HOW DID A COAT OF ARMS BECOME ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR SURNAME?
Some eighty or more years after William the Conqueror came to England the leaders of the private armies which made up the great feudal host, began to use brightly colored symbols on their shields and banners to distinguish them in battle or tournaments Later, these devices were also displayed on horse trappings and on the coat armor, a loose coat worn over the mail. It was from this latter custom that the devices themselves came to be called coats of arms or just arms.
From very early days arms were used in ways other than those simply associated with warfare. For instance they were, and indeed are still extensively used on seals, as a motif in decoration and as an attractive means of identification: as on book plates, cutlery, stationery and other articles of personal property.
Arms were in general use by noble and knightly families at the turn of the twelfth century; then, about a hundred years later, another device became popular. This was the crest. The crest was originally a fan on the crest or top of the helm and was a piece of defensive armor. Later, in place of the fan, an actual device was used, being modelled in boiled leather and attached to the helm. Not every person who used arms adopted the crest, as the crested helm was mostly employed in tournaments and not everyone was entitled to take part in these great mock battles. Even today a few families still have no crests, but the majority who do, may display the crest with the shield of arms. When this is done it is usual to show it in its original form. That is, modelled onto the helm, from which flows a short cloak called the mantling. At the base of the crest there is usually a circlet, wreath or chapeau which conveniently hides the place where the crest joins the helm. often placed in scrolls Mottoes or war cries are either above or below coats of arms.
ONE THING TO REMEMBER
It must be stressed that a Coat of Arms are those which reference books show as having been used at some point in history by a family which had your surname. You may proudly display such arms as belonging to that family, but you must not bear them as if they were your own, an official Grant must first be obtained. In England and Scotland such a claim would be illegal. Should you wish to discover whether you might establish a legal right to arms, then you should write to the College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, London E.C.4, where the Heralds also undertake genealogical research. Fees are payable for searches. If your family is Scottish then you should write to Lord Lyon King of Arms, H.M. Register House, Edinburgh 2, and if Irish to the Chief Herald of Ireland, Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle, Dublin. I ...
This Coat of Arms, I can only Display, But Have No Claim To It...............................................
.Even Though I am a Descendent of the Alexanders.
This Coat of Arms is My Own Personal Coat of Arms and No One Else My Claim it .................
BLAZON OF ARMS
Each Coat of Arms comes contains a blazon of arms (description of the arms in heraldic terms) and where possible a translation of the motto if it is not in English.
CLAN BADGES (Scottish Families Only)
In Scotland only the chief of the clan is entitled to use the "full achievement", clan members and septs of the clan may only use, by order of Lord Lyon, the authorised "clan badge". Obviously, as arms are a form of honour and as their design and use is governed by rules, someone must control coats of arms, those who do this, and have done it from very early days, are the Royal Heralds, the ceremonial officers of the Crown. They have even given their name to the study of coats of arms heraldry. While the only people who can bear and use arms are those who lawfully possess them, either by virtue of a grant of arms, which stems from the Crown, or by establishing a descent from someone to whom arms were allowed by the Heralds, there is no reason why anyone should not display arms as a form of decoration, as long as they do not pretend that the arms belong to them. Some of the Arms have been on record for over 700 years and show in the minutest detail the Arms, Crests, and Mottoes once borne by your ancestors.
SPELLING OF SURNAME
Over the centuries the spelling of most surnames has altered. These variations can lead to confusion and make research difficult.
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