Coat of arms of the city of Ghent in the sixteenth century.
Heraldic designs came into general use among European nobility in the 12th century. Systematic, heritable heraldry had developed by the beginning of the 13th century. Exactly who had a right to use arms, by law or social convention
, varied to some degree between countries. Early heraldic designs were personal, used by individual noblemen (who might also alter their chosen design over time). Arms become hereditary by the end of the 12th century, in England by King Richard I
during the Third Crusade
are used in Northern Italy in the second half of the 14th century, and in the Holy Roman Empire
by the mid 14th century. In the late medieval period, use of arms spread to the clergy, to towns as civic identifiers, and to royally chartered organizations such as universities and trading companies. The arts of vexillology
and heraldry are closely related.
The term coat of arms
itself in origin refers to the surcoat
with heraldic designs worn by combatants, especially in the knightly tournament
, in Old French cote a armer
. The sense is transferred to the heraldic design itself in Middle English, in the mid-14th century.
Despite no common, enforeceable widespread regulation,
heraldry has remained consistent across Europe, where tradition alone has governed the design and use of arms.
Some nations, such as England
, still maintain the same heraldic authorities
which have traditionally granted and regulated arms for centuries and continue to do so in the present day. In England
, for example, the granting of arms is and has been controlled by the College of Arms
. Unlike seals
and other general emblems
, heraldic "achievements" have a formal description called a blazon
, which uses vocabulary that allows for consistency in heraldic depictions. In the present day, coats of arms are still in use by a variety of institutions and individuals: for example, many European cities and universities have guidelines on how their coats of arms may be used, and protect their use as trademarks
as any other unique identifier might be.
societies exist that also aid in the design and registration of personal arms.
The German Hyghalmen Roll
, c. late 15th century, illustrates the German practice of thematic repetition from the arms in the crest
Heraldry has been compared to modern corporate logos
The French system of heraldry greatly influenced the British and Western European
systems. Much of the terminology and classifications are taken from it. However, with the fall of the French monarchy (and later Empire) there is not currently a Fons Honorum
(power to dispense and control honors) to strictly enforce heraldic law. The French Republics that followed have either merely affirmed pre-existing titles and honors or vigorously opposed noble privilege. Coats of arms are considered an intellectual property of a family or municipal body. Assumed arms (arms invented and used by the holder rather than granted by an authority) are considered valid unless they can be proved in court to copy that of an earlier holder.
Coat of arms of Sir Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, KG
In the heraldic traditions of England
, an individual, rather than a family, had a coat of arms. In those traditions coats of arms are legal property transmitted from father to son; wives and daughters
could also bear arms modified to indicate their relation to the current holder of the arms. Undifferenced arms
are used only by one person at any given time. Other descendants of the original bearer could bear the ancestral arms only with some difference
: usually a colour change or the addition of a distinguishing charge
. One such charge is the label
, which in British usage (outside the Royal Family
) is now always the mark of an heir apparent
or (in Scotland) an heir presumptive
. Because of their importance in identification, particularly in seals on legal documents, the use of arms was strictly regulated; few countries continue in this today. This has been carried out by heralds
and the study of coats of arms is therefore called "heraldry". In time, the use of arms spread from military entities to educational institutes, and other establishments.
In reference to a dispute over the exercise of authority over the Officers of Arms in England, Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey
, Lord Privy Seal
, declared on 16 June 1673 that the powers of the Earl Marshal
were "to order, judge, and determine all matters touching arms, ensigns of nobility, honour, and chivalry; to make laws, ordinances, and statutes for the good government of the Officers of Arms; to nominate Officers to fill vacancies in the College of Arms; to punish and correct Officers of Arms for misbehaviour in the execution of their places". It was further declared that no patents of arms or any ensigns of nobility should be granted and no augmentation, alteration, or addition should be made to arms without the consent of the Earl Marshal.
the usage and granting of coats of arms was strictly regulated by the Ulster King of Arms
from the office's creation in 1552. After Irish independence in 1922 the office was still functioning and working out of Dublin Castle
. The last Ulster King of Arms was Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson
[Ulster King of Arms 1908–1940], who held it until his death in 1940. At the Irish government's request, no new King of Arms was appointed. Thomas Ulick Sadleir
, the Deputy Ulster King of Arms, then became the Acting Ulster King of Arms. He served until the office was merged with that of Norroy King of Arms
in 1943 and stayed on until 1944 to clear up the backlog.
The heraldic tradition and style
of modern and historic Germany and the Holy Roman Empire
— including national and civic arms, noble and burgher arms
, ecclesiastical heraldry, heraldic displays, and heraldic descriptions — stand in contrast to Gallo-British, Latin and Eastern heraldry, and strongly influenced the styles and customs of heraldry in the Nordic countries
, which developed comparatively late.
In the Nordic countries
, provinces, regions, cities, and municipalities have coats of arms. These are posted at the borders and on buildings containing official offices, as well as used in official documents and on the uniforms of municipal officers. Arms may also be used on souvenirs or other effects, given that an application has been granted by the municipal council.
Other national traditions
At a national level, "coats of arms" were generally retained by European states with constitutional continuity of more than a few centuries, including constitutional monarchies like Denmark
as well as old republics like San Marino
Coats of arms in Spain
were generally left up to the owner themselves, but the design was based on military service and the heritage of their grandparents. In France
, the coat of arms is based on the Fleur-de-lys
and the Rule of Tinctures
used in English heraldry as well.
The Queen of Canada
has delegated her prerogative to grant armorial bearings to the Governor General of Canada
. Canada has its own Chief Herald
and Herald Chancellor
. The Canadian Heraldic Authority
is situated at Rideau Hall
The Great Seal of the United States
uses on the obverse as its central motif a heraldic achievement described as being the arms of the nation.
The seal, and the armorial bearings, were adopted by the Continental Congress
on 20 June 1782, and is a shield divided palewise into thirteen pieces, with a blue chief, which is displayed upon the breast of an American bald eagle. The crest is thirteen stars breaking through a glory and clouds, displayed with no helm, torse, or mantling (unlike most European precedents). Only a few of the American states
have adopted a coat of arms, which is usually designed as part of the respective state's seal
has both a state seal
and a state coat of arms
that are independent of one another (though both contain a pine tree, a cow and sheaves of grain); the seal is used to authenticate documents, whilst the heraldic device represents the state itself.
The Vatican City State
and the Holy See
each have their own coat of arms
. As the papacy is not hereditary, its occupants display their personal arms combined with those of their office. Some popes
came from armigerous
(noble) families; others adopted coats of arms during their career in the Church. The latter typically allude to their ideal of life, or to specific pontifical programmes.
A well-known and widely displayed example in recent times was Pope John Paul II
's arms. His selection of a large letter M (for the Virgin Mary
) was intended to express the message of his strong Marian devotion
.Roman Catholic dioceses
are also each assigned a coat of arms, as are basilicas
or papal churches, the latter usually displaying these on the building. These may be used in countries which otherwise do not use heraldic devices. In countries like Scotland with a strong statutory heraldic authority, arms will need to be officially granted and recorded.
Flags and banners
Modern national emblems
Egyptian coats of arms from the late monarchical, and early republican periods showing common Near and Middle Eastern motifs, namely the crescent and stars which are symbols of the region's predominant religion, Islam
, and the Eagle of Saladin
, the Swahili
(lit. "Let us come together") is used as a motto in the country's coat of arms. In Botswana
, meanwhile, the word Pula
(lit. "Rain") is used in like fashion.
In the coat of arms of Eswatini
, a lion
and an elephant
serve as supporters. They are each intended to represent the king and the queen mother respectively, the nation's joint heads of state.
Comparable traditions outside of Europe
Japanese emblems, called kamon
(often abbreviated "mon"), are family badges which often date back to the 7th century, and are used in Japan today. The Japanese tradition is independent of the European, but many abstract and floral elements are used.
- ^ A.G. Puttock, A Dictionary of Heraldry and Related Subjects, Exeter 1985. Blaketon Hall. ISBN 0907854 93 1. P. 40
- ^ Stephen Friar (ed.), A New Dictionary of Heraldry, London 1987. Alphabooks/A&C Black. ISBN 0-906670-44-6. P. 96.
- ^ McQuarrie, Edward F.; Phillips, Barbara J. (30 December 2016). Visual Branding: A Rhetorical and Historical Analysis. Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78536-542-3.
- ^ "[Wapenen vanden edelen porters van Ghendt alzo zij van hauts tijden in schepenen bouck staen. Hier naer volgen die wapenen vanden neeringhen van Ghendt ende die ambachten]". lib.ugent.be. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
- ^ "Baron fon Bury's Grave in Ugāle hillfort". www.redzet.eu. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
- ^ McDonald, James (1 October 2010). "International Heraldry". Castles and Manor Houses.
- ^ etymonline.com
- ^ A New dictionary of heraldry. Friar, Stephen. Sherborne: Alphabooks. 1987. ISBN 0906670446. OCLC 16094741.
- ^ a b "Educational Institute Coat of arms". October 2005. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ "Policy on use of the Workmark and Insignia of McGill University" (PDF). 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ Employee Identification with the Corporate Identity International Studies of Management and Organization, Volume 32, Number 3, 2002 "Group Identity Formation in the German Renaissance". 20 August 2002. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ Volborth, Carl-Alexander von (1981). Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles. Poole, England: Blandford Press. ISBN 0-7137-0940-5. ISBN 0-7137-0940-5 p.129.
- ^ "The History of Heraldry in Canada". Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. 28 April 2004. Archived from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2008.
- ^ "The Canadian Heraldic Authority". Canadian Heraldic Authority. 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ "2004 Seal Broch" (PDF). July 2003. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ "Coat of arms of His Holiness Benedict XVI". 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- ^ "Vatican press office". 9 June 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
- ^ "Coat of Arms (Eagle of Saladin)". Macaulay Honors College. 5 April 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
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