Heraldry arose in the 12th century, around the time of the Crusades. In battle, a knight dressed in armor from head to foot would be barely recognized by friend or enemy, so a new method of identification became necessary. This resulted in special markings being painted on the knight’s shield and on the coat he wore over his armor. (Coat of Arms) The shield was generally made of a wooden frame across which a leather hide was stretched. The rim and center were studded and metal bands were painted or decorated, with each knight using his specific metal (s) or color (s). A son would inherit the markings of his father, carrying them into battle with pride. After a battle, the knight returned to his castle or manor and hung his shield and helmet on the wall. The colorful tournaments or jousting competitions of the middle ages helped greatly in the development of Heraldry.
However, when jousting was no longer in fashion, the individual markings used by knights began to appear on the seals, in stone, on stained glass and on objects of value, all of which identified the owner. This was particularly important in an age when very few people could read or write.
Heraldry has its own special language which comes from Norman French, although there are also words of Turkish origin, first introduced by the Crusaders. While the Norman French are rightly credited with introduction of Heraldry to Britain and Ireland, the charges found on the arms of native Irish families are very often pre-Christian or of Druidic origin. It should also be noted that Heraldry traditions developed in countries throughout Europe during this time and descriptions of Coat of Arms, known as Blazons, were often written in the native language of the individual country.
The Coat of Arms is itself described as the “Blazon”, and in most descriptions the first word mentioned is the color of the shield. Above the Blazon is found the knight’s helmet on which is placed the Crest, a decorative feature. The markings on the shield are referred to as “charges” or “ordinaries”, while the right side is referred to as the “Dexter” and the left side as the “Sinister”. So we see that Heraldry, which began as the mark of the warrior, continues in this spirit in modem day Armed Forces, each displaying specials markings, which have their origins in the world of Heraldry.
Yet arms are not exclusive to the fighting man. Most universities and colleges have their individual Coat of Arms or symbolic arrangement which heralds the school and its principles. Clubs, corporations, churches and fraternities employ the equivalent of a Coat of Arms in some form. The car you drive more than likely displays the company’s Coat of Arms proudly. Trademarks and symbols on packages, signs, on stores, advertisements in magazines employ forms of heraldic devices to distinguish the products and elevate the prestige of the company in the eye of the consumer. The unifying quality of a Coat of Arms exists today, as more than 800 years ago, despite change and mechanization. For today, as in the days of William the Conqueror, the ancient Gaelic and all the formidable rulers of the Middle Ages, we find the armorial bearing offering a unique service in identifying, and binding together, individuals into groups or families.
When you display a Coat of Arms, you are in essence declaring to all the world that you belong to something – some family culture, heritage, clan, group or organization. More than likely you will want to display the Coat of Arms associated with your family name in made. The extensive computerized database of the Heraldry and Crests contains hundreds of thousands of Coat of Arms and research data on millions more.