With the advent of the helmet visor, knights now needed a new form of identification during battle--other than their faces. So they started decorating their outer garments, flags and shields, eventually leading to heraldry, the creating of coats of arms. This is where our picture of the medieval era comes from--decorative crests, symbolism, magical beasts. Each color, pattern, and image stands for something different, allowing each knight to personalize his ID. The crests came in helpful as nobles--many who couldn't even sign their own name--made seals out of them to use as their stamp of approval.
Heraldry is still alive today; many families, churches, and schools have their own coat of arms. Today they are no longer needed but are retained for their symbolic and sentimental value.
Here's how to make your own shield (Although there is more to a coat of arms then just the shield (the supporters, helm, crest, etc.) it gets awfully confusing and detailed to do everything right, so we decided to just explain how to make the shield):
1. Start with a shield--it can be of many shapes, we'll stick with the basic one.
2. Divide it:
in half means marriage: the left when facing the shield (or Dexter) the husband's arms and the right (or Sinister) the wife's. This is called impalement.
in quarters (quartering). The First quarter (upper left), and sometimes the Fourth (bottom right) are usually that of the bearer's parents. The others are coats inherited by marriages to heiresses--who inherited it because the family had no male heirs to carry on the family name and coat.
"escutcheon of pretence"-- a small shield (or escutcheon) in the middle of the larger shield. This usually means marriage to an heiress, with her arms in the small shield. Her children will also be entitled to her arms as a quartering.
3. Show your rank in the family. Depending on which child you are, you put a different small design--called a cadency mark--in the middle of the upper part of the shield.
The head of the family's shield doesn't have any cadency marks.
Eldest child (well, it's supposed to be son, but if you're a girl, we'll let you make a coat of arms anyway):
4. Decorate: Animals and images of all sorts were used on shields (Animals are generally portrayed in profile): flowers, stars, mermaids, suns, lions, eagles, angels, unicorns, dragons, monsters of all kinds, and even partridges. They meant different things at different times to different people. You can decorate your shield with whatever you think best represents you. Colors, however, were more constant. The colors used in heraldry and their meanings are as follows:
- or (gold): noble, the sun. Originally only princes could wear it.
- argent (silver): purity, justice, childhood, hope, the moon.
- sable (black): sadness, melancholy. The lowest color--for the clergy who should avoid vanity and for widows and widowers.
- gules (red): fire, nobleness, boldness, virility. Originally only princes could wear it because it also represents cruelty and supposedly princes should be cruel to their enemies.
- azure (blue): the sky, purity, justice, goodness, sincerity
- vert (green): happiness, pleasure, youth, health
- purpure (purple): usually equated with red and its meanings
- vair: made of the skins of a kind of squirrel, bluish-gray on back and white underneath
- ermine: the principal fur, had to be imported to Western Europe; very expensive
5. Share: Explain your shield to someone: why you made it the way you did, why it represents you. Then, help them make their own!
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