Medieval Heraldry

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Definition

Heraldry, which is the use of inherited coats of arms and other symbols to show personal identity and family lineage, began on the mid-12th century CE battlefield as an easy means to identify medieval royalty and princes who were otherwise unrecognisable beneath their armour. By the 13th century CE, the practice had spread to nobles and knights who began to take pride in bearing the colours and arms of their family predecessors. Shields and tunics were particularly good places to display such symbols as lions, eagles, crosses, and geometric forms. As more and more knights employed coats of arms, they had to become more sophisticated to differentiate them, and the use of heraldry even spread to institutions such as universities, guilds, and towns. The practice still continues today, with many countries having official colleges of arms which assign individuals and institutions with new arms, and although the medieval knight has long since disappeared, the symbolism of heraldry remains a common sight from company logos to sports teams' badges.

More about: Medieval Heraldry

Timeline

  • c. 1244
    The oldest known roll of arms is created by Mathew Paris in England and shows 75 coats of arms.
  • 1484
    Richard III of England establishes the Royal College of Arms.
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