Understanding the Components of a Coat of Arms

Coats of arms have been around for centuries and they continue to be popular today. They are symbols of power, authority, and heritage that have been worn by knights, nobles, and even commoners. Whether you are interested in genealogy or simply appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a coat of arms, it’s important to understand the basic components that make up this iconic symbol. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the history of coat of arms, the basic and advanced components, the symbolism in colors and animals, and even show you how to design your very own coat of arms. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to appreciate coat of arms on a whole new level.

History of Coat of Arms

History Of Coat Of Arms
Coat of Arms is an important symbol of identification. Its history dates back to the medieval period when it served as a distinguishing mark for knights on the battlefield. It later became a status symbol for aristocrats and wealthy families. The use of Coat of Arms became prevalent in Europe in the 12th century and was soon adopted by other countries. The design of Coat of Arms has evolved over time, from simple designs to more complex and ornate ones. In early designs, the coat of arms only consisted of a shield, but it later came to include additional elements such as crests, helms, supporters, and mottoes. Today, the use of Coat of Arms is not limited to the nobility. Anyone can create their own personal Coat of Arms to represent their identity and values. The history of Coat of Arms is rich and diverse, and it continues to evolve with time.


Origins of Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms has its origins in medieval Europe. The use of a coat of arms was initially for Knight’s to be identified on the battlefield by friend or foe. Coats of Arms transformed over time to become status symbols for nobility and royalty.

Rise of the Herald

Heralds were the primary designers and regulators of coats of arms. When knights wanted a new coat of arms, it was the herald who designed and recorded it. They then filed it in a special registry for all to see. Records of heraldic designs can be found dating back to the 13th century.

The Language of Heraldry

The language of heraldry consists of specific terms used to describe the different components, colors, animals, and patterns that make up coats of arms. The strict language of heraldry was created so that every coat of arms could be precisely described, providing a standardized language for the design and recording of all coats of arms.

Inspiration for Coat of Arms Designs

The designs of coats of arms take inspiration from a range of sources, including nature, mythology, literature, and religion. It was common to use animals as symbols of certain virtues such as a lion symbolizing courage or a dove symbolizing peace.

Popularity of Coats of Arms

Coats of arms became increasingly popular and important during the medieval period, but their popularity started to decline in the 17th and 18th centuries as societies began to shift away from the feudal structures that had given rise to the use of coats of arms. However, today, many people and organizations still use coats of arms to represent themselves.

Learn more about the History of Coat of Arms here!

Evolution Over Time

As per the historical records, the use of coat of arms traces back to the medieval period. In the beginning, a coat of arms was used to identify the knight or warrior in a battle. Initially, the coat of arms was limited to only a shield, but over time, it evolved into a complicated system of symbols, colors, and designs.

In the early days, the designs of the coat of arms were quite simple. They usually had geometric shapes and distinct colors, which were chosen on the basis of heraldic standards of the time. But as the practice evolved, several variations of the coat of arms designs emerged.

During the Renaissance period, the coat of arms became more of a status symbol, and it was not just limited to the nobility. The designs became more intricate with the use of detailed and vivid imagery, which were incorporated into the coat of arms. It was during this time that the crest and supporters also came into fashion, along with the helm and motto.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the popularity of the coat of arms started to diminish in terms of its practical use. It was no longer significant on the battlefields and was not required to identify a knight. Consequently, the coat of arms design became more diverse, and some designs began to incorporate symbols of power, authority, and wealth.

Nowadays, the coat of arms is more of a decorative emblem and is often found on official documents, government buildings, and other structures. However, its history and legacy continue to inspire and fascinate people all over the world.

If you want to learn more about individual coat of arms designs and their meanings, you can check out the famous coat of arms meanings page. Alternatively, if you are interested in the specific evolution of the design of coat of arms over time, you can take a look at the evolution of coat of arms design article.

Basic Components

One of the fundamental components of a coat of arms is the shield, which serves as the centerpiece of the design. Shields come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the most common is the traditional medieval shield shape. The crest, which sits atop the shield, is another essential element of a coat of arms. Often depicting an animal or other symbol, the crest is a unique way to represent the individual or family to whom the coat of arms belongs. Another crucial component is the helm, which typically appears above the crest. The helm is a helmet used in battle, and its inclusion in the coat of arms serves to symbolize a noble heritage or the willingness to serve in defense of one’s beliefs or country. The motto is also a frequently included feature of a coat of arms, intended to convey a message or an expression of the individual or family’s values. Finally, supporters can be found on some more elaborate designs, typically in the form of animals or mythical creatures that flank the shield and represent strength and power.


The shield is the centerpiece of any coat of arms. It is the heart of the design and represents the main bearer of the arms. The shield typically features a shape that is unique to the design, with a pointed or rounded base known as the “base point.” There are many different shapes, each with its own history and symbolism. For example, a shield with a pointed base is known as a “heater-shaped shield,” which was popular in the medieval times and commonly used in jousting.
The design of the shield can vary widely, with various heraldic symbols being added to create a unique and personal design. Common design elements for the shield include stripes, diamonds, circles, and other geometric shapes. The colors used in the design can also hold significance, with certain colors representing nobility, loyalty, bravery, and other qualities.
It’s essential to note that each part of the shield has a specific name. The top of the shield is known as the “chief,” and there are three “pales” or vertical stripes in the center of the shield. The horizontal stripe in the base of the shield is called the “base,” and the vertical line down the center of the shield is known as the “palmer.”
Creating a memorable shield that captures the essence of the individual or the family is an important part of heraldry. Each design is unique and tells its own story. Learn how to create a personal coat of arms.


The crest is the decoration that sits on top of the helm. It can be a variety of different things, but is typically an animal or bird that is associated with the family or individual. The crest can also include other symbols that are important to the family, such as a crown or floral elements.
The crest is not always present in a coat of arms and is not a required component.
The use of crests became popular in the 16th century and continued through the 18th century. Many family crests have been passed down over many generations. In many cases, people who have a coat of arms will have a copy of the crest displayed in their home or office as a symbol of their family history.
It is important to note that the crest should not be confused with the coat of arms itself. The crest is simply one part of the full coat of arms, which includes other components such as the shield and motto.
In some cases, the crest may also have a motto incorporated into the design. This motto can be a phrase or saying that is important to the family or individual.
If you are interested in learning more about the history and meaning of crests, there are many resources available online and in books. You can also look into the history of your own family to see if there is a crest that has been passed down through the generations.
For more information on the use of coat of arms in politics and society, visit /mod-coat-arms-politics-society/.


The helm, or helmet, is an important component of a coat of arms, especially in earlier designs. It is placed above the shield and can come in various shapes and designs.

There are four main types of helms that are used in coats of arms:

Type of Helm Description
Great Helm A fully enclosed helmet that covers the entire head and face.
Bascinet A visored helmet that covers the head but not the face.
Sallet A light, open-faced helmet that was popular in the 15th century.
Barbute A helmet that has a T-shaped visor and covers the sides and back of the head.

In some cases, the type of helm used can indicate the rank or status of the individual or family. For example, a great helm may be used for a knight or nobleman while a sallet may be used for a common soldier.

The helm is often depicted with various adornments, including:

  • Mantling or lambrequin: Cloth or leather that hangs from the helmet and was used to protect the wearer from the sun and rain.
  • Crest: A design that is placed on top of the helm and is typically made up of various symbols and colors.
  • Wreath or torse: A twisted band of cloth or leather that sits above the visor and is made up of the main colors used in the shield.
  • Helmet Beauséant: A decorative tassel that hangs from the top of the helmet.

Interestingly, in some cultures, such as Scottish heraldry, the helm is not always used in coat of arms design.

It’s important to note that some coats of arms may include multiple helms, depending on the design and the individual or family’s specific traditions.

Understanding each component of a coat of arms, including the helm, can help you appreciate the intricate detail and symbolism that goes into heraldic design.


The motto is a phrase or sentence that expresses the values or beliefs of the person or organization represented by the coat of arms. The motto is often placed on a scroll beneath the shield. It is usually written in Latin, as Latin was the language of scholarship and educated people during the medieval period when coat of arms were first developed. However, mottos can also be written in other languages or even in English.

The motto can be a personal statement or it can reflect the values of a family or organization. For example, the Scottish clan MacGregor has the motto “S ‘rioghal mo dhream”, which translates to “My race is royal”. Similarly, the University of Melbourne in Australia has the Latin motto “Postera crescam laude”, which means “I shall grow in the esteem of future generations”.

The inclusion of a motto in a coat of arms adds an extra layer of meaning to the design. It can give insight into the personality or beliefs of the individual or organization, and can provide inspiration or guidance in times of need. A coat of arms without a motto is considered incomplete, as the motto is an essential part of the design.

Many mottos contain strong, empowering words that inspire individuals or groups to achieve greatness. The motto can serve as a reminder of the values and principles that are important to the individual or organization, and can inspire them to strive for excellence in all aspects of life. It is no wonder that mottoes are an essential aspect of many coat of arms designs, as they give a glimpse into the personality or beliefs of the wearer or creator.

In the next section of this article, we will discuss more advanced components of a coat of arms, such as marshalling, quartering, and differencing. These components are often used to depict complex relationships between families or organizations.


Supporters are a common component of a coat of arms. They are two animals or figures that stand on either side of the shield. Usually, they are depicted holding the shield or some other item, such as a flag or a banner. Supporters are not always used, but when they are, they can add a great deal of visual interest and symbolism to a coat of arms.

The choice of supporters is not arbitrary and should be relevant to the person or organization that the coat of arms represents. Supporters can be humans, animals, mythological creatures, or even objects. For example, a company that produces wine may choose two grapevines or two wine bottles as supporters.

When selecting supporters, it is essential to ensure that they do not carry any negative connotations. For instance, if using an animal as a supporter, it is essential to ensure that the animal does not imply villainy or cowardice.

In general, supporters in coat of arms can add more complexity, depth, and meaning to the overall design. In medieval times, they were often used to show the support of powerful nobles or monarchs towards the person or family that the coat of arms represented. Nowadays, supporters are often used in governmental, civic, and corporate heraldry.

It is worth noting that the use of supporters in a coat of arms is not universal and its use ultimately depends on the personal preference of the designer. However, its absence could lead to a simpler and cleaner look of a coat of arms. A common rule for using supporters in coat of arms is that no supporter should ever appear alone.

Supporters in a coat of arms are two figures that add visual interest and symbolism to the overall design. The selection of supporters should be relevant and non-negative to the person or entity that the coat of arms represents. Though its use is not universal, supporters provide another layer of complexity, depth, and meaning to the overall design.

Advanced Components

Advanced Components
Advanced components are an important aspect of creating a unique and meaningful coat of arms. Marshalling refers to the practice of combining two or more coats of arms to symbolize the union of multiple families or territories. Quartering involves dividing the shield into four equal parts and filling each section with a different coat of arms. Differencing is the practice of adding small variations to a coat of arms to reflect differences in gender, birth order, or branches of a family tree. These techniques allow for greater personalization and customization of a coat of arms, making it truly unique to the individual or family it represents. In addition to these techniques, additional elements such as supporters, banners, and mottoes can also be added to further enhance the symbolism and meaning behind a coat of arms.


Marshalling is the method used to combine two or more Coats of Arms into one. This practice was initially done to demonstrate a union between two families, cities or regions, and can be recognized by the combination of two Shields. There are several ways to marshal different Coats of Arms, and each way represents a particular type of union.

One type of Marshalling is impalement. When two Coats of Arms are impaled, it means that each occupies one half of the shield. This method is used to show matrimonial alliances. For example, if a male belongs to one family and marries a woman who belongs to another family, their offspring’s Coats of Arms will be impaled with both family’s Shield.

Another way of Marshalling is quartering, which means dividing the shield into four quarters to represent up to four separate families. A Quartered Coat of Arms is created when one family’s Shield is placed in the top left corner, another family’s Shield in the top right corner, a third family’s Shield in the bottom left corner, and a fourth family’s Shield in the bottom right corner.

The third type of Marshalling is dimidiation, which represents a union of two Shield designs by literally cutting each in half and combining them into a single shield that is unique and can be recognized as a combination of the two. This method of Marshalling was popular during the medieval era.

Lastly, there is impalement with an en surtout, which means one Coat of Arms is imposed over the other. This practice was common in the 16th century and was used to demonstrate noble marriages.

It is essential to ensure that the Marshalling of Coats of Arms is executed correctly, as any alteration can potentially change the original Shield’s meaning. There are also rules and protocols that govern Marshalling, which vary depending on the region, royal decrees and traditions.


Quartering is a practice of dividing a coat of arms into four or more sections. Each of these sections can represent a separate family or a different territory or country. Quartering was initially used to show the marriage between two prominent families or to illustrate the inheritance of properties.

The most common example of quartering is the British Royal Coat of Arms, which is divided into four sections representing England, Scotland, Ireland, and the House of Hanover.

In addition to representing marriage and inheritance, quartering can also be used to symbolize loyalty and allegiance. For example, a coat of arms may be quartered to show loyalty to a ruler or a country.

Here are some common examples of quartered coats of arms:

Coat of Arms Description
England and Scotland The coat of arms is divided into four sections. The first and fourth quarters show the three lions of England, while the second quarter shows the lion rampant of Scotland. The third quarter shows a harp, which is the symbol of Ireland.
Spain The coat of arms is divided into four sections. The first and fourth quarters show the Castilian Castle, while the second and third quarters show a lion rampant. These quarters represent the various regions of Spain.
France The coat of arms is divided into four quarters. The first and fourth quarters show the golden fleur-de-lis on a blue background, which is the symbol of the French monarchy. The second and third quarters show the red lions of England, which represent the English territories in France.

Quartering can also be combined with other advanced techniques, such as marshalling and differencing, to create a more complex coat of arms that tells a more elaborate story of a family’s heritage and history.


is a practice in the creation of a coat of arms to distinguish the different branches of a family that share the same shield and crest. Differencing involves adding small changes or variations to the original design to indicate the relationship of the individual to their family.

There are many different ways to difference a coat of arms, with common methods including changing the color of the charges on the shield or adding or removing symbols from the design. It is important to note that these changes should not be so drastic as to obscure the original design or make it unrecognizable.

Another common method of differencing is to add a mark of cadency, which is a small symbol usually placed in the upper part of the shield as an indicator of the individual’s family position. For example, the eldest son may add a label to the original design, while the second son may add a crescent.

It is also possible to difference a coat of arms by adding a symbol or charge that relates to the individual’s occupation, location, or personal achievements. For example, a doctor may add a serpent to their coat of arms, while a musician may add a lyre.

Differencing is an important practice in the heraldic tradition as it allows individuals to distinguish themselves within their own family and maintain the integrity of their family’s coat of arms.

Symbolism in Colors and Animals

Colors and animals have been an important part of coat of arms for centuries. Each color and animal has a specific symbolic meaning that represents a particular trait or characteristic. Understanding the symbolism behind these elements can help you interpret the meaning of a coat of arms.


The colors used in a coat of arms have a specific meaning. For example, red represents courage, blue signifies truth and loyalty, green symbolizes hope, and white represents purity and peace. Other colors like gold, silver, and black are also commonly used.

The use of multiple colors in a coat of arms is known as ‘tincture.’ Each tincture has a specific meaning. For example, the combination of red and gold symbolizes wisdom and passion while black and gold represents loyalty.


Animals also play an important role in the symbolism of a coat of arms. Each animal has a specific meaning. For example, the lion symbolizes courage and strength, while the eagle represents nobility and freedom. Other animals like the bear, wolf, and boar also have symbolic meaning.

The position in which the animal is depicted is also important. For example, an eagle depicted with its wings spread represents protection, while a lion with its tail between its legs symbolizes humility.

It is important to note that the symbolism of colors and animals used in a coat of arms can vary depending on the culture and region they originate from. It is always important to research the specific symbolism behind a coat of arms to gain a better understanding.

Understanding the symbolism behind colors and animals in a coat of arms is essential to interpreting its meaning. Utilizing this knowledge can help you gain a deeper appreciation for the history and tradition behind coat of arms.

Design your own Coat of Arms

Designing your own coat of arms can be a fun and exciting way to celebrate your family or personal identity. It’s a way to create a unique visual representation of your values and achievements. Here are some steps to follow when designing your own coat of arms:

Step 1: Choose the shield shape
The shield is the centerpiece of any coat of arms. It’s where the main design is located. There are several different shapes to choose from, including the traditional heater shape, the more angular kite shape, or the modern lozenge shape. Choose the shape that best fits your style and purpose.

Step 2: Select your colors
The colors used in a coat of arms are an important element, each with its own symbolic meaning. For example, red represents valor or courage, blue represents loyalty or truth, and green represents hope or joy. Pick colors that reflect your personality or values.

Step 3: Choose your symbols
The symbols used in a coat of arms can be animals, objects, or shapes. They often represent important aspects of your life, such as your occupation, hobbies, or accomplishments. For example, a book might represent knowledge or education, a tree might represent family history or growth, and a lion might represent bravery or leadership.

Step 4: Add your motto
A motto is a short phrase that appears on the coat of arms. It can express your family’s values, a personal belief, or a goal you strive to achieve. Choose a motto that is meaningful to you and fits with the rest of your design.

Step 5: Consider adding supporters
Some coats of arms include additional elements called supporters, which are two animals or figures that flank the shield and hold it up. They can be mythical creatures, animals that have personal meaning, or figures from history. Adding supporters can enhance the overall design and give it a unique flair.

Step 6: Get creative!
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to designing a coat of arms. Use your imagination and create something that is truly representative of you or your family. Experiment with different shapes, colors, and symbols until you find a combination that feels just right.

Designing a coat of arms can be a rewarding experience that creates a beautiful and meaningful piece of art. By following these steps and using your creativity, you can create a unique and lasting symbol of your identity and values.


In conclusion, understanding the components of a coat of arms is important not only for historical purposes but also as a way to express one’s identity and values. The various elements that make up a coat of arms have evolved over time, from the basic shield to the more advanced techniques of marshalling, quartering, and differencing. Each component, whether basic or advanced, adds meaning to the coat of arms and can be customized to reflect an individual or family’s heritage and values.

It is important to remember that every coat of arms tells a story, and the colors and animals used in the design have symbolic meaning. For example, red often represents courage and blue represents loyalty. Lions are often used to symbolize bravery and strength, while eagles represent freedom and power.

Designing your own coat of arms can be a fun and creative process, but it also requires careful consideration of the symbolism behind each component. By understanding the history and meaning behind the various elements of a coat of arms, you can create a design that is both visually appealing and representative of your identity and values.

In summary, the study of coat of arms is an interesting and dynamic field, and the components and symbolism involved in their creation can offer a unique insight into the history and values of different individuals and families. Whether you are interested in creating your own design or simply learning more about this fascinating topic, the information presented in this beginner’s guide is a great starting point.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a Coat of Arms?

A Coat of Arms was originally used to identify knights and display their achievements during battle. Today, it’s more often used as a symbol of family identity.

What is the history behind Coat of Arms?

Coat of Arms originated in medieval Europe as a way to identify knights in battle and evolved over time into symbols of family prestige and identity.

What are the basic components of a Coat of Arms?

The basic components of a Coat of Arms include a shield, helmet, crest, motto, and supporters.

What is the shield in a Coat of Arms used for?

The shield in a Coat of Arms is used to display the main symbol or charge that represents the family or individual.

What is the helmet in a Coat of Arms used for?

The helmet in a Coat of Arms is used to denote the rank or status of the individual or family.

What is the crest in a Coat of Arms used for?

The crest in a Coat of Arms is used to display an emblem or symbol that represents the family’s ideals or achievements.

What is the motto in a Coat of Arms used for?

The motto in a Coat of Arms is used to express the family’s values or beliefs.

What are supporters in a Coat of Arms?

Supporters in a Coat of Arms are figures or creatures used to flank the shield and indicate the family’s allegiance to royalty or high-ranking individuals.

What is marshalling in a Coat of Arms?

Marshalling is the process of combining two or more Coat of Arms to signify a united family or allied families.

What is differencing in a Coat of Arms?

Differencing in a Coat of Arms is the process of adding a distinguishing mark or symbol to differentiate between various branches of a family that share the same Coat of Arms.


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