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history of heraldry
Portion of the Bayeux Tapestry
  What is the history of heraldry and family crests? Heraldry history is the study and description of the family crests symbols displayed on family coats of arms used by individuals and families as the proclaimation of their rights to bear arms during the middle ages. Heraldry family crests, or the study of coat of arms, was invented out of a military need for identification during face to face combat in medieval battles.

Later family coat of arms evolved into its own artform regulated by noblemen appointed as Heralds by ruling families. In modern times, the study of heradry family crests serves a useful tool for family historians and genealogist worldwide to trace family lineages and uncover the history and characteristics of family surnames.

The History of Heraldry Family Crests
During medieval times the history of heradry family crests began. The knights attended battles and tournaments dressed in battle armor comprised of chain and link mail coats as well as helmets and other protective gear hid their identities from both their friend and their enemies. In order to prevent attacks among friends, knights set themselves apart by blazoning their chest and shields with clearly visible symbols and colors.

The earliest record of Knights identifying themselves with symbols on banners and seals is the Bayeux Tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry is a 20ft x 70ft embroidered clothe that depicts the events leading up to the invastion of England by the Normans in 1066. At the time that the Bayeux Tapestry was developed, modern heraldry had not been fully established, but the banners and seals displayed on the tapestry showed that the foundation for heraldry had been established.

During the Christian Crusades (1096-1271), the practice of heraldry spread across the European countries. The first evidence of using symbols to identify fighting soldiers were banners adopted as a symbol for the commanders of the calvery. Participants in battles during later Crusades beared the coats of arms on their chests and shields.

Even after the last Christian Crusades, knights from many Christian territories throughout Europe displayed their coat of arms while competing in tournaments. As time progressed, the military need for these symbols diminished, but families and individuals wishing to bear arms maintained the importance of the coat of arms.

Noble men, named Heralds, were appointed by the ruling class to regulate the practice of Heraldry. These Heralds oversaw disputes between families in the of symbols. Eventually, the knowledge of these Heralds allowed these men to form a sort of terminology related to the use of the coat of arms.

Coat of Arms : Colors and Symbolic Meanings
The knights who first blazoned the symbols onto their coat of arms initially used clearly visible geometric shapes and the combination of 2 to 3 colors in order for their friends and foes to quickly identify in the heat of battle. As the practice of heraldry evolved to a more ornamental purpose, animals and non-violent symbols were introduced. The meanings of the symbols chosen expressed the character of the family.

Examples of Heraldic symbols with their commonly accepted meanings :
AcornAntiquity and Strength  AnchorHope; religious steadfast
AngelsDignity, glory, missionary  AntlersStrength and Fortitude
BearStrength, verocity in protection of one's family  BeaverIndustry and Perseverance
BoarBravery; Fights to the death  BonesMortality
BowRediness for battle  BridgeGovernor or Magistrate
Buck or DeerOne who will not fight unless provoked  BullValour, bravery, generocity
CastleSafety  Wildcat or CougarLiberty, vigilence, courage
CinquefoilsHope and Joy  DaggerJustice and Military Honor
DoveLoving, constancey, and peace  FishTrue generous mind
LionDauntless courage  GrapesFelicity and peace; Association with wine making
GrasshopperNoble and home bred  HorseshoeGoodluck and safeguard against evil spirits

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