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What is Heraldry ? page iv. Burke's General Armory

What is Heraldry ? page iv. Burke's General Armory

What is Heraldry ???



The following is an excerpt from Burke's General Armory, pages v-vii.



Heraldry may be defined "the art of blazoning, assigning, and marshaling coat armour,"

or more particularly "the art of arranging and arranging and explaining in proper terms all that relates or appertains to the bearing of Arms, Crests, Badges, Quarterings, and other hereditary marks of honour." The marshaling of processions, the conducting of public solemnities, the declaring of peace and war, coma also within the province of a heralds duties.

The origin of badges and emblems may certainly be traced to the earliest of times, and the enthusiasm of some of the primitive writers on the subject as left them to gravely assert that even Noah and the Japhet had distinctive armorial bearings. But while it may be admitted that in the ancient world warlike nations bore on their shields and standards distinguishing devises, it is not clear that our Heraldry can in strictness by traced to a more remote period that of the twelfth or, at furthest, the eleventh century. Numerous tombs exist of persons of noble blood, who died before the year 1000, yet there is not an instance known of one with a Heraldic bearing. The Pire Menestrier made a minute and extensive search through France, Italy, Germany, and Flanders, and the most ancient coat of arms he was able to discover was that upon the monumental effigy of a count of Wasserburg, in the church of St. Emeran, at Ratisbon: the assigns were Per fess argent and sable, a lion countercharged: and the date 1010. Yet even here this is good reason to believe, says the learned Frenchman, that this tomb was restored some tome after that counts death by the Monks of the Abbey he had owned.

Sir John Fern is of opinion that the science was borrowed from the Egyptians. Sir George Mackenzie ascribes it to the age of Charlemagne, and says it began to grow with the feudal laws, but took its origin, perhaps, in the time of Jacob, who, blessing his sons, gave them marks of distinction, which the twelve tribes after woods bore on their ensigns: But our old reliable friend, Guillim, will have it that Heraldry - as a science of England - cannot go back to an earlier epoch that about the year 1200. For my own part, I consider that the registry of its birth may be found among the archives of the Holy Wars, that its hand was rocked by the soldiers of the cross, and that its maturity was attained in the chivalrous age of feudalism.

However, at the trial of the celebrated controversy between Sir Richard Le Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor, for the right to bear the arms azure a bend or, held 20th August, 1385, before the high constable of England, and Sir John de Multon, Deputy to the Earl Marshal, and adjourned to 16th May, 1386, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, deposed that the said arms were of right the arms of Sir Richard Le Scrope, and his ancestors at the time of the conquest, and that in the French Wars, under Edward III. One Carminow of Cornwall, challenged Sir Richard Le Scropes right to the same, that the dispute having been referred to six knights, they found that the said Carminow was descended of a lineage armed azure a bend or, since the time of King Arthur, and that the said Richard Le Scrope was descended of a right line of ancestors armed with the same arms since the time of king William the Conqueror. Owen Glendower, the welsh prince, deposed at the trial the Grosvenors bore the same arms at the time of the conquest. The word Heraldry is derived from the German Heer, a host, an army - and Held, a champion; and the term blasson, by which the science is denoted in French, English, Italian, and German, has most probably its origin in the German word Blazon, To blow the horn. The Germans transmitting the word to the French, it reached us after the Norman conquest.

At first armorial bearings were probably like surnames, assumed by each warrior at his free will and pleasure; and as his object would be to distinguish himself and his followers from others, his cognizance would be respected by the rest, either out of an inuate courtesy or a feeling of natural justice disposing men to recognise the right of first occupation, or really from a positive sense of the inconvenience of being identified or cofounded with those to whom no common tie united them. Where however, remoteness of stations kept soldiers aloof, and extensive boundaries, and different classes of enemies from without, subdivided the force of a kingdom into many distinct bands and armies, opportunities of comparing an ascertaining what ensigns had been already appropriated would be lost, and it well might happen, even in the same country, that various families might be found unconsciously using the same arms.

It has long been a matter of doubt when he bearing of arms first became hereditary. The Normals tiles engraved in Mr. Einikers letter to the Society of Antiquaries, were supposed to have fixed the date at the period of the Norman Conquest, but Mr. Montagu very ably argues that it is not at all clear that these tiles were of the same antiquity as the Abbaye aux hommes at Caen. in which they were found; indeed he seem to prove quite the contrary. Certain it is that it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. In the history of Battell Abbey, Richard Lucy, Chief Justice temp. Henry II, is reported to have blamed a mean subject for carrying a private seal, when that pertained, as he said, to the King and Nobility alone. Under Edward I , seals of some sort were so general, that the statute of Exon ordained the coroners jury to certify with their respective signets, and in the following reign they become very common, so that they not only bore arms to seal, but others fashioned signets, taking the letters of their own names, flowers, knots, birds, birds, beasts etc. It was afterward enacted by statute, that every freeholder should have his proper seal of arms ; and he was to either appear at the head court of the shire, or send his attorney with the said seal, and those who omitted this duty were amerced or fined.

The earliest Heraldic document that has been handed down to us as a ROLL OF ARMS, made between the years of 1240 and 1245. It contains the names and arms of the Barrons and knights of the reign of Henry III, and affords incontrovertible evidence of the fact that heraldry was reduced to a science. It is curios, too, as indicating the changes that have taken place between a period approximating so nearly to its origin and the present ; and invaluable, as offering contemporary testimony of the exact bearings of the ancestors of some of our most distinguished families. This important manuscript as well as well as three other collections, the siege of carlaverock, A Roll of Arms, temp. Edward II, and A Roll of Arms, temp. Edward III, were published by the late Sir Harris Nicolas, as accompanied by prefatory remarks and occasional notes.

THE SIEGE OF CARLAVEROCK is a poem descriptive of the banners of the peers and Knights of the English army who were the present at the siege of Carleverock Castle of Scotland, in February, 1301.

The ROLL OF ARMS of the time of Edward II made between the years 1308 and 1314, is divided into countries, and comprises the names of arms of about eleven hundred and sixty persons. It still remains in the cottonian Library, British Museu, (Calig. A.xviii.).

The FORTH ROLL, temp.Edward III, appears to have been compiled between the years 1337 and 1350. Its plan was most comprehensive, embrassing the arms all the peers and Knights in England, arranging in the following order: - I. The King, the Earls, and the Barons. II. The Knights under their respective counties. III. The great personages who lived in earlier times.

Besides these Rolls, other collections of arms have been published, adding much to our information on the subject. in these ancient rolls Heraldry first assumes the appeence of a science, and it would seem that the rules by which it is governed then existed.

The earliest writer on the subject, whose work has descended to us, is Nicolas Upton. His treatise was composed in the reign of Henry V., and translated in that of his successor, in the work well known to all admirers of the art as The boke of St. Albans. With the decline of chivalry the study of heraldry was neglected, and the exaggerated dignity to which Fern, Mackenzie, and other enthusiasts endeavoured to raise it, only gained for it contempt ; but a taste for the antiques generally has gradually revived ; and the use of Heraldry as a key to history and biography is becoming every day more and more acknowledged, not only in England, but throughout Europe.


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last updated on: April 3rd, 2017

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