Exploring Heraldry: Medieval Coat of Arms Basics

Exploring Heraldry: Medieval Coat of Arms Basics

Welcome to a journey through the fascinating world of medieval coat of arms! In this article, we will delve into the intricate realm of heraldry symbols, uncover the hidden meanings behind family crests, and explore the historical significance of these iconic emblems. Prepare to immerse yourself in medieval society’s rich tapestry as we decode heraldry’s language.

Medieval coats of arms served as more than just decorative symbols – they were a visual language used to represent prestige, lineage, and identity. By understanding the heraldry symbols and the family crest meanings, we can unlock insights into the lives and aspirations of those who bore them.

From lions to eagles, from crosses to fleur-de-lis, the heraldic emblems adorning these shields reflect the ideals and values of the individuals and families they represent. Intriguingly, the colors and motifs used in these symbols bear significance as well, adding layers of symbolism to the design.

History of Coat of Arms

This section will delve into the fascinating history of the coat of arms, tracing its origins back to medieval times. Coat of arms, also known as heraldry, played a significant role in medieval society, visualizing an individual, family, or institution.

The practice of heraldry symbols and the creation of coat of arms can be traced back to the 12th century when knights began to decorate their shields with distinctive designs. Initially, these designs were simple and served primarily to identify the knight on the battlefield.

However, as the importance of heraldry grew, so did the complexity of the coat of arms. The use of specific symbols, colors, and patterns within a coat of arms became a way to convey various messages and represent the values, achievements, and aspirations of the individual or family it belonged to. It also served as a way to establish social status and create a sense of identity and belonging in the complex hierarchy of medieval society.

The origins of the coat of arms can be traced back to various cultures and traditions from around the world. However, it was during the medieval period that heraldry truly flourished and became an integral part of European culture. Knights and noble families embraced heraldry as a way to distinguish themselves and their lineage, often passing on their coat of arms from generation to generation.

Throughout the centuries, heraldry continued to evolve and adapt to the changing times, incorporating new symbols and designs to reflect the shifting political and social landscapes. While the practical use of the coat of arms diminished over time, their historical significance and visual appeal have endured, making them an important part of our cultural heritage.

Today, the study of heraldry and coat of arms provides us with valuable insights into the history, traditions, and values of medieval society. It allows us to decipher the symbolism behind the intricate designs and understand the stories and aspirations embedded within them.

Heraldry Symbols and Their Meanings

In the world of medieval coat of arms, heraldry symbols play a vital role in representing the identity and lineage of families and individuals. These symbols, also known as heraldic emblems, are rich in meaning and carry centuries of historical significance. Let’s explore some of the common heraldry symbols and their associated meanings:


Symbolizing strength, courage, and royalty, lions are one of the most popular heraldic symbols. They often appear rampant, standing on their hind legs with their forelegs raised.


Representing nobility, majesty, and prowess, eagles are another prominent symbol in heraldry. They are often depicted with outspread wings and a fierce gaze, embodying power and authority.


Dragons hold a mythical and emblematic significance in heraldry. They are often depicted as majestic creatures with serpentine bodies, symbolizing protection, wisdom, and strength.


The choice of colors in heraldry is equally important and carries specific meanings. For example, red represents courage and fortitude, while blue denotes loyalty and truth. Gold signifies generosity and elevation of the mind, while silver or white symbolizes purity and innocence.


The shield itself is a crucial component of a coat of arms. Its shape and design vary, each with its specific meaning. A round shield, for instance, represents honor and virtue, while a triangular shield suggests a willingness to undertake dangerous quests.

These are just a few examples of heraldry symbols and their meanings. Each heraldic emblem tells a unique story and represents the values and history of the family or individual it represents. The intricate world of heraldry offers a fascinating glimpse into the past, where symbols carried deep significance and served as visual representations of noble lineages and personal identities.

Designing a Medieval Shield

When it comes to creating a medieval shield, there are various elements that need to be considered. Each coat of arms is unique and carries its own symbolism and significance. Let’s explore the process of designing a medieval shield and how heraldic emblems can be incorporated to create a truly remarkable piece.

Understanding the Elements

A medieval shield consists of different components that contribute to its overall design. These elements include the shield shape, the field (background), charges (symbols), and other decorative elements. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in representing the individual or family behind the coat of arms.

Incorporating Heraldic Emblems

Heraldic emblems are symbols that are incorporated into a coat of arms to represent specific qualities or attributes. These emblems can include animals, objects, or abstract shapes. Individuals can convey their family history, values, or occupation by selecting the appropriate heraldic emblems.

When designing a medieval shield, it is important to carefully choose heraldic emblems that reflect the desired message the coat of arms should convey. For example, a lion may represent bravery, while a ship can symbolize exploration or travel. A truly personalized and meaningful design can be achieved by combining these emblems with other elements, such as color and pattern.

Creating a Unique and Meaningful Design

The process of designing a medieval shield involves careful thought and consideration. It is important to find a balance between elements that accurately represent the individual or family while creating a visually appealing design. To achieve this, consulting with a heraldic artist who is well-versed in the intricacies of the coat of arms design is recommended.

When designing a medieval shield, it is crucial to understand each element’s historical and symbolic significance and how they come together to tell a story. Drawing inspiration from historical examples and incorporating personal touches can result in a shield design that is authentic and visually striking.

Designing a medieval shield is a creative process that allows individuals and families to embrace their heritage and create a unique visual representation. By carefully selecting heraldic emblems and other elements, a meaningful and personalized coat of arms can be crafted, ensuring a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Understanding Armorial Bearings

In the fascinating world of medieval coats of arms, the concept of armorial bearings plays a crucial role. Armorials, also known as heraldic emblems, are the visual representations that adorn shields, helms, crests, and supporters in a coat of arms.

Each component of an armorial bearing holds significant meaning and symbolism, contributing to the overall representation of an individual, family, or organization. Let’s explore the importance of these different elements:

1. The Shield

The shield is the central element of an armorial bearing. It serves as the canvas for displaying the various symbols and charges that represent the individual or family. The shield’s shape, colors, and patterns hold specific significance, reflecting the heritage and history of those who bear it.

2. The Helm

The helm, or helmet positioned above the shield, signifies rank and status. The type and design of the helm can vary depending on the wearer’s position in society, such as a knight, nobleman, or royalty. It further enhances the visual storytelling and provides additional context to the coat of arms.

3. The Crest

The crest is a decorative element displayed above the helm. It often takes the form of animals, plumes, or other ornate motifs. The choice of a crest can reflect personal characteristics, achievements, or the historical lineage of the individual or family.

4. The Supporters

Supporters are figures, usually animals or mythical creatures, positioned on either side of the shield. They serve to heighten the visual impact of the coat of arms and can represent allegiances, familial connections, or noble titles.

Understanding the components of armorial bearings is essential to fully grasp the layered meanings and symbolism behind medieval coats of arms. These visual representations, steeped in tradition and history, provide a glimpse into the rich tapestry of individuals and families from the past.

Symbolism in Coat of Arms

Coat of arms are not just intricate designs but a language of symbolism. Each element in a coat of arms carries specific meanings, often representing virtues, achievements, or family history. In this section, we will unravel the hidden symbolism behind various elements found in a coat of arms, shedding light on the profound messages encoded within these heraldic emblems.


The choice of colors in a coat of arms is more than just an aesthetic consideration. Each color holds symbolic significance, conveying different virtues or qualities. For example:

  • Gules (red) represents courage, strength, and magnanimity.
  • Argent (silver or white) symbolizes purity, peace, and sincerity.
  • Azure (blue) signifies loyalty, truth, and piety.


Animals commonly appear in coats of arms, often representing characteristics or associations. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Lion: Symbolizes courage, nobility, and strength.
  • Eagle: Represents power, majesty, and keen vision.
  • Dragon: Signifies wisdom, protection, and guardianship.

Other Motifs

Besides animals and colors, various other motifs can be found in coats of arms, each carrying its own symbolic meaning. These can include:

  • Cross: Embodies faith, piety, and spirituality.
  • Fleur-de-lis: Symbolizes purity, light, and French royalty.
  • Crown: Represents nobility, authority, and sovereignty.

By decoding the symbolism within a coat of arms, we gain valuable insights into the values and aspirations of the individuals or families they represent. These symbols not only serve to honor ancestral heritage but also convey messages of historical significance, uniting generations and preserving their legacies through the visual language of heraldry.

Coats of Arms in Historical Context

Coats of arms, with their heraldic emblems, hold a significant place in history, particularly during the medieval period. The use of these distinctive symbols went beyond mere decoration, playing a crucial role in shaping the social and political landscape of the time.

In medieval heraldry, bearing a coat of arms carried great historical significance. These emblems were not only a mark of noble lineage but also served to express identity and allegiances. They were visual representations of individuals’ and families’ ideals, values, and achievements.

During a time when illiteracy was widespread, coats of arms provided a visual language that transcended words. They served as powerful tools for recognition, establishing identities, and creating alliances. Whether displayed proudly on shields, banners, or personal seals, these symbols communicated the status and reputation of their bearers.

Heraldic emblems also played a crucial role in military contexts. They were prominently displayed on knights’ armor, shields, and banners, serving as a means of identifying allies and distinguishing friends from foes on the chaotic battlefield.

The use of coats of arms extended beyond the nobility. Knights, clergy, and even wealthy merchants embraced this tradition, further enriching the visual tapestry of medieval society. The widespread adoption of heraldry symbols reflected the cultural and societal importance placed on these emblems.

Furthermore, coats of arms were not static entities. They evolved over time, adapting to changes in family alliances, territorial claims, and personal achievements. This dynamic nature ensured that the symbolism within heraldic emblems remained relevant and reflective of the bearers they represented.

Historical Significance of Heraldry Symbols

Heraldic emblems carried a rich array of historical significance. Each element within a coat of arms had a specific meaning and purpose. Colors, animals, plants, and objects were carefully chosen to convey messages and represent virtues.

  • Colors played a crucial role in heraldry symbolism. For example, red typically represented bravery and courage, while blue symbolized loyalty and truth.
  • Animals were often chosen for their qualities and characteristics. A lion, for instance, represented strength and royalty, while a falcon symbolized swiftness and agility.
  • Plants and flowers were selected for their symbolism. The rose, for instance, represented love and beauty, while the oak tree symbolized strength and stability.
  • Objects such as swords, crowns, and shields further enhanced the meaning and significance of a coat of arms, signifying loyalty, authority, and protection.

Understanding the historical significance of these heraldic emblems allows us to unravel the stories and identities of the individuals and families they represented. It provides us with a fascinating glimpse into the values and aspirations of medieval society.

Modern Applications of Coat of Arms

Medieval coats of arms continue to hold a special place today, transcending their historical origins and finding new applications in various realms. Let’s explore some of the modern uses of these heraldry symbols:

  1. Heraldry of Noble Families: Many noble families proudly display their coats of arms to demonstrate their lineage and heritage. These symbols serve as a visual representation of their noble status and ancestral ties.
  2. Organizations: Coats of arms are often adopted by organizations to represent their values, mission, and identity. Whether it’s a prestigious educational institution, a professional society, or a sports team, incorporating a coat of arms can help establish a sense of tradition and elevate the organization’s visual branding.
  3. Individuals Embracing Heritage: In recent years, interest in genealogy and personal heritage has been resurgent. Many individuals are rediscovering their family roots and embracing their ancestral coat of arms to honor their heritage and connect with their past.

These modern applications of medieval coats of arms highlight heraldry symbols’ enduring allure and significance. By preserving and utilizing these historical emblems, we can continue to carry forward the stories and traditions of the past into the present day.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, the world of medieval coats of arms is a complex and fascinating one. It provides a unique glimpse into the rich tapestry of medieval society and its visual language. The history and symbolism behind these heraldic emblems offer a deeper understanding of the individuals and families they represent.

Whether used to showcase noble lineages or to embrace personal identities, coat of arms continue to captivate us with their timeless beauty and historical significance. They serve as a visual representation of heritage, values, and achievements, resonating with both the past and the present.

From the design process of creating a unique shield to the meticulous choice of symbols and colors, each aspect of a coat of arms reveals a story. Exploring heraldry is like deciphering a secret code of personal narratives and social connections that were deeply ingrained in medieval society.

As we delve into the world of medieval coats of arms, we uncover the legacy of a bygone era, discovering the intricate details that once held significant meaning for the individuals who proudly bore their emblems. Today, these symbols still inspire awe and curiosity, reminding us of the enduring allure and cultural heritage that the coat of arms represents.