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On heraldry

Heraldry is usually regarded as a science specialising in armorial bearings in history. It contributes to our knowledge and understanding of family relations, pieces of art, ownerships of buildings and pieces of furniture, donors to churches, military organizations, the development of cities and society and many other aspects on civilization.  

Heraldry is also a traditional artform, specialising in armorial bearings since the Middle Ages up to present time. It has its roots in medieval Europe but also in other parts of the world.

Knights in battle. From a Spanish illuminated manuscript, 14th century. Libro de los Caballeros de la Cofradia de Santiago. SS XIV-XVII.

The word heraldry originates from the latin heraldus. In medieval times heralds were messengers  whose task originally was to bring important messages from kings and nobles on the outcome on battlefields and other important matters. So one could compare heralds of the Middle Ages to the diplomats and newspapers of present day. There is accordingly a reason why modern newspapers such as New York Herald Tribune and International Herald Tribune use the word herald in their names.    

The earliest traces of heraldry starts in the central Europeans culture of the 12th century, a time when the christian church, the catholic orders of chivalry and monks, feudalism, life in fortified cities, foreign trade, art, architecture and many other well-known aspects of western civilization developed and flourished. But it was also a time when the Christian culture of western Europe was threatened by long-lasting wars and suffering. New inventions in warfare techniques and the Pope's proclamations of crusades contributed to the rise of the forceful culture of chivalry, which also contributed greatly to the survival of the christian faith in Europe. A part of all that was heraldry.   

"Heraldry arose, almost spontaneously, throughout Europe in a short space of time between 1130-1160 coinciding with the development of more sophisticated armour" Robert Innes-Smith writes in his booklet An outline of Heraldry (1973). Heraldry seems to have come to the Nordic countries a few years later. The earliest heraldic arms known in Sweden is regarded as the arms of a family dated 1219. 

The regents of Austria and Spain with their coat of arms, 1547-48.  La Biblioteca del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. 

Marks and trade marks had already been used since long when heraldic arms as we know it appeared on the scene. Heraldry provided important signs of identity of the knights on the battlefields but also at jousts and tournaments. Armorial achievements and shields symbolized individual people and families but also churches and dioceses, guilds, towns and cities, duchies and kingdoms.

Armour covering the body to protect warriors in battle lost its importance when gunpowder was being introduced in warfare in the beginning of the 16th century. This marks the end of the era of chivalry. Although shields and helmets couldn't withstand canons and pistols heraldry continued to deliver useful and artistic signs of identification in society. And still do.  

 

 

A cornerstone in heraldry was that each heraldic arms should be unique to its owner, a rule still in practice. Many other rules and regulations were developed in order to facilitate the identification of the various arms. These rules, although at times slightly amended as time goes by, are still in practiced in what is usually called "good heraldic tradition".  

Of course the heraldic tradition varies geographically from one region to another. There are special organizations in the various countries whose task it is to hold and develop the heraldic traditions. Above all these traditions are held and brought forward by individual heraldic artists and heraldists.

Heraldic armswere carried not only by the nobility and official bodies but also by priests and clergymen, by members of city magistrates, townsmen and their families  and quite often by farming families. Arms were used to confirm private and business agreements and wills and to seal letters just to mention a couple of common applications. In most parts of Europe commoners were entitled to carry an heraldic arms of their own, a tradition that still endures.    

"Helmschau". From a roll of arms of 1483 by Conrad Grünenberg. 

One could compare heraldic arms to company logotypes but there is one important difference. While a logotype is fixed in its visual image an heraldic arms isn't, as it is the description of it in words that determines the visual interpretation of the arms. This means that a shield or the full armorial achievements varies from artist to artist and from one time to another dependent on how the description or blazon is understood and interpreted. As a consequence the limetime of a logotypes compared to an heraldic arms is very much in favour of the heraldic image. Although also heraldry changes in expression over time  it is still the same arms independant of its various expressions.

In the 20th century the use of heraldry has grown considerably, both when it somes to older coats of arms and more recently created ones for private people and their families as wellas for organizations and companies, e.g. the lion of Peugeot, the rampant stallion of Ferrari, the griffin's head of Saab and so on. It is as if an old artform has been rediscovered. The reasons are unknown, but maybe it reflects a growing interest in our history and roots, maybe people longs for a connection to something that lasts for a long time. So far we can only guess.  

        

 

Copyright: (text) 2011 Carl Anders Breitholtz

On heraldry

Heraldry is usually regarded as a science specialising in armorial bearings in history. It contributes to our knowledge and understanding of family relations, pieces of art, ownerships of buildings and pieces of furniture, donors to churches, military organizations, the development of cities and society and many other aspects on civilization.  

Heraldry is also a traditional artform, specialising in armorial bearings since the Middle Ages up to present time. It has its roots in medieval Europe but also in other parts of the world.

Knights in battle. From a Spanish illuminated manuscript, 14th century. Libro de los Caballeros de la Cofradia de Santiago. SS XIV-XVII.

The word heraldry originates from the latin heraldus. In medieval times heralds were messengers  whose task originally was to bring important messages from kings and nobles on the outcome on battlefields and other important matters. So one could compare heralds of the Middle Ages to the diplomats and newspapers of present day. There is accordingly a reason why modern newspapers such as New York Herald Tribune and International Herald Tribune use the word herald in their names.    

The earliest traces of heraldry starts in the central Europeans culture of the 12th century, a time when the christian church, the catholic orders of chivalry and monks, feudalism, life in fortified cities, foreign trade, art, architecture and many other well-known aspects of western civilization developed and flourished. But it was also a time when the Christian culture of western Europe was threatened by long-lasting wars and suffering. New inventions in warfare techniques and the Pope's proclamations of crusades contributed to the rise of the forceful culture of chivalry, which also contributed greatly to the survival of the christian faith in Europe. A part of all that was heraldry.   

"Heraldry arose, almost spontaneously, throughout Europe in a short space of time between 1130-1160 coinciding with the development of more sophisticated armour" Robert Innes-Smith writes in his booklet An outline of Heraldry (1973). Heraldry seems to have come to the Nordic countries a few years later. The earliest heraldic arms known in Sweden is regarded as the arms of a family dated 1219. 

The regents of Austria and Spain with their coat of arms, 1547-48.  La Biblioteca del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. 

Marks and trade marks had already been used since long when heraldic arms as we know it appeared on the scene. Heraldry provided important signs of identity of the knights on the battlefields but also at jousts and tournaments. Armorial achievements and shields symbolized individual people and families but also churches and dioceses, guilds, towns and cities, duchies and kingdoms.

   

              

 

Armour covering the body to protect warriors in battle lost its importance when gunpowder was being introduced in warfare in the beginning of the 16th century. This marks the end of the era of chivalry. Although shields and helmets couldn't withstand canons and pistols heraldry continued to deliver useful and artistic signs of identification in society. And still do.  

A cornerstone in heraldry was that each heraldic arms should be unique to its owner, a rule still in practice. Many other rules and regulations were developed in order to facilitate the identification of the various arms. These rules, although at times slightly amended as time goes by, are still in practiced in what is usually called "good heraldic tradition".  

Of course the heraldic tradition varies geographically from one region to another. There are special organizations in the various countries whose task it is to hold and develop the heraldic traditions. Above all these traditions are held and brought forward by individual heraldic artists and heraldists.

Heraldic armswere carried not only by the nobility and official bodies but also by priests and clergymen, by members of city magistrates, townsmen and their families  and quite often by farming families. Arms were used to confirm private and business agreements and wills and to seal letters just to mention a couple of common applications. In most parts of Europe commoners were entitled to carry an heraldic arms of their own, a tradition that still endures.    

"Helmschau". From a roll of arms of 1483 by Conrad Grünenberg. 

One could compare heraldic arms to company logotypes but there is one important difference. While a logotype is fixed in its visual image an heraldic arms isn't, as it is the description of it in words that determines the visual interpretation of the arms. This means that a shield or the full armorial achievements varies from artist to artist and from one time to another dependent on how the description or blazon is understood and interpreted. As a consequence the limetime of a logotypes compared to an heraldic arms is very much in favour of the heraldic image. Although also heraldry changes in expression over time  it is still the same arms independant of its various expressions.

In the 20th century the use of heraldry has grown considerably, both when it somes to older coats of arms and more recently created ones for private people and their families as wellas for organizations and companies, e.g. the lion of Peugeot, the rampant stallion of Ferrari, the griffin's head of Saab and so on. It is as if an old artform has been rediscovered. The reasons are unknown, but maybe it reflects a growing interest in our history and roots, maybe people longs for a connection to something that lasts for a long time. So far we can only guess.  

Much has been written about heraldry. I have compiled a far too short a list of books on heraldry in various languages HERE.         

 

 

Copyright: (text) 2011 Carl Anders Breitholtz