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Designing a Fun Family Coat of Arms
Armorial bearings, or coats of arms, take us back to the glamour of the middle ages. In days of old, knights displayed heraldic devices on their horses' caparisons, their servants' liveries, and on their banners and shields. As war medals are awarded today, so coats' of arms and other heraldic devices could be awarded to knights for their service in battle. But the primary role of coats' of arms was identification in battle – the bright, vibrant colors and symbols identified the knight to his men, and his flying banner was a rallying point for them.
Heraldry refers to the study of coats of arms, and takes its name from the Heralds, who were the special ambassadors and messengers of feudal times. They were employed by all great lords, and by the king. Because Heralds traveled freely around the country, they were also the armorial officials. They granted armorial bearings. At tournaments, it was the Heralds' job to check that no knight appeared in the tournament lists displaying the heraldic devices of another. In battle, it was the Heralds' job, on both sides, to identify the living and the dead, and to declare the winner.
Many families today seek a connection with their ancestors through their coat of arms. However, obtaining an official right to display a true coat of arms – i.e. an armorial bearing that was granted to your ancestor – can be a long and tedious process. And for many people, they may not even have an ancestor who was granted an official coat of arms in the first place.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun designing your own coat of arms. Of course, it will never be recognized by any government or College of Heralds (the folks charged with keeping track of official armorial bearings), but it can be a fun family project nonetheless.
If you have an artistic bent, design your own coat of arms using art from one of the dozens of heraldic clipart libraries online. To make your fun family coat of arms look authentic, you'll need two basic components: the field, and the charges (also known collectively as “the shield”)
Over time, the coat of arms has come to simply mean the shield we so often think of when imagining a classic coat of arms. The color that the shield is painted is called "the field.” Any item which was painted onto the field of the shield was called "the charge.” Therefore, if a shield has a lion painted on it, it's said to be "charged with a lion.”
Common charges on shields included animals, mythical beasts, birds, plants, flowers, and inanimate objects. Charge your own coat of arms with any symbol which has meaning for you. The Knebworth House site at http://www.knebworthhouse.com/schools/coatofarms.htm has an excellent brief guide to designing a coat of arms, and even provides an outline of a coat of arms for you to print out.
More Resources for Designing Your Own Fun Coat of Arms
* The Free Heraldry Clipart site: http://www.heraldicclipart.com/catalog/index1.html
* Need complete instructions for designing a “do it yourself” coat of arms?
A book from Dover Publications, “Design Your Own Coat of Arms: An Introduction to Heraldry” gives you all the information you need.
Don’t feel like making a coat of arms from scratch? These sites offer to put a coat of arms based on your last name on a wide variety of products. (Note to serious genealogy researchers: These sites should be consulted and used for entertainment only. They shouldn’t be deemed to accurately contain a coat of arms to which you may have a legitimate claim.)
* Armorial Gold Heraldry Art: http://www.heraldryclipart.com
* Coats of Arms: http://www.historicalnames.com
* Coat of Arms store: http://shop.store.yahoo.com/4crests
* House of Names: http://www.houseofnames.com
This article was posted on September 27, 2005