By Brian W. Hutchison

There has been some confusion by scholars on the origins of Heraldry. However, it is commonly thought that heraldry emerged in Western Europe in the 11 century to meet the necessity for military identification. It is thought to have been originally developed by the military as a hereditary system of identification using visual symbols according to certain conventions. Strictly speaking, the term “heraldry” has a wider significance, however, covering all the functions of a herald, or officer concerned with arms, genealogy, ceremonies, and precedence. The term is commonly accepted as pertaining to the devising, granting, and use of Coats of Arms, or armorial bearings. This type of symbolism became so popular that it was soon adopted by civilian individuals and by corporate bodies such as town governments, universities, and the church, and eventually by regiments and national states.

A Coat of Arms was originally a light tunic decorated with various vestiges of this defined symbolism and was worn over the knight’s battle armor. This symbolism is believed to have served to identify the wearer (whose face might be covered by the visor of his helmet) as the member of a particular family or group. This premise remains somewhat in question by scholars in this field, however. Regardless, the symbolism and vestiges of heraldry became encapsulated into what is now known as one’s “Coat of Arms.”