what is the symbolic meaning of the helmet on a family crest

what is the symbolic meaning of the helmet on a family crest

Four examples of coat of arms

On this article:

Understanding Heraldry Legal guidelines

The Historical past of Coats of Arms

You’re reading: what is the symbolic meaning of the helmet on a family crest

What’s included in a coat of arms?

How are coat of arms handed down?

Are you able to declare a coat of arms?

Are you able to design your individual coat of arms?

Heraldry and Coat of Arms Assets

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In our supposedly classless, egalitarian society, the Aristocracy wannabes are fueling a craze for that symbolic illustration of an individual’s heritage referred to as a coat of arms, usually mistakenly known as a “household crest.” Uncommon is the household historian who doesn’t hope to be descended from an ancestor who was armigerous (that’s, in line with Webster’s, “bearing heraldic arms”). Most nevertheless, are disillusioned to seek out their ancestors weren’t truly entitled with the suitable to bear arms. Study what’s and what’s historical past on the subject of heraldry.

For starters, a key truth to bear in mind is that coats of arms usually are not and by no means have been granted to households. They’re granted to people and belong to people. Arms can, nevertheless, be inherited. Based on an informational brochure, “Heraldry for United States Residents,” revealed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG):

  • Anybody whose uninterrupted male-line immigrant ancestor was entitled to make use of a coat of arms has the suitable to make use of this similar coat of arms.
  • If the uninterrupted male-line immigrant ancestor has no such proper, then neither does the descendant.
  • Anybody who claims the suitable to arms underneath European legal guidelines should show the uninterrupted male-line descent.
  • As an exception, United States residents can get hold of a grant or affirmation of their arms—from the School of Arms in England or different acceptable nationwide heraldic authority in different international locations—by cost of required charges.

The brochure additionally warns, “Business corporations that purport to analysis and determine coats of arms for surnames or household names—and promote descriptions thereof underneath the guise of a ‘household crest’—are engaged in fraudulent and misleading advertising. The patron’s greatest protection is a correct information of the legal guidelines of heraldry.”

Whereas the legal guidelines of heraldry differ with every nation, in some elements of the world it’s truly unlawful to show a coat of arms or to apply it to stationery or a blazer breast pocket until you’re the rightful proprietor. Having the identical final identify doesn’t entitle you to make use of the arms. Right here within the US, you gained’t be thrown within the slammer in the event you’ve already purchased and proudly displayed in your lounge what you thought was your loved ones crest.

And who is aware of? You possibly can actually be descended from an ancestor who rightfully inherited a coat of arms. To seek out out, let’s journey again in time to find out how coats of arms originated, what they imply and the right way to uncover if any of your ancestors had a authentic declare to them.

The Historical past of Coats of Arms

Coats of arms developed within the twelfth century as a method to determine armored knights throughout tournaments and on the battlefield. Any preventing man owned a sword and protect, carried a banner and wore a helmet, all of which his son would someday inherit. Behind a closed helmet, it was inconceivable to inform one man from one other besides by the ornament of his protect and banner and the ornaments on the helmet. The time period “armory” pertains to the emblems, “armoury” to weapons. Warriors additionally wore a adorned “surcoat,” or cloth overlay, over their armor — therefore the time period “coat of arms.”

Over time, these emblems grew to become a method of private identification, permitting an proprietor to mark objects of worth, resembling silver, and to engrave bookplates and stationery. With their rising use and recognition, disputes arose over who may legitimately use a specific design. In 1484, Richard III established the School of Arms and assigned heralds to go to households throughout England to report every proprietor’s design. These “visitations” had been made between 1530 and 1686.

Early on, arms had been the indicators of the Aristocracy and rank, however finally virtually any man who owned land additionally had the suitable to bear arms. Thus arms grew to become a logo of the gentry, and it grew to become trendy and prestigious to descend from a line with armigerous ancestors. Every nation has its personal legal guidelines as to who may inherit the arms. Generally, the image was handed down from eldest son to eldest son in an unbroken male line. Different sons, and even daughters, may use variations of the primary emblem, including particular symbols — or cadency marks — to point beginning order, illegitimacy and adoption.

What’s included in a coat of arms?

Though we generally confer with it as a “coat of arms,” the correct time period is a “heraldic or armorial achievement.” A whole heraldic achievement is made up of a crest, wreath, mantle, helmet, protect and, though not important, a motto. There may be supporters to carry up the arms and a compartment (or floor) for the supporters to face on.


The crest is a determine or image connected to the highest of the helmet. Animals resembling lions, tigers and bears are generally used as crests, however you’ll additionally discover boars, foxes, horses, birds, bugs, reptiles and legendary animals resembling unicorns and dragons. These could stand alone or be mixed with different symbols, resembling flowers, timber, wreaths or swords.


The helmet helps the crest. Positioning of the helmet represents rank: For instance, a helmet going through ahead with the visor opened means a knight, whereas a helmet going through side-ways with the visor closed is for a gentleman.


The wreath, initially a bit of twisted silk exhibiting two colours, is on the base of the crest and was used to connect the mantle to the helmet. Usually, the wreath exhibits six twists of alternating colours of the protect.


The mantle (or lambrequin), initially a bit of material connected to the knight’s helmet to guard him from the solar’s warmth, fills out the design. It represents the material being slashed in battle.


The motto is a ribbon beneath or over the achievement, which carries a press release of truth, a hope or battle cry.


The protect is a very powerful a part of the coat of arms. It’s made up of a area (the floor or background) and the fees (the symbols on the sphere). If the achievement belongs to a woman, the sphere might be diamond-shaped (a lozenge) somewhat than a protect. The sector accommodates many various ordinaries and sub-ordinaries — geometric bands or shapes that divide the sphere, resembling crosses, chevrons and stripes. The protect can change into fairly complicated, with extra phrases than you’d care to know and keep in mind. In describing a coat of arms (referred to as blazoning), the sphere is at all times acknowledged first and the parts are described as being dexter (proper aspect of the wearer), sinister (left aspect of the wearer), chief (prime), fess (center) and base (backside).


Tinctures—the colours, valuable metals and furs on a coat of arms—are additionally represented by phrases and patterns. The 2 metals are gold (or) and silver (argent); the colours are pink (gules), blue (azure), inexperienced (vert), purple (purpure) and black (sable); the furs are ermine and vair. In black-and-white illustrations particular conventions are used to point the colours, metals and furs. The written description (blazon) may learn, “Quarterly gules and or, within the first quarter a five-point mullet argent,” which implies the protect is split into pink and gold quarters, and within the first quarter, or the higher left as you take a look at the protect, is a silver, five-pointed star.


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One other side of heraldry is the funeral achievement or hatchment. Based on Theodore Chase and Laurel Ok. Gabel in “Headstones, Hatchments and Heraldry,” in Headstone Chronicles II: Extra Eighteenth-Century New England Carvers, a hatchment is the “painted coat of arms related completely with demise, funerals, and mourning…. They’re usually set in adorned frames that depict mortality symbols resembling hourglasses, skulls or bones” towards a black background. These funeral hatchments “indicated to the viewer the gender, marital standing and sometimes the household place of the deceased” and likewise could also be discovered carved on colonial New England and Virginia tombstones. Based on Chase and Gabel, “In the US, having an heraldic tombstone with a demise date previous to 1750 is in truth typically thought-about proof of a authentic proper to bear arms.” Chase and Gabel are looking for and report all of the pre-1850 armorial tombstones in the US. For details about the challenge, go to the Affiliation for Headstone Research web site.

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

How are coat of arms handed down?

Opposite to widespread notion, coats of arms don’t go along with surnames. Take into consideration how complicated it could be if everybody in the identical household had the very same arms. As a substitute, an individual can be granted the suitable to bear a specific coat of arms, a proper that handed all the way down to his male descendants. In England and Scotland, an eldest daughter may inherit arms within the absence of male heirs; and wives and daughters may bear modified variations of the arms. A heraldic authority, resembling Britain’s School of Arms, regulates the granting of arms.

Coats of arms aren’t simply fairly photos. Their symbols can point out occupation, order of beginning, rank, ancestry and extra. Although the phrases coat of arms and household crest are sometimes used interchangeably, the previous is simply the protect and the latter is connected to the highest of the protect (flip the web page to see a breakdown of the elements in a heraldic achievement). When displaying the complete arms isn’t sensible, simply the crest could be used.

However what about all these coat of arms tchotchkes? Purchaser beware if the vendor of a heraldic trinket tells you it’s your loved ones’s. How does he know? Did he hint your lineage? As a result of coats of arms are granted to people, not households, this declare might be false. Even when the arms had been granted to somebody named Fred Smith, and also you’re a Smith, these aren’t your arms until you’ll be able to show you’re a male-line descendant of Fred. Dozens of arms could be registered to folks of the identical surname, and your job is to find which one—if any—is right in your ancestral line.

Even in the event you didn’t inherit your ancestor’s coat of arms, heraldry nonetheless can come in useful in your family tree. For it that will help you, although, it’s necessary to know the fundamentals of how heraldry works. A superb ebook to start out with is An Heraldic Alphabet by J.P. Brooke-Little, Clarenceux King of Arms (Robson Books). This dictionary of heraldic phrases might help you decipher paperwork and perceive the which means of heraldic imagery.

Are you able to declare a coat of arms?

It appears the coat of arms craze isn’t only a trendy fad. Colonial ancestors, lots of whom weren’t eldest sons and stood no probability of inheriting land or a title in Europe, adopted heraldic achievements as a standing image as soon as that they had settled and made a reputation for themselves in America, whether or not they had been entitled to arms or not. Between about 1750 and 1775, many rich colonial households employed painters specializing in heraldic arts to create a coat of arms for them. A few of these could have been legitimately registered with the School of Arms in England; others, not.

So how do you establish if one in every of your ancestors had a authentic proper to a heraldic achievement? It’s essential to show direct lineage to the individual the glory was granted to. Listed here are a number of assets you’ll be able to analysis in to see if your loved ones can declare a coat of arms.

Tip: As you analysis your loved ones historical past, it’s possible you’ll encounter a broadcast family tree in your ancestry that reproduces a coat of arms or “household crest,” however be extraordinarily cautious of those and analysis for your self the accuracy of its use.

Unusual of Arms

For arms with out a identify, lookup the coat of arms or its blazon in a ebook known as an unusual of arms (primarily, a dictionary of blazons). Crozier’s Basic Armory is on the free Web Archive, and test giant analysis and college libraries. Older books, such because the 1901 Some Feudal Coats of Arms from Heraldic Rolls, 1298-1418 by Joseph Foster, will stretch additional again in time.


Subsequent, lookup the identify in a “peerage,” or a genealogical reference to aristocracy and the Aristocracy. Burke’s Peerage is a writer based in 1826 with the information A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the UK. The publication was up to date sporadically till 1847, then yearly, and extra titles had been added for international locations around the globe. Discover Burke’s Peerage in giant libraries and seek for names on the writer’s subscription web site. Editions from 1865, 1881 and 1884 are on newurbanhabitat.com, as are different peerage books (search the cardboard catalog for peerage). Additionally strive Debrett’s Baronetage, Knightage, & Companionage 1882 edited by Robert H. Mair.

Roll of Arms

A “roll of arms” is a superb useful resource with photographs of arms. These rolls had been typically an inventory of all of the knights, and later armigerous individuals, in a given space. Different instances they had been lists of the members in a match. Wonderful heraldic rolls commemorate funerals or giant state capabilities, with heraldry as a method to present who was in attendance. One of the crucial well-known rolls is the Codex Manesse, created within the first half of the 1300s for the Manesse household. It’s a ebook of poetry and the pictures are of the poets, most of whom are proven with coats of arms. Fortunately for us, this ebook is free on-line and you’ll see its 137 magnificent photographs for your self right here. Search on-line for a household identify and “roll of arms” and search for the ebook A Roll of Arms Registered by the Committee on Heraldry of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

Heraldic Pedigrees

You’ll additionally discover ornate heraldic pedigrees, primarily for royalty. Family members would fee these to point out their significance and status. One phrase of warning: Don’t assume these heraldic pedigrees (or every other pedigree, for that matter), is one hundred pc correct. A king can be motivated to show his descent from sure historic figures to guarantee the populace he dominated by divine proper.

Tip: The British School of Arms presents fee-based analysis providers to these wishing to study their heraldic connections. Study extra right here.

Shannon Combs Bennett

Are you able to design your individual coat of arms?

You could definitely design your individual coat of arms, and there’s even web sites that will help you achieve this (see beneath). You can too have it registered with the American School of Heraldry, which recommends you comply with these pointers when designing your individual:

  • Be sure that your design is exclusive. Examine different crests to ensure you usually are not infringing on another person’s design.
  • Preserve the design easy; the thought is to have or not it’s simply acknowledged as yours and remembered.
  • If attainable, design your arms within the model of your ethnic background. It will require you to analysis that nation’s heraldic model.
  • Don’t use symbols which have specific which means in heraldry, resembling crowns, coronets and supporters.
  • Search for symbols that signify you as a person, resembling your occupation or interest.

Simply know that the US has no authorized heraldic system, so there’s nothing official about assuming arms. See right here for info.

Coat of Arms Design Web sites

Coat of Arms Generator


Inkwell Concepts Coat of Arms Design Studio


Uplink Heraldry Generator


Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

Heraldry and Coat of Arms Assets

Web sites

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The American Heraldry Society

American School of Heraldry

School of Arms

Genealogia e Heráldica Portuguesa (Portuguese Family tree and Heraldry)

Heraldicá Escudos Genealogía Apellidos Nobleza (Heraldry for Family tree The Aristocracy Surnames of Hispanic Origin)

Heraldry for Genealogists

The Heraldry Society

Heraldry in Italy

Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Research

Workplace of the Chief Herald, Nationwide Library of Eire

Royal Heraldry Society of Canada

Societas Heraldica Scandinavica (Heraldry Society of Scandinavia)

And only for enjoyable, this web site explores the actual historical past, heraldry and household timber that encourage Sport of Thrones. (Warning: accommodates spoilers.)


The Artwork of Heraldry: Origins, Symbols, and Designs by Peter Gwynn-Jones (Barnes and Noble)

“The Coats of Arms Craze” in Milton Rubincam’s Pitfalls in Genealogical Analysis (Ancestry)

A Full Information to Heraldry by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (Wordsworth Editions)

Design Your Personal Coat of Arms: An Introduction to Heraldry by Rosemary A. Chorzempra (Dover Publications)

“Headstones, Hatchments, and Heraldry, 1650-1850” in Theodore Chase and Laurel Ok. Cabel’s Headstone Chronicles II: Extra Eighteenth-Century New England Carvers and an Exploration of Headstone Heraldica (New England Historic Genealogical Society)

Heraldry: A Pictorial Archive for Artists and Designers edited by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (Dover Publications)

The Oxford Information to Heraldry by Thomas Woodcock and John Martin Robinson (Oxford College Press)

The Symbols of Heraldry Defined by Heraldic Artists Restricted

Family tree References

Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic Historical past of the Landed Gentry: Together with American Households with British Ancestry, 3 vols., by Sir John Bernard Burke (Burke’s Peerage). (Burke compiled quite a few volumes of heraldic historical past moreover these.)

Founders of Early American Households: Emigrants from Europe, 1607-1657 by Meredith B. Colket, Jr. (Basic Court docket of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America)

New England Historic and Genealogical Register. See volumes 82 (Apr. 1982); 86 (July 1932); 106 (July and October 1952); 107 (January, April, July and October 1953); 112 (July and October 1958); 122 (January, April and July 1968); 125 (July and October 1971); 133 (April 1979); 145 (October 1991); and 146 (July 1992).

Variations of this text appeared within the August 2000 (Carmack) and January/February 2018 (Combs-Bennett) problems with Household Tree Journal.

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