There are many myths
and misconceptions surrounding heraldry, the colored emblems transmitted
from generation to generation to identify individuals, families, corporations
and communities. It has been widely believed, at one time or another,
that heraldry has its origins in classical Greece and Rome, or in the
runes of the barbarians or the Germanic/Scandinavian tribes, or in
the Byzantine or Muslim culture, where it was discovered by the crusaders.
In much of
Europe heraldry is regulated by little except custom. Arms identify
women, clergy, bourgeois communities, and in some times and places
even peasants. As Michel Pastoureau commented, armorial bearings
are like business cards -- anyone can use them, but not everyone
does. In England, on the other hand, use of armorial bearings
is restricted to the gentry and is controlled by the College of
Arms and the High Court of Chivalry.
carried messages, including declarations of war, and announced
at tournaments. As such, they were a bit like modern sports announcers
in that they needed to recognize individuals by their coats of
arms with speed and accuracy. Over the years both heraldry and
the duties of heralds became more complex and more precisely spelled
out. Achievements of arms are described in an elegant, economical
and supple language called blazon, based on twelfth-century
By the time
the Edward IV roll was created, it was common for kings and nobles
to employ the services of skilled heralds, who enjoyed considerable
prestige and recognition. The College of Arms was formally established
in 1484 by Edward IV's younger brother, Richard III, who granted
them a charter and a building in London, Coldharbour, to use for
storage of their records. Richard's successor Henry VII seized
the building and gave it to his mother; the present charter and
building site were given to the College by Queen Mary in 1555.
link: For additional information on the College of Arms,
their web site at http://www.college-of-arms.gov.uk/
J. Brault. Early Blazon: Heraldic Terminology in the Twelfth
and Thirteenth Century with Special Reference to Arthurian Literature.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
Heraldry, rev. J. P. Brooke-Little. London and New York:
Frederick Warne, 1978.
Pastoureau. (Tr. Francisca Garvie). Heraldry: An Introduction
to a Noble Tradition. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997.
Woodcock, The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford University