What is shown on the family coat of arms?

The family coat of arms consists of many elements and figures each of which has its own place regulated by strict heraldic rules. At the same time, many heraldic figures do not and cannot exist in family coats of arms.

This is because there are several types of coats of arms: state, territorial and family. And there are special rules for each type. In addition, different countries have their own assumptions and nuances in the heraldic laws. To understand all these nuances in detail will take a lot of time but you can highlight a few basic rules that will be useful if you are thinking about creating your own coat of arms.

The first thing to look out for is the color scheme. The colors in the coat of arms are called tinctures and are divided into enamels (finift), metals and furs. The word ‘finift’ translates from Greek as ‘lustrous’ and refers to jewelry powdered enamel, a composition based on pigmented glass. The composition was applied to metal and then heated, resulting in a bright, hard and glossy coating. There are five enamels in heraldry: azure (blue), scarlet (red), green, niello (black) and purple (violet or crimson). In addition to enamels, only two metals can be found in coats of arms: gold (yellow) and silver (white) as well as ermine or squirrel fur. Therefore, elements of a coat of arms, such as a shield or mantle, cannot be painted in arbitrary colors but only in the colors shown above. The only exceptions are certain individual figures, such as animals or people that may be painted in natural colors. In that case, the colors of the figures are called “natural tints”. The choice of color plays a big role as each tincture has its own meaning.

It is worth noting that the list of colors varies from country to country. For instance, in Western Europe one can find orange, brown, purple, sky-blue, pink and ash-gray enamels. And, for example, another metal, copper, can be found in Canadian heraldry.

The next strict restriction on family coats of arms is state symbols: state coats of arms of countries or regions may not be used in ancestral heraldry. This applies both to coats of arms in force today and to symbols of statehood of empires of the past. This is allowed only in cases where the state is a monarchy, and the family coat of arms is created for a member of the ruling dynasty. A prime example is the coat of arms of Great Britain which is at the same time the family coat of arms of the ruling Windsor dynasty. Members of the royal family have the right to use part of the composition and elements of the national coat of arms to emphasize their origins and royal title.

A similar rule also applies to symbols of power, such as the crown, scepter, orb or mantle. Such elements may be present only on the family coat of arms of monarchs and rulers as well as their heirs. Therefore, if a person is not a direct descendant of the ruling dynasty, there should be no such symbols in his family coat of arms. Similarly, medals, orders or other awards may not be depicted in the coat of arms unless they were awarded to an armiger. This is due to the fact that originally the coat of arms was created as a mark of distinction emphasizing the exclusivity of origin and, subsequently, the title or status. In addition, there are brizures, special elements that speak of the armiger’s family that should also be applied in specific cases.

Particular attention should be paid to historical objects such as castles, fortifications or other figures of historical significance. As in the previous rule, these figures or objects can only be depicted in an ancestral symbolism if there is a direct link. For example, descent from the owners of a particular castle, manor or estate. This also applies to specific ships, fortifications and geographical objects.

If we examine the structure of the family coat of arms, we can note that the shield and the helmet are among the obligatory attributes of this symbol. In addition to the great variety of forms in shields, honorary figures and types of division into fields, there are a number of restrictions associated with this attribute. For example, the proportions of the length and width of the shield and the ratio and arrangement of its margins are strictly regulated. Therefore, it is impossible to depict exactly the shield of a warrior that actually existed. The same applies to the helmet which also has many variations. You can’t depict helmets of the archaic type, in particular helmets of historical figures. The type of helmet itself depends on many factors: title, status, merit and so on. The most common are Old Russian and European (in particular Western European) helmet types, and in ancient coats of arms there are also tournament helmets. In addition, great importance is attached to the position of the helmet, the number of lattices, material, finish, position of the visor and additional elements.

Most heraldic laws were created many centuries ago, so they naturally do not mention technological progress and the latest inventions. Nevertheless, heraldry is still developing to this day, so there is a list of modern symbols like atoms or molecules that can be found on territorial, less frequently generic coats of arms. However, while unique non-heraldic symbols (e.g. endemics of the region, technological achievements of the company, scientific directions of educational institutions, etc.) are allowed on regional, educational institutions or company coats of arms, a certain list of symbols is used for family coats of arms. In exceptional cases, there is a special place in the shield field where a non-heraldic element may be depicted, if it is closely related to the armorial.

The coat of arms is considered a reflection of the merits and exclusivity of the family, a representation of status, principles and achievements. For this reason, only those elements that relate directly to the armiger and his family should be portrayed in the coat of arms. This symbol is a legacy for future generations, combining your values, ideas and messages for your descendants.

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