Thursday, September 14, 2006

Heraldry - A Language All It's Own

In the Middle Ages the practice of heraldry had a very important purpose on the field of battle and in jousts. When a man was covered in armor from the top of his head to the tips of his toes, heraldry identified the knights. The art of designing, displaying, describing, and recording each coat of arms became very important when the nobility took up heraldry and the coats of arms became inherited. The coat of arms was worn by all male descendents of the House. In some countries every male descendent wore the exact same coat of arms, but in other countries the arms were changed slightly for each son, and others could tell at a glance whether the knight was the noble himself, his brother and which brother, his heir, his nephew, or his 6th son. At this time in history most of the people were illiterate, even the nobility.

We don't really understand the language of heraldry any more. Each part of a coat of arms told others something about the man who was wearing that coat of arms. The following terms and short definitions are just a sampling of the unfamiliar words dealing with heraldry.

  • Cadency - any systematic way of distinguishing members of the same family
  • Herald - an officer of arms that carries messages and proclamations
  • Tincture - colors used in the coat of arms
  • Blazon - a formal description of a coat of arms or flag
  • Lozenge - a diamond shaped charge
  • Charge - an image on a sheild
  • Ordinary - a simple geometric figure on the arms
  • Aspilogia - armory

There are many more words associated with heraldry that are unique to heraldry or are used in ways most of us have never heard before. In the United States we use the word crest to mean a coat of arms, but the crest is only part of a complete acheivement of arms. A complete acheivement of arms is another way of saying coat of arms.

I have just scratched the surface of heraldry. Many people have spent many years studying heraldry. It has a very complex set of rules. Before I started reading I didn't realize women and clergy can have coats of arms of their own. After knights no longer wore armor, the coats of arms were used in stained glass, sealing wax, needlework, and other depictions of the coat of arms.

Dale L. Edwards

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