Armorial achievement containing arms, crest, and motto © Lonnie Colson.
My Heraldic Achievement
Arms: Gules, on a Chevron Or three cross crosslets fitchy of the first, on a chief of the second a Bear Sable passant langued and amred of the first.
Crest: A demi-bear Sable and langued gules holding between its forepaws a sword.
Motto: legibus juraque servo. I service justice and the law
Origins of Heraldry
For millions of people today, a "Coat of Arms" has become synonymous with genealogy. Anyone who has ever typed their name into a search engine has no doubt been inundated with offers from hundreds of companies offering to share the origin of their surname and an illustrated Family Coat of Arms.
It is believed that the concept of individualized heraldic arms originated somewhere about the 11th or 12th century. During the Crusades, multi-national European armies gathered in the Holy Land. It was necessary for soldiers to be able to identify their commanders in the field. Their surcoats--textile coverings worn over their armor to protect from the heat of the sun--were emblazoned with the same devices painted on their shields. A crown-like fabric mantling similarly protected the helmet and the back of the neck.
In time it became necessary to have the assumption of arms regulated to prevent duplication. Royal heralds governed the ever-developing rules and protocol of armorial design and handled disputes over ownership of devices. In 1419, Henry V issued a proclamation forbidding anyone who had not borne arms at Agincourt would be forbidden to assume arms except through inheritance or a grant from the crown.
Outside of its original battlefield context, heraldry eventually became forever entwined in the pageantry of the jousting tourney. Competing knights were clad cap-á-pie, or head to foot, in plate armor and fully-enclosed helms. Their horses were often covered by caparisons embroidered with their arms, their shields were painted with their arms, and even their heralds wore tabards emblazoned with their arms.
Today, arms are granted by letters patent issued under Crown authority by the most senior heralds, the Kings of Arms. An individual must apply through petition to the Earl Marshal. Alternatively, all descendants in the legitimate male line of a person to whom arms were originally granted or confirmed may bear them.