Authentic Coats of Arms & Treasures

Understanding The Elements Of A Coat Of Arms


If you’ve spent any amount of time researching what it takes to create a coat of arms, you might be wondering why the timelines from reputable companies such as Fine Legacy are so extensive. After all, can’t you just march down to the mall and buy a coat of arms for your last name from the cardigan-wearing guy at the kiosk? Why should you have to wait several weeks, participating in meetings, phone calls, and revisions, just to create a coat of arms with us?

There are a couple of things that might surprise you about the process of creating a coat of arms. First, the design of your coat of arms isn’t decided by your last name. While the family history associated with your surname will certainly help you make decisions about what to include in your document, a coat of arms has always and will forever be a way to identify an individual. You can draw a sense of pride or even imitate elements of the coat of arms your father used, but ultimately, your coat of arms cannot be and will not be exactly the same. (This is what the guy at the mall kiosk just doesn’t understand, because he’s not really interested in accuracy. Just making the sale.)

The second reason that creating a coat of arms is a more involved process than you might have expected is that there are a lot of elements to design! Let’s take a look at some of the basic elements of a coat of arms as well as some of the things that can be optional depending on your personal tastes.


Essential Elements Of A Coat Of Arms

  1. Shield – In medieval times, coats of arms were always painted on a knight’s shield to help identify him as well as the family for whom he was fighting at the time. Since shields are no longer a part of our modern attire, the shield is now represented in the coat of arms. The placement and colors depicted in the shield tell a story about the origin of its owner.
  2. Crest – As we detailed in a previous post about family crests and their meanings, the crest is typically located right under the motto and on top of the helm/helmet, if included. The crest is considered to be a three-dimensional symbol that marks an achievement of the owner of the coat of arms. Crests are most typically animals, religious symbols, or flora. Crests are not unique to a family or individual, which is why common symbols appear over and over throughout coat of arms history.
  3. Motto – The motto is entirely the invention of whoever commissioned the coat of arms. This means it can be any phrase or series of words that holds meaning for you or your family. The motto is always located in a banner at the very top of the coat of arms.
  4. Supporters – These are two elements–usually animals or people–that adorn either side of your chosen shield. As their name suggests, these elements provide visual support for the entire coat of arms design, and usually help tell the story of how the coat of arms came to be.

Additional Elements Of A Coat Of Arms

While the above-mentioned elements can typically be found in every coat of arms, there are other elements that only appear at the discretion of the designer or commissioner.

  1. Helm/Helmet – As you might imagine for a symbol that was created for knights, coats of arms often include a medieval helmet of some sort. The helmet style may vary with the bearer’s (or in this case, commissioner’s) rank, the century being represented, or the artist’s preference. When a helmet is included, the crest is typically placed on top of it.
  2. Wreath/Torse – This element looks a lot like ribbon or colored rope, and usually consists of the primary coat of arms color and metal. The wreath or torse serves two purposes in your coat of arms: masking the empty space between helm and crest, and holding the mantling in place.
  3. Mantle/Mantling – According to some heraldry experts, the mantle or mantling is said to represent the cloth that traditionally hung from the wreath on a knight’s armor and was used to protect the head and neck. In modern coat of arms designs, the mantling often looks more like leaves or ivy and is primarily used to add color and complexity.

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