By what authority were coat of arms created, and were they ever intended to be a mark of distinction for descendants?

+8 votes
I amassed a collection of more than 80 different Blanchard family crests and read they were intended for the recipients only, and not passed down through the ages.

By what authority were coat of arms created, and were they ever intended to be a mark of distinction for descendants?
in The Tree House by George Blanchard G2G6 Mach 9 (91.1k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
Ignoring the firms that churn out sham coats of arms, to get a real one you have to apply to the Royal College of Arms. There are basically two ways to go about this. (A) Prove that you are of direct descent from someone already granted Arms. (B) Apply, making your case as to why you feel you need one.

One point here, you mention Crests, that is just the decoration on the helmet, not the whole coat of arms, so, any firm that talks of Family crests .... you know how little they actually know about it.

The original purpose was to distinguish one Knight in full armour from another, and there were severe punishments for sporting arms that you were not entitled to. Imagine, in full armour, 'Identity theft' would be quite easy.

Often coats of arms were passed down, but each with slight differences, so it showed you were of that family, yet also identified you as an individual.

4 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer
To start with, arms were a free-for-all.  Eventually the Earl Marshal was put in charge of regulating heraldry in England (Scotland has its own arrangements).  The title of Earl Marshal became a hereditary possession of the Dukes of Norfolk (still is).  The Earl's courts would hear complaints.

Later (around 1490), the College of Arms was set up with the Earl Marshal in charge. It was established that only a gentleman could bear arms, and the heralds at the College had power and discretion to decide who was a gentleman.

It was laid down that usage was sufficient evidence of entitlement - you could show your right to a coat by showing that your ancestors had used it.  Most people had nothing else then.

But it was never clearly stated that this was only intended to apply to ancient arms from the pre-College era, before official records were kept.  As a result, 19th-century armchair lawyers would claim "usage" for the arms unofficially adopted by their 18th-century ancestors.

William III had found a technical way to suspend the Earl Marshal's courts, so although the College retained its authority on paper, it became a toothless bulldog.  It's now been sold off to private enterprise and is just a commercial operation giving the customers what they want.

Nor was it ever explicitly stated that the heralds could grant new arms to upwardly-mobile nouveau-riche plebs.  They often did, but they liked to cover their tracks with some sort of fig-leaf.  So it was never officially admitted that gentry didn't need blood, money would do the trick.

Early Visitation pedigrees often start with "a second brother out of the house of" or just "came out of Yorkshire".  This basically means "no idea where this lot sprung from, but the dinner and the wine were up to scratch, so they're in".

So arms were always hereditary, but only to descendants of the original holder, not collaterals.  In the case of the nouveau-riche, the grantee was often just one member of a sprawling clan.

And descendants who descended into the ranks of yeomen and below were expected to drop the pretension of gentility when they didn't have the money to support it.
by Anonymous Horace G2G6 Pilot (566k points)
selected by John Orchard
+3 votes
It is possible today to apply for a coat of arms, one will be made  up for you, or if your name already has one, it can be assumed. There is no (in the US of A) any benefit derived from a coat of arms other than bragging rights.

"By what authority were coat of arms created?"

Sorry, I don't have that answer.
by Tom Bredehoft G2G6 Pilot (194k points)
+5 votes

 College of Arms.(UK)

Everything you ever wanted to know about arms in the UK (even recently updated as to the rules for armorial bearing  in a same sex marriage!)




by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (314k points)
edited by Helen Ford
+2 votes
It is different from country to country. The easiest I have come accross appears to be Germany where everybody can create and register a coat of arms for themselves as long as they don't infringe on already existing ones. It's treated kind of like a registered trade mark in cases of dispute.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (541k points)

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