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Parts of a Coat of Arms

RIBBON & MOTTO More often than not the motto is placed on a ribbon above the entire coat of arms. Sometimes a ribbon is also placed at the bottom of the shield with the surname on it.

CREST The crest is part of the design which almost always sets on top of a torse. Not all coats of arms have crests. And to my knowledge there is only one case in history where a person was granted a crest but no shield. The gentleman died before a shield was granted to him.

TORSE A torse is a twisted fabric rope made up of the main color of the shield design and one metal (silver or gold). It sits on top of the helm or helmet, supposedly holding the mantling in place. Some sources say that the torse was borrowed from the Middle Eastern cultures.

MANTLING Contrary to popular belief, not all warriors were clad in full metal armour. Most warriors wore a combination of metal armour, chain male (a metal mesh used like fabric) and leather studded with metal embellishments. In any case, their primary mode of transportation was either on foot or horse.

As these warriors traveled from one destination to another, the uniforms they bore could be extremely uncomfortable in the hot sun, or pounding rain. For this reason they wore capes or cloaks, usually hooded. This reflected the sun off the metal parts of their uniforms and protected it from the rain. Some say they were also used to deflect sword cuts. These cloakes are called lambrequin or mantling. The mantling was usually one color, the main color in the coats of arms and lined with a metal (silver or gold) color.

In heraldry the mantling is usually depicted as a leafy swirly mass that flows around the coat of arms. This leads some to mislabel the mantling for tree branches or leaves. Actually, no self respecting warrior, except for formal occassions would come off the battle field with a nice neatly pressed mantling. Rather the more torn and shredded the mantling, the more fierce the battle must have been and the braver the warrior. In heraldry the mantling is shown torn and tattered flowing as if it may have looked as a warrior was charging the battlefield on horseback. Another quick note...mantlings only occur when a helm or helmet is shown.

HELM A helm is another word for a helmet. There are different kinds of helmets, and each symbolizes a specifc class. One for Barrons, Earls, Peers, etc. The most common is the side view of the closed visor helmet. Not all coats of arms legally should be depicted with a helmet.

SUPPORTER A supporter is usually a human being or an animal placed on either side of a shield as if they were holding or "supporting" the shield. Unless a supporter is mentioned in the blazon, it should not be included as part of the coat of arms.

COMPARTMENT The compartment is used to show the coat of arms being supported from the bottom. It is a mound, or shape used to rest the shield upon. I can represent land or water. In most cases it is a grassy or floral design made to look like ground. This should also not be depicted unless specifically stated in the blazon.

SHIELD & ARMS The shield refers to the shield it's self. The arms refer to the design placed upon the shield. Shields come in various shapes. The most common is the shape in our illustration. The shape of a shield can sometimes indicate where the family came from. The German version of a shield is shapped different from the Anglo version. Also more often than not Spanish or Hispanic shields will not come to a point at the bottom, but be rounded off instead.

If you are a woman, and you are using a coat of arms, the shield is shaped like a diamond. Also, when a person dies, it was customary to place their coat of arms on a diamond shape and have it put into a black frame. This was then placed on the front of the house as a sign of mourning.

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last updated on: April 3rd, 2017

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