Heraldry of past and present - About Heraldry Today

History of Heraldry

Perhaps one of the most enduring aspects of Medieval England is heraldry. Though it started in the 12th century, coats of arms and other forms of heraldry go on to be used even today, be it by religious and educational institutions, by countries, and the royal family and has become a key part of our history.

Origins of heraldry

The concept of heraldry started around 900 years ago. A heraldic device was mainly used so that knights could be spotted in battle, something that their full suit of armour often stopped from happening. For a knight, recognition by the King was vital, especially since the knight’s worth would be measured by his valour on the battlefield. Once a heraldic device was given to a knight or lord, it became family property and would be passed from father to son, thus protecting the family’s reputation for many generations to come.

Any individual knight not only had a shield with his heraldic badge on – the same pattern would be found on his banners, the coverings of his horse and on his surcoat that covered his body armour. The phrase ‘coat of arms’ came from this idea of having your heraldic device/pattern on your surcoat. Knights also took to wearing a crest on top of their helmets.

A heraldic device became part of a family and a father who had impressed in battle would pass on to his sons the same heraldic pattern. In this way a family’s reputation was maintained.

But a heraldic shield was not only the preserve of fighting noblemen. Other people such as churchmen, lawyers, lord mayors etc all wanted a heraldic device as a statement of who they had become in society. Towns of importance and medieval guilds also wanted a heraldic device for the same reason.

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