Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Elizabethan Heraldry

Elizabethan Heraldry. Includes a history of heraldry through the renaissance, information on officers of arms in England and a primer of blazonry.

From the site:

The early histories of heralds and armory are roughly contemporary but separate stories. Heralds were originally free-lancers who specialized in the running and scoring of tournaments. Early (12th and 13th century) payment records lump them in with minstrels (i.e. they were considered a specialist "sub-class" of minstrels). Heralds were migratory, going from tournament to tournament and had an unsavory reputation in this period (medieval "carnies"). Period romances refer to them as lazy (i.e. "get a real job!").

Armory originated in the 12th century in the Anglo-Norman lands and quickly spread to much of Europe. At that time the full face helm came into vogue making it difficult to identify armored men in battle and in tournaments (which were free-for-all melees in this period, far different from the formalized jousts of Elizabethan times). Great lords (and soon thereafter all knights) decorated their shields and surcoats ("coats of arms") with distinctive designs--their "arms".

Heralds became experts at identifying knights by their arms since that was part of the herald’s job as a tourney officiant. The next step was for heralds to start recording arms; they developed armorials-a reference book or roll picturing or describing (blazoning) arms. Since heralds were familiar with arms they were consulted by knights wishing to assume arms. The herald could tell the knight if their desired design conflicted with an established one ("Certes, sir, a red shield with three gold lions passant would look smashing but those arms are already taken by the king of England").

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