A coat of arms is an heraldic visual design on an escutcheon (i.e.,
shield), surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms
the central element of the full heraldic achievement which in its
whole consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. A coat of arms
is traditionally unique to an individual person, family (except in the
United Kingdom), state, organisation or corporation.
Roll of Arms
Roll of Arms is a collection of coat of arms, and since the Middle
Age centuries it has been a reliable source of information for public
showing and tracing the membership to a noble family, and therefore
its genealogy across time.
Part of a series on
Conventional elements of coats of arms
Slogan (battle cry)
2 Traditions and usage
3 European tradition
3.1 French and British heraldry
3.2 Irish heraldry
3.3 German and Scandinavian heraldry
3.4 Other European countries
4 Asia and North Africa
5 The rest of Africa
6 North American practices
7 Ecclesiastic practice
8 Flags and banners
9 See also
12 External links
The ancient Greek hoplites used individual insignia on their
shields. The ancient Romans used similar insignia on their shields,
but these identified military units. The first evidence of medieval
coats of arms has been attributed to the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry
in which some of the combatants carry shields painted with crosses.
However, that heraldic interpretation remains controversial.
See also: List of oldest heraldry
Coats of arms came into general use by feudal lords and knights in
battle in the 12th century. By the 13th century, arms had spread
beyond their initial battlefield use to become a flag or emblem for
families in the higher social classes of Europe, inherited from one
generation to the next. Exactly who had a right to use arms, by law or
social convention, varied to some degree between countries. In the
German-speaking regions both the aristocracy and "burghers" (non-noble
free citizens) used arms, while in most of the rest of Europe they
were limited to the aristocracy. The use of arms spread to the clergy,
to towns as civic identifiers, and to royally chartered organizations
such as universities and trading companies. Flags developed from coats
of arms, and the arts of vexillology and heraldry are closely related.
The coats of arms granted to commercial companies are a major source
of the modern logo.
Despite no widespread regulation, heraldry has
remained consistent across Europe, where tradition alone has governed
the design and use of arms. Some nations, like
England and Scotland, still maintain the same heraldic authorities
which have traditionally granted and regulated arms for centuries and
continue to do so in the present day. In England, for example, the
granting of arms is and has been controlled by the College of Arms.
Unlike seals and other general emblems, heraldic "achievements" have a
formal description called a blazon, which uses vocabulary that allows
for consistency in heraldic depictions. In the present day, coats of
arms are still in use by a variety of institutions and individuals:
for example, many European cities and universities have guidelines on
how their coats of arms may be used, and protect their use as
trademarks. Many societies exist that also aid
in the design and registration of personal arms.
Traditions and usage
Lion by Floris de Merode, Baron of Leefdael during the solemn
Funeral of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria
The German Hyghalmen Roll, c. late 15th century, illustrates the
German practice of thematic repetition from the arms in the crest
In the heraldic traditions of
England and Scotland, an individual,
rather than a family, had a coat of arms. In those traditions coats of
arms are legal property transmitted from father to son; wives and
daughters could also bear arms modified to indicate their relation to
the current holder of the arms.
Undifferenced arms are used only by
one person at any given time. Other descendants of the original bearer
could bear the ancestral arms only with some difference: usually a
colour change or the addition of a distinguishing charge. One such
charge is the label, which in British usage (outside the Royal Family)
is now always the mark of an heir apparent or (in Scotland) an heir
presumptive. Because of their importance in identification,
particularly in seals on legal documents, the use of arms was strictly
regulated; few countries continue in this today. This has been carried
out by heralds and the study of coats of arms is therefore called
"heraldry". In time, the use of arms spread from military entities to
educational institutes, and other establishments.
In his book, The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages,
Valentin Groebner argues that the images composed on coats of arms are
in many cases designed to convey a feeling of power and strength,
often in military terms. The author Helen Stuart argues that some
coats of arms were a form of corporate logo. Museums on medieval
armoury also point out that as emblems they may be viewed as
precursors to the corporate logos of modern society, used for group
When knights were encased in armour that no means of identifying them
was left, the practice was introduced of painting their insignia of
honour on their shield as an easy method of distinguishing them.
Originally these were granted only to individuals, but were afterward
made hereditary in
England by King Richard I, during his crusade to
the Holy Land.
French and British heraldry
Arms of the Duke of Richmond c.1780
Coat of arms
Coat of arms of Sir Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, KG
Main articles: French heraldry, English heraldry, Scottish heraldry,
and Welsh heraldry
The French system of heraldry greatly influenced the British and
Western European systems. Much of the terminology and classifications
are taken from it. However, with the fall of the French monarchy (and
later Empire) there is not currently a Fons Honorum (power to dispense
and control honors) to strictly enforce heraldic law. The French
Republics that followed have either merely affirmed pre-existing
titles and honors or vigorously opposed noble privilege. Coats of arms
are considered an intellectual property of a family or municipal body.
Assumed arms (arms invented and used by the holder rather than granted
by an authority) are considered valid unless they can be proved in
court to copy that of an earlier holder.
In Scotland, the
Lord Lyon King of Arms
Lord Lyon King of Arms has criminal jurisdiction to
control the use of arms. In England,
Northern Ireland and
use of arms is a matter of civil law and regulated by the College of
Arms and the High Court of Chivalry.
In reference to a dispute over the exercise of authority over the
Officers of Arms in England, Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey,
Lord Privy Seal, declared on 16 June 1673 that the powers of the Earl
Marshal were "to order, judge, and determine all matters touching
arms, ensigns of nobility, honour, and chivalry; to make laws,
ordinances, and statutes for the good government of the Officers of
Arms; to nominate Officers to fill vacancies in the College of Arms;
to punish and correct Officers of Arms for misbehaviour in the
execution of their places". It was further declared that no patents of
arms or any ensigns of nobility should be granted and no augmentation,
alteration, or addition should be made to arms without the consent of
the Earl Marshal.
Main article: Irish heraldry
Ireland the usage and granting of coats of arms was strictly
regulated by the
Ulster King of Arms
Ulster King of Arms from the office's creation in
1552. After Irish independence in 1922 the office was still
functioning and working out of Dublin Castle. The last Ulster King of
Arms was Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson [Ulster King of Arms
1908–1940], who held it until his death in 1940. At the Irish
government's request, no new
King of Arms
King of Arms was appointed. Thomas Ulick
Sadleir, the Deputy Ulster King of Arms, then became the Acting Ulster
King of Arms. He served until the office was merged with that of
Norroy King of Arms
Norroy King of Arms in 1943 and stayed on until 1944 to clear up the
King of Arms
King of Arms was created by
King Richard II
King Richard II in 1392
and discontinued by
King Henry VII
King Henry VII in 1487. It didn't grant many coats
of arms – the few it did grant were annulled by the other Kings of
Arms because they encroached upon their jurisdictions. Its purpose was
supposedly to marshal an expedition to fully conquer
never materialized. Since 1 April 1943 the authority has been split
between the Republic of
Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Heraldry in the
Ireland is regulated by the Government of Ireland, by the
Genealogical Office through the Office of the Chief
Herald of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is regulated by the
British Government by
College of Arms
College of Arms through the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms.
German and Scandinavian heraldry
Coat of arms
Coat of arms of the city of Vaasa, showing the shield with the Royal
House of Wasa emblem, a crown and a Cross of Liberty pendant.
Main articles: German heraldry, Norwegian heraldry, Swedish heraldry,
Danish heraldry, Finnish heraldry, and Icelandic heraldry
The heraldic tradition and style of modern and historic Germany and
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire — including national and civic arms, noble and
burgher arms, ecclesiastical heraldry, heraldic displays, and heraldic
descriptions — stand in contrast to Gallo-British, Latin and Eastern
heraldry, and strongly influenced the styles and customs of heraldry
in the Nordic countries, which developed comparatively late.
In the Nordic countries, provinces, regions, cities, and
municipalities have coats of arms. These are posted at the borders and
on buildings containing official offices, as well as used in official
documents and on the uniforms of municipal officers. Arms may also be
used on souvenirs or other effects, given that an application has been
granted by the municipal council.
Other European countries
Coat of Arms of
Liptov County in Slovakia.
Main articles: Spanish heraldry, Russian heraldry, Romanian heraldry,
Portuguese heraldry, Hungarian heraldry, Polish heraldry, French
heraldry, and Dutch heraldry
At a national level, "coats of arms" were generally retained by
European states with constitutional continuity of more than a few
centuries, including constitutional monarchies like Denmark as well as
old republics like San Marino and Switzerland.
Italy the use of coats of arms was only loosely regulated by the
states existing before the unification of 1861. Since the Consulta
Araldica, the college of arms of the Kingdom of Italy, was abolished
in 1948, personal coats of arms and titles of nobility, though not
outlawed, are not recognised.
Coats of arms in
Spain were generally left up to the owner themselves,
but the design was based on military service and the heritage of their
grandparents. In France, the coat of arms is based on the Fleur-de-lys
and the Rule of Tinctures used in
English heraldry as well.
Among the states ruled by communist regimes, emblems resembling the
Soviet design were adopted in all the
Warsaw Pact states except
Czechoslovakia and Poland. Since 1989, some of the ex-Communist
states, as Romania or Russia have reused their original pre-communist
heraldry, often with only the symbols of monarchy removed. Other
countries such as Belarus or Tajikistan have retained their communist
coats of arms or at least kept some of the old heraldry.
Asia and North Africa
See also: Mon (emblem)
Imperial Seal of Japan
Egyptian coats of arms showing common Near and Middle Eastern motifs,
namely the crescent and stars which are symbols of the region's
predominant religion, Islam, and Saladin's eagle.
Japanese emblems, called kamon (often abbreviated "mon"), are family
badges which often date back to the 7th century, and are used in Japan
today. The Japanese tradition is independent of the European, but many
abstract and floral elements are used.
Sometimes simple items express an origin to a specific design. An
example in recent use is the logo of
Mitsubishi corporation which
started as a shipping and maritime enterprise and whose emblem is
based on a water chestnut derived from its maritime history with a
military naval influence. The word mitsu means the number 3 and the
word hishi meaning "water chestnut" (pronounced bishi in some
combinations; see rendaku) originated from the emblem of the warrior
Tosa Clan. The battleships of the Tosa Clan had been used in the late
19th century in the
First Sino-Japanese War
First Sino-Japanese War to reach Korea and
their name was given to a modern battleship. The Tosa water chestnut
leaf mon was then drawn as a rhombus or diamond shape in the
With the formation of the modern nation states of the
Arab World in
the second half of the 20th century, European traditions of heraldry
were partially adopted for state emblems. These emblems often involve
the star and crescent symbol taken from the Ottoman flag. Another
commonly seen symbol is the eagle, which is a symbol attributed to
Saladin, and the hawk of the Qureish. These
symbols can be found on the
Coat of Arms of Egypt
Coat of Arms of Egypt and Syria.
The rest of Africa
Main article: Coats of arms and emblems of Africa
Symbols, words and supporters of a ritual significance are often
utilized in the rest of Africa. The leopard, an important royal totem
in many of the continent's tribes, is used in the coats of arms of
Benin, Malawi, Somalia, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo and, in
the form of the black panther, of Gabon.
In Kenya, the
Harambee (lit. "Let us come together") is
used as a motto in the country's coat of arms. In
Lesotho, meanwhile, the word Pula (lit. "Rain") is used in like
In the coat of arms of Swaziland, a lion and an elephant serve as
supporters. They are each intended to represent the king and the queen
mother respectively, the nation's joint heads of state.
North American practices
Canadian heraldry and United States heraldry
The Great Seal of the United States, which displays as its central
design the heraldic device of the nation.
The Queen of Canada has delegated her prerogative to grant armorial
bearings to the Governor General of Canada. Canada has its own Chief
Herald Chancellor. The Canadian
Heraldic Authority is
situated at Rideau Hall. The Great Seal of the United States
uses on the obverse as its central motif an heraldic achievement
described as being the arms of the nation. The seal, and the
armorial bearings, were adopted by the
Continental Congress on 20 June
1782, and is a shield divided palewise into thirteen pieces, with a
blue chief, which is displayed upon the breast of an American bald
eagle. The crest is thirteen stars breaking through a glory and
clouds, displayed with no helm, torse, or mantling (unlike most
European precedents). Only a few of the American states have adopted a
coat of arms, which is usually designed as part of the respective
Vermont has both a state seal and a state coat of arms
that are independent of one another (though both contain a pine tree,
a cow and sheaves of grain); the seal is used to authenticate
documents, whilst the heraldic device represents the state itself.
Main article: Ecclesiastical heraldry
The coat of arms of
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II displays the papal tiara and
crossed keys of the pontifical office.
Vatican City State
Vatican City State and the
Holy See each have their own coat of
arms. As the papacy is not hereditary, its occupants display their
personal arms combined with those of their office. Some popes came
from armigerous (noble) families; others adopted coats of arms during
their career in the Church. The latter typically allude to their ideal
of life, or to specific pontifical programmes. A well-known and
widely displayed example in recent times was
Pope John Paul II's arms.
His selection of a large letter M (for the Virgin Mary) was intended
to express the message of his strong Marian devotion. Roman
Catholic dioceses are also each assigned a coat of arms, as are
basilicas or papal churches, the latter usually displaying these on
the building. These may be used in countries which otherwise do not
use heraldic devices. In countries like
Scotland with a strong
statutory heraldic authority, arms will need to be officially granted
Flags and banners
Flags are used to identify ships (where they are called ensigns),
embassies and such, and they use the same colors and designs found in
heraldry, but they are not usually considered to be heraldic. A
country may have both a national flag and a national coat of arms, and
the two may not look alike at all. For example, the flag of Scotland
(St Andrew's Cross) has a white saltire on a blue field, but the royal
Scotland has a red lion within a double tressure on a gold
Arms of assumption
Gallery of country coats of arms
List of coats of arms
Baron and feme
Siebmachers Wappenbuch (Coats of arms from Germany, Switzerland,
^ A.G. Puttock, A Dictionary of
Heraldry and Related Subjects, Exeter
1985. Blaketon Hall. ISBN 0907854 93 1. P. 40
^ Stephen Friar (ed.), A New Dictionary of Heraldry, London 1987.
Alphabooks/A&C Black. ISBN 0-906670-44-6. P. 96.
^ George H. Chase,
Shield Devices of the Greeks, Harvard Studies in
Classical Philology, Vol. 13 1902
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^ "Policy on use of the Workmark and Insignia of McGill University"
(PDF). 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2015.
Retrieved 26 August 2015.
^ Valentin Groebner, 2004, The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late
Middle Ages ISBN 978-1-890951-37-5
^ Employee Identification with the Corporate Identity International
Studies of Management and Organization, Volume 32, Number 3, 2002
^ "Group Identity Formation in the German Renaissance". 20 August
2002. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
^ Volborth, Carl-Alexander von (1981). Heraldry: Customs, Rules and
Styles. Poole, England: Blandford Press.
ISBN 0-7137-0940-5. ISBN 0-7137-0940-5 p.129.
^ Donald Calman, 1992 The Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism
Mitsubishi Mark". 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
Mitsubishi History". 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
^ "Coat of Arms (Eagle of Saladin)". Macaulay Honors College. 5 April
2011. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
^ "The History of
Heraldry in Canada". Royal
Heraldry Society of
Canada. 28 April 2004. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
^ "The Canadian
Heraldic Authority". Canadian
2015. Retrieved 2015-08-26.
^ "2004 Seal Broch" (PDF). July 2003. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
Coat of arms
Coat of arms of His Holiness Benedict XVI". 2015. Retrieved 26
^ "Vatican press office". 9 June 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
Pimbley, Arthur Francis (1908). Pimbley's dictionary of heraldry.
Pimbley. [page needed]
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descendants together with, and in principle under the control of, the
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Conventional elements of coats of arms
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coats of arms
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1 Non-traditional, rarely used traditions in italic (typically
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Coats of arms of Europe
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