Links and bibliography for heraldry - …
During the Middle Ages, knights used a coat of arms to identify themselves. One man in armor looked a lot like another, so the coat of arms was used to identify a knight in battle. In a society where few people could read and write, pictures were very important. A coat of arms was more like a label for instant identification than it was like a painting. You wanted to know instantly who was coming toward you, so you could know which side he was on. Coats of arms later took on further significance and meanings. They also became a way of showing membership in the aristocracy, after they lost their significance in warfare.
Only the oldest son would inherit his family's coat of arms unchanged; his younger brothers would usually add a symbol to show who they were. The symbol a younger son added was often a smaller picture placed in the middle of the shield. When a woman married, especially if she had no brothers, the coat of arms of her family was often added to her husband's arms. Sometimes the arms were quartered, or divided into parts. In this case, the man's family coat of arms was in the upper left quarter (as you look at the coat of arms) and lower right, while the woman's family's arms were in the other two quarters. Shields are generally "read" like a book, starting at the upper left, going across and then down.
A coat of arms can have several parts. The main part is a shield, which can have a crest above it, a motto, and animals supporting the shield. We will deal only with shields.
The was a description of the shield in words, using a special vocabulary. The terms used in heraldry are similar to a kind of old French. French was the language used by the aristocracy during the Middle Ages. The idea is that a shield can be described by one expert in heraldry so that another expert could draw it correctly without ever seeing it. To draw the coat of arms from the description is to it.
For a brief guide to heraldry, click here
Coat of Arms, Shields, Heraldry - Middle Ages for Kids
The swirling design originally represented the tears and slashes to the mantle which often occurred in battle, however through the centuries these original designs have changed to a more vine like effect. Examples of wood carvings of Coats of Arms recently carved in lime wood by Ian G Brennan have completely contrasting designs, from the more complex medieval design to the less complicated but no less wonderful design depicting a carved and twisted cord on a Priests Coat of Arms, shown above. This perhaps compares to the more contemporary design of the mantling for the recently awarded Arms for Sir Paul McCartney A play on words in heraldry known as 'canting' can also be shown in the design of a coats of arms, an example of canting can be found reflected in the
They also wanted to brag about their history
I have also tried to include web sites containing significant source materialon medieval English heraldry, although at present little is available online.