As the number of coats of arms increased in the 12th and 13th centuries it became the responsibility of “Heralds” to record the various shields. Initially “Rolls of Arms” were produced which were a collection of “coats of arms” usually painted, drawn or listed on parchment. Eventually “Ordinary of Arms” were produced which were more of a reference work that listed coats of arms in alphabetical order. These lists were a description of individual shields, called a BLAZON. Two of the most authoritative reference works on coats of arms are generally accepted to be:
The General Armoury of England Scotland Ireland and Wales by Sir Bernard Burke (1884)
Armourial General by J B Reitstap (1884)
Although there are a number of complex rules governing how a coat of arms is described and constructed the best way to illustrate a blazon of arms is to look at an example. The record for the surname Abberton is as follows:
Abberton: Ar. a chev. betw. three wolves’ heads erased sa.
There are only nine colours used in heraldry as illustrated below:
The first letters in the blazon describe the background
colour of the shield “Ar” which is a white or silver shield.
The next section of the blazon “a chev” is a cheveron
The colour of the cheveron in this case is given at the
end "sa" which is black
followed by “betw. three wolves’ heads erased” which stands
for - between the cheveron are three wolves’ heads erased
(ripped at the neck) which take the initial colour (Ar) white or silver.
This gives the final white shield with three wolves on a
When two people marry from families with their own crests it was common for the couple to adopt a family crest that was a combination of the crests of their parents. This is best illustrated by example.
Consider the marrage of children from the the families of Morgan and Shackelton
Shackelton Coat of Arms
Morgan Coat of Arms
There are two accepted ways to make a combined family shield, "Impaled" and "Quartered". With an impaled shield the first half is representative of the male line and the second the female line. Although this works with the Morgan and Shackelton shields there are many occassions were the result is visually poor. The most common form of combined shield is the quartered shield where the top left and bottom right quarters are derived from the male line with the other two being derived from the female line. This invariably give a better result and is the most common way of making a a combined shield. An xample of each shield is show below.
"Impaled" Morgan-Shackelton Coat of Arms
"Quartered" Morgan-Shackelton Coat of Arms
In the medieval times it was accepted that many noblemen would have a number of illegitimate children. When these children were acknowledge they could adopt the family coat of arms with the addition of a diagonal black bar across the shiled - this is called a "sinister"
It was also common to name the child after the father's first name with the addition of the prefix "Fitz. Hence a person named Fitzhenry was the illegitiame son of Henry.
Morgan Coat of Arms with sinister