Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry, the word, in its most general sense, encompasses all matters relating to the duties and responsibilities of officers of arms. To most, though, heraldry is the practice of designing, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges.

Heraldry was born in the middle of the twelfth century in an area roughly limited by the Rhine to the North and the Loire to the South. It came to life in the midst of a medieval arms race which saw the fighters disappear under protective equipment more and more sophisticated. Becoming unrecognizable to both friends and foes, a solution had to be found by the warriors to provide an easy mean of identification. Coats of arms are the response to that vital need. They started to cover shields, banners and helmets. The most important rule of heraldry has been a direct consequence of the need to easily identify people encased in armour, at a distance.

Tournaments, with their high risks and even higher reward, worked as a replacement to war and were in fact the single most important factor for the spreading of heraldry.

As coats of arms were being displayed on battlefields they also started to be engraved on seals in the first half of the 12th century. Until the middle of the 13th century, coats of arms are used exclusively by the warrior class. They slowly spread to the rest of the medieval society with an ever increasing use of heraldic seals by the elites. Seals have a tremendous impact on the diffusion on heraldry. In the middle ages no document can be considered valid unless it has been marked by the seal of the parties in presence. Bearing both names and arms it replaced personal signatures in a time where most were illiterate and could not sign. Today a document is still not considered legal until it has received the seal of the authority producing it.

Coats of arms are not awarded to a family or a name, but to an individual. There is often more than one coat of arms associated with a given surname.  In England, direct descent is required for any heir to have the legal right to bear his ancestor's coat of arms. Further complicating the issue is that the authoritative source information for most coats of arms only lists a city and/or county or origin, and sometimes only a country. That is why, unless you can trace your family history to one individual, and unless the sources list that individual, then the best that you can hope for is to find a coat of arms that is the oldest for a given name from a given region or the one most frequently used.

Much more to the development of symbols and colours on Wikipedia’s History of heraldy.

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Demystifying Coats of Arms and Family Crests

Views: 2137

Tags: Ancestry, Genealogy, Living History, Military History

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 30, 2015 at 6:39am

Heraldy ; now threes a word I was not familiar - thanks for that Dee Notaro 

Comment by alejandro ocampo on January 30, 2015 at 10:03am

I find that some of the "Galway Tribes" families coat of arms, like the Burkes, Blakes, Brownes, are missing, while the Lynche's is present in the panoply of irish scutcheons. Why is that? Our Lynches were more Blake than anything else.


Comment by alejandro ocampo on January 30, 2015 at 10:08am

By the way, in Castille and the rest of Spain and Portugal, both the condition of "hidalguia" and the arms were conferred to a lineage, even if the arms could vary with the individuals or the generations. They were not, of course, the possesion of a surname.


Comment by Ron Redmond on January 30, 2015 at 3:08pm

One of the coolest things in Disney was seeing the Redmond crest in Cinderella's castle. Apparently Dorothea Redmond was an artist who worked with Walt himself. Great article, thank you!

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 31, 2015 at 7:00am

Your claim to fame Ron !

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 31, 2015 at 7:05am

Alejandro-  When I was doing my research for my Book - That's Just how It Was- I found some  'Brefon O' Rourke's who ruled large swaves of Leicester and other counties in Ireland -way back in time -. Have you evr heard of this clan ?? 

I am interested because the book is about my Granny O' Rourke !!

Comment by ed o'toole on January 31, 2015 at 7:26am

Where's O'Donnell?

Were they too inferior to merit a coat of arms?


Comment by Dee Notaro on January 31, 2015 at 7:59am

"O"  really is "of". You will notice that the chart is from an Irish store and perhaps they just do not have or did not put on chart. The Donnell Clan and/or any other - just Google 

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on January 31, 2015 at 8:38am

"Ó" means "from" in the Irish language.  It's an indication that a person is the grandson of (or many times great grandson of) the original bearer of the name many centuries ago.

Comment by alejandro ocampo on January 31, 2015 at 9:17am

No, sorry Mary. There are many irish descendants here in Argentina. Some came from Spain as colonial officials after being defeated  by Cromwell and taking refuge there and some fleeing the conditions in mid 19th century. There are O'Rourkes, O'Farrells, Murphys, O'Brians, O'Gormans, O'Donells, Cavanaghs etc etc. Actually the oldest Irish publication outsite Ireland is "The Southern Cross" founded by father Fahey 140 years ago. The might have more information. I have only a connection to the Lynches of Lydycan through the Guevaras of the Che. We, as a people, have the utmost sympathy for the Irish. They flourished here.

I am sometimes tempted to spell my surname O'Campo! :-)


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