Exploring the History and Evolution of Crests

When we think of crests, we often associate them with a bygone era of knights and royalty. However, the history and evolution of crests is a fascinating subject that has relevance even in modern times. From medieval symbols of chivalry and allegiance to modern-day corporate logos, crests have undergone significant changes. Additionally, symbolism in crests, such as colors, animals, and shapes, also carry meaning and communicate the values of the owner. But, with the growing awareness of cultural appropriation, crests have become a topic of controversy. In this article, we will dive deep into the history, evolution, types, symbolism, and controversies surrounding crests.

What is a Crest?

A crest is a symbol representing a family, organization, or individual. It is usually displayed above a coat of arms or shield, and it is used as an identifier. The term “crest” is often used interchangeably with “coat of arms,” but they are not the same. A coat of arms includes a combination of a shield, crest, helmet, mantling, supporters (sometimes), and motto.

A crest is a small image on top of a helmet that was originally worn by knights in battle to identify themselves. It later became a status symbol and was used to represent an individual or a noble family. Crests were usually made up of animals, plants, or objects that had personal meaning to the individual or family, and they were often accompanied by a motto.

Crests were commonly used during medieval times and have since evolved into more modern designs. While crests were originally a symbol of nobility, they have now become more accessible to the general public and are used by a variety of organizations and individuals.

A crest is an emblem that represents something important to an individual or organization and is used to identify and distinguish them from others.

The History of Crests

The history of crests can be traced back to the Middle Ages, where they were developed as components of heraldic achievements. A crest was typically added to the top of a coat of arms to identify individuals in battle or tournaments.

Initially, crests were used by knights and lords, but they later became widespread and were used by other members of the nobility. The designs of these crests were often inspired by the coat of arms they were associated with. The concept of using crests for identification purposes quickly spread, especially in Europe.

In the later centuries, crests became sophisticated with an intricate assortment of designs, symbols, and colors. The designs ranged from simple designs such as letters, initials, and animals to complex designs that included a combination of symbols and meanings. They were also used for decorative purposes on architecture and furniture.

Crests and coat of arms continued to serve as symbols of status, wealth and power. Kings, queens and other high-ranking officials had elaborate crests and coat of arms which were intended to display their authority and grandeur.

As time passed, crests became more widely recognized and began to evolve into the modern day logos. They are now used to represent various organizations, businesses, and institutions. Despite facing some controversy, crests have maintained their importance as a unique symbol of identity and heritage.

Source: Heraldic Achievements Significance

Why were Crests used?

Crests were used as a form of identification throughout history. They served as a way to distinguish armies during battles, as well as to distinguish knights during tournaments. A crest was also used as a symbol of honor and pride for a family, representing their lineage and achievements.

During the medieval period, armor made it difficult to distinguish one knight from another, as it covered their entire body. In order to differentiate themselves, knights would adorn their helmets with various designs and symbols. These designs were eventually referred to as crests, and became a prominent symbol of the noble class.

Aside from their use in warfare, crests were also used in civic life and commerce. Merchants would use crests to identify their goods and services, while cities and towns would use crests to represent their jurisdiction and authority.

Over time, crests became more intricate and detailed. They evolved from simple designs to complex and ornate symbols, featuring animals, plants, and other objects. These symbols were combined together to create a coat of arms, which included a shield, motto, and supporters.

So why were crests used? Ultimately, crests were a symbol of identity and status. They were used as a tool for identification, partly due to armor and helmet coverings, but also as a way to display prestige and accomplishments. Today, many families and organizations still use crests as a way to honor their history and traditions.


Evolution of Crests

Evolution Of Crests

Crests have a long and fascinating history that dates back to medieval times. They were used originally as a means of identifying knights in battle by displaying their coat of arms on their shield or banner. Over time, crests became more elaborate and adorned with various symbols and colors to represent different families or groups.

During the medieval era, crests were primarily used to identify knights in battle. A knight’s crest would typically consist of a symbol or emblem that represented their family or lord. These crests were often painted on a shield, which the knight would carry into battle. As time went on, crests became more elaborate, incorporating more symbols and colors.

During the Renaissance, the use of crests became more widespread and evolved beyond just identifying knights. Families began using crests as a means of representing their heritage and lineage, which led to elaborate and detailed designs depicting complex imagery such as heraldry and animals. The transition from medieval to modern crests was marked by the emergence of a standardized language of heraldry, which dictated the use of specific motifs and tinctures.

Today, crests are used for a variety of purposes and are not limited to just identifying individuals or families. Many companies incorporate crests into their branding and logos, using symbols and motifs that represent their business. Crests have become a popular item for collectors, with antique or vintage crests being highly sought-after.

Whether used for identification, representation, or simply as a decorative symbol, crests have played an important role throughout history. Their evolution has been marked by the incorporation of increasingly complex designs, symbolism, and color schemes. As we continue to move forward, it’s likely that crests will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing needs and requirements of society.

Internal link: Tinctures and their significance in heraldry.

Medieval Crests

During the medieval period, crests were used primarily by feudal lords and knights as a symbol of their identity. These crests were typically found on their coat of arms and helped to identify them during battles or jousts. The use of crests during this time was heavily influenced by heraldry, which is the study of coat of arms and the use of symbolism in them.

Design: Medieval crests were typically designed using bold and strong imagery that represented the individual or clan. These designs often included animals, such as lions or eagles, to represent the individual’s strength or bravery. Other design elements included the use of crosses, shields, and swords to demonstrate the individual’s dedication to the Christian faith and their prowess in battle.

Materials: The materials used to create these crests were also significant. The crests were typically made out of metal, such as gold or silver, and often adorned with precious stones. These materials added to the prestige and status of the individual or clan.

Usage: The crests were often worn on helmets during battles or displayed on banners during jousts. They were also used on personal items, such as rings or wax seals, to indicate ownership. These crests were part of a complex system of status and hierarchy that existed during the medieval period.

Evolution: Over time, the designs of crests evolved to become more intricate and detailed. The use of color and additional symbols, such as fleurs-de-lis or unicorns, became common. These crests also became more widespread and were not limited to just feudal lords and knights.

Medieval crests were an important part of the medieval period, representing status, identity, and individuality. They were a symbol of strength, power, and nobility and continue to be used today in some form, evolving to meet the changing times and trends.

Transition to Modern Crests

Modern heraldry saw a significant transformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. During that time, European society went through radical changes, and so did coat of arms artistry. The crest grew faster during the Elizabethan era as simpler and grandiose motifs became more widespread.

During the Renaissance, a new era of coat of arms emerged, marked by the increased use of symbols such as foliage, fleur-de-lis, and other natural elements. The design became more complex with the inclusion of supporters and mantlings. Supporters were figures on either side of the shield, often animals, representing royalty, knights, or other high-ranking officials. Mantlings were the decorative drapery draping from the sides of the helm and encircling the crest.

The Tudor monarchs, especially Elizabeth I, used elaborate crests to signify power and status. She established the **Garter King of Arms** to oversee all heraldic activity, creating a system of order. This regulation ensured that heraldry was a well-coordinated activity, executed with precision and care.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, industrial revolutions brought significant changes in the socio-economic structure of society. The rise of bourgeoisie paved the way for new forms of heraldry, with *corporate crests* becoming more popular.

During this time, the design also became more aligned with classical elements, resulting in a simpler style that focused more on using one or two elements. The use of the shield became less frequent, and the motto became part of the design.

The transition from medieval to modern crests brought significant changes in design and style. Medieval crests were more simplistic, often featuring religious references or basic shapes such as crosses or lions. As society evolved, crests became more complex, with new elements and symbols being introduced, reflecting the values of each era.

Modern Day Crests

Modern day crests have undergone many changes, becoming simpler and more graphic in nature. In the past, crests were often used to denote social hierarchy, royal lineage, or clan affiliation. However, in modern times, crests have been adapted for use in various fields such as branding and graphic design.

One of the biggest transformations in modern crests is the move towards simplicity. Rather than featuring complex imagery and heraldic symbolism, modern crests often utilize simple shapes and bold typography to create a modern and recognizable brand identity. This can be seen in the logos of many modern companies, which use crests as a recognizable symbol of their brand.

Modern crests often place a greater emphasis on color. While traditional crests were limited to a few colors, modern crests can feature a wide range of colors, incorporating shades and gradients to create a distinct brand image. This can also help the crest to stand out in a crowded marketplace, making it easier to recognize and remember.

Another trend in modern crests is the use of typography. Many modern crests incorporate bold typography as a way to stand out and create a recognizable brand identity. This can be seen in the logos of companies such as Nike and Apple, which use typography as a key component of their branding.

Modern day crests have evolved from their historical roots into a modern and adaptable form of graphic design. Whether used for branding purposes or simply as a way to create a unique visual identity, modern crests continue to be a powerful tool for companies and brands alike.

Types of Crests

Family Crests

A family crest is a symbol or design that represents a particular family. These crests have been used by families for centuries to identify themselves and their lineage. Family crests often include elements such as animals, shapes, or symbols that represent the family’s history, accomplishments, or values.

Corporate Crests

Corporate crests are similar to family crests but are designed for companies or organizations as a way to represent their brand. These crests often include elements such as the company’s name, mission statement, or industry-specific symbols. Corporate crests are commonly used in marketing and branding to create a recognizable and trustworthy image for the company.

University and School Crests

University and school crests are designed to represent an educational institution. These crests often include elements such as the school’s motto, location, and symbols of accomplishment. University and school crests are commonly used on diplomas, transcripts, and other official documents.

Military Crests

Military crests are used by military units to represent their battalion or division. These crests often include elements such as the unit’s motto, location, and symbols of valor. Military crests are commonly displayed on uniforms, flags, and other military equipment.

Sports Team Crests

Sports team crests are used by professional sports teams to represent their team and its fanbase. These crests often include elements such as the team’s name, mascot, and colors. Sports team crests are commonly used on team uniforms, merchandise, and advertisements.

Crests are used to represent a particular group or organization and its values, history, and accomplishments. Whether it be a family, corporation, university, military unit, or sports team, crests are an important way for groups to establish their identity and stand out in their respective fields.

Family Crests

Family crests are unique to each family and serve as a symbol of their heritage. They are a form of identification and can offer insight into a family’s origins and values. In medieval times, family crests were used as a way to identify knights and soldiers on the battlefield. However, over time, they became a way for families to showcase their status and wealth.

A family crest typically features a shield, which is the central part of the design. This shield is often divided into sections, each of which can feature different symbols or colors that hold specific meanings. For example, lions may be used to symbolize strength and courage, while eagles may represent bravery or nobility.

In addition to the shield, family crests can also include a motto or slogan. These mottos are often written in Latin and can offer insight into a family’s values and beliefs. Some popular mottos include “Fortune favors the bold” and “Always faithful”.

It’s important to note that not every family has a family crest. In fact, it was typically only the nobility and upper classes who had the means to create and commission these designs. However, as time has passed, it has become easier and more affordable for families of all backgrounds to create their own family crests.

In modern times, family crests can still hold value for families who wish to honor their heritage and legacy. Many families choose to display their family crest in their homes or as part of their personal branding, such as on a business card or website. With the rise of genealogy and ancestry research, family crests have become even more popular as a way to connect with one’s past.

Corporate Crests

Corporate crests are emblems that represent businesses, organizations, and companies. Much like family crests, corporate crests contain symbols, animals, and colors that have specific meanings and represent the values and mission of the company. Corporate crests have a long history, dating back to the Middle Ages when guilds and associations used them to differentiate one another.

Today, corporate crests are used as a visual tool to develop brand awareness and recognition. They are strategically designed to appeal to the target audience while representing the unique identity and personality of the company. Corporate crests are often displayed on business cards, letterheads, websites, and marketing materials as a way to establish credibility and professionalism.

The design of a corporate crest often includes elements such as the company name, founding date, and geographic location. Additionally, symbols and animals are carefully selected to reflect the nature of the business. For example, a construction company may choose to incorporate images of hammers and saws into their crest, while a tech company may use circuit boards or computer screens.

One common trend in modern corporate crest design is the minimalist approach. Many companies choose to simplify their crests, opting for a clean and straightforward design instead of a complex emblem. This minimalist approach often includes simple geometric shapes, muted colors, and sans-serif typography.

Corporate crests also help companies establish a strong visual identity which can help with branding and marketing efforts. When a customer sees a company’s crest, he or she will immediately associate it with that particular company, a process that helps build brand recognition and recall.

In recent years, there has been controversy surrounding the use of certain corporate crests, particularly those that are perceived as culturally insensitive or appropriative. Many companies have faced backlash and criticism for using symbols or imagery that are offensive or inappropriate. As a result, companies are now taking a closer look at their corporate crests and reevaluating their design choices to avoid any potential controversy or negative associations.

Corporate crests are an essential part of the branding and marketing efforts of many businesses. A well-designed crest can give a company a competitive advantage by establishing a memorable visual identity and communicating its values and mission to customers.

Symbolism in Crests

Symbolism In Crests
Symbolism in crests refers to the use of various elements such as colors, animals, and shapes to convey a particular message or meaning. In this section, we will explore the different elements used in crests and their meanings.

Colors are an essential element of crests, as they often convey a particular meaning or message. Heraldry, the art of designing and granting crests, has a precise language for colors. Some of the most common colors used in crests are:

  • Red: represents valor and courage
  • Blue: represents truth and loyalty
  • Gold: represents generosity and elevation of the mind
  • Silver: represents purity and sincerity
  • Green: represents hope and loyalty in love
  • Purple: represents royal majesty and sovereignty

The combination of colors also plays a role in the meaning of crests. For example, a crest with a red and gold color combination would represent courage and generosity.

Animals are another essential element in crests and often represent specific qualities. It is common to see lions, eagles, and horses in crests, but there are many other animals used as well. Here are some examples:

  • Lion: represents strength and bravery
  • Eagle: represents strength, courage, and farsightedness
  • Horse: represents speed, courage, and loyalty
  • Bear: represents strength and bravery
  • Boar: represents courage and fierceness
  • Dolphin: represents swiftness and diligence

The use of animals in crests is not limited to real animals. Dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, and griffins are also used, and each carries its own symbolism.

Shapes and lines can also convey specific meanings in crests. The following are examples of some of the most common shapes and lines used in crests:

  • Diamond: represents light and transparency
  • Crescent: represents honor and a willingness to undertake new projects
  • Cross: represents faith and spirituality
  • Star: represents divine guidance and protection
  • Wave: represents the sea and its dangers
  • Bar: represents military strength and fortitude

The use of symbolism in crests is an ancient tradition that continues to this day. The various elements used in crests, such as colors, animals, shapes, and lines, convey a multitude of meanings that resonate with individuals and organizations. Understanding these symbols and their meanings can help in both designing and interpreting crests.

Colors and Heraldry

Colors play a significant role in heraldry, and the meaning behind each color has been established for centuries. Here are some examples of colors and their symbolism in heraldry:

Color Symbolism
Red Bravery, strength, and valor. It is also the color of martyrdom.
Blue Loyalty, truth, and wisdom.
Green Hope, loyalty, and love. It is also the color of spring and new beginnings.
Purple Regal, mystical, and spiritual. It was once the color of royalty and the wealthy elite.
Yellow/Gold Generosity, elevation of the mind, and constancy.
White Purity, innocence, and peace. It is also the color of faith and light.
Black Grief and mourning. It is also associated with seriousness, darkness, and the unknown.

These colors are often used as backgrounds or in combination with other colors and symbols to create a personal or organizational crest. The symbolism behind these colors has been passed down for generations and is still relevant today in modern heraldry.

It’s important to note that colors can also have different meanings depending on the culture or region they are used in. For example, in Chinese culture, red represents good luck and happiness, while in Western culture, it is associated with love and passion. In Japanese culture, gold represents prosperity and wealth, while in heraldry, it can symbolize generosity and elevation of the mind.

The use of color in heraldry adds another layer of meaning to a crest and helps to convey the personality and values of the individual or organization it represents.

Animals and their Meanings

Since ancient times, animals have been an important part of crests. In heraldry, each animal has its own meaning and symbolism. Understanding the symbolism of animals can give you a deeper appreciation of the crests and the families or institutions they represent.

One of the most common animals used in crests is the lion. The lion has long been a symbol of strength and courage, and it often appears on royal crests. It represents bravery, nobility, and leadership. The unicorn is another popular animal used in crests, often representing purity, freedom, and power.

The hawk, a symbol of vigilance, is often used in crests to symbolize guardianship. The bear, on the other hand, represents strength, ferocity, and protection. Many military units use the bear in their crests to symbolize their strength and bravery in battle.

The griffin, a mythical creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion, is often used in crests to represent power, speed, and intelligence. The dragon, a symbol of power, strength, and wisdom, is often used in Asian cultures and is also a popular choice for fantasy crests.

Other animals used in crests include the eagle, which represents courage and freedom, the wolf, which represents loyalty and guardianship, and the boar, which represents fierceness and courage in battle.

Incorporating animals into crests not only adds aesthetic value but also holds symbolic meaning. Each animal carries its own unique message, and combining animals with other symbols and colors can add even deeper meaning to the crest as a whole.

Shapes and Lines

Shapes and lines also play a significant role in the symbolism of crests. Each shape and line has its own meaning and can convey a message to viewers of the crest.


Circle: The circle represents eternity, wholeness, and the community. Family crests often use a circle to represent unity.
Square: The square represents Earth, stability, and strength. It is often used in corporate crests to convey a sense of reliability and solidity.
Triangle: The triangle represents action, creativity, and harmony. It is often used in crests related to the arts or culture.


Chevron: The chevron represents protection and refers to the shape of a rood screen, a common feature in medieval churches.
Fess: The fess is a horizontal line that represents military belts and is often associated with honor and valor.
Bend: The bend represents a knight’s surcoat and often signifies defense or protection.

By using these shapes and lines in a crest, the designer can convey specific meanings and messages to those who view it. The correct combination of shapes and lines can even hint at the history of a family or corporation.

The symbolism of shapes and lines in crests is an important aspect of their design. By understanding the meanings behind each shape and line, designers can create highly detailed and meaningful crests.

Controversy Surrounding Crests

Crests have a long and rich history, but as with any symbol, they can at times be a source of controversy. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which crests have been controversial throughout history.

One of the most common controversies surrounding crests is the appropriation of them by individuals or organizations who have no rightful claim to them. This often happens with family crests that have been passed down over generations, only to be co-opted by a completely unrelated individual.

Similarly, corporate logos that resemble family crests or use similar symbols can be controversial, as some people view it as the corporation trying to cash in on a family’s history and heritage.

Efforts have been made in recent years to eliminate the appropriation of crests. For example, in Scotland, the Lord Lyon holds the power to grant and protect coats of arms, and can take legal action against those who use unapproved crests.

Similarly, many organizations and corporations now consult with experts in heraldry to ensure that their logos and symbols do not unintentionally infringe upon a family crest or other heraldic symbol.

The controversy surrounding crests highlights the importance of respecting the history and heritage behind these symbols, and taking steps to ensure that they are not misused or appropriated for personal gain.

Controversy Cause Possible Solution
Appropriation Individuals or organizations use crests to which they have no rightful claim. Legal action or consultation with heraldry experts to avoid infringement.

Appropriation of Crests

The use of crests has become a popular trend in modern times in various industries, such as fashion, sports, and entertainment. However, this trend has led to some controversies, leading to debates over the appropriation of crests.

One of the main issues with crest appropriation is that it often involves taking symbols or crests belonging to indigenous cultures and using them for commercial purposes. This act is viewed as disrespectful towards these cultures, and it raises questions about cultural misappropriation.

Another issue is the use of historical family crests without permission or connection to the family. This has become a common issue in the fashion industry, where designers use ancient family crests without researching the history behind them and without considering the significance of these symbols to the family.

Some individuals and organizations use existing crests for personal or promotional gain without permission, leading to legal disputes. This act of appropriation is not only unethical, but it can also lead to financial and reputational damage.

The appropriation of crests has sparked conversations about cultural appreciation and awareness. It has become essential to understand the cultural significance of a crest before using it. Additionally, it is recommended to approach crest creation and usage with sensitivity and respect towards the original creators and owners.

The appropriation of crests is a concerning issue that requires ethical considerations and cultural sensitivity. It is crucial to acknowledge and respect the significance of a crest to its original creators and owners before using it for personal or promotional gain.

Eliminating Appropriation

As with any cultural symbol, crests have been subject to appropriation and misuse. This is when a crest is used by someone who has no right or connection to it. This is usually done for financial gain or to make a statement. This is very controversial and many people argue that it is disrespectful to the culture and people from which the crest originates.

There have been many cases where crests have been appropriated, particularly those of Indigenous peoples. This is often done without any consultation or permission from the people whose crest is being used. This can lead to the misuse and misrepresentation of the crest, which can cause offense and hurt.

The Importance of Consent

One way to eliminate crest appropriation is to ensure that the people who own the crest have given their explicit consent for it to be used. This can be done through legal agreements or through communication with the relevant communities. It is important to remember that just because a crest is in the public domain, it does not mean that it can be used without permission.

Respecting Cultural Traditions

Another way to eliminate crest appropriation is to respect the cultural traditions and values of the people who own the crest. This means taking the time to understand the significance of the crest and the culture and history behind it. It also means ensuring that the crest is used appropriately and not for financial gain or to make a statement.

Final Thoughts

The issue of crest appropriation is a very complex and sensitive one. It is important to remember that crests are more than just symbols, they are part of a peoples’ cultural identity and should be treated with respect and dignity. By ensuring that the people who own the crest have given their consent for it to be used and by respecting the cultural traditions and values of the people, we can help to eliminate crest appropriation and promote cultural sensitivity and understanding.


In conclusion, the history of crests is a fascinating journey that spans centuries. From medieval times to modern day, crests have evolved and adapted to reflect the changing times and purposes. The use of crests has extended beyond just the noble families, with corporations and organizations adopting crests to represent their brand identity.

The symbolism and meanings behind the different elements of a crest are rich and diverse. Traditionally, crests were used to showcase the family’s history and achievements. Today, crests can represent anything from a corporation’s values to an individual’s personal beliefs.

However, the use of crests has not been without controversy. Cultural appropriation of crests by non-noble families and overt commercialization have been criticized by both traditionalists and reformists alike. On the other hand, some argue that the evolution and adaptation of crests makes them more relevant and accessible to a wider audience.

Regardless of one’s stance on the matter, it is clear that the role of crests in society will continue to evolve and adapt. As long as there are families, organizations, and cultures seeking to represent themselves in a distinctive and meaningful way, crests will continue to be a powerful symbol of identity and heritage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the oldest known crest?

The oldest known crest belongs to King Pepin the Short, who reigned from 751-768 AD. His crest portrays a golden lion, which has become a symbol of courage and strength over time.

How many colors are used in heraldry?

There are seven primary colors used in heraldry: red, blue, green, purple, black, yellow, and white. These colors are used in various combinations to create unique crests.

What animals are commonly used in crests?

Lions, eagles, horses, and unicorns are some of the most commonly used animals in crests. Each animal has its own unique symbolism and meaning, which is typically tied to the characteristics it is known for.

When did crests first become popular?

Crests became popular in medieval times, specifically in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were used as a way to distinguish between different knights and to represent one’s family or lineage.

Can anyone create their own crest?

Yes, anyone can create their own crest. However, it is important to understand the symbolism behind each element that is added to the crest, as well as the historical context in which crests were originally used.

What is the significance of the colors used in crests?

Each color used in a crest has its own symbolism and meaning. For example, red typically represents courage, blue represents loyalty, and green represents hope.

How are crests typically designed?

Crests are typically designed using a shield as the base, with various symbols and elements added on top. In modern times, crests can also be designed using software programs that allow for more customization and detail.

Are crests still used today?

Yes, crests are still used today, although they are not as common as they once were. They are typically used by families to represent their lineage and history, as well as by corporations and organizations to represent their values and beliefs.

What is the purpose of a crest?

The purpose of a crest is to represent one’s lineage, history, and values. It can also be used as a way to distinguish between different individuals or groups, such as knights on a battlefield.

What is the difference between a family crest and a coat of arms?

A family crest usually only includes the symbols and elements used to represent a specific family or lineage, while a coat of arms includes these elements as well as a motto or slogan that represents the family’s values. Additionally, coats of arms were typically granted by a monarch or noble, while family crests were often created independently by the family themselves.


Leave a Comment