For anyone researching their genealogy you may have been wondering about your last name. Do you know what is coat of arms? Well, these arms do not just identify a family. They can represent a person, corporation or country. The term family crest is also synonymous with coat of arms, however these two are not the same. In this article I will explain everything about these arms and how you can find yours.
Acknowledgement: The images in this post have been kindly permitted by COADB.com.
Connection Between Knights and a Coat of Arms?
A coat of arms is a distinctive and unique heraldic design that you will find on an escutcheon (i.e. a shield), a surcoat (loose outer coat or gown), or a tabard (tunic or cape garment). The different components of a coat of arms therefore were arms that were displayed on surcoats.
These coats of arms could also be found on banners throughout the middle ages, as well as a horse’s bardings, (the armor and trappings put on horses).
The word escutcheon can be used as a metaphor for a family’s honor. There are a number of different shapes of shield, such as the common heater style (modern medieval French and English), modern French, cartouche (oval), and lozenge or diamond (usually borne by woman).
In medieval times knights would use a coat of arms to identify themselves. During competitions an announcer, (a herald), would introduce the knights. The crowd could distinguish a knight by the design that was emblazoned on his shield, helmet and armor.
The coat of arms thus signified all of a knight’s achievements and the impressive battle gear that he wore. Because of this it evolved into a status symbol.
Inheriting A Coat of Arms
In the beginning these coat of arms were only worn by people of great nobility. But with the passage of time they were worn by people of lesser nobility and knights. So if you are wondering about a coat of arms for your family’s name then I am about to disappoint you.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as a coat of arms for a surname. The coat of arms was for one man, just to identify himself in battle. But a coat of arms can be used by genealogists to prove a family connection.
The different types of inheriting a coat of arms
- Cadency – A son could inherit his father’s shield but would have to alter it slightly. This tradition of adding to the design was known as cadency. Following the father’s death however the son’s coat of arms would revert back to that of his father’s.
- Marshalling – This was the merging of two families coat of arms due to marriage. Through this tradition you may find more than one design within the center of the arms, (the shield).
- Women Bearing Arms – A woman could bear arms and this would take the form of a lozenge or diamond shape. This would show the shield of her father. If the woman was married then she could display the arms of her husband.
Granting A Coat of Arms
To have your very own coat of arms you must be granted one. These can only be granted by the respective Kings of Arms in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is a College of Arms which accounts for all the different designs of coats of arms. People within the United States, Australia and Sweden can also apply to register for a coat of arms.
6 Parts of the Coat of Arms
There are six parts that make up the coat of arms. The first part is the shield, which will you find at the centre of the design. Do not get confused though as the shield and the five other parts you can also find on a knight’s shield that was used in battle.
- The Shield – A knight would place various elements onto his shield such as a lion, bear or an eagle. Different colors could also be used to identify an individual. The different shield shape could represent a geographical origin and time period.
- The Helm or Helmet – This indicates a rank. So if the helm was gold then this would signify royalty, or if it was a steel helmet with a closed visor then this would denote a gentleman.
- The Crest – This was another form of identifying a knight that was later adopted. Elements commonly used include feathers, leather or wood.
- The Mantle or Mantling – This was used to seal a knight from the sun and also to protect him from the rain. This was essentially a piece of cloth that was placed over the helmet and would drape down the back of the base of the helm. One side would typically be similar to the main colors of the coat of arms design, while the other side would either be white or yellow.
- The Wreath – This part would cover the join between the crest and the helmet. This would typically be two silken scarves that were twisted. The colors used would be the first named metal and the first named color in the blazon. These were known as the colors.
- The Motto – This is not essentially a part of a coat of arms but is generally seen together. A motto is a phrase that describes a family’s philosophy or denotes an ancient war cry. These are normally found below the coat of arms or sometimes above the crest. (Example above shows the family name).
Find My Family Coat of Arms
By now you should know what a coat of arms is all the different parts that it consists of. To find your family’s coat of arms you could try contacting a professional genealogy researcher. Or you could contact the College of Arms in London, England, or the The American College of Heraldy in the United States.
There are two books that I recommend you to get if you are interested in the world of heraldry. Both of these books contain more than 200 pages and are fully illustrated. The two books discuss the origins and the development of the coat of arms and its uses in the modern world.
The Illustrated Book of Heraldry: An International History of Heraldry and Its Contemporary Uses
A great introduction to heraldry. This book is full of information and a ton of colorful illustrations. Even if you do get stuck with some of the wording there is a glossary at the back that will help you. So if you want to know how coats of arms evolved over time then this book is for you.
Heraldry: Understanding Signs and Symbols
This is another go to book for anyone who is interested in heraldry. The complex imagery that make up a coat of arms is examined. Modern day examples are given and are broken down, so you can see what each different part means.
A great website is the House of Names shop that you can visit for all sorts of items. They offer family crests and coat of arms on products such as mouse pads, hats, jewelry, shirts, mugs and many more. You can find these products easily by using the menu at the top right of the site. When you have decided on a product you then enter your name and the quantity of the item that you want.
Free shipping is offered to residents of North America if the order is over $85 US. Products can be shipped internationally but there is a delay of 5-10 weeks, so bare this in mind when ordering from overseas.
All products are given a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so if you are not satisfied with the quality, condition or workmanship then you can return the product. Return shipping charges may apply unless there has been an order error or error in shipping.
Please note: This site will offer you a single coat of arms heraldry design for your surname. This is despite that arms are inherited through the family tree and symbols are usually added by descendants. Research has been carried out since 1968 by the in-house team to deliver to you the oldest known version of your family’s coat of arms. Bare in mind though that therefore there is no such thing as a unique coat of arms for a surname.
You can even find out about the history of your surname by entering your last name at the top of the site. Once you have entered your name it will present you with a history of your name together with a coat of arms. It also lists different spelling variations, which is quite helpful when it comes to checking any type of records on any of the genealogy search websites.
But there’s more to this section of the site. It will list famous and notable people with your last name. This includes settlers in various countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
And finally it shows you people connected with historic events. Although not related there are people with my surname who worked and died on the Titanic. I didn’t even know that until I searched for my name. Pretty interesting right?
Download coloring booklets and coats of arms at House of Names!
There is even a free section where you can download three different coloring booklets. With these booklets you can color in castles, shields, animals, mythical creatures and other symbols that you will find on a coat of arms. You can also download a blank family tree form. So you can fill this in form in while you trace your ancestors three generations back.
But wait there’s another booklet that you can download in the free section of the site. The Design a Coat of Arms booklet contains 11 pages of various arms that you can color in. The shield is left blank so that you can fill in with your own creation.
You maybe like me and want to get your children interested in genealogy. So this is a great way to get the kids the involved in your family history. Or if you’re a kid at heart you can spend a peaceful afternoon coloring in your own designs.
Alternatively you could check out COADB.com. At present there are 9,500 featured on the website, with the goal to have over 250,000. The website does offer genealogy research packages, so they will help you to find your coat of arms, (if one does exist).
Not only do they list thousands of arms and offer genealogy research packages, but you can also purchase your arms in a number of formats. These can be computer images (jpgs), or on a T-shirt, mug, phone or tablet cover, and more.
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