I thought I’d look at the world of heraldry this week and probably another week as well. This is something many genealogists and historians will have come across, but what does it actually mean.
Well to consider the subject fully would be a huge undertaking so I thought I’d look at the basics.
First of all what is heraldry? Well in basic terms it is the images on a shield or a coat of arms used to identify an individual.
Anyone can apply to the college of arms to have their heraldry registered and it can in include symbols which are important to you.
Right I’ll start with shield.
These are the main backgrounds or ordinaries that are found on shields (please excuse my bad drawing skills and spelling it should read saltire not saltaire, that’s a place in Bradford).
These can be coloured with the colours of heraldry which are gold/yellow for generosity, silver/white for peace, black for grief, blue for truth and loyalty, green for hope and loyalty of the heart and red indicates a warrior.
Now you can just leave your shield at that, but usually symbols are placed on top of the ordinaries.
But what do the ordinaries mean. Well it seems most of them have a meaning.
The chief denotes that the bearer has authority and domination over others.
The saltire indicates that the holder of the shield has resolve.
The cross derives from the crusades and may be used to show the bearers Christian faith.
The fess shows that the holder is a man of honour.
The pale shows the bearer has military strength.
The chevron denoted the holder’s faithfulness to the crown.
The bend denoted defence and protection and the bend sinister may have denoted the holder held defence and protection in high esteem but was illegitimate. Why was that important?
The pall denoted a link to the clergy.
The others of pile, checky and quarter were more of a decoration thing.
Probably on of the most famous shields belonged to King Richard the Lionheart of England. His shield was believed to be a white background with a red cross i.e. the St Georges cross with the 3 lions (except there not lions there leopards as that’s what they were called when they were first used by Richard 1) denoting Richards rule over England, Normandy and Aquitaine.
Some of the more common symbols are lions/leopards for courage, dragons for valour and protection, horses for readiness to support King and country, the unicorn for courage virtue and strength and bears for strength. Patterns are also used such as the fleur-de-lis which indicates the English Kings claim to throne of France.
If you consider the Queen’s Royal Standard it shows the harp of Ireland, the rampant (standing up growling) lion of Scotland and the 3 lions of England. So basically you can design your own branding so when you were on the battlefield you could be recognised which if you think about it is silly as people know who you are, so they could make a beeline for you on the battlefield if they didn’t like you.
So who could have a shield like this well it was only usually the Monarch, the nobility and the knights. But their servants would wear the design on their clothes so they could be recognised as belonging to their master. It would also be worn as a badge of honour so they could say look at me I work for ……. And you don’t.
So although shield design these days is seen as mainly a medieval thing it was in fact the branding of its day. The shield was the nobel or knights logo.
I’ll look at heraldry again soon and focus on the coats of arms of the nobility and also towns and cities.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!