What are Family Crests?
Family crests are also known as coat of arms or shield of arms. They are made in the form of helmets, shields or armors. When, for example, the knights participated in jousts and such the family /clan symbol on their helmet or armor made it easier for spectators to tell who was who. In medieval times the emblems were also woven onto horse blankets, etc.
Folk tradition has it that the men hand down their family crests to their first born male child. While he gets the original crest – which is known as cadency - the other sons will use that same design to create similar (but not identical) coat of arms that were used when they represent their families.
During the feudalism period, one coat of arms represented an entire family. This tradition has been abolished and now there is no such rule as only one coat of arm for the last name of a person.
There are many cultural variations on the rules for use of these family crests:
- Ancient Roman shield insignia identified military units, rather than families.
- Monsho (Japanese family crests) are only used by upper class families. These symbols can be traced to the ancestor tombstones which are engraved with the family symbol.
- Irish usage was strictly regulated by the Ulster King of Arms, an office established in 1552. Prior to that the Ireland King of Arms was created in 1392 by King Richard II and was heavily regulated.