Heraldry 2

Medieval Heraldry

Heraldry

Heraldry in medieval times was important because:

  • it enabled Knights to be clearly identified
  • it helped to establish and symbolise a Knight’s social standing
  • it became a hereditary device enabling families to pass on their ‘coat of arms’


Medieval Heraldry originated early in the 12th century in Europe as a means of identifying a warrior in the heat of battle. Back then, the full face helm became the more popular way of protecting one's head, making it difficult to identify armoured men in battle and in tournaments. Great lords and soon thereafter all knights decorated their shields and surcoats with distinctive designs - their "arms". Heralds became experts at identifying knights by their arms since that was part of the herald's job as a tourney official.

In addition to being displayed on shields, armorial designs were frequently enameled on breastplates and embroidered on the medieval surcoat or great-coat, where the term "Coat of Arms" and "Coat-armour" came from. The heraldic design was originally placed on a Knight's shield.

knights battling with heraldryHeraldry is basically a system of symbolism that was under official control so Knights could be identified during warfare and competitions. Armorial bearings, "arms", were meant only for those who bore them - the knights. Since merchants, archers or footmen couldn't wear them, it made a coat of arms a badge of social position. During battle, a son would pick up his fallen father's shield and put his armour on to continue the fight, so a Coat of Arms became a hereditary symbol.

Few laws were passed about the design of coats of arms, and even fewer were enforced!  Most European nations began requiring registration of coats of arms by the 17th century. Registration requirements were similar to modern trademark laws. They were really intended to stop people from copying each other's designs.

NEXT >>> The Rules of Heraldry Design