Learning Heraldry

In European tradition, a Coat of Arms is a design that symbolises your family.  Many families already have one, or can make one by combining those of their parents.  Alternatively you can make one of your own, combining various symbols, shapes and colours.

  • Heraldry started in the 12th Century in Europe
  • A Coat of Arms is not what an Octopus wears on a cold day!  The Coat is like a “Coat of Paint” and the Arms are like “Armaments” or an “Army”.    Knights would paint the design on their shields so that, when in battle, they would not be accidentally attacked by a friend (as it’s really embarrassing to accidentally chop your friend’s head off in a battle)
  • Only a few colours would be used, because back then there were not many paints available.
  • Designs needed to be simple as you don’t have much time to react in a battle
  • Different ‘charges’ (symbols or animals on the shield) had different meaning, indicating what was important to this family and how they saw themselves.
  • Many terms are taken from French or Latin as those were the dominant languages in Europe at that time.
  • A design would be passed down from father to first son.  Other sons would sometimes make their own or join other families.  Girls would generally use their father’s one (though back then, girls did not normally become knights).  You could also make a design by using half of your father’s family design and half of your mother’s.
  • As time went on, the coat of arms became more ornate and complex and was used for many other purposes including flags.

There is information on what it can include in this document: heraldry