While it can be fun to look at a family crest or coat of arms,
it may not mean as much if you do not know
what the different components mean.
While the actual look of a seal or coat of arms may vary quite
a bit from family to family or even from country to country,
learning more about the different areas can help give you
a working knowledge of your history and lineage.
The shield itself
The shield is often the most easily recognizable part of a coat of arms.
In the majority of cases men were granted a particular coat of arms.
It was quite rare for a woman to be awarded a crest.
In cases where a woman was granted the right to bear a coat of arms,
a lozenge was often used in place of a shield.
There were some women who did have a shield shape in their crest or
coat of arms but this was the exception instead of the rule.
The shape of the shield usually did not hold any specific meaning. They would often change according to
what was fashionable at the time or according to the preference of the individual who was designing a crest.
The shape of the shield would sometimes vary from person to person depending
on who was drawing it or reproducing it.
Colors and images
The shield on a coat of arms or seal was often made up of different colors. In some cases,
there were images on the coat of arms or there would be patterns placed over a specific background color.
The colors and patterns each had their own meaning.
Additionally, if a shield had a band or a different colored area that was present on part of the shield,
these elements would often have specific meanings as well. For example, a red cross was often present on
the shield of a Christian knight or one who had fought in the Crusades. Red stood for valor in battle and
the cross was an allusion to the particular knight’s faith.
The helmet on the top of the shield
Many coats of arms or crests have a helmet that sits on top of the shield itself. Like the colors, patterns and
images on the shield itself, the helmet also had meaning.
It often denoted what an individual’s social standing or role in society was.
A closed helmet or a specific type of helm was usually reserved for the highest levels of nobility whereas
open helms or helmets that did not cover the face often were used on the shields of individuals
with a lower social standing.
Taking the time to learn about the different elements of your family coat of arms can be fun.
If you work with a reputable company they will research your family tree and
be able to present you with an image or a description of your coat of arms. From there,
you can begin to look up specific items and will end up with a much clearer picture
of the place your family once held in society.