Heraldry

Welcome. If you have purchased from us before the site may look unfamiliar – we now sell many other personalised gifts so our coat of arms and surname history prints are just part of a much larger site. For newcomers we are a UK based shop selling gifts bearing your family coat of arms, also known as family crests, since 1996. Please check out our prices: there are many shops selling identical prints and we believe we offer the best prices. Many of our prints are unique to us; in particular those that include an explanation of the coat of arms symbols.

Fully Authentic – Our researchers have been building a database of coats of arms, also known as ‘family crests’ (but see below for the accurate description), since the early 1970s so you can be confident that the product you buy is genuine.

The coat of arms we provide are the oldest found for the name. Some names have more than one arms - there may be English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish origins for a particular name and usually each will have a different coat of arms.

It is possible to have your own arms created for you - contact the College of Arms in London. But be aware that this is very expensive!

The origin of heraldry dates back many centuries to a time when noblemen and landowners lead their own bands of men into battle. The noblemen wore suits of armour and in the throng of battle it was difficult to tell who was who. So the leaders started to decorate their shields with their ‘arms’, and they also wore tabards similarly decorated over the top half of their armour. These were called ‘surcoats’ and in time the name became corrupted to ‘a coat of arms’.

With around one million arms in our database we probably have the one you are looking for. Some call the images family crests, but in fact that term as well as ‘coat of arms’ is incorrect. The whole thing is called an ‘achievement’ with the family crest being the part on top of the helmet and the coat of arms, or escutcheon, is the design on the shield. The family motto, or ‘war cry’, is shown in the top scroll. These first appeared around 1660 so if your surname’s arms are older there will not be a motto.

Arms are normally passed down the generations to the eldest son. If there are no sons, a daughter can inherit, but the shield, deemed to be warlike and unsuitable for women, is replaced by a 'lozenge'.

Our parts of the 'achievement' are:

  • the Supporters: if these are present they can be found supporting either side of the shield;
  • the Mantling: the decoration either side of the helmet. Originally this was a cloth worn over the back of the helmet as protection against hot sunlight;
  • the Wreath, also known as a Torse: a twisted cloth placed around the helmet to keep the mantling in place.
The design of the Mantling and Supporters in particular are at the discretion of the heraldic artist.

The Shield: Strictly speaking, this is the only essential part of an Achievement. This is where the coat of arms is displayed.

Marshalling: This is the combination of two or more coats of arms onto the one shield. This will look like the shield has been divided in more than one part - split in half or maybe quarters. This will be the result of marriage where two families have joined, or maybe inheritance where the son wishes to add to the arms.

Tinctures: are the colours and patterns used in heraldry.

  • Colours: There are five: red or 'gules'; black or 'sable'; blue, or 'azure'; green or 'vert'; and purlpe or 'purpure'.
  • Metals: there are two: 'or', gold; and 'argent', silver. In heraldry these colours are usually shown as yellow and white.
  • Furs: again, there are two: ermine and vair. Ermine represents the fur of a stoat in winter; it is white with black spots. Ermine was worn by the nobility and its presence in the background of a shield denotes nobility. Vair is the coat of a squirrel.

Ordinaries: these are the shapes painted onto the shield. There are many and each has its own meaning. We offer a print that includes the meaning of the Ordinaries in a coat of arms.

Charges: these are animals that appear on shields. Again, each has a meaning which is included in the relevant print.

Modern heraldry: flourishes. Today, institutions, companies, professional associations; guilds, and the military all have embraced heraldry. It is rare for any of these bodies not to have their own arms.

Finally, we are often asked whether an achievement is copyrighted. Ours are not: they are many hundreds of years old and any copyright will have ended long ago.

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