“It is true that knights, doctors, and monks are considered to be at the better and best levels, for no way of life
is stricter than that of a knight if it is lived according to its original ordinance, for if a monk must wear a cowl, a
knight must wear a coat of mail, which is much harder. A monk must fight against his own flesh, but a knight must
fight against armed enemies, and though a monk may live a life of abstinence, a knight lives in continual fear of
death. Therefore, knighthood was not ordained for Christian men to encourage worldly honours and avarice, but
to strengthen righteousness and spread the true faith abroad…”

-St. Bridget of Sweden (ca.1340)

Heraldry and Coat of Arms

The word heraldry is derived from the German words heer, which means “host” or “army,” and held, which means “champion”
or “hero.” Heraldry is the system developed sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries by medieval heralds as a means
of graphically recording a noble family’s hereditary insignia and distinguishing them among other nobles. Using a language of
colors and symbols, they created these pictorial records designed by either the bearer or the one granting it, and emblazoned
(painted) them on shields. These blazons were also incorporated in tapestries, banners, flags, the surcoats worn by knights
and the trappings of their horses and even the clothing worn by the family’s herald.  

In the language employed in emblazoning every charge (symbol), tincture (color), positioning of charges, shapes etc. had its
own significance. Each detail told of a certain aspect of the bearer’s character or that of his family. Many times, charges were
granted and added as honors to the arms of knights who distinguished themselves in battle or while performing other duties.
In Spain tinctures were used to remind the bearers and to inform others (particularly heralds) of the obligations to the king the
bearer was privileged to carry. Essentially coat of arms told the history of the family. They were a sort of “visual reputation.”

Throughout Europe, careful records, called armorials, were kept by the heralds as registries of identification for every family’s
arms. This also prevented people from copying another’s arms since no two could be exactly alike. At first only kings and
princes were allowed to have coats of arms but eventually everyone of noble lineage was granted the privilege, simply by right
of noble birth. On occasion, a peasant or commoner was granted a coat of arms by his lord or even the king as reward for
some extraordinary deed or service.

During wartime and at the rise of the popularity of the tournament, the work of heralds was in high demand. Not only did a
good herald keep flawless records but he made it his business to commit to memory or his records the coat of arms of as
many different knights, lords, kings, and noble families as possible, within his own country and outside of it as well. As more
and more heralds were employed laws were instated in all of Europe, which granted them diplomatic immunity and free
passage into any country at anytime. Then, every king and military commander did well to have his own personal herald in his

Today, coats of arms are powerful historic symbols that tie, our past, present and future generations together. As the coat of
arms of your  family surname is displayed, let it serve to honor its original bearer and be a constant reminder to you, a
descendant, of the responsibility to uphold and honor your family name.               
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