I suppose in order to even begin to contemplate the history
or even origin for that matter, of Heraldry, we should go back to the Ireland or Eire as some used to and still do tend to
In ancient Ireland --- I will use the date 500 B.C.; the
Bards were also the Heralds. The more native term for it is Ollamhs, who
had colleges at Clogher, Armagh, Lismore and Tamar. The Irish clans of old held
these people in high regard, in fact they revered them and dealt them a great deal of respect as they were the keepers of
a clans history. The tellers of their victories as well as their defeats, they
knew the genealogy of their clan chiefs and so acted as Heralds. If an old Irish
bard died, unless he passed on all of his knowledge to an apprentice, a good deal would be lost as history wasn’t recorded
very well in regards to it being recorded in writing.
I should include on a quick note that the information I have
used below I have gleaned from here: http://www.livelyroots.com/blazen.htm
In many ways, a blazon of arms is likely to not be “official”
for anyone in relation to authenticity because they more than likely represented an actual place instead of a family. The legitimate coat of arms that may exist today has changed throughout the years
for a various number of reasons. Could be the marriage or a death of a person,
or even just because the person wanted to improve upon the looks of their blazon of arms.
A lot of them have absolutely no history. Only those versions of blazons
of arms that are more modern and actually copyrighted exists for families, or you could be lucky enough to find some sort
of family crest from before 1484 which is when the Crown first attempted to standardize and award crests. My source states that the British College of Arms will certify blazon of arms for the Royal Family and
certain members of the nobility that are only awarded to an individual and not their entire family.
During the 7th and 8th century armies or soldiers wore an insignia
or badge designed employer/Chieftain/Commander to avoid confusion in battle, which was often hand-to-hand in those days and
for some time after that. Some blazons of arms would become associated with certain surnames because of the fact that they
lived in the same community for generations. A lot of the times people were identified
and/or associated with an emblem they wore.
One blazon of arms discovered came from such a community discovered through the name of
Robarte Lyvely who is buried at St. Dianus’s Backchurch, London in 1543, and was in use at the marriage of Alys Lyveley
in 1540 in the same church. The surname was traced back to a community no longer in existence and may have been a small hamlet-sized
community identified only by this crest and surname. The crest was described as follows: “Argent a lion
rampant gules between three trefoils slipped vert”.
The translation for that would be: The
lion rampant is a symbol of majesty and kingship and in red denotes military fortitude; the trefoil is a three leafed plant
(shamrock) and vert is green and denotes fertility and abundance; slipped means with stem or pulled from the ground; argent
is silver or white, which denotes peace and sincerity.
It might be interesting to some, that the presence of the trefoils usually indicates Irish
origins and the lion rampant was first used by Scottish Royalty. Something like this could hint that the person who
bore it was of a mixed blood or heritage, although Scotland and Ireland in medieval times were not as “separated”
as England and Scotland were.
William I of Scotland used the symbol of a lion in 1165 – 1214 in his coat of arms
and he had become known as the “Lion”. The Scottish version of the lion has always been shown in the rampant position,
standing erect on the left hind leg with the head in profile and forelegs extended – red against a field of yellow.
We see the trefoil on English Coats of Arms from time to time, but usually in non-green
colors and in green only when an Irish ancestry is claimed. The lion rampant appears on the official Scottish national flag
in red against a yellow field today. The lion rampant is widely used in England and throughout European countries in a variety
of stylistic representations.
Interestingly, the tradition of armorial bearings seems to have very
early precedents among the Gaelic Irish. It is well known that Roman legions carried distinctive standards into battle, which
bore various symbols and totems peculiar to their units. This practice of identification by banners or standards was not unique
to the Romans, with examples found among the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Hebrews.
Medieval heraldry, it is now believed in Ireland, evolved from the civil personal marks,
or seal devices of the Flemish descendants of the Emperor Charlemagne.
The adoption of personal symbols or marks, a substitute for writings, eventually spread
to the Normans from the Flemish around the time of the Norman conquest of England but appears to date back at least as far
as the 8th century. Such devices were “of necessity, heredity,” since they were “common to families
or groups linked by blood or feudal tenure.”
It may be surprising to find much the same practice in Ireland in the early part of the
7th century. An account of the Battle of Magh Rath (County Down) clearly describes the battle standards of the
Gaelic Irish chieftains. According to Keating: “For it is there read, that the whole host was wont to be placed under
the command of one captain-in-chief, and that, under him, each division of his force obeyed its own proper captain; and besides,
that every captain of these bore upon his standard his peculiar device or ensign . . . “
The early histories of heralds and armory are roughly contemporary but separate stories.
Heralds were originally free-lancer individuals who specialized in the running and scoring of tournaments. Early 12th
and 13th century payment records lump them in with minstrels. These were migratory people, going from tournament
to tournament and had an unsavory reputation in this period.
Armory originated in the 12th century in the Anglo-Norman lands and quickly
spread over much of Europe. At that time the full face helm came into vogue making it difficult to identify armored men in
battle and in tournaments, which were free-for-all melees in this period, far different from the formalized jousts of Elizabethan
times. Great lords, and thereafter, knights, decorated their shields and surcoats with “coats of arms” using distinctive
Heralds became experts at identifying knights by their emblems since that was part of
the herald’s job as a tourney official. The next step was for heralds to start recording arms.
In 1484 Richard III gave royal heralds a charter incorporating them as the College of
Arms and granted them quarters in London. Under this system of heraldry, a coat of arms was awarded to the individual
knight, different from the Irish tradition. And for a considerable time Blazons of Arms were given and taken away for
People can go on about the history of what amounts to the family crest.
Germans claim they started “Heraldry” via the Teutonic Knights, such as “heer” (an army) and “held”
(a champion). The French required coats of arms before participation in tournaments and they have their system. And the list
goes on and on and on.
It does not matter much where one starts research on heraldry. If the research is faithfully
followed we all will end up in a place where a small group or a family who wished to be identified and associated with a community,
used a symbol, banner, or shield; an everyday sign that said who they were. These evolved into a variety of forms: kilts,
emblems, coats of arms, badges, and symbols.
One can copyright a coat of arms, we can become certified by some organization
as proper and correct; or we can be genuine researchers and dig into history to see what was used before copyrights and certifications
became substitutes for what we know is right.