Coats of arms: form and content


An example of the coat of arms, which contains all the elements, except for the mantle, is the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth II. And it is also the coat of arms of Great Britain. It was approved back in 1837. The crest in this coat of arms is a crowned leopard. Crown – Saint Edward the Confessor. Shield holders – a crowned lion and a unicorn. The base is green grass with Tudor roses. The shield contains the coats of arms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Around the shield is the Order of the Garter belt. Below is the motto inscribed on the ribbon: “God and my right.”

Power in various ways
They were decorated with coats of arms.
Here is a leopard, a two-headed eagle
And a rearing lion.
This was the old custom,
So that from the state emblems
The beastly face threatened the neighbors
The grin of all your teeth.

S. Marshak “Our coat of arms”


Coats of arms and heraldry. Today we will get acquainted with the basis of the foundations – all the constituent parts of the coat of arms, of which, as it turned out, there are quite a few. Let’s start with the most important thing – the shield, which is the basis of any coat of arms. The shape of the shield in different centuries could be different. And besides, like everything else, it changed depending on the fashion. The shields of the first knightly coats of arms were very simple. But the shields on the coats of arms of the Baroque era are pretentious.

What should the correct coat of arms consist of?

The shield is usually topped with a knight’s helmet. The helmet is covered with a basting – a piece of fabric, intricately cut with curls, with which in the past knights wrapped their helmet so that it would not get very hot in the sun.

Above the helmet is a kleinod and crown. Kleinod is a helmet-mounted decoration, and the helmet can be with a crown and without a kleinode, only with a kleinode. Or it can carry both the crown and the kleinod. On the helmets of royal persons, the shield can be located on the mantle, which may well be overshadowed by another crown.

The shield may have a base on which the shield holders stand. And here the fantasy of the armigers (that is, the coat of arms, as well as their heralds) is simply limitless. They can be naked men with clubs, and monks with swords in their hands (by the way, we will definitely tell about the state with this emblem and how it appeared in one of the following materials), lions, unicorns and zebras .. That is whoever kept the coat of arms was not entrusted!

Finally, below the coat of arms there is a ribbon on which the motto is written. For the Scots, such a ribbon (usually a knight’s belt with a buckle) goes around the coat of arms itself.


And here is the coat of arms of Germany in 1871. Here, as we can see, there is a mantle trimmed with ermine tails. As many as two crowns. Two banners with emblems, and for some reason knightly spears serve as their shafts. But the funniest thing is the supporters: two naked men in skirts made of oak leaves. What were they supposed to symbolize? The primordial savagery of the German nation? Or that the ancient Germans were like that, they lived in the woods among the oaks and made themselves “belts” in the fashion “from Adam”?

Shields in battle and as an element of decor

The shape of the shield was initially absolutely functional: it was a combat knight’s shield in the shape of an “iron”. It was convenient to fence with such a shield. It was not too heavy and at the same time served as good protection for its owner. Now the shield did not need to be long and cover the leg. Legs at the end of the XII-XIII centuries. began to defend chain mail highway.

Then the coat of arms acquired the characteristic form of a tournament shield. It was a specific form. In battle, such shields were not used, but for tournaments it was “just that”.

In the 16th century, heraldic shields completely lost their “combat form”, acquired pretentious edges, curls. In a word, they no longer looked like an element of combat equipment. The women had rhombic shields.

And in Russia, after Peter the Great, shields with a small tip at the bottom spread. They were used both as shields for city coats of arms and as shields for nobles.


These are the forms of heraldic shields in Europe from the 12th to the 19th century. Illustration from Stephen Slater’s book “Heraldry. Illustrated Encyclopedia “, Eksmo, 2006, p. 55.


The miniature from the Codex Manes, which depicts the knight and minnesinger Rudolf von Rothenburg, just shows us a typical knight’s shield in the shape of an “iron” with the coat of arms of a castle with two towers on a gold field.


And here is another coat of arms – “iron”. Moreover, with an extremely interesting “plot”: a chessboard and three waterskins. The first indicates that the fate of the owner of the coat of arms is entirely in the hands of the Almighty, who sends him both joys and sorrows. Well, the wineskins are a direct allusion to participation in the crusades and a strong thirst. This coat of arms is depicted on the pommel of a sword weighing 226.8 g. The sword, judging by the coat of arms, should have belonged to Pierre de Dre, Duke of Brittany and Count of Richmond in 1240–1250. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Here we will slightly move away from the actual heraldic theme. To remember how kleinods appeared on the helmets of knights, which then migrated to the coats of arms.

Note that the main disadvantage of helmets of the early 12th century was insignificant face protection. Therefore, at the end of the 12th century, the so-called “pot helmet” was created from a helmet reinforced with metal plates in front and behind.


Knight’s helmets with helmet decorations. Fig. A. Shepsa

Helmet from the Vienna Armory

The mid-14th century helmet shown below in the photo is so heavy that it was probably only used as a tournament helmet. It is riveted from two anterior and two posterior plates, as well as a flat round parietal plate.

This helmet has good face protection. But it is she who gives him the appearance of an inverted “pot” or “bucket”. However, this protection had a limited field of view. Knights in potted helmets could only see their surroundings through narrow viewing slits. The breathing air supply was also insufficient.

The Vienna helmet shown in the photo is to be regarded as a particularly valuable piece. Because of the dozen surviving helmets of this type, only this and the Black Prince’s Canterbury helmet are really well preserved.

And, of course, even more significance is given to it by the Kleinod, called the zimier. It looks like something monumental and durable. Although such ornaments were made of wood, leather or parchment and did not have much strength. So the zimier of this helmet has the shape of huge bull horns. But in fact, they are empty inside and weigh very little.

It survived only because it hung over the hereditary burial of the Styrian von Pranch family in the Augustinian monastery in Zekau. It was acquired for the Imperial Armory only in 1878. It is believed that its original owner could have been Albert von Pranch, whose seal from 1353 shows us almost such a potted helmet.


Helmet of Albert von Pranch 1350 New Castle. Court Hunting and Armory Chamber. Vein.


Helmet with a helmet lining and a kleinod in the form of the coat of arms of the Duke of Wroclaw and Krakow, Henry IV Probus (Produs). OK. 1305-1340. “Manessica Code”. Heidelberg University Library. Heidelberg. Baden-Württemberg. Germany.

And what kind of Kleinods on helmets is not found on the pages of medieval heralds. For example, Huldenberg’s coat of arms. This is a Flemish heraldic manuscript of the 15th century, showing us a very whimsical and funny helmet-mounted kleinods. Illustration from Stephen Slater’s book “Heraldry. Illustrated Encyclopedia “. Eksmo. 2006, p. 57.


By the way, the helmet in heraldry was not drawn from the head. That is, at first – yes. If you want a helmet, you have a helmet on. And then, somewhere in 1500, instructions appeared on how to draw a helmet correctly in order to reflect the rank of the owner of the coat of arms.

The rules were different in different countries. So, in England a helmet with golden rods, but only the highest aristocrats could have a silver one. Gentry (small landed nobility) could only have a closed helmet. And the baronets – with an open visor. These were the subtleties that mattered.

Coats of arms on pavises

Over time, the coat of arms began to be depicted not only on knightly shields, but also on easel shields-paveses, which were used by crossbowmen. But these were not their own coats of arms. And the coats of arms of the cities that hired them and gave them such shields.

They were made of wood. Covered with leather or linen. Primed and painted with paints.

The middle rib of the pavese was a U-shaped protrusion and gave space for the hand holding the shield. There was also a T-shaped bone handle.

It is believed that the country of origin of the pavese could have been Lithuania. Then this shield became popular in Bohemia during the Hussite wars. And it spread in Eastern Europe and Germany as an effective means of protecting the late medieval infantry.


Paveza with the coat of arms of the city of Schongau, Bavaria. Metropolitan Museum. New York.

As already noted, there was no room on the battle shield for either helmet ornaments or support holders. All this appeared later, when they began to decorate the walls of castles, furniture, and also place them on the pages of books with coats of arms. So over time, the coats of arms became more and more complex.


Coat of arms of the African state of Botswana. In addition to purely national symbols on the coat of arms, zebras are its supporters.

To be continued…

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