Heraldry And Coats Of Arms

On this website and others you will find "Coats of Arms" shown on various genealogy and family history pages. We understand that these symbols are not "official" but we have adopted selected ones as family logos for the Sanders / Saunders, Davis, Jolly, and Crowell families.

Disclaimer Regarding Coats Of Arms [1]

"...there is no such thing as a "family coat-of-arms" or a "family crest"; even in the event that one can trace his or her lineage to a family that was granted such an honor. To use arms one must officially apply for its use only after the correct "differencing" has taken place. There may be an exception when it can be proved that the applicant is a direct male descendant of the original armiger. The mere coincidence of one's surname being the same as a person who was granted arms is no indication of family relationship, nor does it indicate any right to arms. In the United States it is no crime to display arms and related insignia if one wishes. However, it should be understood that such a display is purely decorative."



COAT OF ARMS: Or coat-armour, the general term for the escutcheon or shield of arms, but properly applicable to the Surcoat, and especially to that of a pursuivant. The armor, or coat of mail worn by medieval warriors often became hot in the sun. A long, sleeveless garment was frequently worn over it as protection. This was called a surcoat (overcoat). By the XIIIth century the surcoat had become short, and many knights wore their emblems (also called bearings, or arms) on their surcoats as well as on their shields. So grew the expression "coat of arms." The family Coat of Arms is the Family Shield. The term comes from the fact the design used to be embroidered on a tunic, hence 'Coat', this design was usually given to a knight once he became entitled to bear Arms. The design could then also be used as a uniform for the servants of the household. When the knight went to war the design was not only worn on the tunic but was also put on the shield, as it was the largest piece of equipment the knight had and as the shield was easily seen it made sense to have the design put upon it so people could see who was who at a distance on the battlefield.

CREST: (fr. cimier) A figure anciently affixed to the helmet of every commander, for his distinction in the confusion of battle, and was used before the hereditary bearing of coat armor: it is not infrequently confounded with the badge or cognizance, which is a different thing. The timbre includes the crest, helmet, wreath, etc., in short every thing which is above the shield. Crests do not appear to have been considered as in any way connected with the family arms until the fourteenth century, when Edward III conferred upon William of Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, the right to bear an eagle. The earliest representations of a crest in mediaeval times in England upon any authentic record is perhaps that on the great seal of Richard the First, on which a lion appears figured on the helmet. It does not, however, seem to be a separate attachment, but to be a part of the helmet, and also appears in old illustrations to have been attached to the head of the horse as well as to that of the rider. Ancient crests were, for the most part, the heads of men, or of birds, or of animals, or of plumes or feathers. Such inappropriate figures as rocks, clouds, and rainbows were never used for crests while heraldry was in its purity. The list of the varieties of crests found on arms at the present time would fill several pages, but it may be observed that heads and portions of men and animals are still found to be the most frequent.

Unless the contrary be expressly mentioned, a crest is always to be placed upon a wreath, and such was, in general, the most ancient practice.

The early type of crest was a plume of horsehair (like the Roman soldiers) which helped deflect any sword blow coming down on the head and to distinguish the leaders from the common soldier. Later on, different designs were used, the most popular was an arm or hand holding a sword. Not all families would have a Crest but most would have a Coat of Arms.

ESCALLOP SHELL: (fr. coquille). Bearings for those who have made long voyages, or who have had important naval commands, and gained great victories; much used by pilgrims. This is the badge of a pilgrim, also a symbol of the Apostle St. James the Great, who is generally drawn in the garb of a pilgrim. As it is found in ancient heraldry as early as Henry III.'s time, it was probably suggested by the eastern pilgrimages. It is borne in various ways, often surmounting an ordinary or other charge, especially a cross, chief, or bordure, etc. It is clear that the old French term coquille (from which we derive out modern cockle shell), is the same, though heralds pretend that when this is used the shell should have the edge upwards. The shell is always represented with the outside of the valve towards the spectator; but in French arms the interior is sometimes shown, and then the term vannet is used.

ESCROLL or SCROLL: A long strip of parchment bearing the motto. It is for the most part placed below the arms, but sometimes, especially in Scotland, above the crest. Scrolls are occasionally found in both these positions.

FESSE: Sometimes spelled fess, (fr. fasce): (a band across the centre of the shield) ~ signifies a Military Belt or Girdle of Honour. One of the ordinaries, and though not found so frequently perhaps as the bend, it is used as much as the chevron, and if its kindred charge (for this is not allowed to be a diminutive), the bar is taken into account more so. It is the most natural form to be produced in the construction of a shield, though fanciful heralds find an origin for it in the military girdle. It should occupy, according to heraldic rule, one third of the height of the escutcheon, but this proportion is almost always considerably diminished in practice. Its position is across the centre of the shield, unless it is described as enhanced, or abased.

HELMUT:The covering for protection of the head in warfare has varied in form from the earliest ages onwards, but an account of the various shapes belongs to the history of armour. In heraldry the helmet assumed an important place as an appendage to the shield, for on this was fixed the crest. Originally there seems to have been no special distinction as regards the forms of the helmet; they simply followed the customary shape of the period, and were drawn sideways; but in Elizabeth's reign it would appear that certain kinds of helmets were assigned to different degrees of nobility.

I. The sovereign's was to be of burnished gold, affronty, i.e. full-faced, with six bars, or grilles, and lined with crimson.

II. The helmets of dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons, were to be composed of silver or polished steel, with five gold bars, and lined with crimson. According to some authorities they should be placed neither affronty nor in profile, but between those positions; but there seem to be conflicting directions, and the practice varied.

III. Baronets' and knights' helmet were to be affronty and open, but supplied with a visor. They are supposed to be formed of steel ornamented with gilding, and usually lined with crimson.

IV. The helmets of esquires and private gentlemen were to be placed in profile, with the visor or beaver closed; to be of steel, but enriched with gold. These are drawn after various patterns however, the only point being that the visor should be closed, whence they are termed close helmets. The French timbre includes the helmet and all that belongs to it. For the appurtenances it is supposed we are indebted to the tournaments, and they consist of the crest, the wreath, the supporters, the mantle, ribbons or feathers, and the scroll.

It should be added that helmets are seldom, if ever, found over the shields of bishops (except over that of the Bishop of Durham, to represent his temporal dignity), the mitre taking its place; or over that of women, except in the case of a sovereign. More than one helmet may be placed over the same shield, but it is rare. Helmets, however, are also occasionally borne as charges, and generally the esquire's or close helmet is intended. In blazoning, however, there is frequently a reference to the visor(fr. viziere, or garde vizure), or beaver(old fr. beauvoir); the modern fr. mezail is also used. When this is up it is supposed to be a knight's helmet, when down an esquire's. The portion which rests upon the shoulders, and protects the neck, is termed the gorged. The helmet has sometimes plumes of feathers(q.v.).

MANTLE:(Mantling, or Cappeline, fr. Lambrequin) This device of the painter to give prominence to the coat of arms and crest in considered in theoretical heraldry to represent the lambrequin, or covering of the helmet, to protect it from the sun or rain. Some authorities contend it should be of the principal color and metal of the bearer's arms, but red and white have most frequently been used in England. The Royal mantling should be of gold and ermine; that of peers is often of crimson (representing crimson velvet), lined with ermine. This kind of mantle cannot be used by ladies, being inseparable from the helmet. The Robe of estate, however, may be used as a mantle(fr. manteau), is which sense it may be borne by all ranks of gentlemen, and by peeresses, and it represented as encircling the crest, if any, and the whole of the shield or lozenge with its external appendages. The mantle may be embroidered on the outside with the arms, or be powdered with heraldic objects. No man of lower rank than a knight(or perhaps than a peer) should double his mantle with ermine. The Mantling or Lambrequin also afforded an additional protection from sword attacks by deadening the blow and possibly entangling the weapon. Due to this the Mantling is usually depicted in a cut or ragged form. The Wreath was made from twisted cloths of the same colors as the Mantling. It was used to cover the place where the Crest was fixed to the Helmet.

MOTTO:Literally, "word" in Italian, this is a word or sentence upon a scroll, generally placed below the shield, but sometimes, especially in Scotland, above the crest. Many ancient mottoes were war-cries. But the generality of mottoes express a sentiment, hope, or determination. Mottoes are often borne by several successive generations, but may be changed at pleasure. The languages most used is Latin, French, and English; but in Scotland they are often in the old Lowland dialect, and in Wales, in the language of the principality. A few peers used Italian mottoes, and some recent ones are even in Oriental languages. However, there is no monopoly on the use of a particular motto, and the same motto may therefore be used by many different families. Numerous mottoes are listed and identified (and foreign ones translated) in C N Elvin, "A Handbook of Mottoes" (1860, revised edition 1971). Indexes of mottoes also appear in the Burke and Fairbairn.

PANTHER: (fr. panthère): This beast is always borne gardant, (facing forward) and generally incensed, that is to say, with flames issuing from its mouth and ears, as in the case of the dexter supporter of the Earl of Pomfret. With the panther may be grouped the lynx (fr. Loup cervier), both of which occur in several arms, the latter being found at an early date.

SABLE: Black, the term being probably derived from certain animals with black feet called Sabellinoe (mustela zibellina of Linnaeus). It is called Saturn by those who fancifully blazon by the planets, and diamond by those who use the names of jewels. Engravers represent it by numerous perpendicular and horizontal lines crossing each other.

SHIELD: (Anglo-Sax. Scyld) From the earliest times no doubt the shield borne on the arm to protect the bearer in battle was ornamented with various devices, one object of which was that the bearer should be recognized by his friends in the midst of the fight; and to the devices on these shields there can be no question that armorial bearing chiefly owe their origin. The fact that the devices were afterwards portrayed on the mantles and on the surcoats, on the trappings of the horses, or on flags and pennons, does not militate against this origin, since such were later developments. The crest on the helmet, however, may perhaps be considered in theory to have as early an origin as the device on the shield, but throughout the middle ages it was the device on the shield which marked the man, and afterwards his family, far more than the crest. From the much more frequent occurrence on the earlier arms of the simpler devices, such as the fesse, the bend, the chevron, etc., it may reasonably be presumed that these had their origin in the structure of the shield itself, i.e. from the bars of wood, or more probably of metal, which passed athwart the shield to strengthen it. The example so frequently referred to as an early device, namely, the escarboucle, is essentially such as a thirteenth-century armorer would adopt to strengthen woodwork, and a similar device is not infrequently found on doors of churches. It was not originally deemed a charge but merely an ornament.

Concurrently with the plain devices (which have in systematic heraldry received the name of ordinaries), devices derived from the animal and a few cases, the vegetable kingdom were adopted, and since these gave far greater variety they tended to supplant, as well as to supplement the others. The lion, as the emblem of strength and courage, was of course the favorite device amongst animals, as the eagle amongst birds, and the dolphin amongst fishes. The shield, in its practical sense, was portrayed in sculpture and in stained glass throughout the middle ages for the purpose of containing the device; and though the outline was frequently modified-particularly in later years-to harmonize with the architectural details surrounding it, the shield form, ending in a point, was nearly always retained.

The shield is, for convenience sake, partitioned into certain divisions, usually reckoned as nine in number, and called Points. Shields in more rare instances are themselves borne as armorial bearings, usually blazoned as Escutcheons.

WAVY, UNDY, or ONDY: (old fr. undé and oundé, mod. fr. ondé) One of the lines of division (as its name implies) Drawn like the waves of the sea. It is found in the earliest rolls of arms, being more frequently applied to the fesse or bar.

WREATH: (fr. tortil, also bourrelet) The wreath, technically speaking, is the twisted band composed of two strips of gold or silver lace and silk by which the crest is joined to the helmet; though some wreaths of the fifteenth century were of four tinctures. It is sometimes, but improperly, called a roll, at others a torse. It was, perhaps, copied by the crusaders from the wreathed turbans of the Saracens. The first noticed is that of Sir John de Harsich, 1384. Wreaths should always show an equal number of divisions (now restricted to six), which are usually tinctured with the principal metal and color of the arms alternately. Every Crest is understood to be placed upon a wreath, unless a chapeau or some coronet be expressly mentioned. But wreaths also sometimes occur as charges; e.g. we find a circular wreath. This is meant for the same object as the above, but viewed from a different point. Animals also are sometimes represented with wreaths on their heads.

[1] From the book by James C. Neagles “The Library of Congress: A Guide to Historical & Genealogical Resources”