Heraldry comes from a German word that refers to the military or
to the act of hosting. A person may be a herald if they are to
announce military threat or the people that form the army.
The first herald would have come from the custom of sending out
representatives to travel around Europe on behalf of the
nobility to send messages or to bring back information.
This was a common practice and was one that was welcomed because
it was thought entertaining to welcome a travelling messenger who could talk
about their sights and experiences on their journeys.
The Travelling Troubadour
These travelling troubadours would collect information about knights and other
notable families, along with their heraldry. This information was of particular use
when it came to times of battle as commanders would require these details to
make important strategic decisions about their opponents as well as to identify who the advancing army are.
Because of the usefulness of the troubadours knowledge they would often be placed next
in line to the commander, and from this role came the job of the herald.
The first coated shield
The first coated shield is known to be one that was found in France and dates back to the very first
few years of the eleventh century. It was at the Battle of Hastings though that the notion of heraldry
came to England and the coats of arms developed into the images of lions that are now more familiar to us today.
Ancient Ireland and its Druidic Customs
For the Irish, though, their coats of arms reflected their ancient Druidic beliefs and so would depict oak
trees to represent life, and salmon to represent wisdom. The oak tree was of particular significance as many
ceremonies would take place that would centre around the tree as part of the Druidic customs.
The serpent or salmon also carried significance and we can still see remnant of these images
in coats of arms today and in images such as that found on the Hippocratic Oath.
The image of the Serpent
In ancient Druidic Irish times the serpent was a mark of health and wellbeing, which is why it can be seen
in so many crests. The link between the serpent and the Druids was so significant that it was the serpent
St. Patrick referred to when he claimed he would run the Druids out and replace the religion with the Christian
faith. The serpent, however, can still be seen all over Ireland and in the ancient family crests that are still
worn and displayed today.
Heraldry is not a forgotten practice that has ceased to exist, although it is certainly a very ancient one that
we have inherited. The importance of heraldry can be seen on military transportation, on important buildings
and universities, on the shirts of sportsmen and women and on the colours sported by jockeys during a race.
We may think of ancient Celts and Norwegians when we think of the coat of arms but we need not look far to
find that it is still a prominent cultural custom even in today’s modern world.