View Full Version : Question on family crests and shields

11-19-2005, 04:38 PM
If I am in the wrong place feel free to move this.

I have an idea for a Christmas present for my brother that I have a question about.

Our family has a crest that each of us get in ring form, with the crest carved into bloodstone, for our 18th birthday. My brother collects swords and such and is very interested in family history; he even got the crest tattooed on his shoulder blade.

I was at a craft fair and there was a booth selling kids shields that were "design your own" I thought it would be a neat idea to get one and using crafting metal create our crest on the shield as a gift.

My question is, would a family crest be found on a shield at all or is that a different thing altogether?

We donít know a whole lot about our family history I have no idea about colours and such but that I can make up.

11-19-2005, 04:46 PM
Coats of arms, which is what usually goes on a shield, are distinct from crests, which is a component of the full heraldic achievement. In common use, though, the coats are often called crests. Because of that, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "crest" in your OP? What is your crest?

11-19-2005, 04:51 PM
On the ring there is a fish and under that a cresent moon with points up toward the fish (someone once told me that the direction the moon is facing relates to which son the crest was for. I think mine was the second son) and a weaving along the bottom.

11-19-2005, 04:53 PM
I'm no expert, and I've got only my aunts endless talks about our own family's crest to go on, but I think putting your familycrest on a real shield would be overdoing it.
Most familycrests developed after swordfighting stopped beign a full-time profession and became a hobby instead. Crests after that were only used in seals, embroidery, letterheads, ex-librises, gravestones, chic furniture, that kind of thing. Not on weapons.

Why don't you order chic callingcards with the printed crest instead?

11-19-2005, 05:09 PM
Yeah, I'd avoid putting it on a shield. It's plausible that your family originally had a full coat of arms, which would have been fine to put on a shield, but the design you described seems more likely to either have been the actual crest of the full achievement, or a cut-down version incorporating only a couple of the elements of the arms. Is the woven piece on the bottom more like a trellis/fretty type of thing or does it look more like a piece of rolled fabric?

As far as the crescent goes, it was used as a differencing mark in some systems (to distinguish which son the arms belonged to), but that wasn't the only context in which it appeared. Many plain old charges were crescents facing various directions.

11-19-2005, 09:26 PM

The answers proper to this go all over the map. First, a British coat of arms is a gift from the Crown, and is inherited in an entailed fashion where only the "heir of line" is entitled to them. A second son could get an issuance of arms with a crescent as a "cadency mark" differentiating them from the eldest son who would inherit the undifferentiated arms. (According to Fox-Davies' comprehensive reference work, the crescent marks the second son and there is nothing to indicate the points up/points down thing you mentioned.) And as jayjay notes, the crescent may not be a differentiating mark (in which case it would be "in chief," dead center of the top of the array) but an actual "charge."

What you describe is definitely the arms which would be displayed on a shield or coat of arms, not a crest proper, which is a single object that would appear atop a helmet (hence "crest"). The color of the fish and moon and of the background is also significant, not that you could tell that from the signet rings (but your brother might be able to run down what they're supposed to be).

The point that I'm going for, though, is that in British law, arms are not "family" arms but specific to the heir of line of that family, the one living person who represents the eldest son's eldest son sequence of descent most closely.

In some continental countries (I believe this is the case in Germany) arms are family in nature, but not in the U.K. In the U.S., where sovereignty rests in "we the people," you may adopt any arms you choose without let or hindrance, excepting only that you don't misrepresent yourself as somebody else by them. While there is a registry, it's totally voluntary.

What Canadian law is about arms, I don't know for sure. Matt_mcl, if he wanders through, would have the answer. But I'm making a point about British arms because most Canadians with "family arms" got them from either the U.K. or, more rarely, France, and in the U.K. it does make a legal difference whether you're entitled to display them. Though it's rarely prosecuted, it is a crime at law there to display arms you're not the legal, "matriculated" heir to. And of course that may have a strong bearing on Canadian law, derived as it is from British law.

Assuming you can use these arms, or something differentiating them (e.g., put a "bordure chequy" -- a two-square checkerboard pattern -- around the outside of the field to differentiate them), think about having them painted on a wood plaque by a competent artist and then lacquered. I've seen this done and it's very effective as a means of showing family history.

11-19-2005, 10:34 PM
What you describe is definitely the arms which would be displayed on a shield or coat of arms, not a crest proper, which is a single object that would appear atop a helmet (hence "crest"). The color of the fish and moon and of the background is also significant, not that you could tell that from the signet rings (but your brother might be able to run down what they're supposed to be).

I think there's a possibility that what he describes could be the crest itself, actually. Fox-Davies (I believe) makes some rather snarky comments about late-era arms and the relative lack of style and design sense of some of the 19th- and 20th-century Kings of Arms. I seem to remember him mentioning some abominable crests that seem to consist of objects simply piled on top of each other with no attempt to simulate the construction or plausible physical postioning of such a crest as an actual object that would be affixed to an actual helm.

11-19-2005, 11:11 PM
In Canada, you might want to inquite of the Canadian Heraldic Authority (http://www.gg.ca/heraldry/index_e.asp). The Authority's principal objective is to ensure that all Canadians who wish to use heraldry will have access to it. It also encourages good heraldic practice in Canada by working to the highest standards of the art form and by developing research and registration procedures that are consistent with an international level of excellence.

The Authority's major activities include: granting of new armorial bearings (arms, flags and badges) and native symbols; registration of recognized existing arms, flags and badges; approval of military badges, flags and other insignia of the Canadian Forces; registration of genealogical information related to the inheritance of arms; provision of information on correct heraldic practices; provision of information on heraldic artists who work in various media; and development of, and involvement in, national and regional heraldic ceremonies. From http://www.gg.ca/heraldry/cha/index_e.asp

11-20-2005, 12:29 AM
In other words, a coat of arms (often mistakenly called a "crest") is issued by the crown to a particular family, and is a property of that particular family, and its first male line descendants. It does not belong to everyone in the world with the same family surname.