The surname of REICHEL was an occupational or status name for an arbiter or judge, originally derived from the Middle German RIHTEN (to make right). The term was mostly used in the Middle Ages to denote a part-time settler of disputes rather than a full-time legal official. Such communal conciliators held a position of considerable esteem in rural communities. In East Germany the term came to denote a village headman, which was quite often a hereditary office. It is in this region that the surname was most frequent. The name is also spelt RICHE, RITCHE, REICH, REICHE, RIGTER, RYCHTER, RYCHTAR, RYCHTERA and RICHTERS. The first hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th century, slightly later than in England and France. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became stabilized. The practice of adopting hereditary surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northwards during the Middle Ages. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. A notable member of the name was Jeremias Benjamin RICHTER (1762-1807) who was the German chemist, born in Silesia. He discovered the law of equivalent proportions. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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