Coat of Arms

Published on 4 August 2023 at 09:00

Every now and then as a genealogist I have come across individuals who display a coat of arms. These family crests go back generations from their lives in Europe and can occasionally be seen on their family trees.

Naturally as a historian this made me curious as to who or what started this tradition of having a coat of arms, what exactly a coat of arms meant, and who can claim to have a coat of arms. 

According to one resource a coat of arms is "the principal part of a system of hereditary symbols dating back to early medieval Europe...arms evolved to denote family descent, adoption, alliance, property ownership, and, eventually, profession."

These symbols were first invented as a form of identification as soldiers in 12th Century Europe were often covered in head to toe body armor when doing battle.

In the beginning nobles and wealthy individuals were the only individuals who had a coat of arms. They carefully determined which symbols would be used, but if for some reason a family wanted a different symbol on their coat of arms they had to petition the King for its approval. 

The coat of arms begins with the shape of the crest itself, the shield, the helmet, the wreath, mangling, and then the motto which came later in its history. 

So, who cam claim to have a coat of arms? After speaking with a European historian a few years ago about these beautiful medieval displays of family position and military duty, I was surprised to learn that a coat of arms is not actually attached to surnames. 

Instead the coats are passed down from fathers to their legitimate heirs. Because of this it can be discerned whether or not a certain individual has a coat of arms by tracing their family genealogy, but it is not based on their last name. 

There is without a doubt still more history behind these banners & crest. A great example are the meanings of the colors fashioned on the coats such as gold meaning generosity, red meaning warrior, blue meaning truth and loyalty and white meaning peace. The oldest coat of arms belongs to the Glover family, first recorded in 1255 C.E. 

Does your family have a coat of arms? Can you trace back its origin in your family tree? If so, share the colors and symbols with us in the comments below or tag us on social media. Visit for all of our platforms. 

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