What is Heraldry?

What is Heraldry?

Since the middle ages, Heraldry was used to distinguish people, clans and countries in battle. Usually reserved for Royalty or Noblemen, Coat of Arms appeared on shields and amorial achievements, so during medieval games or during combat, an individual be them enemy or opponent could be easily identified.

The trait of using an emblem has carried on through the ages, with companies using logos, sports teams using emblems or animals to represent them and even army regiments using coloured and patterned shields to identify their troop. You can see these patches sewn onto uniform sleeves – items worn and displayed with pride as a means of association, belonging and identification to a group.

The earliest heraldic document, still in existence today, is the Roll of Arms of the Barons and Knights of the Reign of Henry III. At a later date, the granting of arms was at the perogative of the King, but this was subject to wide scale abuse. In the early part of the sixteenth century, important reforms were instituted. Royal commissions were instructed to investigate and record the use of Coat-of-Arms and to require people to produce authority for bearing and using Coat-of-Arms. Their decisions are recorded in documents called Heralds Visitations, which set forth the principal hereditary coat-of-arms.

All persons who can prove descent from an ancestor whose armorial ensigns have been acknowledged in any one of the Visitations are entitled to carry those arms by right of inheritance. However, when no such descent can be shown, the person must, if possible, prove himself to be descended from someone whose right has been admitted from a grantee, or he must become a grantee himself. Most people on the whole do not have this right. Heraldic Family Names actually supplies reproduction coat-of-arms which have been authentically awarded to a family name. Heraldry in its broad meaning had to do with the functions of a herald whose duty was to announce tournaments, to carry messages from one manor to another and to record the various insignia borne by individuals.

Heraldry arose almost spontaneously in the 12th century, coinciding with the development of armor, around the time of the crusades. In battle, a knight clad in armor from head to toe would barely recognize friend from foe. This resulted in distinctive insignia being painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat. It is generally accepted that these innovations led to the beginnings of heraldry.

The insignia thus adopted soon became jealously guarded and objects of pride. A son would inherit his father’s markings and carry them into battle with pride. After a battle or campaign, the knight would return to his castle and the vassal to his modest home and each would hang his shield or helmet on the wall. The belongings of those who perished in battle were brought back by a friend, and the scene was repeated in every humble cottage and magnificent abode. Heraldry, as we know it, had come into being.

The colorful medieval tournaments, which were held both for entertainment and to give practice in the use of the lance, provided a great stimulus to the development of heraldry. A Marshal and Constable supervised the armorial decorations at these tournaments and in this we find the origins of the College of Arms. This also resulted in heraldry becoming an organized and scientific art.

The decline of jousting in the 16th century and the introduction of gunpowder did away with armor but did not lead to a decline in the importance of heraldry. Arms were displayed on seals and this was useful because many of the nobility and common man were illiterate. Arms in stone and on stained glass, silver and elsewhere have provided countless clues for historians in dating and identifying buildings and objects.

A s heraldry flourished and became regulated it was necessary to have a language whereby a herald could accurately describe arms and that other heralds understood the descriptions. The language used was Norman French. Heraldry, therefore, is first a system of personal devices (i.e. symbols on the shield) appertaining to an individual and continuing, with certain restrictions, for his descendants. It is a hereditary distinction. It is also an art.

Armorial bearings are commonly called a Coat of Arms but, heraldically speaking, this term refers only to the insignia borne on the shield. The full display of all the insignia to which the armiger (legal bearer of arms) is entitled personally or by inheritance is an Achievement of Arms or simply an Achievement.

The Blazon of Arms and Crest described in the Family Name History and reproduced in a variety of artistic methods by Heraldic Family Names are found in historically accurate armorial compendiums commonly accepted by heraldic scholars. The Heraldic Insignia associated with our products comply with “The Law of Arms”- responsible bodies: The Chief Herald, Ireland, The Officer in Waiting (College of Arms) London and The Lord Lyon King of Arms, Scotland and Other Heraldic Colleges. Heraldic Insignia has been granted to a person with the same family name or a variant. In countries where Laws of Heraldry are enforced, display of Heraldic Insignia in public may not be permitted except by certain proven descendants of the original bearers.