The family crests and their meanings in its most complex form can be broken down into eight separate elements; the shield, helm, crest, wreath, mantling, supporters, compartment and motto scroll. Not all family crests have all eight elements with most family crests only having 4 or 5. The diagram below highlights the eight elements with a brief explanation of each.
Family Crests Meanings - The shield is the essential element of the coat of arms. It is the main part of the design that uniquely identifies the individual to whom it belongs. Early designs were simple geometric patterns with the complexity of the design increasing as time progressed or people married. It was common, on marriage, for a couple to combine the coat of arms of both families. Additions could be made to a shield to denote bravery on the battle field or the illegitimate child of a noble family.
Family Crests Meanings - The mantling is a protective cloth fixed to the helmet and probably originated from the Holy Land where it was worn by crusading knights to absorb the sun’s heat and prevent the helmet from becoming too hot.
Family Crests Meanings - Early coats of arms used simple helm’s that were a reflection of the design of a knight’s helmet. With the wholesale adoption of crests by the nobility of the Tudor period helms became more varied and impractical. By the early 1600’s the helm used on a coat of arms was a reflection of the individuals rank; the tilting helm was used by gentlemen and esquires, a barrier helm by baronets and knights, with the melee helm reserved for peers.
Family Crest Meaning - Supporters are figures placed on either side of the shield. They have no practical origin and started to appear in the fifteenth century. Supporters are normally granted to people of rank such as peers and Knights of the Garter.
Family Crest Meaning - The wreath is a band of twisted stands of material worn about the helmet as decoration to conceal that base of the crest where it joined the helmet.
Family Crest Meaning - The crest is attached to the helm and was initially only used by those with the appropriate rank (knights, etc). It is probable the right to have a crest was an honour additional to the right to have a coat of arms. However, as with so much in heraldry, the Tudors managed to abuse the system with the number and type of crests increasing rapidly during this period.
Family Crests and Their Meanings - The compartment is the base upon which the supporters rest. It can take a number of forms but is usually a grassy mound or graded pebbles.
Family Crest Meaning - A motto and a coat of arms coat of arms family crest can be derived from many sources and can represent the battle cry of a leader, an oblique reference to an event in the family’s history or an aspiration. English mottoes are normally on an additional scroll beneath the shield with Latin or French being the favoured languages. A few family mottos are:
D’Arcy Family - Un Dieu, un roi - One God, one king
Percy Family - Esperance en Dieu - Hope in God
Surtees Fanmily - Malo mori quam fœdari - I would rather die than be disgraced