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Coat of arms





Coat of arms

Archibald, 5th Earl of AngusA coat of armsA coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth. (Image, left: Archibald Douglas 'Bell the Cat', 5th Earl of Angus) The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which consists of shield, supporters, crest and motto. The design is a symbol unique to an individual person, and to his family, corporation, or state. Such displays are commonly called armorial bearings, armorial devices, heraldic devices, or simply armorials or arms.

Historically, armorial bearings were first used by feudal lords and knights in the mid-12th century on battlefields as a way to identify allied from enemy soldiers. As the uses for heraldic designs expanded, other social classes who never would march in battle began to assume arms for themselves. Initially, those closest to the lords and knights adopted arms, such as persons employed as squires that would be in common contact with the armorial devices. Then priests and other ecclesiastical dignities adopted coats of arms, usually to be used as seals and other such insignia, and then towns and cities to likewise seal and authenticate documents. Eventually by the mid-13th century, peasants, commoners and burghers were adopting heraldic devices. The widespread assumption of arms led some states to regulate heraldry within their borders. However, in most of continental Europe, citizens freely adopted armorial bearings.

Despite no widespread regulation, and even with a lack in many cases of national-level regulation, heraldry has remained rather consistent across Europe, where traditions alone have governed the design and use of arms. Unlike seals and other general emblems, heraldic achievements have a formal description called a blazon, expressed in a jargon that allows for consistency in heraldic depictions.

In the 21st century, coats of arms are still in use by a variety of institutions and individuals; for example, 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, and some nations, like England and Scotland, still maintain to this day the mediæval authorities that grant and regulate arms.

Escutcheon (shield)

In heraldry, an escutcheon is a shield which forms the main or focal element in an achievement of arms. The word is used in two related senses.

Firstly, as the shield on which a coat of arms is displayed. Escutcheon shapes are derived from actual shields used by knights in combat, and thus have varied and developed by region and by era. As this shape has been regarded as a war-like device appropriate to men only, British ladies customarily bear their arms upon a lozenge, or diamond-shape, while clergymen and ladies in continental Europe bear theirs on a cartouche, or oval.



Heraldry Contents
  • Heraldry - Home
  • Crests - people
  • Crests - places
  • Crests - objects
  • Crests - organisations
  • Crests - Italy
  • Hatchments
  • Wall carvings
  • The Douglas heart
  • The Salamander
  • Seals
  • Flags and banners
  • Mottoes
  • Bookplates
  • Cigarette cards
  • Livery buttons
  • Model figures
  • Postcards
  • Stamp impressions
  • Stained glass

    The Shield of Douglas is a characteristic example of the gradual development of armorial composition. About A.D. 1290, the Seal of William, Lord Douglas, displays his Shield, No. 155, bearing—Arg., on a chief az. three mullets of the field. Next, upon the field of the Shield of William, Lord Douglas, A.D.1333, there appears, in addition, a human heart gules, as in No. 156. And, finally, the heart is ensigned with a royal crown, as in No. 157, this form appearing as early as 1387.


    Douglas arms development

    Douglas of Lochleven and othersThe Boar is an animal which, with its parts, will constantly be met with in British armory (Figs. 353-355). Theoretically there is a difference between the boar, which is the male of the domestic animal, and the wild boar, which is the untamed creature of the woods. Whilst the latter is usually blazoned as a wild boar or sanglier, the latter is just a boar; but for all practical purposes no difference whatever is made in heraldic representations of these varieties, though it may be noted that the crest of Swinton is often described as a sanglier, as invariably is also the crest of Douglas, Earl of Morton [" A sanglier sticking between the cleft of an oak-tree fructed, with a lock holding the clefts together all proper"]. The boar, like the lion, is usually described as armed and langued, but this is not necessary when the tusks are represented in their own colour and when the tongue is gules. It will, however, be very frequently found that the tusks are or. The "armed," however, does not include the hoofs, and if these are to be of any colour different from that of the animal, it must be blazoned "unguled" of such and such a tincture. Precisely the same distinction occurs in the heads of boars (Figs. 356-358) that was referred to in bears. The real difference is this, that whilst the English boar's head has the neck attached to the head and is couped or erased at the shoulders, the Scottish boar's head is separated close behind the ears. No one ever troubled to draw any distinction between the two for the purposes of blazon, because the English boars' heads were more usually drawn with the neck, and the boars' heads in Scotland were drawn couped or erased close. But the boar's head in Welsh heraldry followed the Scottish and not the English type. Matters armorial, however, are now cosmopolitan, and one can no longer ascertain that the crest of Campbell must be Scottish, or that the crest of any other family must be English; and consequently, though the terms will not be found employed officially, it is just as well to distinguish them, because armory can provide means of such distinction--the true description of an English boar's head being couped or erased "at the neck," the Scottish term being a boar's head couped or erased "close."y a boar's head will be stated to be borne erect; this is then shown with the mouth pointing upwards. A curious example of this is found in the crest of Tyrrell: "A boar's head erect argent, in the mouth a peacock's tail proper."

    Woodward mentions three very strange coats of arms in which the charge, whilst not being a boar, bears very close connection with it. He states that among the curiosities of heraldry we may place the canting arms of Ham, of Holland: "Gules, five hams proper, 2, 1, 2." The Verhammes also bear: "Or, three hams sable." These commonplace charges assume almost a poetical savour when placed beside the matter-of-fact coat of the family of Bacquere: "d'Azur, à un ecusson d'or en abîme, accompagné de trois groins de pore d'argent," and that of the Wursters of Switzerland: "Or, two sausages gules on a gridiron sable, the handle in chief."

    Crest of 5th Duke of Buccleuch 

    The coat of arms (above) of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, is made up of the following heraldic charges:


    Bend between Bend, on a, between Bordure Chief, on a Coronet, ducal, out of Crescents (2) Cross crosslets (6) Crown, imperial
    eagle displayed France and England Heart Lozenges Mullet Mullets (3) Stag trippant  


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    Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022