Are you interested in history? Have you ever wondered if you or someone in your family is entitled to a Coat of Arms? The chances are good, especially if you are of European descent, that someone who bore your name was granted a Coat of Arms by one of the Colleges of arms. Many of these lay dormant, waiting for a rightful heir to claim the arms.
In some countries, to legally use a Coat of Arms, you must have been granted it yourself, or prove unbroken descent down the male line from your ancestor who was granted the armorial. (There is no such law in the United States). Most of us are very interested to see a Coat of Arms associated with our surname. The armorial provides with a graphic representation of our past, and the deeds and honour of our ancestors. It is fascinating to wonder if we are in fact related somehow to an Earl, Duke or whomever was granted these arms long ago.
Our parent company has searched through the most trusted heraldic works such as Burke's General Armory and Reitstap's Armorial General to find the earliest mention of a given surname. Then, according the established rules of heraldry, we created an accurate, authentic Coat of Arms from the blazon. We now have a huge collection of full color computer images of coats of arms associated with over 1,000,000 names. These images are available as high quality prints, with or without the history of the name, as well as on Shirts, Mugs and some other items. We are sure that you will find your Coat of Arms to be fascinating and decorative items that will be treasured for years to come.
What is a Coat of Arms?
Coats of Arms originated in the Middle Ages as a means of distinguishing friend from foe on the Medieval battlefield. Previous to this advent there had been much difficulty in identification of knights. For example, William the Conqueror had to remove his helmet in the midst of the battle of Hastings in order to prove himself to his followers who thought he was killed. The concept developed that each knight would bear a shield of displaying a unique design.
The armour or coat of mail worn in those times generally had a sleeveless garment called a surcoat worn over it, most likely as protection from the sun. By the XIIIth century most European knights wore their emblems (also called bearings or arms) on their surcoats as well as their shields. Thus originated the expression "Coat of Arms".
By the 13th century, the rules and the terminology that we know today had started to form. Specialists in the field became known as heralds. It was their task to set forth and document all arms in existence to insure that duplication did not occur. Blazon, a heraldic term, originated with the custom of blowing a trumpet to announce the arrival of a knight at the joust or tournament. The blast was answered by the heralds who described and explained aloud the arms borne by the knight.
In ancient times, crests and mottoes may have been used by all, but with the passing of the centuries some have been omitted or forgotten.
With the suppression of private armies, and the gradual disappearance in the 16th century of both tournaments and closed helmets, the sporting and military uses of heraldry became less important and it became rather a decorative art. Coats of arms were carved over doorways, woven on tapestries, placed in stained glass windows and engraved on silver.
A complete Coat of Arms (correctly referred to as an Achievement of Arms) includes the following elements:
The shield, on which are displayed the symbols (charges).
The helm or helmet, varying in style and positioning according to the rank of the bearer.
The mantling, originally a cloak attached to the helmet as a protection against heat, cold and rain, now adpated into a formal floral design flowing out from both sides of the helmet.
The torse or wreath, consisting of six bands of silk alternately of the colors in the shield, affixed to the helm to hold the crest in place.
The crest, used in ancient times for furthuring identification in battle, today as a traditional symbolic adjunct. Many coats of arms do not have a crest.
The motto, originally, a war cry or slogan. Again, this is not an essential component of a Coat of Arms.
Supporters, animal or human figures, appear on each side of the shield as if holding it upright, lending additional symbolic strength to the achievement. Usually these appear on civic rather than on personal coats of arms.