Family Coats of Arms
Since earliest times, men have sought out feelings of acceptance and a need to belong. The hunters and gatherers formed groups in order to survive and prosper. As the population increased, members would branch out and form new groups.
With the advent of archaeology, discoveries were unearthed that showed groups would decorate and make their pottery in unique ways from any other group. Historians and archaeologists have argued that these pottery shards are in fact the first documented coats of arms.
By the time of the rise of nations it was a general custom to adopt some symbol by which they could be distinguished from another. This custom reached its fullest development by the Middle Ages. The carrying of personal armorial insignia on shields and banners began widespread in feudal times. A knight had his face covered with the visor from his helmet and as such, had to be recognized at a distance. During the Crusades these marks and colours were worn outside their coat of mail on their surcoat and hence the expression "coat of arms."
Insignia were not hereditary at first and knights were free to choose their own symbols, as were wealthy individuals, families, towns, lordships, abbeys and other groups who had gained the favour of the reigning monarch. As confusion and duplication grew so did the complexity of these symbols. What had started out as a simple form of identification and pride had risen to a complex system of inherited social status. The problem became so widespread that in 1484 the Herald's College was established in Britain to oversee all claims of subjects to armorial rights. No arms were considered legal unless recorded in the College.
Beginning in 1528, officers of the Herald's College began making visitations throughout the country. Their purpose was to find out which coats of Arms were in use and make a record of the genealogies of the families using these arms. If there was a person who desired to use arms, but could not prove a right of descent to them, they could make a petition to the local Earl Marshall. If this was granted then the Earl Marshall issued a warrant to the officers of the College to grant arms to him.
The genealogies collected throughout these times are mostly still in existence today as well as the continual granting of arms by the College. And though the Herald's College was formed to handle Britain's Coat of Arms; the use, pride and recording of special insignia has been around as long as mankind.
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