A Brief introduction to the Language of Heraldry
The language of heraldry is a unique form of describing a system of shapes, colours and symbols that are expressed in a standardised form when describing a coat of arms.
In the 13th and 14th Century when closed helmets were the new design in fighting armour, it soon became apparent that soldiers were unable to recognise their leaders.
To overcome this problem, they painted fairly simple and bold designs on their shields and also the sur coat, a tabard that was worn over the armour.
Some common terms used in heraldry:
When describing a coat of arms, the shield is described from the bearers position when he is holding it.
The right is called dexter and the left is called sinister – the complete opposite to what the viewers would call it.
The heraldic achievement consists of many components; the shield, the helm or helmet, the crest and mantling. The latter is a length of fabric that gave the wearer some protection to the back of his neck. Often this fabric is now shown, perhaps incorrectly, as foliage.
The mantling is attached to the helm by a twist of cord called a wreath or torse.
In some cases the torse may be changed to a band called a circlet.
In a full achievement there may be a badge banner attached on a pole.
A motto is normally placed below the shield, although in Scotland it’s above.
On a full achievement for a count or duke a coronet may be shown as well as supporters on either side of the shield, which can be men or beasts.
The image below of the Cluny shield was painted by Caroline of 1066 Heraldic Shields