In the medieval period, it was impossible to recognize the true identity of a knight wearing a closed helmet without a coat of arms. It was of great assistance in distinguishing enemies from fellows during the battle. Nowadays, it may seem a relic of the past; however, for many individuals and families, a coat of arms still plays a significant role in their lives.
So, the coat of arms is a design or symbol typically found on a shield or outer garment of medieval knights. Today, there is a tendency to use the term for the entire composition of the heraldic or armorial achievement. However, every heraldry expert is likely to correct the common mistake and claim that it is only the central part of it.
The term is often confused with a family crest, which stands for one component of the heraldic achievement, usually displayed on the apex of the knight’s headgear (helmet) or crown. Crests were initially worn by knights on the top of their helmets. They were performed and manufactured in various shapes and forms: from feather fans to animal heads. Their primary function was decorative, but they also served as a means of protecting their owners from the violent blows of enemies’ weapons. Now, a crest can be used instead of the whole complex design as a simplified image for the whole generation in a family. Although the terms are frequently used interchangeably, it is crucial to search for their origins and true meaning if you want to discover your family’s ideals and moral principles.
Although coats of arms are frequently associated with family representation, it is meant for individual’s identification. It is always granted to one person who has the legitimate right to own and wear it. It can also represent an institution, corporation, or state. If you want to use the same or similar coat of arms as your male ancestor did, you need to check if that ancestor had a lawful right to own it. In most cases, even if you inherit a coat of arms, you have to modify it. The primary heraldic authority that grants such rights is the College of Arms is located in London, England.
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Even if you haven’t inherited such pleasant rights, nobody can prevent you from being creative and designing your own coat of arms that will reveal your personal traits, interests, hobbies, occupation, life principles, or values. Although it will not serve as an official record of your heritage, it may function as a decorative element and become a great way to keep the memory and your family history alive.
If you have decided to design your coat of arms, you must make sure that it is unique and has not been registered before. For commercial companies, coats of arms can serve as trademarks. Therefore, you can be subject to a lawsuit if you misuse that symbol and put the business into jeopardy.
As we have already pointed out, the term “coat of arms” is often confused with a “heraldic achievement.” Thus, we will dwell on the elements that the full armorial achievement contains. You are welcome to focus only on the parts you find necessary.
A shield is the most significant element placed in the center of the heraldic achievement. Its design, traditionally, is known as the coat of arms. Shields can appear in different shapes. The traditional shield shape is meant for male bearers; women will generally have an oval or a diamond shape.
The shield may have symbols on it (also known as charges) that are typically placed on the field (or the background). The field can be performed in a single color or have divisions made of multiple colors. If the shield has various symbols on it, you can divide the field to create a space for each individual charge. Besides, filed divisions can serve aesthetic purposes or help to attach more symbolic meanings regarding heraldry. One can divide the field by stripes, crosses, or other geometric shapes. Such shapes are known as ordinaries, which can convey certain meanings as well. For example, the ordinary in the form of a cross may stand for the Christian faith.
The colors that you can find on the shield are also called tinctures. Each of them has its symbolic meaning. For instance, gold (or yellow) stands for generosity, silver (or white) symbolizes peace and sincerity, the green color is used to render hope, joy, and loyalty in love. Many other colors are used in heraldry; we strongly recommend searching for the meanings they stand for in the system. Thus, if you want to convey several meanings through colors, you will have to divide your field. Tinctures can also be represented by furs or patterns (the most common types are ermine and vair).
A helmet or a crown is usually placed right above the shield. Such pieces serve as indicators of rank or status. For instance, a helmet with a closed visor facing the observer indicates that the bearer is a knight. You may not need to have it on your heraldic achievement in modern times, especially if you are not royalty or a significant noble person. You should make it as personal as possible, or it should reflect the purposes of your business.
This heraldic element is also optional. One can use it as a simplified version of the whole heraldic achievement. Crests rest on the top of the helmet and are usually represented by animals (tigers, lions, foxes, bears, horses, and so on).
These elements are used for purely decorative purposes. A wreath is also known as a torse. It denotes a twisted roll of cloth used to tie a crest and attach it to the mantle. The mantle is meant to protect the helmet from the blazing sun. These embellishments make the coat of arms look better.
These pieces are also embellishments that help to frame the coat of arms and draw the viewer’s attention to the prominent thing in the armorial achievement – the shield. Supporters can be represented by a pair of people or animals standing on either side of the shield and facing one another. They typically have local relevance. The surface on which supporters stand is called a compartment. It can be represented by a flowerbed, landscape, and other symbols. The compartment is placed right below the shield.
With advanced technologies and available online data, it is easy to trace your family history and determine if your predecessors had a coat of arms. If they did, it means that you have descended from a noble or high-class family as arms were indicators of high social position or nobility.
Today, modern technologies also give you the opportunity to find heraldic images belonging to your ancestors by entering your last name. The most popular website is 4crests, where you can find the origins of your last name and even purchase any accessory with the family coat of arms printed or embroidered on it.
To obtain a coat of arms officially, you need to apply for a right to arms. The procedure can take a good deal of time, but if you go through it successfully, the result will leave other people speechless. First and foremost, you are to file a petition with the Early Marshal. There are no fixed requirements for obtaining the grant, but every sign of your contribution to society, achievements, awards, social position, status, charity, and military commissions is considered. For your submission to be approved, you are to pay a considerable fee. Check out the official website of the College of Arms to look at the fee amount.
Once the relevant authorities approve your petition, the officer of arms can start creating your coat of arms, taking into account all your wishes and ideas. The responsible officer will send you the final sketch. If you and the officer have no disagreements regarding the design, your coat of arms is handed over to the Kings of Arms. After they accept your design, a professional artist from the College of Arms will complete the process. The final step is to take the signed and sealed letters of patent into possession.
Designing a coat of arms is easier when you have a ready-made template. We suggest making use of our advanced form-building software to find a necessary template for making sketches. Downloading will take you just a few seconds.
The template consists of two pages. You should choose the necessary design (either with or without quadrants).
In the template, there is a traditional shield form, typically used by people. You have two options: to divide your own shield and place charges in the way you want (Page 1) or to use a shield divided into four parts (Page 2).
If you choose the first variant, you are welcome to be creative and original. Create your symbolic lines or ordinaries – chevrons, crosses, etc. As we have mentioned earlier, even ordinaries can carry a symbolic meaning. We have explained to you what a cross may symbolize. Broadband, dividing the field of the shield across the top, may stand for domination of will. If a band goes down the field vertically, you are likely to emphasize strength and courage.
The second option requires that you fill in each part of the shield. Such division is necessary when you want to place charges that differ in shape and size. You can also color each piece in a different way. Turn to the Internet resources to find the most usable colors with the most recognizable meanings in heraldry and denote universal values.
A motto is a statement written on a piece of ribbon below the shield or compartment (In Scotland, it rests at the top of the whole structure). A motto is an encouraging and inspiring saying. It renders the individual’s intention and motivation.
Your coat of arms will look more completed if you add a saying on the ribbon at the bottom. The most important rule to follow when creating a motto is, to be honest with yourself. Your motto should be meaningful to you in the first place; try to reflect your ideas and beliefs by the respective symbols, colors, and words. Once you have thought everything thoroughly, you need to develop a beautiful and matching handwriting design. Make the motto short so that it is easy to remember. You can use quotes from literary works, use the motto of your ancestors, or think of something of your own.
The template space allows you to insert other pieces commonly used in heraldic achievements: supporters, compartment, and other decorative elements. In the previous paragraphs, we have explained what places they should occupy in the armorial achievement. These embellishments will highlight the significant position of the central element – the coat of arms.