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Coat of Arms and Crests: History 4

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Early History of Heraldry

Coats of Arms & Crests

Heraldry, with its Coat of Arms and Crests although viewed by many as an ancient art form, is an exciting picture language in colour with its heraldic signs and symbols often incorporate a glorious mêlée of golden crowns and coronets, lions, eagles, fabulous beasts and mythological creatures, birds, fishes, flowers and busts of men and women.

Birds and beasts have featured prominently in heraldry from the earliest times, and any animal can and has been portrayed. They are usually drawn from the imagination of heralds and artists and some very fanciful designs have emerged over the centuries. English Heraldry now has a feast of wonderful and improbable creatures, which have all been accepted by the College of Arms providing they were distinctive and properly placed on official record

These designs evolved during the Middle ages before most men and women could read or write. Heraldry's awesome visual power of colour and images are as strong today as they were during this period. Their striking geometric designs frequently borrowed and later turned into successful modern logos and trade marks.

The word Herald is said to derived from the Anglo-Saxon word - here meaning an army and wald meaning strength, although it is thought it originated from the German word Herold. Many heralds were originally minstrels who after tournaments or battles extolled the deeds of the victors. In those days, Kings, Dukes and Knights would employ men in their households called heralds, the dual role as minstrel and messenger led the herald to then recount the deeds of his master and as time went by his masters ancestors.

The regulation of distinguishing the various coats of arms evolved according to a hereditary system, which also required the Heralds especially of the English royal household to keep records both of arms and family descents. As a token of their office they began to wear the coats of arms of the leaders they served.

The herald was appointed to organize and make the announce at tournaments, to act as diplomats and to record the various insignia borne by the individuals and to carry as a non combatant messenger, messages from place to place, as well as to make declarations of war. In the early Middle Ages the Chief herald was called the Marshal. In those days when it was the custom for the King himself to go to war, it was therefore the marshals duty to 'marshal' the army in groups with their banners and 'coats of arms'.

Although early references to heralds dating from the twelfth century were invariably connected with tournaments the first generally accepted references to heralds date from around 1170 when Chretien de Troyes writes of a barefoot herald clad only in a shirt running to identify the arms of Lancelot in the King Arthur Legend. Ironically he fails to do so.

In 1555, the Heralds were granted Derby Place which is near St Paul's Cathedral in London to be the site of the College of Arms, however in 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed the original building and the present College of Arms was consequently built on the same site in 1670. This building now houses the Heralds offices and contains a unique library of official records dating back many centuries.

Over the years many of the ceremonial duties of the heralds have disappeared, although under the Earl Marshal the Duke of Norfolk such historic ceremonies as The State Opening of Parliament held in November and the procession and service of the Sovereign and Knights Companion of the Order of the Garter held at Windsor Castle in June are still carry out each year organize by the heralds.

The arrangement of State funerals and the monarch's Coronation in Westminster Abbey also fall under the jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal, with the heralds being responsible for the organisation of these Great State Ceremonies. The Earl Marshal is one of the two Great Officers of State and the office is hereditary in his family with particular powers of supervision over the heralds and the College of Arms in London. The College of Arms is now the oldest existing such College in the World with its heraldic court being one of the few remaining heraldic courts in Western Europe.

The Earl Marshal's Court at the College of Arms with a recent exhibition of carved Crowns and Crests held to mark the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, these included Crowns for a variety of European Kings and Queens, the crests for the former war-time Leader Sir Winston Spencer Churchill and the Duke of Windsor (sometime Edward V111) Crest.

The origin of the Knight was to be found not in the Roman Army who although having light cavalry was essentially comprised of Infantry, but amongst the barbaric hoards the Goths and Huns during the Dark Ages. The Goths first demonstrated the method of cavalry to great effect in the defeat of the Romans at Adrianople in 378, but it was the adaptation of the horses stirrup most likely developed in China during the fifth century which provided the mounted soldier with not only a firm seat, but also enabled him to use his weapons especially the heavy lances which were often used with great effect.

Although warfare and elegances form the bedrock of the concept of knighthood other factors also play a part as the knight in essence is a mounted warrior, the possession of a horse would obviously be rather important as it is a little difficult to be chivalric without one. The cost however of owning a horse, armour, weapons and the training required to use them effectively was rather expensive which would preclude most people other than the more well established families and landowners.

Another important aspect of medieval knighthood was the adherence to a knightly code, virtues Goals which was considered a knight should aspire included certain qualities such as prowess, loyalty, generosity, courtesy, gentlemanly conduct and also owing allegiance to his King or Prince. All such virtues that inspired the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

King Edward III it was thought, inspired by the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table devised a high honour as a reward for loyalty and for military merit to bring together in close companionship the Sovereign and twenty-five of the most outstanding military leaders of the country at that time, as a means of marking and securing alliances; This the highest order of chivalry namely The ' Most Noble Order of the Garter' was founded in 1348 with the first of these Garter Knights being the Prince of Wales, the Black Prince.

Few of these original Knights were much over the age of 30 and four were under the age of 20, the other founder-knights had all served in the French campaigns of the time, including the battle of Crécy and three were foreigners who had previously sworn allegiance to the English king, making twenty six knights in all.

'The Most Noble Order of the Garter' was at the time and remains to this day the foremost Order of Chivalry and now is one of the oldest and most important of all such Orders throughout the world, followed by the premier meritorious Order of the Crown 'The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.'

Each newly appointed Knight of the Garter, or more recently in the case of a Lady of the Order is assigned a stall in St George's Chapel Windsor and each Knight of the Bath assigned a stall in Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey, from which their Banner displaying their coat of arms is hung. Beneath the banner is a Knights helm (helmet) on which is placed the carved and painted representation of the Knights Crown or Crest. In the case of the 'Stranger Knights' of the Order of the Garter, who are a Sovereign, Princes or Princesses, instead of a carved Crest their carved and gilded representation of the State Crown is placed upon the Knights helm. For Ladies Companion, who, as women by the rules of English Heraldry have no right to a Crest, a Coronet of rank, if they are a peeress, is placed upon the helm in St George's Chapel above were they are seated.

In the Middle Ages during the age of Chivalry the coat of arms were both practical and also served a function as a form of identification during pageants and in tournaments. In the confusion of battle the knight clad in Armour from head to toe, with his great war helmet covering his face, the only means of identification to friend and foe alike, was his insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, these surcoats or mantles were frequently torn off in battle so the Crest which again were individual to each knight was attached on top of the knights helmet to identify the knight in all the confusion of battle. 'Badges' also proved to be of great practical military importance during such battles, these 'badges' were free standing devices used by the medieval magnate during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The badge was borne by the followers and retainers of those capable of sustaining sizeable levies of men, and as such became better known than individual arms and consequently played a vital part in battlefield identification.

The badge was similar to the flags and banners raised by the limited number of major contestants on the medieval battlefield, however even well known badges could become confusing during the melee, when in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, the Earl of Warwick confused the silver star or mullet of the Earl of Oxford with the white Yorkshire rose, attacked his own supporters and consequently lost the day.

In the fifteen century the position of the knight was well established throughout Europe. Most typical villages in England had their gentleman or 'Knight' bearing for civilian use, his shield showing his coat of arms. The design of the crests which were included into the armorial bearings, were also borne upon his signet ring and often used pressed into the melted sealing wax to seal important documents. The word knight was believed to have derive from the old English word 'Cniht', the equivalent of the Latin word for a horseman, also from his feudal land-owning in return for his knight service which had long since been exchanged by his ancestors for payment to the crown.

Soon after the Crusades during the middle ages, many people began to feel the need for family names which would identify them more closely than the names they bore. The nobles who had joined the Crusades were aware of the value of surnames and were first to adopt them, usually from the names of the lands they owned.

Surnames of the workers upon these lands eventually evolved from their Christian names, which when the population increased was soon not sufficient enough to identify one John from another, this then gradually evolved into four basic categories. Pet and Nicknames, Local Surnames, Kinship Surnames and Occupational Surnames, from these names identification in the form of symbols and colours soon began to developed into the heraldry we know today.

It is therefore important when anyone is attempting to have a coat of arms produced that is associated with their own particular surname and they can therefore prove direct descent in the male line from the original bearer of the arms. This will insure that the design of the coat of arms is in fact directly linked to their own particular family and not simply someone who is unrelated, but happens to share the same surname as their own

Crests today are an impressive colourful form of three-dimensional heraldry, and are often chosen to reflect in some way features of the wearers career or perhaps a pun on his name, for example the crest for Lord Leverhulme KG is a cockerel standing on a trumpet which both serves as a method of awakening from a sleep ; 'crowing and sounding 'Reveille'. ( In French 'Lever' is to 'get up' or 'raise'.) The Attendance at a Royal 'Levee' was once the duty of courtiers to assist the Sovereign to arise after a night's sleep.

The more recent heraldic devices, generally reflects the life of the person concerned perhaps in the field of the, politics, commerce, armed services, or the Arts, for example Sir Paul McCartney the former Beatle, Knighted for his outstanding achievements in his musical career and charity work was recently granted his own coat of arms.

The design of Sir Paul McCartney's coat of arms granted in June 2001, not only incorporates his musical career, but also incorporates his Liverpudlian roots with the crest showing a Liver bird holding a guitar in its claw. The time he spent with fellow band members John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Star are also represented in Sir Paul's design by the four curved emblems on the shield which resembles 'beetles' backs, while the two black circles also shown on the shield symbolises records and CDs. The motto ' Ecce Cor Meum ' in Latin is Behold my Heart is the title of the oratorio Sir Paul wrote during his first wife's Linda's illness.

A play on words in heraldry known as 'canting' can also be shown in the design of a coats of arms, an example of canting can be found reflected in the arms of Lord Ashburton KG, his family name being Baring on his banner it shows the head of a bear with a ring in its nose - a bear ring. The design of Arms may also be reflected by the Sovereign at the time by some distinguished, gallantry or chivalrous act, these are called augmentations of honour.

On the Royal Coat of Arms 'Labels' are added to the achievements by the members of the Royal family to distinguish their individual Arms, these labels are used to indicate relationships and can be seen in the coat of arms used by their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Kent and also in the design of the crest for The Duke of Gloucester carved by Ian in June 1998, now placed in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle.

These white labels all have some distinctive features added to them so that the individual royal arms may be told apart, with the exception of the Prince of Wales, who as heir apparent uses a plain white label of three points, these achievements have either a three or five point label shown around the neck of the royal lion and unicorn, these labels indicates the son and grandson of a Sovereign.

Prince William of Wales, as second in line to the throne, like his father uses a white label of three points, however in reflecting Prince William's own wishes he has in addition a small red sea-shell (‘escallop’) added to the central point. The red escallop shells, have been incorporated in his mother Diana Princess of Wales Spencer Arms since the 16th century.

Prince Henry of Wales ( Prince Harry ) has a five-pointed label which is also marked with red escallops on the first, third and fifth points. When Prince Henry becomes the son or brother of the monarch, his label will be then be reduced to three points, the two blank points will then disappear leaving three of the points, each of which will displaying a red escallop.

Shown here are two different styles of sculptures depicting Swans -- This 'Swan within a Naval Crown' was carved from lime wood by Ian in 1992 and is shown here in position at St George's Chapel Windsor Castle for the former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, who was installed as a Knight of the Garter in the same year. Ian's work as a heraldic sculptor requires these crests to be rather more traditional in style, detail, colour and design.

Heraldry began with and have over the centuries continue to be used today as a specific mark of the fighting man with their coat of arms being placed upon their fighting vehicle, This painted and gilded woodcarving of the starboard side entrance port that Ian has carved onboard Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory (circa 1765 ) shows the Royal Crown symbol amongst the carved scrollwork.

A reminder perhaps to the sailors in Nelson's time in particularly the ' Pressed Men' of the ships crew that they fought in defence of the Crown. Nowadays most of the soldiers, sailors or airman wear a specific device upon there uniform which is heraldic in nature.

Coats of Arms and Crests however are not exclusive to the fighting man. Corporations, Churches, Clubs, Schools, University as well as City and Government Offices all still proudly display their equivalent of a coat of arms in some form or another. The unifying quality of a coat of arms exists today as in they did 800 years ago with William the Conqueror and all the formidable rulers of the Middle Ages, which then offered a unique service in identifying and binding together groups and individuals serving one cause.

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