|A coat of arms or armorial bearings is, in European
tradition, a colourful design belonging to a particular person and used
by him or her in a wide variety of ways. Coats of arms have their
origins in designs used by medieval knights to make their armour and
shield stand out in battle or tournaments to enable quick recognition by
allies or spectators. The designs were used to decorate clothing worn
over the knight's armour, from which the term ‘coat of arms’ is derived.
Over time, coats of arms were adopted by other social classes as well as
towns and cities. Each coat of arms has a unique heraldic design. The
term ‘herald' stems from German and means army commander. It relates to
the duties of officers of arms. Today, the word ‘heraldry’ is generally
associated with the design, display and recording of coats of arms and
badges. A coat of arms usually consists of several basic elements.
Typical is a decorated shield as the main element with a motto below it,
supporters to left and right (e.g. in the form of rampant lions), and a
helmet or crest above.
|The formal description of a coat of arms is
called a blazon. This describes in correct heraldic manner the design and
colour of all the elements and accessories of a coat of arms, such as the
field (background), shield, supporters (figures either side of the shield),
compartment (design below the shield on which the supporters stand)
crown/coronet, helmet, torse (wreath above the helmet), mantling (protective
helmet covering) and motto. Coats of arms are still used by numerous
institutions and individuals and many are protected as trademarks. England
and Scotland, both of which have a long tradition in the use of coats of
arms, still maintain the medieval “Law of Arms” governing the granting and
regulation of coats of arms.