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Adding Meaning to Your Family’s Coat of Arms

coat of arms creator

Without symbolism, a coat of arms would lose all of its meaning and families would feel very little attachment to them. At Fine Legacy, while working with a family to create a coat of arms, we delve into the heraldic symbols and their meanings; not only because of their importance, but because its one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. Taking a back seat only to the shield, the symbols used in the crest, shield or anywhere throughout the coat of arms, create the achievements and characteristics that personify the family. Though your coat of arms symbols can be anything you choose, they are generally picked because of their significance to a family’s history. Finding out more about your lineage before commissioning a family crest or coat of arms is recommended or we can help you find those that speak to you. Because heraldic symbols are vast in number, we will aim to approach them in a series of blogs that list them alphabetically.

Popular Heraldic Symbols include:

A

Acorn – Representing immortality, perseverance or independence

Anchor – Symbol of religious faith, salvation and hope

Angel – Bearer of good news, glory and honor. An angel should always be shown in full view, wings extended and upright.

Ant –  Representative of a strong, wise worker.

Antelope – Symbolic of harmony, peace and political wisdom. Less often used to represent purity or speed.

Anvil – A symbol of honor. Also used as an emblem of a smith.

Antlers – Strength and fortitude.

Apple – Symbolic of happiness, peace and generosity.

Arm – A naked arm represents hard work and industriousness; an armored arm is representative of one who has served as a leader.

Arrow – Symbolic of military experience or readiness to defend

B

Barrel – Shows an attachment to the beer or wine industry and hospitality

Bay Leaves (Laurel) – Usually used to represent peace and stillness, it can also be symbolic of victory over a long struggle.

Bear – Representing strength, cunning and bravery.

Bee – used as a sign of industry, creativity, wealth or, in some ancient cultures, a symbol of royalty

Bezant – Also referred to as roundles, bezants are used to show justice, wealth or virtue

Bird – Birds are meant to provide peace and affection for the family

Boar – Most often used as a symbol of courage, the boar also represents hospitality for some

Book – An open book represents manifestation. A closed book represents counsel. Both are symbolic of learning and knowledge

Bull – Shows bravery or generosity. A bull calf that represents the characteristics of patience, humility and sacrifice.

Follow our blog series in the coming weeks and months to discover more coat of arms symbols and their meanings. If you are seeking to have a coat of arms commissioned for your family, we would love to help. Contact us by filling out our online form and get started today.

 

 

The Elements of an Achievement of Arms

The various parts that make up what is termed an “achievement of arms” relate back to the adornments that made up the armor and identification of a medieval knight and each plays a significant role.

Let’s discuss each of these elements in turn.

  1. The Crest. Like the crest of a bird, such as a cardinal, cockatoo, or peacock, the crest in an achievement of arms sits atop the helmet, and it serves to help identify the bearer. In medieval tournaments, it was a carved wooden or leather figure attached to the top of the helmet. These are often distinct to the individual, but may also be inherited down family lines.

  2. The Torse, or Wreath. The torse sometimes called a wreath, originally consisted of two strands of silk or other cloth and served a double purpose: it hid the attachment of the crest to the top of the helmet, and it also helped to hold the Mantling (see below) to the helmet. Most commonly, the torse is made up of the two main tinctures or colors of the shield; in our example here, gold and red (the lighter color normally comes first, then alternates with the darker color, for a total of three twists of each).

  3. The Helmet. This is a representation of the helmets worn by knights in battle and the tournament. It serves as the base on which the crest, torse, and mantling are attached. In many countries today, the type of helmet (a closed or jousting helm, as in our example here, or a barred helm) and its orientation (whether facing left or facing towards the viewer) serve to help identify the rank of the owner, whether a gentleman, knight, or noble.

  4. The Mantling. The mantling today is a representation of the cloth which was draped around the helmet and served to help shade it from the sun. Nowadays, it can take many forms, looking like leaves or foliage, and may frame the shield in various ways. It, too, is usually made up of the two main tinctures of the shield, with the darker one on the outside and the lighter one on the inside; in our example here, it is red doubled (or lined) gold.

  5. The Shield. The shield bears the coat of arms on its face and is the central element of an achievement. Indeed, the shield may appear by itself without any other external accoutrements (crest, helm, etc.). In the Middle Ages, following the introduction of the closed helmet, it helped serve to identify the bearer, since his face was no longer visible. The shield may take on different shapes, depending on the time and place, but is most commonly seen as this rounded triangular “heater” shape.

  6. The Motto. Though our image of the knight does not have a motto on it, they derive from the war cries used by medieval knights to rally their men around them or to inspire greater effort in battle. Today they serve a similar inspirational purpose, offering a guiding principle. The one in our example here, Mediis tranquillus in undis, means “Calm (or tranquil) amid the waves.” Mottoes are often found in Latin, but can be in any language, and are normally seen on a scroll beneath the shield. Like the crest, they may be changed from time to time, or pass unchanged down through the generations.

Heraldry Is All Around Us

Posted by Greg Flores on July 14, 2016
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Heraldry is Everywhere!

I’ve said any number of times in the past that, “You can find heraldry everywhere!” Indeed, sometimes the abundance of heraldry — even here in the United States, which does not have a very strong heraldic tradition — reminds me a little of the lyrics to the old song by Australian pop singer John Paul Young:

“Love is in the air
Everywhere I look around”

In this case, though, it is heraldry, coats of arms, that is “everywhere I look around.” And I have every reason to believe that the same is true for where you live, too.

Imagine You Are Taking A Drive

Say you are driving down the street in your home town, and you see a Cadillac. Now, take a close look at the Cadillac logo on its trunk. Do you know what that symbol within the wreath is? It is a simplified version of the coat of arms of the person for whom the Cadillac corporation was named: the founder of Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit in 1701, on the site of what is now the City of Detroit, Michigan, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac.

Coat of arms in Cadillac logo

So keep driving, and keep looking. The coat of arms logo of England Transportation Company can be seen traveling the highways all around the country, their trucks emblazoned with their blue shield and three gold lions. While waiting at a railroad crossing for a freight train to pass, you may see the coat of arms-like logo of the United Pacific Railroad Company.

Figure 6
Union Pacific

Heraldry Symbols In Plain Sight

Many present and former servicemen and women proudly display their unit insignia – often in the form of a coat of arms – on their vehicles.

Marines
Marines Unit Insignia

Are you passing an Episcopal church anywhere along your route? Many of them will have a sign, some larger, some smaller, that has the coat of arms of the Episcopal church on it.

Episcopal Church

The website Scottish History Online explains the symbolism of the various elements of the arms: “The red cross on white is for the Church of England, of which the Episcopal Church is the American representative, the white cross-crosslets represent the nine original dioceses and the blue canton with the crosses in saltire is a reminder of the Episcopal Church of Scotland from whom the first American bishop Samuel Seabury received his consecration as bishop.”

Coats of Arms in Logos

Many schools, from universities all the way down to preschools, use a coat of arms for their logos. Here are only a couple of examples of schools using heraldry to brand themselves from near where I live, and used on flags, bumper stickers, and car decals.

St Mark's School of Texas
Providence Christian School
Figure 7

Even just sitting at home watching television you can see heraldry in use. Some of the most well-known examples are the National Football League, whose logo is based on the arms of the United States, and the National Hockey League. Individual sports teams, too, may use arms or logos that look like a coat of arms.

Coats of Arms in the National Football League
Coats of Arms in the National Football League

You can even find heraldry in your wallet or pocketbook. Look at the back of a $1 bill and you will find the arms of the United States there, the shield on the breast of the eagle.

In fact, the dollar bill has two different coats of arms on it. The front of each dollar bill has the coat of arms of the United States Treasury engraved upon it. Indeed, the Treasury arms appear on the face of every piece of paper money printed and distributed by the United States Mint.

Dollar Bill
U.S. Dollar Bill (front and back)

So be aware as you go through your daily routine. You may be surprised to find all of the different places you can see heraldry “everywhere [you] look around.”

Contrary to what some people will tell you, there is no such thing as a coat of arms for a family name, ever, period.

You may be thinking: “You guys are daft! Of course, there is a coat of arms for my family. I found it on the Internet!”

The truth is that a coat of arms belongs to a particular family and not to all of the families who happen to share the same last name. It’s for this reason that you may have seen several different versions with your same surname.

Put another way, your car belongs to you and not to everyone with your same last name. It’s yours, you paid money for it, you have documents to prove it and you get to choose who can drive it.

It’s the same with your coat of arms. It’s yours, you invested in the research or commission, you have documents and you get to choose who can bear it.

Coat of Arms is NOT on the Internet

If anyone tells you something else, run away!

Internet Coat of Arms – Buyer Beware

Unfortunately, there are lots of bogus sites on the Internet that will let you do a search of your last name with the idea of finding a coat of arms. As mentioned above, that’s just not how authentic, serious, heraldry works… please read on.

From one of these sites:

“Note: 1) The specific individual to whom the original arms was granted normally is generally unknown to us, as this is rarely on record in our source books. 2) Coats of arms are sometimes inaccurately called family crests or code of arms. We sometimes use these terms interchangeable to better serve our customers. 3) Our surname history complements a genealogical search – we do not provide a genealogy of a specific family.”

— “The specific individual… is generally unknown to us.”
This is critical in determining who has the right to bear a specific coat of arms.

— “this is rarely on record in our source books”
What sources are they using?

— “Our surname history complements a genealogical search”
How can a history for someone that happens to have your same last name be complementary in any way to your specific family history?

In Europe, countries frown on the unauthorized use of a coat of arms. In Scotland for example, it’s not only considered dishonorable, it is actually illegal under the law.

These sites often offer to slap these images on all kinds of things. If you want to buy a coffee mug with some family’s coat of arms on it, they will be happy to help you.

Carry this shield if you want to live

So how did coat of arms start anyway?

Coats of arms started around the beginning of the Crusades in the 11th Century and they became an absolute necessity.

In modern terms, imagine going to a costume party where everyone has their faces covered so you can’t tell who’s who. Now imagine that some of the people at the party are trying to kill you! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go to that kind of party.

The Crusades were definitely not a party, but men were going into battle in full armor with their helmets closed and they needed a way to identify their friends from their enemies.

Fine Legacy - Knight

Since the shield had the largest most visible area, it was a natural choice for demonstrating your alliance and who you were personally. Soldiers would take their given country shield and add things such as their craft, hometown, and their personal beliefs. It is believed that the shield became a very personal expressions for many crusaders. Read more about coat of arms history and origins.

Seal the Deal

Fast forward… a few centuries later to the 1400s, the middle class started to commission coats of arms for their own personal uses.

Since very few people could read or write, these newly created coats of arms were used as signatures for “sealing the deal” relating to land ownership, livestock transfer, home purchase, and other transactions.

Fine Legacy - Coat of Arms Seal

Since these people could afford to buy and sell property at this time, it stands to reason that the person who commissioned a coat of arms was pretty wealthy. In fact, it was an absolute necessity to have money because commissioning a coat of arms was very expensive – about as much as buying a home at the time!

These new coats of arms also became status symbols for the families and each one was completely unique to a person and a particular family.

In essence, a coat of arms is a personal signature and no one but you should be using your signature, right!? If someone did, you’d probably be upset.

Two Paths to an Authentic Coat of Arms

Know thy family – Family History Research

It’s important to know that an “old” coat of arms is inherited directly from your ancestors and is passed down like any other family heirloom from person to person until it ends up with you and your family in the present day. We conduct extensive archive-based genealogical research that typically takes from three to five years and many, many hundreds of hours to complete.

In our experience, finding a coat of arms in your family history is very rare and has only happened 0.5% of the time with our clients. This is over 40+ years and more than 50,000 extensive family history projects.

This is all about Family History and NOT a coat of arms.

Creation is the Key – Commission a New Coat of Arms

If you are interested in having an authentic coat of arms for you and your future generations, the best way is to create a new one. Our process is based on the same principles going back to the time of the Crusades.

Our team of experts will walk with you through the process of creation which involves many hours of research, experience, iteration and expertise that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Coat of Arms Library

After the three to six month commission journey is complete, you will have a fully documented authentic coat of arms that you and your future generations can bear with absolute confidence. Your coat of arms will stand as a symbol for your family over many hundreds of years.

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