early coats of arms had no crest, and those that do are probably of a later time. In heraldry of some nations, the crest is absent and only a plain helmet is employed. It is also common to find the main charge of the shield used as the symbol of the crest.
The size and shape of the helmet is a matter of personal choice. The helmet of the gentleman or squire is in profile and faces right, with the visor closed. The mantle, or scrollwork emanates from the helmet and falls about the shield.
The mantle is purely decorative and its absence is immaterial. Early arms depict the cloak quite accurately, with the outer surface reflecting the predominant color of the arms, and its inner lining indicating the predominant metal.
And last of all, the mottoes. A motto was not granted with the Coat of Arms and not all Coats of Arms carry a motto. Once a Coat of Arms is granted it can not be changed, but a motto can be altered at the wish of the owner. Early mottoes were war cries which probably came from the period of the Crusades. But as time and heraldry progressed, the mottoes became more peaceful.
The majority of mottoes are in Latin, which was the language of the educated. The next most common language was French which was the language of gentlemen. A large number of mottoes express religious faith, which is a reflection of a Christian past. The ethics reflected in the mottoes are naturally high, consistent with the purpose and meaning of a family Coat of Arms.