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The History of the Family Crest and Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms History

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When the true Family Crest Coat of Arms History begins in Western Europe nothing is more remarkable than the suddenness of its development, once the idea of hereditary armorial symbols was taken by the nobles and knights. In England many legends survive of arms borne by William the Conqueror and his companions. But nothing is more certain than that neither armorial banners nor shields of arms were borne on either side at Hastings. The famous record of the Bayeux tapestry shows shields which in some cases suggest rudely devised armorial bearings, but in no case can a shield be identified as one which is, recognized in the generations after the Conquest. So far is the idea of personal arms from the artist, that the same warrior, seen in different parts of the tapestry’s history, has his shield with differing devices. A generation later, Anna Comnena, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, describing the shields of the French knights who came to Constantinople, tells us that their polished faces were plain.

The Family's First Coat of Arm

Family Crest Coat of Arms

Of all men, kings and princes might be the first to be found bearing arms. Yet the first English sovereign who appears on his great seal with arms on his shield is Richard I. His seal of 1189 shows his shield charged with a lion ramping towards the sinister side. Since one half only is seen of the rounded face of the shield, English antiquaries have perhaps too hastily suggested that the whole bearing was two lions face to face. But the mounted figure of Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, on his seal of 1164 bears a like shield charged with a like lion, and in this case another shield on the counterseal makes it clear that this is the single lion of Flanders. Therefore we may take it that, in 1189, King Richard bore arms of a lion rampant, while, nine years later, another seal shows him with a shield of the familiar bearings which have been borne as the arms of England by each one of his successors.

That seal of Philip of Alsace is the earliest known example of the arms of the great counts of Flanders. The ancient arms of the kings of France appear even later. Louis le Jeune, on the crowning of his son Philip Augustus, ordered that the young prince should be clad in a blue dalmatic and blue shoes, sewn with a flower whose name, as “Fleur de Loys,” played upon that of his own, and possibly upon his epithet name of Florus. A seal of the same king has the device of a single lily. But the first French royal seal with the shield of the lilies is that of Louis VIII. (1223—1226). The eagle of the emperors may well be as ancient a bearing as any in Europe, seeing that Charlemagne is said, as the successor of the Caesars, to have used the eagle as his badge. The emperor Henry III. (1039—1056) has the scepter on his seal surmounted by an eagle; in the 12th century the eagle was embroidered upon the imperial gloves. At Mölsen in 1080 the emperor’s banner is said by William of Tyre to have borne the eagle, and with the beginning of regular heraldry this imperial badge would soon be displayed on a shield. The double-headed eagle is not seen on an imperial seal until after 1414, when the bird with one neck becomes the recognized army of the king of the Romans. There are, however, earlier examples of shields of arms than any of these.

Coat of Arms of Sheild's

From the beginning of the 13th century arms upon shields increase in number. Soon the most of the great houses of the west display them with pride. Leaders in the field, whether of a royal army or of a dozen spears, saw the military advantage of a custom which made shield and banner things that might be recognized in the press. Although it is probable that armorial bearings have their first place upon the shield, the charges of the shield are found displayed on the knight’s long surcoat, his "coat of arms," on his banner or pennon, on the trappers of his horse and even upon the peaks of his saddle. An attempt has been made to connect the rise of armory with the adoption of the barrel-shaped close helm; but even when wearing the earlier Norman helmet with its long nasal the knight’s face was not to be recognized.

There can be little doubt that ancient armorial bearings were chosen at will by the man who bore them, many reasons guiding his choice. Crosses in plenty were taken. Old writers have asserted that these crosses commemorate the badge of the crusaders, yet the fact that the cross was the symbol of the faith was reason enough. No symbolism can be found in such charges as bends and fesses; they are on the shield because a broad band, aslant or athwart, is a charge easily’ recognized. Medieval wisdom gave every noble and magnanimous quality to the lion, and therefore this beast is chosen by hundreds of knights as their bearing. The legends which assert that certain arms were “won in the Holy Land” or granted by ancient kings for heroic deeds in the field are for the most part worthless fancies.

Tenants or neighbors of the great feudal lords were wont to make their arms by differencing the lord’s shield or by bringing some charge of it into their own bearings.